When Captain James Cook arrived in Hawaii in 1778 that was a relatively easy question to answer. There were, depending on the various estimates available, between 300,000 and 400,000 native Hawaiians, the kanaka maoli.
Over the course of the next century the native Hawaiian population dropped between 80-90%. This decline was due, in large part, to the diseases introduced by contact with foreigners. These diseases included venereal disease, small pox, measles, whooping cough and influenza.
By 1878, the native population was estimated to be between 40,000 and 50,000 people. While drastically smaller than the population of just one hundred years previously, the native Hawaiians still comprised over 75% of the total population of Hawaii.
Over the last one hundred and twenty years, the numbers of pure Hawaiians, those with only Hawaiian blood, have continued to decline. The pure Hawaiian is a dying race. Today, there are less than 8,000 pure Hawaiians alive.
On the other hand, the number of those who are, at least, part Hawaiian and who consider themselves to be Hawaiian, has increased steadily since the turn of the century. Today, there are estimated to be between 225,000 and 250,000 people with Hawaiian blood living in Hawaii.
What can be said about the native Hawaiian population of today is that it is growing at a rate of about 6000 people per year, and at a higher rate than any other ethnic group in Hawaii.
The majority of the native Hawaiian people, however, have less than 50% pure Hawaiian blood. The majority live on the island of Oʻahu, have a median income of $45,486 and are predominately unmarried.
The native Hawaiians, however, are only a part of the answer to the question, "Who are the people of Hawaii?". Whether you accept the figures of the U.S. Census Bureau or those of the Health Surveillance Program of the Department of Health, native Hawaiians are a minority in their own land.
Then, who are the people of Hawaii? As of the 2000 U.S. Census, there were 1,211,537 people living in Hawaii.
Of those people, 24.3% were Caucasian, 16.7% were of Japanese descent, 14.1% were of Filipino descent, 6.6% were of Hawaiian descent and 4.7% were of Chinese descent. Interestingly, 21.4% of the population identified themselves as belonging to two or more races. Of those people who identify themselves as belonging totally of one race alone or in combination with one or more other races, 58.0% are in whole or partially Asian, 39.3% in whole or partially Caucasian and 23.3% in whole or partially Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.
Estimates for the population of Hawaii in 2006 show a total population increase to 1,285,498.
Hawaii is clearly the most racially integrated state in the United States. It is also the only state where whites are not the majority but rather only a third of the population.
As diverse as Hawaii is racially, so are the large differences in the median household income between Honolulu County (the Island of Oʻahu) and the other counties of Hawaii:
Honolulu County - $ 54,714
Maui County - Lānaʻi, Maui, and Molokai - $49,065
Kauai County - $45,146
Hawaii County - The Big Island $ 42,043
For comparison purposes, the median household income in the United States as a whole is $44,344.
Hawaii's ethnic diversity makes for a very different society than is seen in the rest of the country. While Hawaii is in many ways a much more culturally, ethnically and racially blended society than the rest of the United States it is not, however, a society without its own racial and ethnic problems.
It is often said that there are two types of Hawaiians, those of Hawaiian blood and those who are Hawaiian-at-heart. There are also those who are citizens of the State of Hawaii and who also call this wonderful land their home.