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migration, sugar cane, cuisine, surf



Worlds apart, Madeira and Hawaii share a rich history: migration, sugar cane, cuisine, surf, ukulele, lifestyle, traditions and cultural connections. The Madeira-Hawaii connection also reflects geographical similarities: both are volcanic with rugged and dramatic coastlines, soaring peaks, lush green landscapes, surf-worthy waves and distinct local traditions and values.



Portuguese immigration to Hawaii began in 1878, mostly from the Madeira Islands and the Azores to work in the sugar cane plantations, arriving most as as sailors on whaling ships, making the long arduous voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific.



Sugar cane in Hawaii was introduced by its first inhabitants in approximately 600 AD and eventually observed by Captain Cook upon arrival in the islands in 1778.

Conditions in Hawaii in 1878 were conducive to immigration. King Kalākaua, who had recently ascended the Hawaiian throne, encouraged closer ties with Europe, and a growing Hawaiian economy, due largely to increased sugar exports to California, created a demand for these laborers to work the sugar cane plantations.

By the end of 1911 nearly 16,000 Portuguese immigrants had arrived. The Portuguese also contributed to the growth of Hawaii’s ranching industry, working as paniolo (cowboys). Many of them assimilated and intermarried into the Hawaiian community, cementing the Madeira-Hawaii connection through traditions and culture.

These immigrants weren’t the first Portuguese in Hawaii, as there are accounts of Portuguese sailors jumping ship in the islands as early as 1794. In addition, a Portuguese adventurer, John Elliot de Castro, came to Hawaii in 1814 and became a retainer of King Kamehameha the Great, but left two years later.

Sugar cane in Hawaii and pineapple plantations were the largest employers in Hawaii. Today both are gone, production having moved to other countries.

sugar cane in hawaii



Portuguese colonists had first discovered and settled the Madeira Islands and the Azores back in the 15th century, and the terrain and subtropical climate were very similar to that of the Hawaiian Islands.

Sugar cane in Madeira had been the mainstay of the economy for over 400 years, and most of the population was involved in one way or another in the sugar cane industry. Making Portuguese immigrants experienced and knowledgeable workers for the Hawaiian sugar cane plantations, suggested by Jason Perry (Jacinto Pereira), a Portuguese settler who served as the Portuguese Consul to Hawaii.

Sugar cane in Madeira is a centuries old business that remains strong even to this day, producing aguardente (rum) and mel-de-cana (molasses) from sugar cane. Sugar Cane in Madeira was also known locally as “White Gold”.



Having first arrived from Polynesia and settled in the Islands more than a millennia before the start of the sugar era, Hawaii’s indigenous culture largely chose self-sustaining fishing and farming over plantation life.

native hawaiians

Vintage snapshots of Native Hawaiians


Their population ravaged by lack of immunity to diseases brought to the Islands by foreigners, Hawaiians were employed by landowners for field clearing and planting during the industry’s early years, pre-1850, but not so much at its peak.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, more than 527,000 people nationwide identified as “Native Hawaiian.” Hawaiian culture has particularly flourished in the last half-century through new generations of kanaka maoli—Native Hawaiians—perpetuating the Hawaiian language and traditional tenets of the culture, including hula, land and ocean stewardship, music, surfing and myriad art forms.

Interest and participation in Hawaiian cultural practices has also expanded to other resident Hawaii ethnic groups and worldwide.



Native Hawaiians called the Portuguese immigrants who came to their country “Pukikī.” These newcomers were devout followers of the Roman Catholic faith with strong family ties.

sugar cane in hawaii

Vintage snapshot of sugar cane workers in Hawaii  |  Portrait of cabinet maker Agostinho Abreu with granddaughter Charlotte playing the ukulele


Most were short, with slender builds, and dark skin from long hours of working out under the sun in the cane fields. Many in fact were so dark that their race on some of the early U.S. census returns is listed as black, which contributed to prejudice against them.

Because few of the Portuguese immigrants could read and write, they had strong oral traditions, they were able to retain much of the culture and traditions from their homeland.



The Portuguese, like the other nationalities who came to work on the plantations, also left their mark on island cuisine.

The Portuguese are credited for bringing baked goods in Hawaii because of the “forno”, a wood-fired brick oven. Before that, in Hawaii, there really were no ovens. The Hawaiians had the imu and the missionaries cooked with the iron pots with the lid, the Dutch ovens.

