Hawaiians & Cubans

Cuba and Hawaii – same latitude … interesting.

Okay, this may be a complete wild goose chase, but I have questions and I’m not finding satisfactory answers. Maybe if I share the questions, you can all help me figure it out. Listos?

It all started over a month ago – we were strolling the Dollar Store when I noticed the seasonal merchandise for throwing a Hawaiian luau themed party. Within the assortment of plastic coconut bras, grass skirts and silk flower leis, I found a sign that said “Tiki Tiki Bar” … Whenever I see anything that says “Tiki Tiki”, I have a tendency to take a photo and text it to Carrie over at Tiki Tiki Blog.


Question #1. Why do both Hawaiians and Cubans use the word “Tiki Tiki”? (Although Cubans and some other Latin Americans use the word differently.)

If you look up “Tiki” in the dictionary you get this:

Tiki [tee-kee]
1. The first man on earth in Polynesian mythology
2. A carved image, as of a god or ancestor, sometimes worn as a pendant around the neck in Polynesian cultures
Origin: 1875–80; < Maori and Marquesan

Tiki torch is first recorded 1973.

Image source: Geir Friestad

Question #2. If the word is Polynesian (which includes not only Hawaiian but Maori, Tahitian, Samoan, and the language of Easter Island), how did Cubans and other Latin Americans come to get a hold of it?

Now, the plot thickens, because what else do you usually find in Hawaiian luau merchandise? … You find what are often referred to as “guajiro hats.”

My niño at the dollar store… pretending to be Cuban or Hawaiian?

What does “Guajiro” mean?

From Wiki.answers.com: “Guajiro” is a Cuban peasant, or farm worker.

A contemporary take on it claims the origin of the word “GUAJIRO” came from the Spanish American War in 1898. The story goes that after the good guys won, The US Army told all the Cuban peasants that helped fight in the war that they were free…that they were all “WAR HEROS”…. They heard this and walk away triumphant “Guajiros”… This is complete nonsense. The term, “guajiro,” is recorded by Father Bartolome de las Casas and other early Spanish chroniclers. It is mentioned in Cuban literature throughout the 19th Century. Its origin had nothing to do with the Spanish American War in 1898.

If you search the internet for “guajiro” – it’s rare to find this kind of hat – although some search results do exist.

This screenshot taken from cubanfoodmarket.com

What you’re more likely to see when you search “guajiro” are Cuban cowboys wearing a differently styled hat. (I would guess they’re made of dried palm fronds or straw but I’m not sure. In Hawaii, apparently hats are usually made from leaves of the hala tree.)

Image source: Angeles Ramos / Guajiro in Cuba

Image source: Josep Manel Sicart

By the way, if you’d like to further complicate things, “guajiro” also refers to “an Amerindian ethnic group of the La Guajira Peninsula in northern Colombia and northwest Venezuela.” … Now how did that happen?

So, what’s the deal? Who can unravel the mystery, if indeed there is one … are Hawaiians and Cubans long lost primos? What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Hawaiians & Cubans

  1. I know that in the 1899-onward thousands of Puerto Ricans were sent to Hawaii to work on sugar plantations there. It was after the Spanish-Cuban-American war. I don’t know if any Cubans went as well but it would seem possible. Hurricanes had devastated sugar production in the Caribbean and so there was increased demand for Hawaiian sugar. Another way things may have traveled from Hawaii to Cuba would have been with soldiers. In the war, the US fought spain in the Philippines but based their operations in Hawaii. At the same time they were fighting in Cuba as well. I wonder if troops went between the three.

    • This is why I love my readers! Great info, Graciela! There certainly seems to be some possibilities in this history you shared. Can’t wait to see what others add to the conversation. Gracias :)

  2. In Puerto Rico, we also have straw hats and instead of guajiros they are jibaros (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%ADbaro). When I visited Hawaii, I noticed a lot of similarities too. For example, they roast the pig in whole in the ground for the luau, we roast the pig in whole on a stick, Cubans do a similar method. I think the tropical island aspect might be a reason that things are similar, but perhaps this history lesson from Graciela is a start to learning the real truth. Did you know there are coquis in Hawaii now after being sent there from Puerto Rico? Unfortunately, Hawaiians don’t love their singing as much as Boricuas do. Look it up, they’re trying to get rid of them! :(

  3. Fun story and a quick History 101 of things in common about two completely different cultures WEPA! I enjoy and like your writing style Tracy! Keep it up my friend
    Side note: sad to hear that Hawaiians do not enjoy our coquis and trying to get rid of them..not nice ahhh!

    • Excellent info, Melanie! It’s amazing what we never even hear about in school. Thanks for leaving this link here for people to explore and learn more.

  4. Ha ha! My husband is not Cuban but on three occasions he has been asked if he is Hawaiian… he’s happens to be a 6 foot Mexican… I guess he could look a little Tongan or something :/

  5. yikes. no offense, because i realize that your train of thought here was just in a innocent, non-serious sense, but this is a bunch of rubbish. the comments and thoughts about polynesian culture sound really really ignorant.

    • Hi “eeks” – I don’t see any rubbish or ignorance — no one here claimed to know anything for certain or to be any kind of authority on the topic. All I see are a few curious people throwing ideas around and trying to figure something out. If you have some information, please do share – but in the spirit of the conversation and as my policy on this blog, without name calling or negativity please. All of us are interested in learning something new.

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