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Thursday 30th March
Hawaii USA Information - Page 1
Geography
The Islands of Hawaii are in the Central Pacific Ocean just off the Tropic of Cancer miles away from any other land. The group stretches around 2,800 km in length, including 132 atolls and islands. Some of the islands were created by coral but most are the result of volcanic activity.

The Islands are a state of the USA having become the fiftieth state in 1959. Fewer than ten islands, among the many hundreds, are inhabited. The main islands are: Kauai known as the Garden Island; Niihau; Oahu whose city of Honolulu is the capital of the Hawaiian Islands; Molokai; Lanai; Kahoolawe; Maui and Hawaii called the Big Island which is the only island whose volcanoes are still active.

The landscape of Hawaii is a dramatic mixture of forested valleys, volcanic mountains, steep sea cliffs and beautiful beaches. The north and east coasts of all the islands are wetter, with tropical vegetation, because of the north east trade winds.

Since the islands are volcanic in origin, made entirely of lava, they lack metal ore deposits, clays and similar resources.

The climate of the Islands is warm, with temperatures varying from sixty to ninety degrees Fahrenheit. There is some rain from December through to February with higher rainfall in the mountains. The Islands are generally free from hurricanes but in 1992 Hurricane Iniki caused extensive damage in Kauai.

Because the island chain is in a volcanic area, on the edge of the Pacific Plate, earthquake monitoring stations are located on the Big Island.

Environment
As the Islands are volcanic, all life either arrived by chance or was brought by colonists. Some seeds were wind borne or brought by birds or washed up on the shores.

The volcanic soil is very fertile and much of the islands is covered with vegetation. Flora includes many flowers used to make the traditional "leis", ferns and koa trees (used to make canoes). The hibiscus is the State flower.

In the seas around the Islands there are numerous types of fish and marine creatures. Close to the coast many of the fish have become used to humans because of Hawaii's popularity with divers and fish such as the butterfly fish feed from the hands of snorkellers. The seas also support many other types of fish such as tuna and snappers, which are important sources of food and sport fishing.

Humpbacked whales can be seen in the Hawaiian waters from November to April and whale-watching expeditions are arranged.

Swimmers must beware of sharks and another unwelcome inhabitant of the waters is the Portuguese man-of-war (stinging jellyfish).

The bird life of Hawaii, like the animals, originally came to the islands by accident or with human migrants. Many of the original Hawaiian bird species have become extinct because their way of life made them vulnerable to imported animals such as the mongoose and the wild pig and to human hunters.

Other species are now in danger of extinction, including the Nene which is the state bird. The Nene is a relation of the Canada Goose and has evolved feet without webbing between the toes to enable it to walk on the volcanic rock.

Apart from bats and monk seals, which are believed to have reached the Islands themselves, the first mammals, dogs, goats and pigs, were brought by the colonizing Polynesians.

The arrival of Europeans at the end of the eighteenth century brought cattle, horses and many other species. These and other creatures alien to the Hawaiian ecology brought dangers to the fragile ecosystem. Europeans also brought with them diseases which were fatal to the Islanders. The water brought in one ship from South America proved to contain mosquitoes, which brought malaria to the Islands.

This vulnerability to imported species (whether they are plants or animals) is true of all island ecologies. Systems which have developed and evolved to fit a particular niche cannot adapt speedily enough to deal with a sudden invasion.

The discovery of sandalwood trees, whose wood was particularly valued in China led to the establishment of a timber industry which not only brought the trees to the verge of extinction but also ruined the way of life of the islanders who were expected to leave their traditional lifestyle and work in the industry. This commercialization continued with the establishment of sugar and pineapple plantations.

Today there is recognition of the need to protect the natural environment and the Conservation Council of Hawaii works to raise awareness of the fragility of the ecology of the Islands and ensure practical measures to advance conservation.

Architecture
Unlike many other Pacific Islands, Hawaii is well supplied with both wood and rock.

The traditional homes of the islanders were windowless thatched huts. Roofs were not always needed because of the low rainfall. Most of the buildings were raised on stone platforms.

The islanders' temples were built of lava rock. The churches of the first missionaries were brought from New England and re-erected in Hawaii. Churches were also built of lava rock and coral.

The sugar and pineapple plantations gave rise to the traditional Colonial architecture. In modern times many modern hotel and resort developments have been built throughout the islands.

Population
The population of the islands was over one and a quarter million at the end of the millennium; the majority live on Oahu.

The first people to colonize Hawaii were probably from the Marquesas Islands. They were followed by Tahitians. These people lived in isolation on the Islands until the arrival of Captain Cook in 1778. Meeting people from outside the Islands brought the Hawaiians into contact with previously unknown diseases which led to a large reduction in the population. Europeans and Americans began to settle on the islands and immigrant workers came from China, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Portugal, PuertoRico and Samoa to work on plantations.

Today there are many different races represented in Hawaii: approximately one third of the population is white, closely followed by a large percentage of Japanese with native Hawaiians making up a much smaller number of the population than either of these two groups.

Languages
Hawaii is an American state so the main language is English. Hawaiian is an official language.

There was no written Hawaiian alphabet until missionaries devised a simplified written version of Hawaiian. The language has a twelve letter alphabet with words ending in vowels, for example: keiki (child), mahalo (thank you), wikiwiki (hurry up)

Religion
Ancient Hawaiians worshipped a number of gods and goddesses such as the war god Ku; the volcano goddess Pele and Laka goddess of the hula. Human sacrifice was practised.

Islanders lived by a code of taboos called kapu. Kapu ruled the daily lives of everyone: breaking a taboo was punished by invoking the death penalty. In 1820 the first missionaries arrived from Boston. The system of kapu was breaking down and many of the Islanders became Christians.

Today both Eastern and Western religions are represented in Hawaii.

Food
The staple food of the Hawaiians, poi, was a paste made using taro root. This was supplemented with meat and fish. On special occasions pigs were wrapped in leaves and baked in underground ovens.

Today the variety of food reflects different ethnic groups living on the islands and food is available from all over the world. Although fish are plentiful, particular types of fish are imported for tourists. Locally grown macadamia nuts are used in recipes and a local dessert is "shave ice" with syrups such as coconut and passion fruit. Kona coffee is produced on the Big Island.

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