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Hawaii Information

Hawaii was characterized by Mark Twain as "the loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean."

The name is thought to derive from Hawaiki, the former name of Raiatea, one of the Society Islands, from which Polynesians sailed in voyaging canoes to settle after 1000 AD.

The first inhabitants of Hawaii may have reached the islands as early as 400 AD from the Marquesas. Contact with and settlement by Tahitians began about 1000 AD.

Powerful classes of chiefs and priests arrived and established themselves, followed by conflicts, similar to the feudal struggles in Europe, with complicated land rights contributing to the disputes. The early Hawaiians lacked a written language, and their culture was entirely oral and rich in myth, legend, and practical knowledge, especially of animals and plant life.

The material life of the islands was hampered by the lack of metal, pottery, or beasts of burden, but there was great skill in the use of wood, shell, stone, and bone, and the huge double and outrigger canoes were technical marvels. Navigational methods were well developed, and there was an elaborate calendar. Athletic contests encouraged warrior skills.

Captain James Cook, the English explorer and navigator, is generally credited with having made the first European discovery of Hawaii; he first landed at Waimea, Kauai Island, on Jan. 20, 1778. Upon his return in the following year, he was killed during an affray with a number of Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay.

The initial discovery by Cook was followed by a period of intermittent contact with the West. During this period Kamehameha I used European military technology and weapons to emerge as an outstanding Hawaiian leader, seizing and consolidating control over most of the island group.

For 85 years thereafter, monarchs ruled over the Hawaiian kingdom. In the early 19th century the American whaling fleet began wintering in Hawaii, and the islands were visited with mounting frequency by explorers, traders, and adventurers. Captain George Vancouver introduced livestock to the islands in 1792. In 1820 the first of 15 companies of New England missionaries arrived.

By the middle of the century there were frame houses, horse-drawn vehicles, schools, churches, taverns, and mercantile establishments. A written language had been introduced, and European and American skills and religious beliefs (Protestant and Roman Catholic) had been imported. Hawaiian culture was irrevocably changed.

Political maneuvering between U.S., British, and French consuls and naval forces brought about uncertainty in the governmental situation. The foundations of constitutional government were nevertheless laid down with the promulgation, by Kamehameha III, of the Declaration of Rights (June 7, 1839), the Edict of Toleration (June 17, 1839), and a written constitution (Oct. 8, 1840).

These progressive steps (made under missionary influence) were followed by formal avowals of Hawaiian independence by the United States, Great Britain, and France. The ambitions of these powers continued unabated, however, with a succession of overt and covert diplomatic moves, culminating in the signing of a reciprocity treaty with the United States in 1875.

The kingdom was overthrown in 1893, and a republic was formed with U.S. support. This was followed by the joint annexation resolution of Congress in 1898, the final stamp of U.S. domination. This status was confirmed by the establishment of a territory on June 14, 1900.

The period until 1940 was distinguished by a rapid growth in population, the development of a modern economy based on the production of sugar and pineapples for consumption on the U.S. mainland, and the growth of transport and military links. Movements for statehood, based in part on Hawaii's obligation to pay U.S. taxes without having corresponding legislative representation, began to emerge.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on Dec. 7, 1941, precipitated not only Hawaii but the United States as a whole into World War II, and the islands were beset by an upsurge of military activity and a sometimes controversial curtailment of civil liberties. The post-1945 period was marked by further economic consolidation and a long constitutional path to statehood, a status finally achieved in 1959.

Since statehood tourism has grown in Hawaii, with ever-increasing numbers of visitors, especially from Japan and the U.S. mainland. They are lured not only by the warm climate and exotic beauty of the islands but also by a growing number of world-class resorts, built on such a grand scale that they are destinations in themselves. In addition, new telescopes atop Mauna Kea are helping Hawaii become a major world centre of astronomy.

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