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Hawaiian Culture

Hawaii is a melting pot of multiple ethnicities and the Native Hawaiian culture gives these islands a strong sense of place. Hawaiian traditions are integrated in nearly all aspects of daily life, from greetings and place names to food and entertainment. Lei are given for almost any occasion, including graduations and birthdays. And both canoe paddling and surfing are competitive high school sports. If you attend a local party, don’t be surprised if someone starts playing an ukulele and a handful of people get up to dance hula.

The local cuisine is a reflection of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic tastes, offering a mix of American, Hawaiian, Asian, Pacific and European cultures. Farm to table cuisine is especially popular and reaffirms the Native Hawaiian emphasis on sustainable resource management known as “malama aina” (caring for the land).

As you tour around the islands, you'll notice there are many Hawaiian words integrated into everyday conversation. Some of the most common are "aloha" (hello, goodbye, love), "ohana" (family) and "pau" (it's completed, all done, completed). If you see the word "mahalo" on trash cans it means "thank you." (The word for trash is "opala.") In Hawaii, even the trash cans are polite.

Aloha (Ah-low-hah)
Ohana (Oh-ha-nah)
Pau (Pow)
Mahalo (Mah-ha-low)

Hawaii Heritage Sites

There are sites throughout Hawaii that have deep cultural, historical or environmental significance to the people of Hawaii. To learn more about these must-see locations, visit heritage sites at

A Brief History of Hawaii

“The Aloha State” became the 50th state in 1959, but the history of Hawaii goes back centuries earlier. Roughly 1,500 years ago, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands sailed over 2000 miles and first set foot on Hawaii Island. 500 years later, settlers from Tahiti arrived, bringing their beliefs in gods and demi-gods and instituting a strict social hierarchy based on a kapu (taboo) system. Hawaiian culture flourished over the centuries, giving rise to the art of the hula and the sport of surfing, but land division conflicts between ruling chieftains were common.

In 1778, Captain James Cook landed on Kauai at Waimea Bay, naming the archipelago the "Sandwich Islands" in honor of the Earl of Sandwich.

1810, a young chief named Kamehameha united the warring factions on the different islands into a single royal kingdom in 1810.

In 1819, King Kamehameha's son, Liholiho, abolished the ancient kapu system of Hawaiian rules and laws.

In 1820, the first Protestant missionaries arrived on Hawaii Island filling the religious void left after the end of the kapu system. During this time, Hawaii became a major port of call and the whaling industry flourished in Lahaina Harbor in Maui. Throughout these years of growth, western disease took a heavy toll on the Native Hawaiian population.

Western influence continued to grow and in 1893, American Colonists who controlled much of Hawaii's economy overthrew the Hawaiian Kingdom in a peaceful, yet still controversial coup.

In 1900, Hawaii became a territory of the United States.

In the 20th century, sugar and pineapple plantations fueled Hawaii's economy bringing an influx of Japanese, Chinese, Filipino and Portuguese immigrants. This mix of immigrant ethnicities is what makes Hawaii’s population so diverse today.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Oahu. Four years later, on September 2, 1945, Japan signed its unconditional surrender on the USS Battleship Missouri, which still rests in Pearl Harbor today.

In 1959, Hawaii became the 50th State of the United States.

Today, Hawaii is a global gathering place for visitors to share in the rich cultural history of Hawaii and the warm spirit of aloha.