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Hawaii has been inhabited by Polynesians since around 400, probably from the vicinity of Tahiti. They were very good sailors and spoke a Polynesian language, Hawaiian. The Hawaiian sound system has only 7 consonants, and the language therefore sounds very recognisable.
Although it is assumed that the islands were possibly already seen by the Spaniards in the 16th century, James Cook is the official European 'discoverer' of the islands, which he named the Sandwich Islands.
Under the influence of contacts with the Europeans, King Kamehameha I united all the previously often mutually hostile islands into one kingdom. The Hawaiian kings pursued a policy of hospitality for foreigners, but they played off the English against the Americans, for example. Thus, despite its strategic location, the kingdom remained an independent state for most of the 19th century. In 1893, a number of American sugar planters staged a coup, placed Queen Liliuokalani under arrest and opened the door for American annexation in 1893.
The attack on Pearl Harbor (on the island of O'ahu) on December 7, 1941 by the Imperial Army of Japan resulted in the United States becoming involved in World War II. The area remained an American Territory until 1959. In the meantime, the original population had become a small minority on its own island and decided to become a state of the USA, which happened on 21 August 1959.
Only one of the islands, Niihau, still has an entirely original character; it is privately owned and not accessible to outsiders except by invitation.
See also the history of the United States.
CIA - World Factbook
BBC - Country ProfilesLast updated January 2024
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