Renowned Hawaiian Historian Kamakau Explains in 1867 How Diseases Ravaged the Population of Aboriginal Hawaiians in the Kingdom

The practical value of history, is that it is a film of the “past,” run through the projector of “today,” onto the screen of “tomorrow.” The film can never change, but a projector can be updated to process the film, which will change your view of the future. I ke au i hala ka lamaku o ke ala i ke kupukupu—the past is the beacon that will guide us into the future.

The past is very important to Hawaiians. So much so where the Hawaiian word for future is “ka wā ma hope,” which is literally translated to the time of the past. In the past that begins from a second ago to three hundred years ago are the stories or mo‘olelo of our people. This is where one can learn from past mistakes and capitalize on past successes.

Samuel Kamakau

Respected and renowned Hawaiian historian, Samuel Kamakau, wrote an article about deadly diseases that caused the decline of the aboriginal Hawaiian race. It was published in Ka Nupepa Ku‘oko‘a on December 7, 1867, in the Hawaiian language. Here is the translation provided by Awaiaulu, Inc.

The Time of Foreigners Arriving Here in Hawai‘i,
it Being the Time That the Native Race Stopped Flourishing

There are many conflicting ideas about the reasons that the decline of the Hawaiians was so resolute here in Hawai‘i. The terrible wars of slaughter were finished, robbers were done with, kidnapping was ended, and unfair deaths and other deadly entanglements that befell the people were over. What, then, was the most potent force in the decline of the Hawaiians?

[1] There was the frequent arrival of deadly sicknesses from foreigners, contagious illnesses, bitter ailments, scorpions, centipedes, wasps, mosquitos, biting flies, and the new bitter elements of these times.

[2] Germs passed from prostitutes, and there were deadly diseases, conta-gions, and cancers. The reign of Kamehameha III was a time when frequent epidemics came in from foreign ships.

In 1826, an epidemic arrived, and it came to be referred to as “cough, wheeze, phlegm, and sore throat.” Thousands perished from Hawai‘i to Kaua‘i, and many in the rural lands died. Luanu‘ukāhalai‘a and George Humehume, along with other chiefs, died from that sickness. In February of 1839, the ship Kai (Qukoke) came, with Henry Pecka as the captain, but he died at sea. It brought widespread illness from Valparaiso, Chile, including stiff neck, swollen throat, and melting scrotum, respectively. Many died in that epidemic. Chiefess Kīna‘u died, as did some lesser-ranking chiefs. In September of 1848, an American man-o-war anchored at Hilo, and it brought an epidemic and a deadly illness called “‘ulāli‘i” and “lepo hehe‘e,” measles and dysentery. Thousands of people died. One-third of the entire nation died from that spread of illness. Many high chiefs and lesser chiefs were lost, including Mose Kekūāiwa, W. P. Leleiōhoku, and Ka‘imina‘auao. There were two houses I saw in Kīpahulu, one being the house of Ilimaihealani at Kukui‘ula with fourteen people inside, most of whom were dead, and only three survivors. The same was true of Kapule’s home at Papauluana, where there were thirteen of them, nine dead and four remaining. If that was the death rate elsewhere in these islands, there would be far more dead than surviving in this kingdom.

An epidemic came in the year 1844, called “painful forehead,” “breaking head,” and yet another name was “tightness.” Many died from this epidemic. The same happened in March and April of 1853 when a deadly illness called “plague,” “smallpox,” or “branding fire” arrived. The foreigners who had contracted this terrible illness were brought ashore at Kahaka‘aulana by Dr. Potter; then, in the month of May, it spread throughout the royal city of Honolulu. The island of O‘ahu was the one most intensely drawn into the flames of this fire, the sparks of which flew to all of our other islands. Thousands died in this epi-demic. Ka‘aione’s place at Kīkīhale was its source, where it was contracted by a black-faced woman. This was a disease that devastated the common people.

In the year 1857, another devastating illness arrived, called “headcold,” “pounding head,” “sore throat,” or “deaf ears.” Many people died, as did some chiefs, including Keoniana and Konia.

Leprosy is a contagious cancer found among people now. Those from the pious to the skeptics catch this consuming disease. Some have died, and though some are now being treated, there is no cure. These epidemics and devastations have been the reason for the spreading desolation and death of the native people. Death from any other illness is very rare, but the number of deaths from the scourges and epidemics were far greater than those deaths from the wars and plunderings of ancient times.

The reason that this misfortune and demise has befallen the Hawaiian people is clear: the foreigners are nation killers. The love of glory and wealth are the companions of deadly illness. Submission to other races makes hospitable offices for contagions and cancers, and these have spread desolation upon this people, bringing on fear and terror and making the whole race shudder and tremble from the impact of fatal illnesses, epidemics, contagions, and cancers that cannot be cured by native healers. These are doses of poison that will decimate this people and allow the people to be easily swept away by death. The decrease in birth rates is another reason for the demise of the native race here in Hawai‘i. The reasons for the decrease in births among the whole race come from many causes, but there are many who give birth to numerous children now, just as in ancient times. Some women bear many children today, up to ten or even twenty, but it is a blessing for even one or two to survive, since most die. At Kīpahulu on Maui, there is a woman who has borne numerous children, ten children so far, each raised up, then dying, and it goes on like that without a single child left surviving; they all died. That is how it is for most of the mothers now living throughout the land. This is not due to bad conduct on the part of the parents, for the lives of families in the countryside are peaceful, nor is there any connection with the places of prostitution, yet they are all dead.

2 thoughts on “Renowned Hawaiian Historian Kamakau Explains in 1867 How Diseases Ravaged the Population of Aboriginal Hawaiians in the Kingdom

  1. Though, we’re surrounded, influenced and transmitted by all types of “sickness”, “viruses”.. in our Hawaiian Kingdom, we will be ONIPA`A. As aboriginal hawaiians, hawaiian subjects, kanaka maoli, HAWAII is our Birthrighjt, Akua, gave us, the hawaiian people, a homeland to preserve and to perpetuate, ‘UA MAU KE EA O KA `AINA I KA PONO”.
    Our past is telling us today,…. to be maka`ala, to be `a`ole pepeiao a me ka pule.
    Cecelia and `OHANA Kupau

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