The Hawaiian Archipelago consists of a group of 19 islands and atolls that extend across 1,500 miles of the Pacific Ocean, 2,300 miles from the United States mainland. Eight high islands, located at the southeastern end of the archipelago are considered to be the main islands. In order from the northwest to southeast they are Nihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii.
Scattered across the Pacific Ocean, the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated from any other body of land in the world. Their isolation and a wide range of environments produced a unique array of plants and animals.
Volcanoes rising from the seafloor formed all of the Hawaiian Islands, with the last volcanic eruption outside of the island of Hawaii occurring at Haleakala on Maui in the late 18th century. Loihi, deep in the waters off the southern coast of the island of Hawaii is the newest volcano.
Volcanic activity and erosion carved out unique geological features in the Hawaiian Islands, and if the height of the island of Hawaii is measured from its deep ocean base to the snowclad peak of Mauna Kea, it is the world’s fifth highest island.
Anthropologists and historians believe that Polynesians from the Marquesas and Society Islands first settled the Hawaiian Islands around a.d. 300–500 or as late as a.d. 800–1000. Overseas trading and voyaging across Polynesia ebbed and fell, and local chiefs ruled and defended their settlements. Early politics tended toward growing chiefdoms that encompassed entire islands.
The historical record indicates that foreigners visited Hawaii before the 1778 arrival of Captain James Cook, but historians give him the credit for discovering Hawaii because he first plotted and published the geographical configuration of the Hawaiian Islands. Captain Cook named the Islands the Sandwich Islands to honor his sponsor, John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich.
After the Europeans, the Chinese were the second group of foreigners to arrive in Hawaii. Beginning in 1789, Chinese employees serving on Western trading ships disembarked and settled in Hawaii. In 1820 the first American missionaries arrived to preach Christianity and teach the Hawaiians “civilized” ways.
Over half of the population of Hawaii is of Asian ancestry, especially Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino, many of them descendants of early immigrants who came to the islands in the 19th century to work on the sugarcane plantations. These immigrants began arriving in the 1850s, and on June 19, 1868, the first 153 Japanese immigrants arrived in Hawaii.
Throughout waves of immigration and economic development, Hawaiians fought to retain their government and culture. In 1810 King Kamehameha the Great united the Hawaiian Islands for the first time under a single ruler and established a dynasty that governed the kingdom until 1872.
In 1887, claiming misgovernment, a group of American and European businessmen involved in Hawaiian government forced King Kalakaua to sign the Bayonet Constitution, which stripped the king of administrative authority, eliminated voting rights for Asians, and set minimum income and property requirements for American, European, and native Hawaiian voters. These actions restricted the electorate to wealthy elite Americans, Europeans, and native Hawaiians. King Kalakaua reigned until he died in 1891.
Anthony D. Allen of Schenectady, New York, was one of the many African Americans who found their way to Hawaii after Western contact and were warmly welcomed by the Hawaiians. Born in 1774 to a slave mother and a father who was a freeman and a mariner, Anthony was freed at age 24. Like his father before him, he shipped out to China and other ports and finally to Hawaii, where he settled around 1811.
The native Hawaiians called him Alani, and he served as steward to Kamehameha the Great and acquired about six acres of land in Waikiki from the high priest Hewa Hewa. He married a Hawaiian woman, and they had children and grandchildren who were Hawaiian citizens. Allen farmed successfully, keeping his own cattle and horses.
He ran a boarding house, a bowling alley, and a hospital, having picked up medical skills in Schenectady, where ill or injured seamen and sea captains could recuperate ashore. Missionaries, neighbors, visitors, and native Hawaiians admired him. After a long and prosperous life, Allen suffered a stroke in December 1835, and was buried near his Waikiki house.
After King Kalakaua died, his sister, Liliuokalani, succeeded him and ruled until 1893, when a group of American and European businessmen overthrew her. She had threatened to nullify the Hawaiian constitution and even though she backed down, the businessmen staged a bloodless coup and established a provisional government.
They drafted a constitution and declared a republic of Hawaii on July 4, 1894. When William McKinley won the presidential election of November 1896, he reopened the question of annexing Hawaii to the United States. In June 1897 President McKinley signed the Newlands Resolution annexing Hawaii to the United States and submitted it to the Senate for approval.
American historians have usually portrayed the Hawaiians as passively accepting the annexation of their territory and the assimilation of their culture. Current research has revealed that native Hawaiians organized a massive petition drive to protest the Newlands Resolution. Ninety-five percent of the native population signed the petition, causing the annexation treaty to fail in the Senate.
Although the legality of the Newlands Resolution was questioned because it was a resolution and not a treaty, both houses of the U.S. Congress passed it, and Hawaii became a territory of the United States. Although several attempts were made to make Hawaii a state, it remained a territory for 60 years.
Plantation owners found territorial status more convenient because they could continue importing cheap foreign labor, but activist descendants of original laborers finally broke their power by actively campaigning for statehood.
Admitted on August 21, 1959, Hawaii is the 50th state and the only state surrounded by water. It is the southernmost part of the United States and the only state that is located completely in the Tropics. Hawaii is also the only state continuing to grow in territory because volcanoes like Kilauea continue to produce lava flows.
The official languages of Hawaii are English and Hawaiian, and Honolulu is its capital and largest city. With a total area of 10,941 square miles and a length of 1,522 square miles, it is ranked 43rd in area of the states.
Hawaii quickly became a modern state with booming construction and an expanding economy. The plantation owners endorsed the Republican Party, which was voted out of office, and the Democratic Party of Hawaii dominated state politics for 40 years.
In recent years, Hawaii has implemented programs to promote Hawaiian culture. The Hawaii State Constitutional Convention of 1978 incorporated specific programs like the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to promote the indigenous Hawaiian language and culture.