Based on archaeological evidence, the earliest traces of settlements in Hawaii date to 300 CE, probably by Polynesian settlers from the Marquesas, followed by a second wave of migration from Raiatea and Bora Bora in the 11th century.
Circa 1100 AD, the first Hilo inhabitants arrived, bringing with them Polynesian knowledge and traditions. Although archaeological evidence is scant, oral history has many references to people living along the Wailuku and Wailoa Rivers.
The first recorded European contact with the islands was in 1778 by British explorer James Cook. The bay where James Cook landed on the Big Island of Hawaii bears his name, and remains a popular snorkeling and diving spot you should definitely visit on your trip to Hawaii.
During the 1780s and 1790s, native chiefs were often fighting for power, and in 1795, all territories were subjugated under a single ruler, King Kamehameha the Great.
In 1778, Captain Cook arrived on Kauai, opening the door to an influx of westerners. Within a year, warriors at Kealakekua Bay killed Cook following a contentious chain of events. Today, a monument stands in this marine life preserve in honor of Captain Cook.
The Big Island was home to King Kamehameha’s court until it moved to Oahu in 1804. In 1812, Kamehameha the Great returned to his beloved Hawaii Island where he died in 1819.
In 1820, the first missionaries arrived in Kailua-Kona. Mokuaikaua Church on Alii Drive in Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) still stands and is in use today. Other westerners followed, introducing cattle to the island. Sugar plantations also bloomed on the Hilo side in the 20th century.
In 1874, after the death of King Kamehameha V (who did not leave an heir), riots broke out and led to U.S. troops intervening. On January 14, 1893, a group of mostly Euro-American business leaders and residents formed a Committee of Safety to overthrow the monarchy in favor of a republic, and seek annexation by the United States.
The annexation didn’t initially succeed, and it wasn’t until after William McKinley won the presidential election in 1896 that the issue was raised again. Despite opposition by most native Hawaiians, the Newlands Resolution was finally implemented in 1898.
In 1900, the Territory of Hawaii, now a part of the US, was granted self-governance. Despite several attempts at becoming a state, Hawaii remained a US territory for sixty years. Expecting to gain full voting rights, Hawaii's residents actively campaigned for statehood. In March 1959, Congress passed the Hawaii Admission Act and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law.
Technically, there are no racial or ethnic majorities in Hawaii - everyone is a minority. Caucasians (Haoles) constitute about 34%; Japanese-American about 32%; Filipino-American about 16% of the population and Chinese-American about 5%. Many prefer to just be called Hawaiian, especially if they have been on the Islands more than one generation.
The Hawaiian alphabet has 13 letters, five vowels (long and short) and eight consonants, one of them being a glottal stop. Hawaiians had no written language prior to western contact, except for petroglyph symbols. The modern Hawaiian alphabet, ka pi'apa Hawaii, is based on Latin script. Hawaiian words end only in vowels, and every consonant must be followed by a vowel. Due to extensive allophone, Hawaiian has more than 13 phones. Although vowel length is phonemic, long vowels are not always pronounced as such, even though under the rules for assigning stress in Hawaiian, a long vowel will always be stressed.
Everywhere in the world, feasting is a ritual celebration of happy and important events. The Polynesians, and especially Hawaiians, have evolved this celebratory ritual into a truly unique cultural experience, a perfect celebration of culture and camaraderie called a Lu’au. (Luau, in Hawaiian is the name of the taro leaf, which is cooked like spinach when it is young and small.)
A luau is a traditional Hawaiian party usually accompanied by entertainment. An authentic luau may feature traditional Hawaiian food such as poke, poi (staple of Polynesian food made from the corm of the taro plant), lomi salmon, opihi, haupia, sweet potatoes, and the famous kalua pig. (The kalua pig is tender, shredded pork cooked in an imu - underground oven, and is usually brought out during a traditional imu ceremony.)
Before contact with the western world, Hawaiians called their important feasts an 'aha'aina (‘aha – gathering and ‘aina – meal). These feasts marked special occasions — such as reaching a significant life milestone, victory at war, the launching of a new canoe or a great endeavor. Today, luaus still play an important part in Hawaiian culture on occasions such as weddings, birthdays and graduations.
Historically, the food and practices observed at an 'aha 'aina were rich with symbolism. The entire event was designed to unite the participants, the same way old Hawaiians braided strands of coconut husk fiber, or sennit, into thicker 'aha cords and rope. Different foods represented different strengths, and related to virtues or goals the participants hoped to achieve. There were also certain foods that were off limits to commoners and women. Such delicacies included moi (exquisite tasting near-shore reef fish) and pork. Bananas were forbidden to all but the Alii (chiefs of ancient Hawai'i), including the great King Kamehameha. Men and women also ate separately during meals.
The traditional luau was eaten with one’s fingers, and on the floor over lauhala (leaves of the hala tree were weaved together) mats. Traditional luaus were typically very large gatherings with hundreds, and sometimes thousands of people attending.
In 1819, King Kamehameha II ended traditional religious practices. To celebrate the implementation of major societal change, he feasted with women. Shortly after, the term luau gradually replaced 'aha 'aina.
Today, people still get together with families and friends at a luau to celebrate special events. Visitors can enjoy the luau experience at many venues around the islands. The abundant food served at any luau represents the Island Aloha spirit that brings guests and islanders together in a memorable setting. Whenever you are at a luau you are ohana – or family.
Hula, truly unique to the Hawaiian Islands, is a dance form accompanied by chanting or singing. The hula translates the words in a chant or song into dance. Ancient hula dances involved chanting accompanied by traditional instruments. The more western influenced hula of today is accompanied by singing and instruments such as the guitar, ukulele, and the double bass. There are two main positions of a hula dance, either sitting or standing. Some dances incorporate both forms.