HAWAII, the Aloha State

cover west pacific

This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: West Pacific

In the travel series View America, West Pacific covers California, Oregon and Washington. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest. As we have not visited Alaska and Hawaii, for these states I have just included an overview and a brief historical background.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 180 full-sized 600px-wide pictures.

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HAWAII is also known as the Aloha State after the popular song Aloha Oe (goodbye), written by Queen Liliuokalani in 1878. The name Hawaii comes from a Polynesian word, whose meaning has been lost. Hawaii consists of 8 large and more than 100 small islands, reefs and rocks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, over a length of 1,615 miles (2,600 km). It is located 2,485 miles (4,000 km) off the American mainland.

In 1959 Hawaii joined the U.S. as the 50th state. The capital and largest city is Honolulu. The main islands are Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau. These islands are actually the peaks of a long chain of volcanoes, which sprung from a magma outlet on the ocean floor, which in turn lies at the edge of the tectonic plate of the Pacific Ocean.

This entire plate moves about 4 inches (10 cm) per year to the northwest, and as the volcanoes moved away from the magma exhaust they either went to sleep or extinguished. By now the only active volcanoes are one on Maui, three on Hawaii, and an underwater volcano near Loihi, south of Hawaii. Through the eons, sometimes entire mountains sank back into the earth crust under their weight, and their tops formed coral reefs.

Hawaii is by far the largest island, with peaks and craters of more than 13,120 feet (4,000 m) high. Molokai is famous as the place where Father Damien cared for his leprosy patients in Kalaupapa, and where he died in 1889. Lanai is also known as the Pineapple Island, since it has been the private possession of the Dole Food Company since 1922, where pineapples are cultivated.

The island of Oahu is home to the capital Honolulu and the port Pearl Harbor. Kauai is usually called the Garden Isle. It houses the beautiful Waimea Canyon, which is 10 miles (16 km) long, with rims of more than 2,625 feet (800 m) high. It is also the location where the blockbusters King Kong (1976), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Jurassic Park (1993) were filmed!

Hawaii’s combined surface is about 6,560 square miles (17,000 km2), of which 43% is forested. All the existing animals were imported to the island, and the scarce wild animals are actually only descendants of these imports, such as goats, sheep and pigs. There are many wild cats, and even the inevitable snakes were brought in...

Hawaii's population consists of some 1.2 million inhabitants, with a density of 74 per km2. Oahu is by far the most populated, with about 900,000 inhabitants or 567 per km2, while the largest island Hawaii counts 150,000 inhabitants, with a density of only 14 per km2.

By 1800 Hawaii had a fairly primitive but self-sustaining economy, mainly agriculture and fishing. Between 1860 and 1930 came the large sugar plantations, followed in 1900 by the pineapple plantations. After 1930 the U.S. built several military installations, that were developed considerably during and after World War II. Tourism is a major source of income.

Hawaii's traditional dance is the Hula, after the Hawaiian word for dance. This supposedly "authentic" Hawaiian music actually stems from church hymns, that were taught by missionaries during the 1800's. Similarly, the ukulele was introduced around 1880 by Portuguese workers, and the Hawaiian guitar was invented in 1895. Finally, the luau is a Hawaiian festivity.

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Early History

Around 1000 AD Polynesian catamarans came to Hawaii from Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands, a distance of more than 1,865 miles (3,000 km)! When the British explorer James Cook landed in 1778 there were about 300,000 inhabitants, spread out over several kingdoms, that usually were at war with each other. He named the islands the Sandwich Islands, after his principal, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

Hawaii quickly became an important port for European and American traffic to Asia, and many sailors settled permanently. Unfortunately, they brought along contagious diseases such as smallpox, measles, syphilis, tuberculosis and croup, so that by 1820 only 45% of the original population remained.

Between 1782 and 1795 the Hawaiian chief Kamehameha conquered all the islands, except for Kauai and Niihau. But in 1810 he finally subjugated these too and he became King Kamehameha I. Under his reign uniform laws were developed, and greater prosperity came through increased trade.

After Kamehameha's death in 1819 his son Liholiho succeeded him as Kamehameha II. He abolished the ancient Hawaiian religion and in 1820 the Protestant missionaries arrived, followed in 1827 by the Catholics. In 1848 the government politicians "reformed" land ownership, discreetly assisted by their American advisers, whereby the Hawaiians were allowed to own land and sell it later to Americans. As a direct result of this reform, by 1900 Americans owned 4 times more land than the original Hawaiians...

After the decline of the Asian fur trade Hawaii earned its living as a port for large whaler fleets. But in 1860 this also came to an end, and the main economy was replaced by an intense sugar cane production. Now the U.S. lifted a considerable tax on imported sugar to protect its own market. In 1875 and after intense American lobbying a treaty was concluded concerning duty-free imports into the US, and almost all of the Hawaiian sugar plantations became American, owned by just a few influential families.

