Sharks upon the Land: Epidemics and Culture in Hawaii, 1778-1865

Seth Archer
UC Riverside

This dissertation traces the cultural impact of introduced infectious disease in Hawai‘i, from the arrival of Europeans in 1778 to the Act to Prevent the Spread of Leprosy in 1865. Hawaiians in this period met with a series of devastating “virgin soil” epidemics that challenged their health, subsistence, worldviews, and eventually their sovereignty. While scholars have noted the role of epidemics in the depopulation of Hawai‘i, few have considered the effects of Old World diseases on Hawaiian society and culture—including religion, medicine, gender, and family structure. This work aims to fill this important gap, while at the same time providing a comparative case study for disease and culture change among indigenous populations worldwide.