A brief history of Hawaii – the 50th State.
The beautiful island group of Hawaii was settled by intrepid explorers in canoes from Polynesia, migrating northwest, possibly as early as the 4th century AD. The name is probably taken from Hawaiki, the former name of Raiatea, which is the ancestral home of the Polynesians.
Lacking a written language, the early Hawaiian settlers had a rich oral culture, similar to many early Northern European tribes, and their rich myths and legends were coupled with a vast practical knowledge of the flora and fauna around them.
They worshipped and feared a vast variety of gods, not unlike the Greek pantheon in terms of their variety and powers, and by the time of a second migration from Tahiti, sometime between the 9th and 10th centuries AD, the isolation of the islands had led to a culture with its own marked characteristics.
By the late 18th century, the Hawaiian society had become a complex one, with a fixed system of laws, governed over by chiefs and priests.
By the time Captain Cook happened across the islands in 1778, there was a vibrant society, with a population of approximately 300,000 people. Sadly, western explorers and traders brought western diseases with them, to which the islanders had no natural immunity whatsoever. Together with the profound cultural effect of contact with the outside world, in just a century, the population collapsed to fewer than 40,000 inhabitants by 1890. Hawaiian as a spoken language almost died out at this point.
Inevitably, this led to a period of intense change – faith in the old gods waned, and considerable curiosity about life outside of the islands led to rapid adoption of Christianity, and the collapse of the old kapu (taboo) system. By 1850, Hawaii was almost entirely a Christian kingdom, with a significant European and American population.
The last monarch was overthrown when a group of American and European businessmen seized power of the islands in 1893. By 1900, the islands were annexed as US territory. Hawaii rapidly became important as a base for the American Navy, and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan in December 1941 led to entry into World War II. Post-war, Hawaii finally became the 50th State in 1959.
Today, Hawaii is a bewitching and aspirational tourist destination, undergoing a considerable cultural renaissance in music and language, coupled with a modern, bustling, and thriving society for the Aloha state.