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Useful Notes / Hawaiʻi

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Way, way more than simply Hula and Luaus, pineapple, pork, rum, macadamia nuts, ukuleles, golf, Pearl Harbor, fire dancers, excess consumption of SPAM, and linen pants.

Hawaiʻi,note  or Hawaii, is the fiftieth and last-admitted State of the United States, comprising an archipelago of eight major islands and several smaller atolls, islets, and seamounts, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles from the United States mainland. The original settlers were seafaring Polynesians who discovered the archipelago around the tenth century. In 1778, one Captain James Cook would bring news of Hawaiʻi to the Old World, and Europe would continue to have a vested interest in Hawaiʻi for the next 100 years. Hawaiʻi was viewed as an important strategic checkpoint given its central placement in the Pacific and was more than once occupied by foreign powers.

Despite these feuds, Hawaiʻi stayed as an independent nation... that is, until 1898, when the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by sugar barons backed by the U.S. Marines.note  The island chain was then annexed by the United States, who decided they weren't going to let this much-desired Pearl of the Pacific get into the grasp of anyone else. Spending about six decades as a U.S. Territory, the most notable event that transpired upon the Islands was being the site of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, whose bombing by the Japanese brought the United States into World War II. The stories of the islands brought home by U.S. servicemen in the Pacific War sparked a Cyclic National Fascination with Hawaiʻi (and Polynesian culture more broadly) from the late '40s to well into the '60s. "Tiki culture" took off with the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition and the 1948 James Michener short story collection Tales of the South Pacific (loosely adapted the following year into the musical South Pacific) and continued with the pseudo-tropical "exotica" music genre and a slew of "fun in the sun" movies set on Pacific islands. This popularity contributed significantly to the islands gaining statehood in 1959, which combined with the rise of cheap air travel to embed Hawaiʻi in American pop culture as a pleasure resort, a status that managed to outlast the Polynesian craze. (The trope of the former GI running a tiki stand in paradise can still be found in some works.)

While Hawaiʻi residentsnote  consider themselves to be as American as those from the Continental 48, they tend to avoid many of the Eagleland tropes. The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born and raised in Hawaiʻi. Given the general distaste for the circumstances of the annexation, there is an active movement for Hawaiian sovereignty, with advocates emphasizing the illegality and colonialism of the annexation. However, disagreement over exactly what sovereignty would entail or how to achieve it has prevented much significant progress in this direction.

Hawaiʻi remains a popular tourist destination for mainland Americans, due to the islands being a year-round tropical paradise that they don't need a passport to visit, hence the continued prevalence of the Hula and Luaus trope in American media. Local residents and Native Hawaiians have a general distaste for mainland tourists, due to their ignorance of (and unwillingness to learn about) Hawaiian culture and customs, their tendency to treat the very-much-self-sufficient islands as one big resort, the fact that stereotyped images of cheerful Hawaiians are often used in tourist attractions while many native Hawaiians live in povertynote , and the negative environmental impact all the resorts, hotels, and golf courses have on the natural watershed.

Hawaiʻi is, by most metrics, the most racially diverse state in the U.S., and its residents are generally divided into three categories: Native Hawaiians, the indigenous population of the islands; Locals, which refers to the descendants of those who were brought in to work on the sugar plantations (Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese) as well as other Polynesians (whether descended from sugar workers or not); and Haoles, which is a mild slur for non-local Caucasian people, the connotations of which imply a lack of connection with the land and its culture. People of Asian descent comprise the largest racial demographic in the state. Hawaiʻi is home to a sizeable Japanese American community, thanks mainly to its relative proximity to Japan, which also sends over lots of tourists (and the reason for the prevalence of the aforementioned tropes in Japanese media as well; most Japanese who talk about having been to America mean they once went to Hawaiʻi on a package tour). Since the early 20th Century, Filipino Americans have also made the islands their home (second only to California in terms of total numbers), thanks in part to the Philippines' past as U.S. territory. As a result, Tagalog and Ilokano have become one of the most widely-spoken languages in the State (alongside Japanese) outside English. Despite being largely rural, Hawaiʻi is generally politically liberal and is one of the only states without a marked disparity between the politics of its rural and urban areas.

The state has a unique governmental structure. Specifically, it has no cities. The only legally constituted governments below the state level are its five counties. And actually, only four have locally run governments. Kalawao County, which consists of a former leper colony, is run by the state's health department, with most public services provided through Maui County, and it's part of a judicial district that includes the City and County of Honolulu.Aside  Speaking of Honolulu, the area that most people think of as "Honolulu" is merely the main urban core of the City and County... which not only includes Oʻahu, but also all of the state's smaller islands that lie northwest of Kauaʻi and Niʻihau. All populated places in the state are classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as "census-designated places" (CDPs). Another quirk about Hawaiʻi is its K12 education system. Unlike the other states, where public education through the secondary level is operated by local school districts (or, in Virginia, an arm of the local government), the state government directly operates all public schools. Geography side-note here: Hawaiʻi is unique among the states in having no straight-lines anywhere on its boundary (due to just being the shores of the islands) and for being the only state not geographically located in North America (it's technically part of Oceania). Still another unique quirk is that all gambling is banned, a policy that existed prior to statehood. The only other (state-level) US jurisdiction that does not allow gambling in any form is Utah.

