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Agricultural and fishing activities bring about extensive and scattered rural settlement, ranging from tiny fishing villages far off the main roads, scant clusters of small houses in isolated valleys, solitary farm and ranch houses, to large coastal and upland villages and plantation and ranch towns.

The older houses in the smaller villages are largely single-family, raised, frame structures, with corrugated-iron roofs. Plants of native origin skirt the foundations of houses, and the yards are informally planted with fruit and flower trees. In all but the very small villages, there are a school, markets, a post office, a fire station, and at least one church. The day's activities traditionally begin early and end early, following the sun. The life-style of the rural people is simpler and less sophisticated than that of the urban populations, and the country dwellers tend to retain more of the speech patterns and customs of their distinctive ethnic backgrounds.

During the 1950s and '60s there was a building boom in Hawaii of such magnitude that the configuration of entire towns was altered. The most graphic example of this was in the city of Honolulu, where construction of 20- and 30-story buildings gave the city, once sprawling and low, a thrusting, multileveled skyline. On Oahu, erstwhile vacation or agricultural towns have become expansive residential areas for commuters to Honolulu and Pearl Harbor.

Urban settlement once consisted almost entirely of single-family dwellings, individual business houses and shops, small markets, and three- or four-story hotels. With the increase of residents and tourists since 1950, however, Hawaiian towns and cities have built more and more high-rise apartment houses, hotels, and business establishments, with the traditional individual shopkeepers becoming absorbed into the complexes of shopping centres and supermarkets. The concept of the planned city has been developed in areas that were previously open spaces or given over to agriculture.

Most anthropologists believe that the original settlement of Hawaii was by Polynesians who migrated northwest from the Marquesas Islands perhaps as early as 400 AD, to be followed by a second wave of immigration that sailed from Tahiti during the 9th or 10th century. Once they had established themselves in Hawaii, the Hawaiians had no further need to obtain supplies from their old homeland and underwent centuries of isolation. Although there are still rather close resemblances in linguistics, physical characteristics, and general customs and life-styles between the Hawaiians and their Polynesian relatives, a degree of racial individuality evolved.

The original Hawaiians were a brown-skinned people of large stature, highly skilled in fishing and farming, who adhered to an extremely rigid and strict system of laws that was set down by their chiefs and their priests. They worshiped and feared a group of gods not unlike, in character and power, the ancient Greek deities of Mount Olympus.

The first recorded contact between the Hawaiians and Europeans took place in 1778, when Captain James Cook came upon the islands. During the ensuing four decades the influence of European and American explorers, adventurers, trappers, and whalers stopping for fresh supplies at Hawaiian islands was to have a profound effect.

Contact with people of different cultures who believed in only one god eventually brought about a spiritual revolution among the Hawaiians. In a series of defiant acts led by members of the royal family, the basic beliefs of the Hawaiian religion were undermined, and the priests were overthrown. Loss of faith in the old gods, intense interest and curiosity about the ways of the people of the United States and Europe, avid interest in learning to read and write, and a desire for spiritual identity brought about a swift adoption of Christianity on the part of the Hawaiians. The first group of Christian missionaries arrived from the United States in 1820, and by the mid-19th century the Hawaiian kingdom was largely a Christian nation.

It has been estimated that the population of the Hawaiian Islands at the time of Captain Cook's discovery was approximately 300,000. Virtually disease free, this population had no natural immunity to the diseases introduced from both West and East and fell easy prey to venereal disease, cholera, measles, bubonic plague, and leprosy, all of which contributed to the decimation of the native peoples. In 1853 the native population of the Hawaiian kingdom numbered 70,036.

The racial and religious makeup of Hawaii has undergone quite dramatic change since that time. Thousands of settlers from the Pacific Basin (primarily from Japan, the Philippines, and China) as well as immigrants from Europe and from the U.S. mainland carried their own customs, languages, and religions into the Hawaiian way of life. The descendants of these later settlers now far outnumber the descendants of the original Hawaiians. There is also a continuous influx and outflow of military and naval personnel and their dependents, connected closely to the continuing American presence in the Pacific.

Most of the state's residents live on the island of Oahu, 60 percent in the Honolulu urban area and another 20 percent in outlying districts. Because there are vast areas of Oahu devoted to agriculture and forest reserves, the majority of the population actually resides in high-density clusters. Honolulu is the only legally incorporated town or city in the state.

Hawaii is English speaking. Although Hawaiian, formerly a major means of communication, is all but extinct, it remains in place-names and street names and in songs, and the local residents liberally sprinkle their speech with words and phrases from the traditional language. A pidgin English is spoken throughout the state in varying degrees of richness, while some of the older immigrants from Japan and China continue to speak their native tongues. As Filipinos continue to move to Hawaii, their language, too, is frequently heard in the state.

The largest religious groups are Roman Catholics and Protestants. There are, however, small but important groups of Buddhists and of adherents of other Asian religions.

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