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Useful Notes / Hawai'i

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Way, way more than simply Hula and Luaus.

Hawaiʻi,note  or Hawaii, is an island chain 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 thirteenth century. In 1778, Englishman James Cook brought 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 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 the gem of the Pacific get into the hands of anyone else. It spent about six decades as a U.S. Territory, including being the site of the events that brought America into World War II, before being admitted into the Union as the 50th state in 1959, with Dwight D. Eisenhower signing the legislation that made Hawai'i's statehood official. The 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born and raised in Hawaiʻi. While Hawaiʻi residentsnote  consider themselves to be American, they tend to avoid many of the Eagleland tropes, and given the general distaste for the circumstances of the annexation, there is an active movement for Hawaiian sovereignty. However, lack of organization and disagreement over exactly what sovereignty would entail has prevented much significant progress in this direction.


Hawaiʻi is a popular tourist destination for mainland Americans, due to the fact that it's a year-round tropical resort that Americans don't need a passport to visit. This is the reason for the prevalence of the tropes Aloha, Hawaii! and Hula and Luaus in American media. Local residents 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 islands as one big resort, the fact that stereotyped images of native Hawaiians are often used in tourist attractions while actual native Hawaiians tend to live in poverty, and the negative environmental impact resorts, hotels, and golf courses have on the natural watershed. It is also home to a very large Japanese American community, thanks mainly to its 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 numbers), thanks in part due to the Philippines' past as U.S. territory and later immigration. As a result, Tagalog and Ilokano have become one of the most widely-spoken languages in the State (alongside Japanese) outside English. Hawaiʻi residents are generally divided into three categories: Native Hawaiians, the indigenous population of the islands, Locals, which refers to the descendants of those who worked on the sugar plantations (Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese), 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. Geography geek side-note here: Hawaiʻi is unique among the 46-States-and-4-Commonwealths comprising the USA in having no straight-lines anywhere on its boundary, and for being the only state not geographically located in North Americanote . Despite being largely rural, Hawaii is generally politically liberal and is one of the only states without a marked disparity between the politics of its rural and urban areas.


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 or not they pronounce Ws as Vs in applicable names.note 

Here, one can discover a melting pot of Western, Eastern, and Pacific culture and people that can't be found anywhere else in the world.

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 the largest; larger than all of the other islands combined. As you may have noticed, it shares its name with the state. This is 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, Loʻihi, 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 Pacific. 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, it comes behind Kahoʻolawe and Niʻihau in the competition for the smallest population. 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 "city" 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 and its modern remake, Hawaii Five-0. It is also the open world setting of racing game Test Drive Unlimited and one of two such settings in the sequel.
  • 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. Privately owned and a Real Life example of a Hidden Elf Village, it's difficult for tourists to secure permission to visit. 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.

The state has a unique governmental structure—specifically, it has no cities. Seriously. The only legally constituted governments below the state level are its five counties. And actually, only four have locally run governments. Kalawao County, which encompasses the 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 K–12 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.


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