In 1887 the treaty was renewed, and the American port Pearl Harbor was added as a bonus. In 1890 the McKinley Tariff Act was voted, which abolished all customs duties on sugar. The former competitive advantage of Hawaii suddenly disappeared, and the sugar market was hard hit. But through some political hanky-panky McKinley was ousted in 1894, and the influential American families were back in business...

Since they needed many workers, and given that the original natives had been decimated by diseases to only some 50,000 people, the plantation owners "imported" 25,000 Chinese. However, after the end of their contract these preferred not to renew it to work for stingy bosses, and they started their own businesses. So once more the powerful plantation owners "imported" more than 180,000 Japanese between 1886 and 1908, one third of which remained in Hawaii.

The economic power was entirely in the hands of a few very wealthy American families, who obviously insisted on the closest ties with the U.S. in order to further their own welfare. Under the reign of King David Kalakaua (1836-1891) the local government became very corrupt and extravagant. In 1887 the American families forced a new constitution upon the king, once more drawn up for their own benefit. For instance, 75% of all Hawaiians and Asians were not allowed to vote, but all whites were...

After Kalakaua's death in 1891, his sister Queen Liliuokalani tried to break the American grip. So in 1893 the American families committed a coup and dethroned her. They were given assistance by American troops, who allegedly came to defend American interests. John L. Stevens, the American Secretary for Hawaii, sent a jubilant telegram to Washington with the following arrogant message: "The Hawaiian pear is now fully ripe, and this is the golden hour for the United States to pluck it"...

The insurgents (read American plantation owners) immediately appointed the prominent planter Sanford B. Dole as governor, and exactly two days after the coup they requested annexation by the U.S. Unfortunately for them, their "favorably minded" President Benjamin Harrison had meanwhile been succeeded by the more integer President Grover Cleveland. Cleveland refused the annexation and tried to put Queen Liliuokalani back on the throne. Nevertheless the "insurgents" resisted and in 1894 they proclaimed the republic of Hawaii, with the same Sanford Dole as president.

In 1897 President Cleveland was dumped, and he was succeeded by William McKinley, who once more was "favorably minded" to the Hawaiian cause. One year later Congress annexed Hawaii and, how could it be otherwise, the inevitable Sanford Dole was appointed governor!

The original Hawaiian population felt completely cheated. Since the Americans had come to their islands they had lost their religion, their language, their traditions, their lands, their king and their independence, and by now they constituted only 30% of the population... The power was completely in the hands of five large American companies, a situation that remained unchanged over the next 50 years.

In 1910 more efficient cooking and packaging methods were invented, and they gave wings to the pineapple industry. The Hawaiian plantation barons again imported masses of workers from Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Puerto Rico, Spain and Portugal. Apparently, the only people who didn't want to come to Hawaii were American workers! Fortunately, Pearl Harbor provided quite a few American soldiers, be it through some more backroom arrangements.

On 7 December 1941 the Japanese made a massive military attack on the American fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor. This led the U.S. into World War II (1940-1945) and made Hawaii a major port for operations in the Pacific. Unfortunately, democracy became only a hollow word in Hawaii, because until the end of the war martial law remained in force. All civil rights were suspended, the tribunals were military, the press was completely silenced, the workers came under military control, going on strike or leaving work was prohibited, and nobody was allowed to travel without a travel pass. A similar mode of operations in Europe, under German control, had raised worldwide contempt for being abominable...

Given the previous massive "imports" by the plantation owners, there were now some 150,000 residents of Japanese descent in Hawaii. At first, the powers-that-be seriously considered putting them all in concentration camps as in the U.S., but then they reluctantly abandoned this idea because there were too many of them and it would seriously impact the economy, and the U.S. mainland was too far away. Instead they "only" jailed some 1,500 Hawaiian Japanese and they installed a kind of American Inquisition, the so-called Loyalty Boards.

By the end of 1944 the civil administration was returned to power, and a little afterwards, Congress oracled that all those military decisions had actually been unconstitutional! Nevertheless, not one single politician in Congress had ever lifted a finger during the previous four years. After the war strikes broke out regularly because of the horrendous working conditions, but it was not until the 1950's that living standards finally improved.

Statehood (1959)

In 1943 both Hawaii and Alaska requested the establishment of their own state. Congress gravely considered the matter in 1950, but the Korean War (1950-1953) threw a spanner in the works.

The Hawaiian politicians and plantation barons did everything they could to avoid statehood, because this would mean the end of their control, and so Hawaii remained a U.S. Territory. But despite all this negative influence, in 1959 Hawaii became the 50th state to join the U.S.

After 1959 and with the introduction of fast jet air connections, tourism expanded very rapidly. At the same time the military investments also increased enormously, so that by 1980 fully 15 percent of the population worked for the U.S. Army.

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