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Hawaii, the Aloha State: Part 1

Aloha. As I started researching Hawaii, I realized, I was two years old before Hawaii became our 50th state on August 21, 1959. Wow, I'm older than one of the most beautiful places on earth. Wait, that's not what I meant! Hawaii has been beautiful since volcanic eruptions beneath the Pacific Ocean created the eight main islands. Lush, exotic flowers, wonderful sugar cane (I've got a sweet tooth!), four different colors of sandy beaches, and active volcanoes. Surfing and, occasionally, snow skiing. Wow, Paradise!

Growing up, Hawaii to me was TV shows and movies. I saw the images of the incredible landscapes, but I really didn't know anything about Hawaii. I've been pleasantly surprised by my Hawaiian education. Here's some of what I've learned.

The Islands: The Hawaiian Archipelago is made up of nineteen islands and atolls about 1,500 miles in length. The eight main islands are the high islands at the southeastern end of the archipelago; Ni'ihau, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, Lana'i, Kaho'olawe, Maui and the Island of Hawai'i (the " Big Island"). Maui, Oahu and Hawaii are perhaps the best known, and I have heard of Kauai and Molokai, but the last three were new to me.

Discovery: British Captain James Cook is credited with the discovery of Hawaii in 1778, which he named as the Sandwich Islands in honor of his sponsor the 4th Earl of Sandwich, but Hawaii has been populated for at least 1,500 years. I didn't know Hawaii was also the Sandwich Islands.

Name Origins: There are several different theories as to how Hawaii became the name for these islands. It could be from the Maori name for their place of origin, Hawaiki. It could also have come from legends that say a fisherman named Hawaiiloa discovered the Hawaiian Islands. Another theory is that it morphed from a phonetic spelling of native word Owhyhee.

Native Peoples: Polynesians migrated to the Hawaii Islands approximately 1,500 years ago, and grew from small settlements to a nearly isolated complex society. Local chiefs ruled settlements and fought to defend them from rivals.

Languages: Hawaii has two official languages: Hawaiian and English, but Japanese and Tagalog are also commonly used. A written language was created when missionaries in the 19th century began assigning English letters to Hawaiian oral words. Pronunciation marks were added, which can make the written word a bit confusing.

Royalty: I had heard of King Kamehameha, but knew nothing else. It is believed he was born in 1758. In 1810, he unified the Islands of Hawaii and became their king. He was quite the skilled politician and was able to become friends with major Pacific colonial powers in order to preserve many of the native Hawaiian ways of life. His family ruled Hawaii until 1872. Two other families ruled Hawaii until January 17, 1893, when American plantation owners with the help of the US Marines ousted the royal family.

Population: By 2000, Hawaii had a population of more than 1.2 million. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans, Chinese and Japanese immigrants, workers, missionaries and trades people began populating the islands.

Folklore and Mythology: Pele (the only one I had heard of) is the goddess of fire, lightning, dance, volcanoes and violence. Ka-moho-ali'i is a shark god and when a ship was lost at sea, he shook his tail in front of the ship and the priest (kahuna) would feed him "awa" and the god would guide the men home. Laka, Pele's sister, is the patron goddess of hula dancers and is a fertility goddess of music, dance, and rain. Night marchers are ghosts of ancient warriors that roam large sections of the island chain at ancient battlefields. If you play dead when you meet a night marcher, you'll stay alive.

Hula Dance: Now, most of us have seen some representation of the Hula dance. One Hawaiian legend says that Laka gave birth to the dance on the island of Molokai. Another says that Pele's sister Hi'iaka created the dance to please her sister. Before 1778 (when the European missionaries arrived) the hula was a religious practice. The European missionaries banned it as heathen, but King David Kalakau encouraged its resumption. What tourists see today is a combination of the original religious aspects merged with poetry, costumes and dance.

Luau: A luau is a Hawaiian feast (an aha'aina) to celebrate special occasions. Traditionally, the feast had spiritual significance: eating with the gods. In ancient times, men and women were not allowed to eat together, and woman could not eat certain foods such as pork, bananas, and coconut. In 1819, King Kamehameha II changed this by eating at a feast with women. Luau became the accepted term in the mid-1800s.

Well, I've run out of room here, so I will have to continue this in another article. There is still so much to tell! Aloha!

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