Once you’ve set foot on the Hawaiian islands, you’ll be captivated by the spirit of ‘aloha.’ From its royal past to its multicultural present, Hawaii has so much more to offer than leis and luaus. Discover a bit about one of our favourite corners of the Pacific.
A Royal History
First settled in the year 300 by Polynesians, a warring chieftain-society expanded into the first Hawaiian kingdom, ruled by King Kamehameha the Great, in 1795. The first documented visit by a European was in 1778 by James Cook, who wished to name the archipelago the Sandwich Islands after his patron. However, the kingdom of Hawaii, for the most part, enjoyed its independence, which was formally recognized by Queen Victoria and King Louis-Philippe of France.
As with all things political, Hawaii’s closeness to the U.S. mainland, as well as to Asian countries like Japan, had many other forces plotting to gain control over the islands, including Christian missionaries who had arrived in the Victorian era. In 1887, then-king Kalākaua was forced to downgrade his powers, creating a constitutional monarchy; after he died, the last queen of Hawaii, Lili’ukokalani reigned, until she was overthrown and forced to abdicate under duress in 1895. Following this, Hawaii was annexed by the U.S. government and eventually joined the United States in 1959, the last state to join the union.
The Ultimate Welcome
The iconic garland of Hawaiian hospitality, the lei, is a wreath of flowers presented upon arrival to the islands (or, to the locals, for any celebratory reason like graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries).
Strung together, they could be composed of fragrant jasmine, maile leaf, the traditional sweet-smelling plumeria, or just about anything else pleasant. It’s said that if you toss your lei in the ocean upon leaving (as traditionally, people would travel to the islands by boat) if the lei reaches the shore again, it’s believed that you will one day return to Hawaii.
The Original Stoke: Surfing
More than simply a recreational activity, to the ancient Hawaiians, he’e nalu—‘wave sliding’—was part of the culture, a spiritual pursuit and an art form all in one: ‘the sport of kings. First and foremost came respect for the ocean: a Hawaiian kahuna, or priest, would pray to the gods for good surf.
The best surfers, in fact, were the ruling classes, the ali’i: pastors, chiefs, warriors and kings, who had access to the best beaches, breaks, and boards. (Commoners who had high skill were also, on occasion, permitted access to otherwise restricted waters if they were good enough). It was in 1885 when three Hawaiian princes who were studying on the mainland ‘hung loose’ in Santa Cruz that the California-Hawaii surf connection was first made. The rest is the stuff of modern ‘extreme’ sports history. Catch an eyeful of surfing mastery at some of these world-famous spots: the North Shore, