Much is known about the many Portuguese men who made their way to Hawaii. Whalers, business owners, plantation laborers, and so forth, who later made their way into society. But, little is known of the early Portuguese women. Finding their stories is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, but their stories deserve to be told, too.
Let’s Talk About Maria Loriana Goncalves da Cunha
Maria Loriana Gonsalves da Cunha is credited as being the first Portuguese woman to arrive on Hawaiian shores. This was years before the ships brought both male and female laborers from Madeira and the Azores.
Beyond that distinction, there are so many questions. For instance, why did she go to Hawaii in the first place?
There are very few clues in historical records to tell Maria Loriana’s story.
Was Maria Loriana in an Arranged Marriage?
In Edgar Knowlton’s “Portuguese Immigrants to Hawaii”, there is brief mention of Maria Loriana in the entry for her husband, Antonio Jorge Cunha. She was from Pico. She was issued a passport in 1864.
Maria Loriana married Antonio Jorge Cunha on 11 Jan 1865. It doesn’t say that they were were married in Hawaii, but given the fact that Antonio was from the island of Sao Jorge, we have to assume the marriage took place in Hawaii.
In order to know Maria Loriana’s story, we have to know one thing. There was a small group of Portuguese men in Hawaii who were lonely and wanted wives. As such, they paid through some sort of intermediary for brides to be sent to Hawaii.
Maria Loriana was one of these women. You can read about that tale in the Azorean Brides.
A Twist of Fate Makes Maria Loriana The First Portuguese Woman in Hawaii
Joseph Seabury was sent to the Azores to bring these women to Hawaii. He was also bringing his wife back with him. She would act as chaperone.
All of these women would have been the first Portuguese women in Hawaii, wouldn’t they? In turns out as they came towards San Francisco, Joseph Seabury became very ill and needed medical attention. We cannot know what happened in San Francisco. But, the fact remain, Maria Loriana went on to Hawaii while the others stayed in San Francisco.
Perhaps she was was just tired of the long voyage and wanted it over. Maybe she was eager to meet her new husband and start her new life.
Whatever the reason, she was the first Portuguese woman to get off a ship in Honolulu and that distinction will always be hers.
Still, So Few Details About Her
How could so little be recorded about such a pioneer? We don’t know her parent’s names or where she was born. She is 34 or so by the time she marries Antonio. Why did she marry so late? Was she perhaps a widow?
She is mentioned in J.F. Freitas’ “Portuguese Hawaiian Memories”. The only new information that we learn from this is that she had one child.
Maria Loriana died 18 Jul 1887. She was 56. Not much is recorded about her 23 years in Hawaii.
She is noted on websites, but they only state her status as a first in Hawaii — nothing more.
What was Her World Like?
Once she got to Hawaii, we know nothing of her life. She was a wife and mother. But, what was her life really like? You have to imagine Hawaii in 1864. The major wave of Portuguese immigration was over a decade away. You have to wait until 1878 before the contract laborers begin filtering in.
Maria Loriana arrived 14 years before this migration. She was just one of a small group of Portuguese females in Hawaii in 1864.
There were most likely Portuguese men around. Given the conventions of the day, would her husband have allowed her to speak with them or even be around them? He may have been protective and kept her from such influences. Would she have had the freedom to mingle with other Portuguese men or would she be hidden away for fear of someone taking advantage of her?
Did She Stay in Touch with the Other Portuguese Brides?
What became of that small group of Portuguese brides? Maria Loriana would have been settled in by the time the others arrived. We do not know if the women were part of the same community or if they even lived on the same island.
It is possible that Maria Loriana had contact with other women besides those who were Portuguese. But, there would have been a language barrier. What of her contact with other women? Did she learn to speak Hawaiian, English, or any of the other languages those around her might have spoken?
Was she able to make friends with Hawaiian woman? There were foreign women in the islands as well. Missionaries of various backgrounds had been arriving since the mid-1800s. Was she able to make contact with them or was language a barrier that isolated her from other people?
If she didn’t speak other languages, her days may have been very lonely. Until she had children, her only means of conversation would have been with her husband. She would have been very isolated in a world very different from than the one she grew up in.
I Don’t Know Any of these Answers
Of course, all this is supposition. It’s possible that Maria Loriana was a strong person, a survivor. She may have been completely different from the isolated individual surmised in this article. For instance, being of the mature age of 34, she may have been given privileges that a younger, more protected woman would not have had.
Perhaps Maria Loriana was well educated from a well off family. She may have even paid her own way to Hawaii. Women of this era were becoming more adventurous. Then again, it may just be that she had a relative in the islands who arranged the marriage and she went to fulfill her duty.
The descendants of Maria Loriana probably know the real story. But, the official documentation leaves much to be desired.
Such is the case with most of our early female ancestry. But, when they arrived, they were the foundations of their families. They worked hard in the fields, took care of the household duties, raised their children, and took care of their husbands, parents, and other relatives.
Yet, most of their stories have faded from history as their lives were not viewed as important as others with grander achievements. As genealogists, it’s our job to uncover what we can. Then we must figure out what is not there as well as what is. Only in this way can our grandmothers, great grandmothers, and so forth be given back their rightful identities in our family trees.
May we learn more about Maria Loriana Goncalves da Cunha in the future.
1. Portuguese-Hawaiian Memories: 1930. By J.F. Freitas. Newark, CA : Communications Concepts, c1992. Entry for Antonio George Cunha, page 162.
2. Portuguese Immigrants to Hawaii. Compiled by Edgar C. Knowlton, Jr. Hawaii : Maui Portuguese Cultural Club, c1993. Entry for Antonio Jorge Cunha, page 20.
3. Portuguese Immigrants in the United States: Chronology, 1770-1869. Library of Congress website, posted 31 Jul 1998. Chronology
© 2002 Melody Lassalle