The term Hawaiian (or Native Hawaiian) refers to the indigenous people of the Hawaiian Islands. They are a Polynesian people who came by sea from the South Pacific. Although their traditional language is Hawaiian, today most speak English in everyday use; only in certain areas (such as the island of Niihau) is the Hawaiian language used in daily life.
According to the Hawaii State Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which administers programs benefiting Hawaiians, "Hawaiian" or "Native Hawaiian" (capitalized) refers to:
- any descendant of the aboriginal peoples inhabiting the Hawaiian Islands which exercised sovereignty and subsisted in the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, and which peoples thereafter have continued to reside in Hawaii.
In 1984, 61% of Native Hawaiians had less than 50% Hawaiian blood. In the 1990 census two thirds of all Native Hawaiians lived in Hawaii and the remaining 1/3 lived on the mainland. Nearly half of the mainland Native Hawaiians lived in California.
There were an estimated 300,000 Native Hawaiians in 1778. In 1984, according to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, only 8,244 pure blood Native Hawaiians were thought to remain out of some 208,476 Native Hawaiians. 62% of the pure-blooded Native Hawaiians lived on the island of Oahu.
In the first century after contact with Europeans, the Native Hawaiian population declined over 80%, mainly from new diseases. From an estimated 300,000 when Europeans arrived, the Native Hawaiian population fell to a steady low of around 40,000 between 1890 and 1920. The population began to increase in the 1920s, although the number of pure-blooded Native Hawaiians has been in constant decline though 1990.
The word "Hawaiian" could also be used for any resident of the State of Hawaii, regardless of ancestry, but such use is discouraged within Hawaii. People living in Hawai'i collectively refer to themselves as "locals," "Islanders", or "Island people," among other terms, and reserve "Hawaiian" to describe people actually of Native Hawaiian descent.