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Nearly 16,000 Portuguese immigrants arrived to Hawaii’s shores between 1878 and 1911.  The migration of laborers from Madeira and Azores to work on the sugar cane plantations rapidly increased the Portuguese presence in Hawaii.   Before 1878, Portuguese residents made up less than 1-percent of the island population.

Not only did Portuguese arrive from Madeira and the Azores, but Portuguese also came from the eastern United States, mainland Portugal, and from the Portuguese community of Montevideo in Uruguay.

Back then, the only way to travel to Hawaii was by sailing ships.  Many Portuguese spent up to three months at sea in cramped quarters.  Not only were the conditions inside the ship a challenge, the sea conditions were equally as tough.


Strong currents while crossing the Atlantic Ocean and rough seas while sailing around Cape Horn at the tip of South America was treacherous.

So much so, in 1879 when the SS Ravenscrag reached port in Hawaii after spending 123 days at sea, three children



had perished during the voyage.   The SS Ravenscrag wasn’t the only vessel to see tragedy.  In 1882 the SS Monarch tragically had 13 children die during the 57-day voyage.


Portuguese immigrants were very different from the other immigrant laborers arriving in Hawaii during the 1870s.  Instead of only men arriving to work, entire families made the journey to the islands.


These newcomers were devout Roman Catholics with strong family ties.  It just made sense to them that the family remain intact.  As a result, the Portuguese in Hawaii retained much of their culture and traditions.

Many early Portuguese immigrants were short and slender.  Many who worked under the sun in the cane fields had darker complexions. 

Many in fact were so dark that their race on some of the early US Census returns were listed as black.  For quite some time Portuguese were categorized as Caucasian, but not white.


This was due to the definition of Caucasian.  Webster's dictionary defines Caucasian as;

"constituting, or characteristic of a race of humankind native to Europe, North Africa, and southwest Asia

and classified according to physical features —used especially in referring to persons of European descent

having usually light skin pigmentation.”


This classification of Portuguese meant on the plantation they were paid less than whites, but higher than the other immigrant labor.  Portuguese held supervisory positions, luna, on plantations and were preferred because of certain traits they possessed.  According to the Report on the Commissioner of Labor and Industry in Hawaii: 1902;

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Portuguese men were not the only ones to work on the plantations here in Hawaii.  Portuguese women could be found tending sugarcane rows, stripping leaves from the cane stalks, and even cutting and loading sugar cane into carts.  Like much of Hawaii, the cane fields were multicultural.  Below you'll see all nationalities of women, including Portuguese, working the cane fields.


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