Total population
52,069 (4.0%, 2010) 29,307 (2.3%, African alone, 2010)
Regions with significant populations
English, Hawaiian, Portuguese
Related ethnic groups
Cape Verdean, African American, Afro-Caribbean

The Africans in Hawaii, also known as Pōpolo, are a minority of 4.0% of the population and 2.3% are of African descent only.


"Pōpolo" means blackberry in Hawaiian referring to the black nightshade or can also be used to describe a lobelia or a pokeberry. Pōpolo became used to describe the dark skin of African people.[citation needed]


19th century

The first Africans to visit Hawai'i were deckhands on merchant and whaling ships, and came from Cape Verde, the United States (African Americans), and the Caribbean (West Indians).[1] Some of these early Africans ended their maritime careers and settled in Hawai'i. A number of them were successful musicians, business men, and respected royal government officials in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.[2] One American-born African was Anthony D. Allen (1774–1835) an ex-slave. He came to Hawaii in 1810 as a whaler. He became a steward of Kamehameha I and within a decade came to own twelve houses and a farm, and run a boarding house, bowling alley and hospital.[3] The first two leaders of the Royal Hawaiian Band under Kamehameha III: Oliver and George Washington Hyatt (1815–1870) were also African-Americans.[4] A former slave who accompanied the American Protestant missionaries to Hawaii, Betsey Stockton started the first mission school in Lahaina open to the common people.[5]

Prior to independence in 1975, many Cape Verdeans emigrated to Hawaii from drought-stricken Portuguese Cape Verde, formerly an overseas province of Portugal. Because these people arrived using their Portuguese passports, they were registered as Portuguese immigrants by the authorities.

Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the Hawaiian government became interested in the prospect of contracting freed slaves for labor in Hawaii. The thought of the four million slaves suddenly thrust onto the open market prompted Hawaiian Foreign Minister Robert Crichton Wyllie to write to a prominent friend in Boston, "We could perhaps admit with advantage to ourselves, say 20,000 freed Negroes, pay them the wages and give them the treatment of free men." Although nothing came out of it due to the inability of President Abraham Lincoln to enforce the law in the South.[6]

20th century

By 1910 there were still only 695 Africans in Hawaii, of whom 537 were multiracial.[7] Following the Overthrow of the Hawaiian Monarchy by White plantation elites, an unofficial race-class system was established with "Whites" at the top, "Browns" in the middle, and "Yellows" at the bottom. Fortunately for the Africans, their dark skin categorized them as "Brown" people, a category mostly comprising Hawaiians and Polynesians. This allowed them to ascend to the working and middle classes.[8] Since annexation, the immigration barriers were lifted and attempts were made to bring laborers of African descent from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama to Hawaii to work the sugarcane plantations. Since the logistics of getting Africans to Hawaii proved too difficult to make them a practical source of labor, only 300 made the journey. Many did not stay on plantations after their contracts expired, finding Hawaii's plantation life deplorable. Although they considered themselves better off returning to the plantations of the Southern United States, most could not afford the cost of leaving Hawaii.[9] Despite the horrid conditions at the bottom of society, most Africans were acquainted with the Western world either from life in the United States or in Colonial Africa. As Hawaii was Americanized during the Territorial period, Africans could identify opportunities that went unnoticed by other groups not acquainted with the Western system. Many skilled African-Americans immigrated to escape the racism on the mainland and not be denied work in their trade or profession. Although racial hostilities existed with Whites, Whites were a minority. Alice A. Ball earned her master's degree at the University of Hawaii and taught there as a chemistry instructor. She discovered the Ball Method a symptomatic treatment for leprosy that bears her namesake.[10] One of the most iconic figures was Hawaii born Peter Hose (1881–1925) known as the "Hula Cop" joined the Honolulu Police Department becoming the first police officer of African ancestry in Hawaii, where he served for 18 years.[11]

World Wars

With the onset of World War I, 200 members of the 25th Infantry Regiment were stationed in Hawaii to avert racial tensions, being that Hawaii had a predominantly non-white population.

During World War II the military drew African-Americans to Hawaii. 600 ship workers and thousands of soldiers arrived. The West Loch Disaster occurred on May 21, 1944, when the LST-353’s cargo of ammunition and fuel ignited, killing 163; several of the dead were African-Americans. Subsequent wars in Asia continued to bring African-Americans through Hawaii. The result of military movement was that many returned to live in Hawaii after leaving the service.

Post-War Immigration

After the Second World War many residents of color in Hawaii were educated by the G.I. bill belligerent towards the racial stratification. Several Africans including Frank M. Davis were able to relate to the plight of the African race on the US continent and participated in the "Bloodless Revolution" that overthrew the rule of Hawaii's White minority and the race-class structure of the Territory.


  1. ^ "HISTORY, African American Diversity Cultural Center Hawai'i". March 14, 2010. Archived from the original on March 14, 2010.
  2. ^ African American Diversity Cultural Center Hawai'i
  3. ^ Allen, Anthony D. (1774-1835), BlackPast.org
  4. ^ David Bandy: Bandmaster Henry Berger and the Royal Hawaiian Band. In: Hawaiian Journal of History, Volume 24, 1990, pp. 70–71
  5. ^ Dodd, Carol Santoki (1984). "Betsey Stockton". In Peterson, Barbara Bennett (ed.). Notable Women of Hawaii. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. pp. 358–360. ISBN 978-0-8248-0820-4. OCLC 11030010.
  6. ^ Dye, Bob (1997). Merchant prince of the Sandalwood Mountains: Afong and the Chinese in Hawaiʻi. University of Hawaii Press. p. 79. ISBN 0-8248-1772-9.
  7. ^ Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1912 by Thos G. Thrum, Honolulu p. 18
  8. ^ Black genesis by James M. Rose, Alice Eichholz, p.125
  9. ^ African Americans in Hawaii Part 1. by Darlene E. Kelley [1]
  10. ^ A tribute to Alice Bell: a scientist whose work with leprosy was overshadowed by a white successor by Erika Cederlind, The Daily of the University of Washington, February 29, 2008 [2]
  11. ^ "Media Design's Article — Cabo Verde & Hawaii". www.medesign.org. Retrieved February 16, 2018.

Further reading