On Shrove Tuesday, aka “Fat Tuesday,” the day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, malasadas have become such a popular item the day is now known in Hawaii as “Malasada Day.”

malasadas portuguese cuisine

A Catholic tradition that is uniquely Portuguese, the Feast of the Holy Ghost, which originated with the sixth Queen of Portugal, Isabel, is still celebrated in several Hawaii parishes, including Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Honokaa.

Portuguese cuisine made its mark on Hawaiian culture, they brought foods such as Malasadas: a sweet doughnut without a hole in it  Linguica: spicy sausage, Acorda: bread soup, Arroz Doce: sweet rice, Caldeirada: seafood stew, Caldo Verde: kale and potato soup, Feijao: beans, Pao Doce: sweet bread made with egg and butter, Piri Piri: a hot and sour sauce made of hot chili peppers, garlic, onions, tomatoes, horseradish, and lemon juice, Pudim Flan: custard, Sabula de Vinha: pickled onions, Sopa de Feijao: bean soup, and Vinha D’ Alhos: fish or pork in vinegar and garlic. These wonderful foods have become a valued part of the Hawaiian melting pot, incorporating the Madeira lifestyle into Hawaiian culture.



The best-known Portuguese contribution to Hawaiian culture is the ukulele, based on the traditional Portuguese braguinha (cavaquinho). The introduction of the ukulele is generally credited to Madeiran cabinet makers Manuel Nunes, Augusto Dias and José do Espírito Santo, who came to the Hawaiian Islands in 1879 on the British clipper SS Ravenscrag.

Two weeks after the ship’s arrival, The Hawaiian Gazette reported that “Madeira Islanders recently arrived here have been delighting the people with nightly street concerts.”

Portuguese craftsmen, like Manuel Nunes, soon discovered that wood from the endemic Hawaiian koa tree proved to be ideal for shaping the instruments such as the ukulele and producing fine tones.

As local production began, Hawaiians adopted the instrument with enthusiasm, their strumming and singing becoming ubiquitous across the islands by the mid 1880s. And thus, the ukulele, which roughly translates as “jumping flea” was born.

ukulele in hawaii madeira

One of the most important factors in establishing the ukulele in Hawaiian music and culture was the ardent support and promotion of the instrument by King Kalākaua. A patron of the arts, he incorporated the ukulele into performances at royal gatherings.

Earning the nickname “Merrie Monarch”, King Kalākaua is credited with reviving many endangered native Hawaiian traditions such as mythology, medicine, and chant. He was also a strong supporter of the hula. Many of these cultural practices had been suppressed for many years under missionary teachings.

Today, this quirky instrument with its sweet sound, whispery nylon strings and diminutive body – the ukulele panders to the appeal of faraway Hawaii as an exotic paradise. The ukulele stands firm in traditional Hawaiian culture and also makes its mark in western pop culture, both in music and cinema.



Hula was developed in the Hawaiian Islands by the Polynesians who originally settled there. The hula is a visual form of story-telling.

hula - kumu paul neves

Hula dancers under the tutelage of Kumu Paul Neves


Hula dancing is a complex art form, and there are many hand motions used to represent the words in a song or chant. Hand movements can signify aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the breeze or a wave in the ocean, or a feeling or emotion, such as fondness or yearning. Foot and hip movements often pull from a basic library of steps including the kaholo, kaʻo, kawelu, hela, ʻuwehe, and ʻami.

There are many sub-styles of hula, with the main two categories being Hula ʻAuana and Hula Kahiko. Ancient hula, as performed before Western encounters with Hawaiʻi, is called kahiko. The hula is accompanied by chant and traditional instruments.

Hula, as it evolved under Western influence in the 19th and 20th centuries, is called ʻauana (a word that means “to wander” or “drift”). It is accompanied by song and Western-influenced musical instruments such as the guitar, the ukulele, and the double bass.



Surf was born in Hawaii and is deeply intertwined with its history and culture. The earliest written account of surfing, or hee nalu in Hawaiian, was by Lieutenant James King in 1779 just months after Captain Cook’s death. He described Native Hawaiians riding a wood plank on the swells of Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaii.

surf in hawaii and madeira

Surfing is believed to have originated long ago in ancient Polynesia, but later thrived in Hawaii. It was once a sport only reserved for alii (Hawaiian royalty), which is why surfing is often called the “sport of kings.”

King Kamehameha I himself was known for his surfing ability. With the end of the Hawaiian kapu (taboo) system in 1819, commoners were allowed to freely participate in the sport.

