Illustration: Mourning for Keōpūolani
Mourning for Keōpūolani, sacred wife of Kamehameha I, at her passing in 1823 after an epidemic in Lāhaina. - Illustration: Stewart, C.S.(1828) Journal of a Residence in the Sandwich Islands

Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. 

Epidemics are terrifying. We see this terror through the Covid-19 disease of this time – a true infectious disease. It is a worldwide pandemic. It is something our predecessors knew too well from the time Captain Cook arrived, namely, that epidemics were brought from foreign places. Therefore, it is not surprising that Hawaiʻi citizens would oppose visitors from coming to Hawaiʻi because the first patients of corona in Beloved Hawaiʻi were visitors or those locals who visited other foreign lands or “hotspots” of the virus.

Epidemics and pandemics are infectious diseases. Cook brought venereal disease to Hawaiʻi. It arrived in Kauaʻi and nine months later spread to Verdant Hawaiʻi Island. When Liholiho and Kamāmalu visited England they were stricken with the measles upon visiting an orphanage. Their sad deaths occured in 1824. Subsequently, from the end of 1848 to the first half of 1849, a wave of epidemics arrived: whooping cough, cholera and influenza. Approximately 10,000 people died. Levi Chamberlin wrote that in 1849 about half of the population had passed away and that “Greater was the number of the dead than the living.”

According to a missionary letter from Hilo, the measles arrived there on the Independence from Mazatlan, Mexico. Within two months it spread and infected the whole Hawaiian archipelago. The disease spread and wiped out entire villages and families. And, through contact tracing, a ship that arrived from California was identified as the one that brought whooping cough. Introduced in the same way was smallpox in 1853 and leprosy sometime before 1865, and the Bubonic Plague of 1900 although the latter was transmitted through fleas on rats.

Papa ʻōlelo

  • keiki makuaʻole – orphan
  • hoʻomeheu (o nā) kānaka kaʻa launa – contact tracing
  • maʻi ahulau – epidemic
  • maʻi kalea – whopping cough
  • maʻi kolela – cholera
  • maʻi laulā a puni ka honua – pandemic
  • maʻi lēpela – leprosy
  • maʻi moe kōlohe – venereal disease
  • maʻi puʻupuʻu liʻiliʻi – smallpox
  • maʻi ʻula – measles
  • maʻi piwa ʻeleʻele – black plague/bubonic plague

One of the worst pandemics in Hawaiʻi was the Spanish Flu (la grippe) of 1918. It arrived at Schofield military base and spread throughout Oʻahu. The Spanish Flu first appeared in America in Kansas and arrived in Hawaiʻi and elsewhere throughout the world through the deployment of troops to Europe during World War I. The response from the leaders of the Territory of Hawaiʻi was to not even look towards the consequences of the disease in Hawaiʻi. They ignored, stalled and did not adequately prepare. As a result, more than 2,000 lives were lost. Therefore, the lessons of the past are known. The spear of wisdom will defend Hawaiʻi.