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From Greece to Hawai‘i: An Odyssey

Helen G. Chapin, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

Greek sailors found their way to the Islands on whalers and trading vessels after 1830. Beginning in the late 1870s, poor economic conditions and their own adventurous spirits led some forty men from the small Mediterranean country to migrate and settle on the Big Island and O‘ahu. Mostly from the Sparta area, many were related to each other. They set up produce-growing and shipping operations, cafés, bars, rooming houses, and hotels. They supported the monarchy and participated after the overthrow in the movement to restore the queen to the throne. Imprisoned and suffering business losses for these activities, they reluctantly accommodated to annexation. The men traveled to Greece and to mainland Greek communities for wives, and by World War II, some two hundred men, women, and children formed a community.

George Lycurgus is the Islands’ most famous Greek. Arriving in 1889, Lycurgus was an ardent royalist and was famous for his hospitality at the Hilo Hotel and Volcano House which he owned for more than sixty years. Called “Uncle George” by all, he lived to 101 and credited his long life to his devotion to Pele, Hawaiian fire goddess, whose Halema‘uma‘u home the Volcano House overlooks.

Migration increased after World War II and a Greek church was established. Today some three thousand Greeks live on the major islands. The church sponsors the yearly festival in Ala Moana Park which attracts fifteen thousand people of all ethnic backgrounds who enjoy the music and dancing, food, and culture first brought to Hawai‘i by pioneers in the nineteenth century.