African and African-Americans in the Hawaiian Kingdom

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Between 1800 to 1850, more than a quarter of sailors in Hawai’i was in fact Black–mainly from the US, Mexico, Haiti, Santo Domingo and Brazil. Another one quarter was from Asia (including Japan, China, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and the Spanish Orient (now the Philippines, Guam and Micronesia). By 1833, an African Relief Society was organized in Honolulu to aide Black seamen, transplants and missionaries.

Slavery in Hawai’i was abolished early on. Kamehameha I had African-Americans at his court who were slaves that escaped. One of the most famous was a man named Keaka-‘ele’ele (Black Jack) who helped to build brick buildings for Ka’ahumanu and Kamehameha. Again, due to the Eurocentric way Hawaiian history has been presented in the schools and elsewhere, we always acknowledge people like John Young but forget that Kamehameha had other foreigners at his court including African-Americans, Japanese and Chinese who have been written out. Their contributions have yet to be fully documented and acknowledged.

Kamehameha I recognized the new republics in South America and Hawai Street in Buenas Aires is named for Hawai’i being the first nation to recognize Argentina. When the Haitian Revolution broke out, Kamehameha I gave thought to send some of his arms to the slaves but was talked out of it due to the distance and the arms might be needed to conquer Kaua’i. Kamehameha I also through the cunning use of diplomacy, military arms and trade was able to ensure that Hawaiians were not blackbirded (a form of slavery) unlike sadly many of our Polynesian neighbors. That alone is one the chief reasons that unification was good for Hawaiians–a unified central government kept Europeans and Americans from enslaving Hawaiian populations unlike what the British, French, and Chileans did in Rapa Nui, Samoa, and Kiribati where entire villages were kidnapped and forced to work on plantations, mines and ranches.

Kamehameha III formally abolished slavery in all forms and declared that any slave that arrived upon Hawaiian soil was no longer a slave. It was deemed so important that it became Article 12 of the 1852 Hawaiian Constitution. Slavery was thus abolished a decade before the United States and the Hawaiian constitution guaranteed all slaves and former slaves their freedom and rights as equals.

One of the touching reminders of this period is the attached image. It is a naturalization certificate of an African-American. Moses Allen was born into slavery. His parents were slaves. He had come to Hawai’i prior to the US Civil War and some of his family also were able to escape slavery and come to far away Hawai’i. Despite the end of the US Civil War, Moses Allen decided to become a Hawaiian subject, a Hawaiian national. He lists himself not as a native or citizen of the United States but of Africa. Africa. When one thinks about it, why would he not? What type of country enslaves a population for generations and then expects them to be proud to be citizens? One of the great legacies left to us by the Hawaiian Kingdom is that belief that all peoples are equal and that slavery and colonialism were completely and utterly wrong. Moses Allen of Africa choose to became a Hawaiian citizen and that alone speaks volumes about Hawaiʻi and Hawaiians stood for.

Kinikona: A Black / Indo-Caribbean at Kamehamehaʻs Court

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One of the interesting characters from the court of Kamehameha I was a Black / Indo-Caribbean by the name of Kinikona . He identified both as Black and as a lascar according to the historian Samuel Kamakau. We know very little about Kinikonaʻs origins. His name is the Hawaiian transliteration of the Quinine or Cichona tree. Cichona was used in the treatment of malaria and we know that malaria was one of the possible sicknesses that wiped out Kamehameha Iʻs army before his invasion of Kauaʻi. Cichona is also native to South America. The man, Kinikona, arrived in Hawaiʻi between 1811 to 1813. What we know about his background is that he identified himself as being Black and as a lascar (which at the time meant he was an East Indian expert sailor) and he spoke French. We also know believe that he came from the Caribbean because of the French accounts of him which suggest he was from Haiti, Saint Martin, Guadeloupe or some other French colony in the region. Due to his mixed heritage, he was not born a slave but was still considered colored or Black, Hawaiians identified him as a haole ʻeleʻele or haole pouli meaning Black.

What made Kinikona of interest is that he was the first account of a haole (a general term used to describe all foreigners at the time period regardless of skin color) who converted to the Hawaiian religion. He made tributes to Pele and rather than being incorporated into the special system of nobility that Kamehameha I created for other haole for services to the Throne, he asked was sort of incorporated with the kahuna and he was one of the few foreigners ever to have studied the old religion in depth. Kamehameha I used his maritime skills on occasion but his more important duty was as translator for the King and Kaʻahumanu when he had to deal with the French. When the old religion was being overthrown in 1819, allegedly according to tradition, he took up arms with Kekuaokalani and Manono, the two main defenders of the old Hawaiian religion. Whether he died at Kuamoʻo or survived but died of wounds later, it is not clear from sources. What is clear is that he embraced the Hawaiian religion and died for.