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Hawaii - History

Hawaii History

The first Polynesians, believed to be from the Marquesas, settled on this island chain some time between 500 and 600 AD. They lived a rather peaceful life until, in 1000 AD, the Tahitians arrived and introduced their customs, religion and a strict social order. The first known Westerner to visit the islands was British explorer Captain James Cook who arrived in 1778. Cook named the Hawaiian archipelago the Sandwich Islands, in honor of the Earl of Sandwich. At first, Cook was heralded as the legendary Lono, god of fertility and peace, but a freakish turn of events led to his fatal stabbing at Kealakekau Bay on the Big Island.

A witness to Cook's slaying was a fierce warrior, known as King Kamehameha or Kamehameha the Great, who was to unify the Hawaiian islands and establish the Hawaiian monarchy. Kamehameha engaged in lucrative trade with American sea captains interested in Hawaii's sandalwood forests. As more ships found their way to this new port of call, a foreign presence began to establish itself on Hawaiian shores. In the 1820s, Yankee whaling ships began calling on Hawaiian ports in search of wine, women and song, and for the next 50 years Hawaii was the center of the Pacific whaling industry, bringing big money to the islands. The social excesses of the whalers were curtailed by the presence of Christian missionaries who befriended the Hawaiian royalty and introduced more 'refined' Western social mores.

In the mid-1800s, descendants of the missionaries established Hawaii's sugar industry. The declining native population meant plantation owners soon began to look overseas for a labor supply. Laborers were recruited from China, then Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Korea and finally from the Philippines. As Hawaii's sugar industry grew, the USA became more integral in the affairs of the Hawaiian islands. As a means of eliminating tariffs, the plantation owners announced a provisional government which eventually led to the overthrow of the monarchy and established Hawaii as a territory of the USA in 1900.

Hawaii's importance to the USA grew as the US Navy established a huge military base at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was the pivotal event which persuaded the USA to enter WW II. After the war, opinion polls showed that more than 90% of Hawaiian residents favored US statehood. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state of the USA.

The following years saw the development of Hawaii as a major tourist destination with numerous resorts, golf courses and shopping centers being built. To combat the increasing development, a number of state parks, wilderness sanctuaries and marine reserves have been established. In the 1970s, a Hawaiian cultural renaissance reasserted local cultural values in the face of tourist-brochure parodies.

In the past few years, sovereignty has become a key political issue. While some Hawaiian groups favor the restoration of the monarchy, other native groups are calling for a Hawaiian nation within the USA and the return of crown lands taken during annexation. In November 1993, US President Bill Clinton signed a resolution apologizing for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom 100 years earlier.

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