From lush rainforests to miles of shoreline, Hawaii is filled with natural wonders. However, the magic of Hawaii expands far beyond its stunning landscape. No population center on the planet is more isolated than Hawaii. With over 2,000 miles separating it from California—its nearest neighbor—it is a truly unique destination. Hawaiians celebrate a history rooted in ancient Polynesia that reaches back to before 600 AD. It has evolved over the centuries to produce a rich cultural heritage. Those contemplating a trip to Hawaii may think of sunbathing, sunsets, and trips to Pearl Harbor, however, a brief historical and cultural introduction to this string of 137 islands in the Pacific will greatly enhance any visitor’s understanding and appreciation of perhaps the most unique state in the union.
The luau is synonymous with Hawaii. From a porcine-filled feast and rhythmic drummers to hula dancers and fire twirlers, the cultural festivities are unique to the islands. The party came about through perhaps the kingdom’s first feminist ruler, King Kamehameha II, who overruled traditional religious practices and allowed women to eat with men. Hula dancing also stretches back centuries and is accompanied by an ancient chant called oli. There are a number of luaus throughout the islands. The Marriott Luau has stunning ocean views, Tahitian drum dances, and a fire knife dance which are all used to captivate audiences while conveying indigenous myths. Two well-known Maui luau options, for example, include the Marriott Te Au Moana Luau in Wailea and the Royal Lahaina Luau.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Every island has one volcano or more. Since volcanoes are so prevalent, it’s hardly surprising that Hawaiian culture includes a goddess of fire. Legend has it that Pele journeyed to Hawaii from Polynesia and tried to start fires on different islands until her sister killed her on Maui. The Halemaumau crater, which is located on Kilauea, is where her spirit dwells now. The crater is just one of the features of the 330,000-acre Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which is part of the International Biosphere Reserve. As a World Heritage site, the park opens a window to the past. Volcanic ash from Kilauea preserved the footprints of Hawaiians who were killed in an eruption hundreds of years ago. There are also ruins from an ancient fishing village and 23,000 petroglyphs made by early inhabitants.
Pork and Poi
While Kālua pork may be one of Hawaii’s oldest dishes, the tarot plant is one of the most common components of traditional Hawaiian delicacies. Tarot root is the main ingredient in Poi, which is a paste that is said to have the consistency of sticky pudding. Tarot leaves and pork cooked in a hot rock oven produce laulau, another popular Hawaiian dish. For hundreds of years, Hawaiians have cooked pork in underground ovens (imu). They start a fire in a pit and add lava rocks before layering leaves, vegetables, and a whole pig on top. The food is covered with more leaves and then dirt, and is slow-cooked for hours before being served.
The original inhabitants of Hawaii traveled thousands of miles across the ocean in canoes. Used for fishing and travel, canoes were an essential part of life for ancient Hawaiians. To this day, canoeing remains an important part of Hawaiian culture. There are dozens of canoe races held throughout the islands every year, including the four-day Queen Liliuokalani Race which hosts 2,500 paddlers. Beyond the extensive canoe racing schedules, there are more than 80 canoe clubs affiliated with the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association.
Hawaii is known as one of the best surfing locations in the world, but the sport of surfing actually originated in Polynesia hundreds of years ago and was imported to Hawaii by the original settlers. Here, surfing gained popularity because local chiefs embraced it. All men and women, be them rich and poor, surfed alike. A national survey in 2000 reported 704,000 surfers in Hawaii, which is almost half the state’s reported 2017 population of 1,427,538. Considering that the main island is just 93 miles long, has 265 miles (428 km) of shoreline, and is known for smooth, tall waves typically ranging from three to 14 feet in height, it is no wonder that surfing and other water-based activities are integral to Hawaiian culture past and present.