E hele ka ʻelemakule, ka luahine, a me nā kamaliʻi a moe i ke ala ʻaʻohe mea nāna e hoʻopilikia.
Let the old men, the old women, and the children go and sleep on the wayside; let them not be molested.
A law decreed by Kamehameha I.
— ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #280

Do you paddle canoe for a club? Or maybe run track for your school’s team? Or perhaps you hula for a hālau?


What if you don’t do any of those things? Are you still a part of a group? Sure you are! We all belong to many groups based on things like shared interests, geographic location, common goals, or even things that we can’t necessarily control, like whose class we are in. Some groups, like your school’s track team, may be small while others, like your whole school, may be large.


Can you think of some small groups that you’re a member of? How about any larger groups? Well, let’s look at how our connection to Hawai‘i puts us into certain groups.

What is a lāhui?

[Crowd of Hawaiians, with the Royal Hawaiian Band] Washington Place, Hawaiʻi, 1897–1901. Photographer unknown.A lāhui is essentially a group of people. Here in Hawai‘i, we have two basic ways that we use lāhui: lāhui Hawai‘i and lāhui ‘ōiwi. The lāhui Hawai‘i grouping refers to nationality or citizenship, while lāhui ‘ōiwi refers to ethnicity. People’s nationalities are determined by the country of their birth or parentage, so someone’s nationality could be American, but if they moved to France and became a citizen, their nationality would change to French. Their ethnicity, on the other hand, is derived from their ethnic background and wouldn’t change, even if they became a citizen of many different countries. So, do you have to be a Native Hawaiian to be a member of the lāhui Hawai‘i? During the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, the ‘ōiwi or natives were the clear majority of the lāhui Hawai‘i, but non-natives that were officially classified as “non-aboriginal” were also a part of the lāhui Hawai‘i.

On November 28, 1843, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was officially recognized as an independent nation-state. At the time, Hawai‘i was the first and only nation-state to receive international recognition without a European head of state.

He aupuni ko Kamehameha.
Kamehameha has a government.
A warning not to steal. Kamehameha united the islands and made laws that gave everyone peace and safety. Killing and stealing were utterly prohibited.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau # 552)

What’s your nationality?

Have you ever been asked what your nationalities are? Did it seem weird to you? Well, if that never sounded strange to you then, it will soon. That question is really asking how many countries you are a citizen of, but most people want to know your ethnicities when they ask you that. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between nationality and ethnicity.

[Men at H. W. Schmidt's cottage, Maluhia] Tantalus, Hawaiʻi, 1890–91. Photo by C. J. Hedeman.In Hawai‘i, a “national” is a person who is a Hawaiian subject or someone who became a citizen of Hawai‘i. A subject was either (1) born in Hawai‘i and acquired Hawaiian citizenship or (2) applied for naturalization because they either lived in Hawai‘i for at least 5 years and applied to be a subject or were not born in Hawai‘i. A lot of countries confer citizenship on people born within their borders. The United States is another nation, like the Kingdom of Hawai‘i, that does so. So what if a Hawaiian subject takes a trip to America and has a child there? Well, the child would be American by birth but Hawaiian by parentage. That is what we call a dual citizen! If you’re a direct descendant of a Hawaiian subject from the Kingdom, you would be considered a Hawaiian national. If you’re a direct descendant of someone in America, you would be considered a U.S. citizen. Therefore, a person’s citizenry through birth or naturalization is her or his nationality. So what if you have a direct lineage to a Kingdom of Hawai‘i national and you’re native to Hawai‘i? How do you differentiate the two?

The late King David Kalākaua was very tech-savvy.  ‘Iolani Palace, built during his reign, was equipped with both electricity and the telephone before the U.S. White House.

Well, what is your ethnicity?

While nationality identifies groups by their citizenry, ethnicity identifies the group according to commonalities such as language, customs, culture and genealogy. The Hawaiian term for those of Hawaiian ethnicity is lāhui ‘ōiwi. This is a term used to describe the ethnicity of the native population of Hawai‘i. Were there other Hawaiian nationals of different ethnicities? Yes! Here are some early examples of ethnic groups that were lāhui Hawai‘i: English, Irish, Guamanian (Chamorro), and Abdullah from Kolkata, India. So, if an Indian national came to Hawai‘i and gave birth, that child would be a Hawaiian national by birth and an Indian national by parentage. But the child may also be of Indian ethnicity as well, or a Hawaiian national of Indian ethnicity.

[Students in action] Hālau Lōkahi charter school

For Hawaiians, the meaning of lāhui by itself shifted from something like nationalism to ethnicity and back. In the 1830s, when the Hawaiian-language newspapers first began, lāhui was mainly used to refer to what we would consider nations, entities that had sovereignty. European countries were referred to as lāhui, as were Native American tribes.

This use stayed pretty consistent throughout the kingdom era, and the idea of the lāhui Hawai‘i was used as a rallying point through a lot of the political troubles at the end of the nineteenth century. Hawaiian nationals knew they could garner the support of their allies when they called the lāhui Hawai‘i together. After the overthrow and illegal annexation, however, a lot of new people came into Hawai‘i, and they weren’t dedicated to the idea of an independent Hawaiian nation the same way Hawaiian nationals were. They were not necessarily a part of the lāhui Hawai‘i. As it became harder to rally the lāhui Hawai‘i as a national entity and American ideas about race became more prevalent, lāhui came to refer more to ethnicity in common usage. Now, with increased understanding of Hawaiian as a nationality as well as an ethnicity, the different ways to understand lāhui are returning.


He aupuni palapala ko‘u; ‘o ke kanaka pono ‘o ia ko‘u kanaka.
Mine is the kingdom of education; the righteous man is my man.
Uttered by Kauikeaouli, Kamehameha III.
(‘Ōlelo No‘eau # 553)

Aloha ʻāina!

So now that we’ve learned more about the difference between lāhui Hawai‘i (Hawaiian nationality) and lāhui ‘ōiwi (Hawaiian ethnicity), what do we do? Be an aloha ‘āina! That’s a person who loves her or his land and country. Though it is similar to a patriot in English, an aloha ‘āina also has a deep connection to the land itself. Whenever you’re a citizen of a country, your allegiance is to the country, and it’s your civic duty to be a part of the government, to maintain its growth, to increase its growth, and to maintain its independence.  So what’s your nationality and what’s your ethnicity?