By now, some of you are wondering about the apostrophe-like symbols that sometimes appear between the two i's in Hawaiʻi, and in other odd places as well. Well, technically, that symbol is the closest analog in the English alphabet to the ʻokina, which is actually a letter in the Hawaiian alphabet. It is used to indicate that there is a brief pause preceding a vowel, similar but not the same as a glottal stop. (Think of how someone with a Brooklyn or Cockney accent pronounces the two "t"s in the word "bottle"). One of the best ways to spot a current or former longtime resident of the Islands is if they remember to include the ʻokina in the spelling of place names as well as the names of peopleEditing note to tropers  and whether they pronounce Ws as Vs in applicable names.note 

Of the many islands and atolls that make up the Hawaiian chain, there are eight major islands. Seven of them are inhabited, and of those, only four have significant populations:

  • Hawaiʻi: "The Big Island", for being... big. The southeasternmost island in the entire chain and larger than all of the other islands combined, it's the largest Polynesian island outside of New Zealand, and is also bigger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It shares its name with the rest of the chain because of King Kamehameha the Great, who first united the islands under his rule at the turn of the 19th Century, was originally a chief from this island. To avoid confusion, it will usually be referred to by its nickname or as "the island of Hawaiʻi". It is home to three of the five remaining active volcanoes in the Hawaiian chain: Kilauea, currently the most active volcano in the world, Hualālai, and Mauna Loa (the fourth, Kamaʻehuakanaloa,note  is currently building itself up on the seafloor roughly twenty miles off the Big Island's southeast coast, and is predicted to breach the ocean surface sometime between 10,000 and 100,000 years from now). A dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, is the location of one of the most important astronomical observation sites in the world, and it is the highest mountain in the state (also the world, if you measure it from the seafloor—Take That!, Everest). It is also the source of the world-famous Kona Coffee blend.
  • Maui: "The Valley Island", it is the home of the seaside town of Lahaina, which was a major whaling station in the 19th century. It's also one of the few places in the world that grows sweet onions. Like Mauna Kea, many astronomical observatories and telescopes are located on Haleakalā, a partially-dormant volcano that comprises 75% of the island's landmass.
  • Kahoʻolawe: Sometimes called "The Target Isle" or "The Empty Isle", and for good reason. It's the only major island in the chain with an official population of zero, thanks partially to a severe lack of freshwater sources (it's really dry compared to the rest of the islands) but mainly because it was a training ground and bombing range for the U.S. military from World War II all the way up to 1990. The military forked control of the island over to the state in 1994, and currently, efforts are ongoing to clear the island of unexploded ordnance. Part of the county of Maui.
  • Lānaʻi: "The Pineapple Isle", called that because it was once a large plantation for pineapples, the fruit that everyone now associates with Hawaiʻi. With only one town on the island (Lanai City), it comes behind Kahoʻolawe and Niʻihau in the competition for the smallest population. The co-founder and chairman of computer technology company Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison, has owned 98% of the island since 2012 and moved to the island in 2020. Also part of the county of Maui.
  • Molokaʻi: "The Friendly Isle". This island is relatively low-key compared to its sisters, notable mainly for its pleasant citizens, beautiful landscapes, and former leper colony. Also part of the county of Maui, except for the aforementioned former leper colony, a small portion of the northern middle of the island which is technically its own county.
  • Oʻahu: "The Gathering Place". When most people go to Hawaiʻi, this is where they end up. The island is home to the capital of Honolulu, and about 75% of the state's total population. If the island were its own state, it would have the highest population density of any in the country.note  The other islands are collectively referred to as the "Neighbor Islands". Here you will find Waikiki, the famous white sand beach around which enterprising opportunists built several hotels, cheap souvenir shops, t-shirt stands and an ABC storenote  every block or so. Here you will also find Pearl Harbor, the bombing of which by the Japanese Empire on December 7, 1941 finally convinced The United States to enter World War II. It is also the headquarters of the United States Navy's Pacific Fleet. In fact, there are nearly as many military bases on Oʻahu as there are hotels; a detail that rubs some people the wrong way. There are some other attractions, such as the North Shore (very popular with surfers), Matsumoto's Shave Ice (a world-famous shave ice shop in Haleiwa), Kaneohe Bay (in which lies the island featured in the opening credits of Gilligan's Island), the Punchbowl (in which lies the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific), and the Diamond Head (the distinctive mountain to the east of Honolulu). This island is the setting of Hawaii Five-O, its modern remake, Magnum, P.I., its modern remake, and NCIS: Hawaiʻi. It is also the open world setting of racing game Test Drive Unlimited and one of two such settings in the first sequel, and will also be the setting of the third game... of The Crew series, which was once seen as a spiritual successor to Test Drive Unlimited.note 
  • Kauaʻi: "The Garden Isle", and the northwesternmost of the major Hawaiian Islands. It is a quiet, lush, tropical paradise, the Hawaiʻi that visitors often expect to see. The sets for a few popular films and TV shows were located here; a popular animated film about a Hawaiian girl with aliens (and most of its franchise) is set here. Also, it's the home of the third mountain in the state to contend for a world record - namely, Mount Waiʻaleʻale, one of the wettest locations in the world, with an average yearly rainfall of 426 inches.
  • Niʻihau: "The Forbidden Isle", located just southwest of Kauaʻi and part of Kauaʻi County, with a population numbering just under 200, mainly in one settlement on the western coast (Puʻuwai). Privately owned and a Real Life example of a Hidden Elf Village, it's difficult for tourists to secure permission to visit. A preserve for traditional indigenous Hawaiian culture and the Hawaiian language (of which it has a distinctive dialect), only native Hawaiians (meaning the Polynesian natives, not just natural-born citizens of Hawaiʻi) are allowed to travel to Niʻihau for anything longer than a brief tour. It's looked upon by many Hawaiians as the state's hidden gem.