A Missionary View of the Population of the Sandwich Islands…

The natives are in general rather above the middle stature, well formed, with fine muscular limbs, open countenances, and features frequently resembling those of Europeans. Their gait is graceful, and sometimes stately. The chiefs in particular are tall and stout, and their personal appearance is so much superior to that of the common people, that some have imagined them a distinct race. This, however, is not the fact; the great care taken of them in childhood, and their better living, have probably occasioned the difference. Their hair is black or brown, strong, and frequently curly; their complexion is neither yellow like the Malays, nor red like the American Indians, but a kind of olive, and sometimes reddish-brown. Their arms, and other parts of the body, are tattooed; but, except in one of the islands, this is by no means so common as in many parts of the Southern sea. Compared with the inhabitants of other islands, they may be termed numerous.  

They were estimated by their discoverers at 400,000. There is reason to believe this was somewhat above the actual population at that time, though traces of deserted villages, and numerous enclosures formerly cultivated, but now abandoned, are everywhere to be met with. At present it does not exceed 130,000 or 150,000, of which 85,000 inhabit the island of Hawaii. The rapid depopulation which has most certainly taken place within the last fifty years, is to be attributed to the frequent and desolating wars which marked the early part of Kamehameha’s reign; the ravages of a pestilence brought in the first instance by foreign vessels, which has twice, during the above period, swept through the islands; the awful prevalence of infanticide; and the melancholy increase and destructive consequences of depravity and vice. (Ellis)

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(These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)


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