However, when western missionaries arrived in the 1800s, they discouraged Hawaiian customs like hula and surfing. In the late 1800s, the “Merrie Monarch” King Kalakaua, one of the last reigning monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom, revived the hula, signaling the return of Hawaiian cultural pride.

Surfing has been a way of life for thousands of years among Pacific Islanders. In ancient times, surfing prowess earned you actual political power. In the early 1900s, surfing began to be recognized by international sporting agencies as a legitimate sport.

Surfing’s mainstream popularity peaked in the United States in the early 1960s, with music, movies, and television programs dedicated to the surfing lifestyle.



Thanks to the Hawaiians, surf is now part of the Madeira lifestyle. The waves in Madeira Island are powerful and spectacular, just as the beauty of the island itself, famous for its sheer breath-taking cliffs and spectacular waves, from point breaks to reef breaks. These waves are generated by the rugged and steep coast and the rocks on the seabed, causing great water outflows. Therefore making surf here a huge scene in the ocean culture in Madeira Island, often referred to as the Hawaii of Europe. Read the full story on Surf in Madeira here.



kumu paul neves interview madeira lifestyle

Paul Kevin Keali’ikea o Mano Neves, Kumu Hula / Hula Master of Hawaiian dance.

Kumu Paul is the son of a native Hawaiian mother Anes Kaina Kainapau Kea Mano (1913-1993) and Portuguese father Manuel Fernandes Neves (1912-1997). He lives in Keaukaha – a small village just outside the city of Hilo, Hawai’i, with his wife Wanda Mokihana, his daughter Akala, and his son Kinohi. He now has two mo’opuna (grandchildren). Kumu Paul comes from a large family. His father was one of 14 siblings, 10 boys and 4 girls. Kumu Paul is one of 15 siblings, 11 boys and 4 girls. This solidified his great sense of family and community.



This peaceful warrior and ambassador of aloha is an advocate for Native Hawaiian rights, being involved with the spiritual, cultural, and political challenges facing Native Hawaiian nationals. He is a High Chief or Ali’i Noeau Loa of the Royal Order of Kamehameha I.

“This Royalist Society is a unique extension of the Hawaiian Kingdom.” says Kumu Paul. “Hawai’i was an independent and internationally recognized country from 1843 to 1893. An American led conspiracy and the use of U.S. military force, overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom. Forcing our Queen Lili’uokalani to abdicate the throne on January 17th, 1893 under duress. The Royal Order of Kamehameha I has continued to play a vital role of uplifting the Native Hawaiian people and loyal supporters. Political, spiritual and cultural awareness and activism continues to grow and reassert itself in Hawai’i.”

kumu paul neves interview madeira lifestyle hula


Kumu Paul is a cultural practitioner of the traditional ways of the Kanaka Maoli, Native Hawaiian people. Kumu Paul emphasizes aloha as a lifestyle, and within a halau setting, ‘ohana (family), alaka’i (leadership/discipline), and lokahi (unity), as the core of communal expression.

His purpose in supporting the creation of the hālau ‘ohana communities is to lay a foundation of aloha with the goal of making a difference in the world today through the practice of Hawaiian culture and values.

He has given workshops on spiritual, cultural and political analysis of the Native Hawaiian Nationals in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, across the United States, Puerto Rico, Europe and at the United Nations in New York, the World Council of Churches and the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. He has participated as an official observer for the Royal Order of Kamehameha I with regards to the Hawaiian Kingdom at The World Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

The teacher of hula is the kumu hula. Kumu means “source of knowledge”, or literally “teacher”. He has been teaching hula for over 20 years with schools in Keaukaha (Hawaii), San Francisco (California) and Kyoto (Japan), including connected schools in Austin (Texas), Denver (Colorado) and in Washington D.C.



Kumu Paul’s grandparents, Joao Fernandes Neves and Maria Rodrigues-De Pao, migrated from Funchal and Machico in Madeira, who went to Hawaii in 1906 as plantation laborers. In 2018, Kumu Paul visited the land of his ancestors – Madeira Island. Whilst on the island, he took the opportunity to introduce and teach hula to the local people of Madeira, sharing the Hawaiian culture and aloha spirit at Pukiki Tiki Bar.



“When I was a child I remember my grandparents having a map on the wall. It was of the island of Madeira but it had handwritten notes by grandpa in Portuguese. He had written about the places on Kaua’i that reminded him of home. Overtime I came to know a little more. My grandfather did not speak very much English. Grandma spoke more but very hard to understand. She was a bread maker and my dad would do that for us at Christmas and Easter,  also we used a lot of garlic and vinegar on everything and he used to pickle the pork and then fry it!

