Kanakas: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Kanaka labourers on a Queensland pineapple plantation, 1890s. Photographer unknown.

Kanakas were workers from various Pacific Islands employed under varying conditions in various British colonies, such as British Columbia (Canada), Fiji and Queensland (Australia) in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They also worked in California and Chile.

The word kanaka originally referred only to Native Hawaiians, called kānaka ʻōiwi or kānaka maoli in the Hawaiian language.



According to the Macquarie Dictionary, the word Kanaka, which was once widely used in Australia, is now regarded in Australian English as an offensive term for a Pacific Islander.[1] In part, this is because most "Kanakas" in Australia were people from Melanesia, rather than Polynesia, and included few Hawaiians. The descendants of 19th century immigrants to Australia from the Pacific Islands now generally refer to themselves as "South Sea Islanders", and this is also the term used in formal and official situations.

In Australia, South Sea Islanders were often unfree labour, of the specific form known as indentured labour. It is often alleged that their employment in Australia was a form of slavery, due to the belief that many people were recruited by "blackbirding", as the enslavement of Pacific Islanders and indigenous Australians was known at the time. However, historians such as Keith Windschuttle (in his book The White Australia Policy) dispute this, claiming all evidence of blackbirding is anecdotal. Another historian, Adrian Graves, in a ground-breaking 1983 article in Past & Present (see reference list below), documented how some Pacific Islanders were paid truck wages and actively sought to work in Australia.

The Australian government officially repatriated many South Sea Islanders to their places of origin in 1906–08, under the provisions of the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901.[2] However, some remained in Australia.


In Canada, many Kanaka men married First Nations women[3], and their descendants can still be found in British Columbia and neighbouring parts of Canada and the United States (the states of Washington and Oregon). Canadian Kanakas were all Hawaiian in origin. Nearly all were contractees of the Hudson's Bay Company although some had arrived in the area as ship's hands or, in some cases, migrated north from California.. There was no negative connotation to the use of Kanaka in British Columbian and Californian English of the time, and in its most usual sense today means someone of Hawaiian ethnic inheritance, without any derisive sense . Kanakas had been aboard the first exploration and trading ships to reach the Pacific Northwest Coast and there were cases of Kanakas living amongst various First Nations peoples after jumping ship as well as often along on the fur brigades and Express of the fur companies, as well as in the life of the fort. Kanaka Creek, British Columbia was a community of mixed Hawaiian-First families established across the Fraser River from Fort Langley in the 1830s and remains on the map today. Kanakas were active in both the California Gold Rush and in the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush and other rushes; Kanaka Bar, British Columbia gets its name from claims staked and worked by Kanakas who had been previously working for the fur company (it today is a First Nations community of the Nlaka'pamux people

Some linguists hold that Canuck, a nickname for Canadians, is derived from the Hawaiian Kanaka.[4]

United States

Kanakas, as Native Hawaiian workers employed in agriculture and ranching, were present in the mainland United States (primarily in California under Spanish colonial arrangement and later American company contracts) as early as 1850, but their migration peaked between 1900 and 1930. Most of their families present in the fields soon blended by intermarriage into the Chinese, Filipino and more numerous Mexican populations with whom they came in contact. Native Hawaiians harvested sugar beets and picked apples at one point in the states of Washington and Oregon. There is also documentation of the presence of several hundred Native Hawaiian paniolos or cowboys across the Great Basin of the Western US.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ Macquarie Dictionary (Fourth Edition), 2005, p. 774
  2. ^ National Archives of Australia, "Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 (Cth)". Access date: December 3, 2007.
  3. ^ Tom Koppel, 1995 Kanaka: The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and Pacific Northwest p 2
  4. ^ Irving Lewis Allen (1990). Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to WASP, pp 59, 61–62. New York: Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0-89789-217-8.


  • Adrian Graves, 1983, "Truck and Gifts: Melanesian Immigrants and the Trade Box System in Colonial Queensland", in: Past & Present (no. 101, 1983)
  • Mark Twain, 1897, "Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World", chapters V and VI.
  • Tom Koppel, Kanaka, The Untold Story of Hawaiian Pioneers in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 1995.
  • M. Melia Lane, "Migration of Hawaiians to Coastal B.C., 1810-1869." Master's Thesis, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1985.

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