Hawaii is one of two states in this country that doesn’t border any other states; the other is Alaska. Hawaii is the 50th or last state to join the United States. The people who live here are the most isolated in the world. Their closest neighbors are thousands of miles away. The closest state is California, which is 2,390 miles away. Likewise, the closest countries include Japan (3,850 miles away), China (4,900 miles away) and the Philippines (5,280 miles away).
It is the only state in the country that’s made entirely of islands. Although the state has 136 islands, only seven are inhabited. Can you name at least one? They are Hawaii (also known as the Big Island), Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Oahu, Kauai and Niihau.
Hawaii has two official languages: English and Hawaiian. You may have heard one of the most popular Hawaiian words, “Aloha”. It means hello and goodbye. Hawaiians also prefer hugs instead of handshakes and might greet people with a honi, where you meet forehead to forehead and exchange breath.
Other than its beauty, Hawaii is famous for many things, including its people. Perhaps the most famous Hawaiian is Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, who was born in and primarily raised in Honolulu, which is the capital of Hawaii and located on the island of Oahu.
The islands also have many palm trees that produce a fruit called the coconut. Speaking of, did you know that you can mail a coconut from Hawaii? Paint it. Color it. Draw a picture or write a message on it. Just make sure it’s an older, dried out coconut. (Otherwise, it may be inspected by the state agricultural department. If it has bugs, it will be grounded!) Then slap postage on it along with an address. It doesn’t even need to be placed in a box!
About 1500 years ago, Polynesians were the first people to settle in Hawaii. Back then, they used the stars to guide them or help them navigate the ocean. They came from the Marquesas Islands, traveling 2,000 miles away in big canoes, and landed on Hawaii’s Big Island. Highly skilled farmers and fishermen, Hawaiians lived in small communities ruled by chieftains who battled one another for territory. They also carried their traditions with them like hula dancing and exchanging flower garlands called leis.
What really happened
- The Hawaiian Islands are really volcanic islands. They have formed as the Earth’s crust, made up of giant rocky slabs called tectonic plates, moved over a particularly hot spot in the molten layer beneath the crust. The heat melts the rock that makes up the crust, turning it into magma. Then once the magma breaks through to the surface of the Earth’s crust, it cools and forms new land.
- The first European to come to the state was Captain James Cook. He landed on the island of Kauai in 1778. He returned a year later and was killed in a confrontation with the native people at Kealakekua Bay, located on Hawaii’s Big Island.
- The islands were ruled under a monarchy, a form of government that includes kings, queens, princes and princesses. In 1810, Kamehameha became Hawaii’s first king. He died in 1819. Every year, Hawaiians celebrate his memory on June 11, King Kamehameha Day, with a floral parade.
- In 1820, the first Christian missionaries arrived. Then Western traders and whalers came to the islands, bringing with them diseases that devastated the native Hawaiian population. By 1853, the native population was down from 300,000 when Cook first arrived to just 70,000.
- In 1893, American colonists who lived there controlled Hawaii’s sugar-based economy. They overthrew the rulers and in 1898, Hawaii became a US territory called the Republic of Hawaii. It was named the 50th state in 1959.
- The last Hawaiian ruler was Queen Lili’uokalani who reigned over the islands in the 1890s. She was forced out, even put in prison, and then surrendered. To this day, native people still consider her to be a heroine.
- One of this country’s most famous historical events happened in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. More than 2,300 Americans were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on the island of Oahu. The S.S. Arizona, which sank with 1,100 men aboard, was turned into a memorial in 1962. The attack forced the U.S. to get involved in World War II, which ended with an unconditional Japanese surrender in 1945.
Stuff you should know
- The Hawaiian alphabet only has 12 letters: A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. Every syllable (and every word) ends with a vowel.
- The island of Hawaii has eight active volcanoes. Five more are on the other islands!
The largest is Mount Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world. The name Kilauea means “spreading” because the volcano is still growing. In fact, the Island of Hawaii has grown by over 500 acres in the last 30 years!
- Mount Haleakala (on the island of Maui) is the largest dormant volcano in the world. Most of this mountain lies below the ocean. If measured from the sea floor, Haleakala would rise to a height of nearly 30,000 feet. This massive volcano formed 75% of the island of Maui. The last eruption of Haleakala is estimated to have occurred in the late 1700s.
- You won’t find any smog in Hawaii. The skies above the islands are mostly unpolluted. Instead, they get vog, volcanic haze from the Kilauea volcano that has been erupting on and off since 1983 on the Island of Hawaii (also called the Big Island). Vog occasionally blows to other islands. Although not dangerous, it can cause breathing problems for people with asthma or respiratory issues. But vog does create gorgeous sunsets and moonrises. It magnifies the sun and moon and makes them look huge and orange.
Crazy, funny, or just plain weird
- When entering someone’s home, you need to take your shoes off, no matter how clean or expensive they are. So make sure your socks don’t have any holes!
- One of the longest words in the Hawaiian language is for the state fish or triggerfish: Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa. That’s 21 letters long!
- Hawaii’s volcano Mauna Loa has dry lava that’s like parts of the moon’s surface. Astronauts once walked on it to practice for lunar voyages.
- It’s illegal to have squirrels, hamsters, or gerbils here, even as pets.
Tell me more
- Hundreds of years ago, surfing was invented in Hawaii. Rumor has it that the sport of stand up paddle boarding was also created here.
- Hawaii was the first US state to outlaw plastic bags.
- Mount Waialeale on the island of Kauai is considered one of the rainiest spots on Earth, getting 384 inches of rain a year on average.
- The island of Oahu has the world’s largest Wind Turbine. This windmill has 2 blades that span 400 feet long.
- From east to west, Hawaii is the widest state in the country.
- Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on Hawaii, has the world’s largest telescope and more scientific observatories in one place than anywhere else in the world.
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