My grandparents never naturalized as Americans. Legally they were Portuguese Nationals until their deaths in 1972 (vuvu) and 1986 (vovo). We now know that grandma was part German. Grandpa was part French, Italian and Azorean. Grandpa, Joao Fernandes Neves was born in Funchal and Grandma, Maria Rodrigues de Pao was from Machico.

They were married at St Peters in Funchal. They left Madeira in 1906 on the British ship Kumeric. They docked in Honolulu on December 1st, of that year. After a month quarantine they came ashore, it was 1907. They came with other family members as well. They settled on Kaua’i at Kilauea where they worked in the Sugar Plantation.

My father was born at Kilauea, Kaua’i on March 29th, 1912. Later they moved to Honolulu. They had 14 children. 10 boys and 4 girls. Only one of this part of my family lives, My Uncle Ralph Neves (of California) is in his 80s and has become the first to become a Portuguese citizen!

For many years I had asked about Portugal. But no one could ever explain why there was no effort to return. Of course my father and his siblings had never lived there and my grandparents never said anything about the place they had left…”



Kumu Paul Neves for Madeira lifestyle

Captured by @vitor.esteves


In 2016, Kumu Paul was with his son Kinohi and another musician Namaka DeMello in Switzerland giving a Hawaiian cultural workshop to a Yodel Festival in the Alps. While he was there, he hoped to get the opportunity to see his second homeland, Madeira Island. That is when he started his Madeiran journey. Through a Trip Advisor named Vasconcellos, she directed him to Pukiki Tiki Bar in Madeira.

“I said I was a hula Master and I would love to give hula workshops and cultural exchange without cost to whomever was interested. They agreed so I altered my fights and arranged a 5 day stay.

As we approached Madeira it was just like what I had googled for years from Hawaii. Of course from the air it looked like Hawaii. It looked like Honolulu but without high rises. When I got off the plane a gentle rain came over me and I knew God was blessing me. I was there for the right reason. I was humbled and felt touched deeply. I was not a tourist. I was not a thrill seeker. I was a grandson who had returned.

Looking up I saw two hands waving. One I recognized as Carla. Her mother was the other. The airport reminded me of the airports on our outer islands in Hawaii. The area looked as if I were in Hawaii Kai and area just beyond Diamond Head at Waikiki. Now I was the one comparing islands. Just like grandpa once did. I was greeted with aloha just as if I were home. As we drove the beauty was the same! The banana farming was great to see. And so many plants and flowers are Hawaiian.

My first impression is that I was visiting another Hawaiian island for the first time! It was awesome!

My favorite things about Madeira… It was my first time so it is difficult to pinpoint a favorite thing. I will say it like this, I came seeking to find my cultural roots. Tourism we have in Hawaii. Some say too much tourism. But anything I saw through the eyes of my hosts, my new friends. My friends, Pukiki Tiki Bar owners Martin and Carla, her mother Rosa and sister Patty and my friend Andrea Ferreira.

They introduced me to the land and spirit of my grandparents. They did this with aloha. Aloha is an unconditional love of giving. They did this just like I would if they ever came to Hawai’i.

To see the views and the drive through the mountains. The black sand at Sexial, the waterfalls, the natural car wash. The flowers, the trees, the streams cutting through the island. The opihi or “lapas” as you call it. The excellent organic food, fish and Portuguese style food. The rum, the local drink. The churches and streets of Funchal. The restaurant on the beach at Machico. The cliffs and the fiery sunsets. That was made so beautiful because of their hospitality.

And oh what fun I had giving those three hula workshops. Every person who came brought their willingness to learn and engage, Awesome! I know I have much to see but I look forward to seeing it through the eyes of my new friends, my new ohana our way of saying family.”

Kumu Paul’s goal is to spread hula and Hawaiian culture in the world. He has permanent halau or schools in his style in the United States, Hawaii, and Asia. He hopes to make Madeira Island the gateway for Hawaiian culture in Europe, by establishing a halau on the island in the near future. Bringing his culture from Hawaii home to Madeira in thanksgiving for the Portuguese gift that came to live in Hawaii.

“My desire is to live at least one half a year in Madeira to teach hula/culture and the Hawaiian style ukulele. I knew when I visited Madeira the first time, I was the one of my family to give back.”



Phone: 808 9378575
Kumu Paul k. Neves
380 Nahale-A Ave
Hilo Hawaii 96720





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