Don Healy's

The Hawaiians

Although the Hawaiians are not strictly speaking "Native Americans" in the traditional sense, being of Polynesian ancestry, they are a native people to lands within the current borders of the United States. Furthermore, they are fighting for the same rights as the mainland aboriginal people and have suffered similar indignities and fates. Therefore it seems only right that they be included in this look at the flags of the native peoples of the United States.

Of all the native peoples currently using flags within the United States, no people have had a longer tradition of using flags. In 1793, Captain James Vancouver presented King Kamehameha I with a British Union Jack (FBUS, 130-134). At that time the British Union consisted solely of England and Scotland, so the flag was without the red 'x' or cross of St. Patrick, which was added in 1801.

From the time Capt. Vancouver presented the king with the flag, until 1816, the British Union Jack served as an unofficial national flag for the Kingdom of Hawaii in both its pre- and post-1801 forms.

In 1816, the great king, Kamehameha I, who had united the Hawaiian Islands under his rule, designed a new flag which was used on the first Hawaiian ship to sail to a foreign country (China). That flag bore the British Union in the upper hoist, or canton, and had nine stripes of white, red and blue to represent the islands under the king's dominion.

As with the early United States flag, many variations on the theme were to be found. Individual seamstresses and ships chandlery working with material they had available. It was the idea of the flag's design, not strictly the exact elements of the design that mattered.

In 1845 the flag was altered by reducing the stripes to eight, representing only the principal islands. This flag continues today as the flag of the State of Hawaii. Between 1845 and the present, it has been essentially the sole flag to represent the Hawaiian Islands, whether as a Kingdom, republic, U.S. territory or state.

From the time the Hawaiian people came into contact with European and American interests, their lands, beliefs and people have suffered. Missionaries forcibly converted Hawaiians to Christianity; plowed under their rain forest and planted sugar and pineapple plantations; lined their shoreline with high rise hotels and virtually wiped out their native culture.

In the 1990s, the Hawaiian people have started an effort to preserve the remnants of their heritage. This has included demands for sovereignty similar to that given to mainland Indian tribes; a call for "reservations" or lands put aside solely for the native Hawaiian people and their culture; and even calls for independence from the United States.

Because the traditional flag of the Hawaiian people continues in use as the state flag, it serves poorly as a symbol for those Hawaiians favoring sovereignty rights or independence. At least two groups have resorted to using distinctive flags of their own unique designs.

The Ka Lahui Hawaii sovereignty movement employs a blue flag bearing nine fifteen pointed stars recalling the nine striped flag of King Kamehameha I Five of the stars, which vary in size, seem to recall the Southern Cross or Crux Australis, the constellation found on the flags of Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. It acts like a unifying symbol of the peoples of the Pacific (NAVA, Jan/Feb, 1994, 5).

Totally different from the design of the Ka Lahui Hawaii, is the flag of the "Independent and Sovereign Nation-State of Hawaii". This group, as its name implies, seeks to separate from the United States.

This group has promulgated its own constitution for an independent Hawaii, ratified on January 16, 1995 and held demonstrations protesting continued "occupation" of Hawaii by the United States. Its "Head of State", Kanahele had even been arrested in conjunction with these protests.

The flag of the "Independent and Sovereign Nation-State of Hawaii recall the traditional colors of the Hawaiian people and their native costumes. It is a horizontal tricolor, proportioned 1-2-1 of white over yellow over black (World Wide Web site for Nation of Hawaii).

Centered on the wide yellow stripe features a purple Kahili, a feather covered staff which symbolizes royalty. The Kahili is surrounded by a green wreath as a symbol of sovereignty. The handle of the Kahili appears in brown.

Other Hawaiians supporting the sovereignty and/or independence movements continue to use the state flag as their symbol, refusing to let the usurpation of it by non-Hawaiians deny them the symbol created for them by their greatest king, Kamehameha I.


Don Healy, Bisbee, Az 85603