The culture that I am studying is that of the Hawaiian people. Hawaiians are Polynesians who migrated to the Hawaiian islands several centuries prior to European arrival on those islands. The Hawaiians are believed to have originated from the Marquesas and later the present-day island of Ra'aitea, which was originally known as Havai'i -- the migrants brought the name with them to their new home. The Hawaiians were one of many groups to have settled migrated from Ra'aitea, including the Maori and Rapa Nui, and are therefore strongly related by cultural tradition to other Polynesian groups. Hawaiian culture is also influenced by interaction with Europeans, starting with British explorer James Cook. After originally aligning themselves with the British, the Hawaiian islands were eventually absorbed into the United States, further altering native Hawaiian culture, which has developed in the context of both its Polynesian traditions and its present sociocultural circumstances. This paper will outline the Hawaiian culture as it exists today.
Description of the Culture
The Hawaiian Islands are an archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean. They were populated by Polynesian peoples, and there is evidence that this occurred in several waves, beginning with migration from the Marquesas, and later migrations coming from Ra'aitea to bring the civilization to its pre-European heights. Polynesians are strong seafarers, so the islands developed both trade and conflict between them, and had traditional clan-based societies. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, Hawaiians were not a singular culture as much as they were a collection of Polynesian clans, bound by common traits and ancestry. Each individual clan might be considered a microculture, but today these clan bonds are weaker than they once were, and common Hawaiian culture is a common framing.
The population of Hawaiians was decimated after the arrival of Europeans, who brought diseases for which the Hawaiians had no immunity. European arrival also precipitated devastating conflict among the Hawaiians, who already had a proclivity for warfare, as was common among ancient Polynesian societies. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2010), there are presently over 80,000 full-blooded native Hawaiians in Hawaii and a total of 156,000 in the U.S. The state also has a small population of Samoans and Tongans, from other Polynesian archipelagos.
Hawaiian culture today blends pre- and post-colonial influences. Most Hawaiians live a lifestyle that is more American and modern than traditional, but still blend in traditional elements. The purest form of Hawaiian culture can be found on that island of Ni'ihau, which has one village. Islanders there speak Hawaiian as a first language, have no plumbing, electricity and exist with a mostly traditional lifestyle based on fishing and farming. There are several key elements to Hawaiian culture today, including religion, ethnicity, and social status.
Hawaiians are viewed as a distinct culture and ethnicity within the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau tracks Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders as distinct from other native groups from mainland North America. Among themselves, there are three distinct classes. The first are pure-blooded Hawaiians, which still account for the majority of Hawaiians. These are descendants of the original Polynesians who would eventually found the Hawaiian kingdom encountered by early European explorers. Their identity and sense of self is characterized by the fact that they are the original inhabitants of the islands, and while they recognize ancestry from other islands and share some kinship with other Polynesians -- and a language that has some commonalities -- they view themselves as distinct.
The latter group includes Samoans and Tongans living in the U.S. And in particular in Hawaii. While they view themselves as Polynesians related to Hawaiians and in many cases their interests will be closely aligned with those of Hawaiians, they are not Hawaiians, do not consider themselves as such and are proud of their own ethnicity. They fall into a different social and cultural category than non-Polynesians, who are known as haole (Davis, 1995).
Mixed-race peoples with Hawaiian ancestry have a more challenging position from a cultural perspective. Since discovery, Hawaii has faced immigration from both Europeans and from Asian groups, which means that there are thousands of mixed-race Hawaiians. In Hawaiian culture, these are known as hapa. Hapa are "perceived and respected as persons with roots in two or more ancestral groups." This means that mixed-race hapa with Hawaiian bloodlines are accepted as Hawaiians. Mixed race Hawaiians can therefore identify as Hawaiian should they choose, or not to, should they choose. They retain the choice, and Hawaiian people accept them as Hawaiian if that is how they self-identify (Davis, 1995).
Hawaiian religion was based on traditional Polynesian gods. While this is not practiced as widely or as fervently as it was pre-colonialism, traditional Hawaiian religion is still known to some extent and influences the Hawaiian culture. Hawaiian religion is polytheistic, and it is considered to be important to maintain proper relations with the spirits (Greene, 2001). Society within this context was bound by a set of kapu, which could be capricious and arbitrary, but were the rules around which society was organized and was the foundation of the legal system during pre-colonial times. Today, most Hawaiians have adopted Christianity, or no religion, as their traditional beliefs were outlawed for a time. They are protected today.
Hawaiians occupy a wide range of socio-economic status. They are given special status by the U.S. Federal government and they have special status in Hawaii as well. As such, Hawaiians occupy many social strata within the context of both Hawaii and the United States. That said, native Hawaiians have the lowest mean family income of all major ethnic groups in Hawaii, and with large families these low incomes are spread over more people. It has been reported that poverty rates among native Hawaiians are double the state level (Kana'iaupuni, Malone & Ishibashi, 2005). Thus, even if Hawaiians do not face difficulty in terms of social status, they do face challenges with respect to economic status. Socially, Hawaiian language and religion are both protected in the state -- Hawaiian is an official language.
Most Hawaiians speak English bilingually if not as a first language. From a communication standpoint, other than one Ni'ihau there should be no language barrier with Hawaiians. The Hawaiian kingdom first pledged loyalty to the British crown, and then became a territory of the United States, so there has been nearly 200 years of exposure to, and then immersion in, American culture. The result is that most Hawaiians can deal well from a communication standpoint with the cultural differences between themselves and various haole groups. Hawaiians do not typically share their religion with outsiders, but their religion seldom influences their dealing with government or modern medical practice. The socio-economic elements of Hawaiians do not present a significant communication challenge, but they can influence how Hawaiians deal with government, for example.
Hawaiians are not a microculture, but instead are a separate culture. Whereas a microculture has some elements of distinctiveness within the context of a broader culture, a separate culture is unto itself. Hawaiians are ethnically distinct from non-Hawaiians, and culturally they are distinct even from other Polynesian groups in the United States based on geographical separation and some cultural differences, especially as pertains to post-colonial history.
Hawaiians are also distinct in terms of geography, being a native group within the United States, and having a clearly defined homeland. Hawaiians on the mainland also identify with their home islands. While a microculture exists as a culture that has carved out a niche for itself with the context of a broader culture, a separate culture has not done this. Where there is alignment between the dominant culture and the smaller culture, it is because the separate culture has adopted elements of the dominant culture,…
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