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Hawaiians - Hawaii (U.S.)

Native American

Last modified: 2017-08-21 by rick wyatt
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[Hawaiians - Hawaii flag]
image by Donald Healy, 1 February 2008

See also:

The Band

[Hawaiians - map]
map image by Peter Orenski based on input from Don Healy

Hawaiians - Hawaii

Although the Hawaiians, being of Polynesian ancestry, are not Native Americans in the traditional sense, they are a people native to lands within the current borders of the United States. Furthermore, they are struggling for many of the same rights as are mainland aboriginal peoples and have endured similar indignities and fates.

  Donald Healy 2008

The Flag

Of all Native peoples within the United States, the Hawaiians have the longest tradition of using flags. In 1793, Captain George Vancouver presented a British Union Jack to Kamehameha I, the great king who united the Hawaiian Islands under his rule (FBUS, 130-134). (Because the British Union then consisted solely of England and Scotland, the flag was without the red X or cross of St. Patrick, which was added in 1801.) From 1793 to 1816 the Union Jack, in both its pre- and post-1801 forms, served as an unofficial national flag for the Kingdom of Hawaii.

In 1816 King Kamehameha I designed the flag flown by the first Hawaiian ship to sail to a foreign country (China). That flag bore the British Union in the upper left, and had nine stripes of white, red, and blue signifying the nine islands under the king's dominion. The flag was altered in 1845 by reducing the stripes to eight, representing the principal islands only. Since then, it has essentially been the sole flag to symbolize the Hawaiian Islands as a kingdom, republic, U.S. territory, and state.

In the 1990s, some Native Hawaiians began an effort to preserve the remnants of their heritage. This has included demands for sovereignty similar to that enjoyed by Native peoples on the mainland, a call for "reservations" or lands set aside solely for the Native Hawaiian people and their culture, and even calls for independence from the United States.

Because the traditional flag of the Hawaiian people continues as the state's flag, it serves poorly as a symbol for those Hawaiians favoring sovereignty rights or independence. At least two groups use distinctive flags of their own design, while others use the state flag inverted, an international symbol of distress. Still other Hawaiians supporting sovereignty or independence movements continue to use the state flag-the symbol created for them by their greatest king, Kamehameha I.

The "Independent and Sovereign Nation-State of Hawaii", a group which seeks to separate from the United States, has promulgated its own constitution for an independent Hawaii and held demonstrations protesting continued "occupation" of Hawaii by the United States. Its flag employs the traditional colors of the Hawaiian people and their Native costumes. It is a horizontal tricolor, proportioned 1-2-1, of white over yellow over black (source: World Wide Web site for Nation of Hawaii). A purple kahili, a feather-covered staff symbolizing royalty, is centered on the wide yellow stripe. The brown-handled kahili is surrounded by a green wreath as a symbol of sovereignty.

The Ka Lahui Hawai'i sovereignty movement employs a blue flag bearing nine fifteen-pointed stars recalling the nine-striped flag of King Kamehameha I. Five of the stars, which vary in size, appear to stand for the Southern Cross or Crux Australis, the constellation on the flags of Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea. It serves as a unifying symbol for the peoples of the Pacific (NAVA News, Jan./Feb. 1994, 5).

Yet a third Hawaiian flag began appearing in the latter half of the 1990s. This has been called "the original Hawaiian flag" by its promoters. It consists of nine stripes of green, red, yellow and bears a green shield in the center with Native Hawaiian emblems in yellow. The promoters claim this flag predated the contact between European explorers and the Native population and they have evidence for this claim. Unfortunately, the promoters never cite specifically their source material. One major design flaw in the "original Hawaiian" flag is the shield in the center. It is a standard form of shield based upon European heraldry! The possibility that the Native Hawaiian people who have no record of employing shields of this shape would use it on a flag prior to contact with Europeans is severely unlikely. Despite the efforts of promoters, this flag is considered an historical fabrication. It still serves as a modern emblem for the struggle to maintain the distinct Hawaiian culture, and as such should be noted.

Donald Healy 2008
information provided by Peter Orenski, 1 February 2008