Pukiki - The Portuguese Americans of Hawaii


The Pukiki - The Portuguese Americans of Hawaii is an extraordinarily well conceived documentary, produced and directed by Luís Proença, SJ ,with Chris Wilson as director of photography.

 Pukiki is the Hawaiian term for the Portuguese whose massive immigration to the islands took place between 1878 and 1913. Alarmed by the so-called “yellow danger”, the rapidly increasing arrival of Asian workers, Hawaiian royalty decided to induce European workers to settle in the archipelago. The only nation who favorably reacted to this initiative was Portugal.


Successive levies of Portuguese laborers were consequently arranged between the two governments. Hired to work in sugar plantations the new arrivals often ascended to lunas, i.e. foremen, or engaged in other occupations such as stone masons, merchants, dairy farmers and coffee growers.

 As years went by, the Portuguese integrated into other ethnic groups, but in general maintained a firm identity, as well as their cultural traditions. The former peasants, mainly from the Azores and Madeira,  did not obviously become haoles, but managed to evolve into a solid. respected and prosperous middle class community.


It is the story of their achievements that constitutes the focus of this documentary.   It was a wise decision to entrust comments on the history of the Portuguese in the islands to Professor Edgar J. Knowlton, undoubtedly the academic who most thoroughly researched the itinerary of the group. A most valuable contribution was also offered by Audrey Rocha Reed, a scholar of Madeiran ancestry.

This documentary is profusely illustrated with images of the ships used to bring  the Portuguese immigrants, as well as of life in the sugar plantations. Interviews with Portuguese Hawaiians bring a panoramic view of their present activities and their allegiance to customs and traditions brought from Europe more than a century ago.  It is also these interviews that clearly show a firm and proud adherence to ancestral individuality.



Cultural preservation is patent in segments showing religious ceremonies, the performing of folk dances and songs or everyday events like baking bread in stone ovens, the preparation and display of malassadas (Portuguese doughnuts very popular in Hawaii), Portuguese sweet bread or morcela (blood sausage). Special emphasis is devoted to the story of the ukulale, a direct descendant of the braguinho or cavaquinho brought by the first immigrants from Portugal.

An almost poetic touch is given throughout the documentary by the frequent showing of the surf breaking on the beach or the rocks, presumably symbolic of the ocean as both an element of distance and proximity with the homeland.



Review by
Prof. Eduardo Mayone Dias
Emeritus Professor

Click on Bio to see a full Biography of Fr. Luis Proenca
Click on Music to hear some samples of some of the music he's produced

Click on Photography to view some of his photographs


All material previous is © 2006 by Fr. Luis Proença, S.J.
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