Hawaii is often stereotypically known for its great surfing, fabulous beaches and the hula! However, the Hawaiian Islands contain an immense cultural and historical richness that goes far beyond what meets the eye. The newest state of the USA has an incredibly diverse and interesting cultural heritage, which stretches back thousands of years.

Many people merely see Hawaii as a small far away paradise, stranded in the middle of a huge ocean, however Hawaii is, in fact, composed of hundreds of islands that span over a huge area of 1500 miles. The Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most isolated parts of the world, however it is also a place which is constantly expanding due to the incredible volcanic activity that exists in the region, and even today new islands, mainlyin the southern part of Hawaii, are being formed.

Hawaii has unbelievably diverse natural habitats, ranging from tropical forest to alpine mountains, sandy beaches to volcanic hotspots. Archaeologists believe that the islands have been inhabited since 300AD. The first humans to make Hawaii their home were the Polynesians, who had an amazingly distinctive traditions and cultures. As time passed, Hawaii was exposed tomany waves of immigration from other pacific islands, bolstering the diversity of its peoples and strengthening social development.

The English explorer, was the first recorded European to arrive in Hawaii in 1778, although it is expected that Spanish pioneers could have also landed on Hawaii asthey made their way from Mexico to Manila. Cook’s arrival to the islands was rather dramatic. The local inhabitants believed the ships were ‘floating islands’ and were convinced Cook was the god Lono. However, the initial admiration for Cook evaporated quickly when the Captain used the holy statues of gods for firewood. The angry local Hawaiians highjacked one of Cook’s boats and in turn Cook kidnapped the King of Hawai’i Island, Kalaniʻōpuʻu,as ransom, in order to get the boat back. Cook’s plan backfired and the locals chased him and his crew off the island, which resulted in Cook’s death.

Ali’is, the chiefs of the Hawaiian Islands,guided the maka ainana (common people) to live pono, or with respect and righteousness. They were also the main power brokers in the region for centuries, until the continual wars during the 1780s and 1790s between different island groups ended in the formation of the Kingdom of Hawai`i,commanded by King Kamehameha I.The Hawaiian monarchy was in power from 1810 to 1893. European and American powers eventually worked together to overthrow Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1893, creating a Republic through the unpopular bayonet constitution, which generally was an expansionist move by world powers, motivated by economic gains and Hawaii’sstrategic position at the centre of the Pacific Ocean. This also led to native Hawaiians and Asians being denied a vote, only white people could have a say in this new, so-called, Republic. The Republic eventually became a territory of the United States and in 1957 was established as the 50thstate of the USA, a move which led to boosts in infrastructure, transportation and tourism, today the islands’ biggest industry.

In the last 50 years, Hawaii has increasingly become more diverse, with migrations of people from across the globe, creating an inspiring mix of different racial groups. There is no racial majority in Hawaii, it is completely made up of minorities. Hawaiians, Asians, Whites and Hispanics make up most of the population currently living on the islands, and this fantastic racial diversity has created a place that is extremely open, outward-looking and liberal-minded.

Today Hawaii still retains its unique identity and culture. In the past, oral story-telling was so important to Hawaiians, that traditionally, when a person started to recite a tale,it was forbidden for listeners to even be allowed to move, let alone speak out of turn! The value placed on stories and legends still exists in present day Hawaii. For example, the island of Maui is named after acentral god who according to legend used his grandmother’s jawbone, as a fishhook, to pull up the islands from the bottom of the sea. Sharks are also culturally important, the Shark god Kauhuhu, is a part of the fabric of Hawaiian myths, and nowadays there is even a ‘Shark Week’ in Hawaii that celebrates this misunderstood creature.

Find out more about Hawaiian culture, language and mythology! Check out these great sites: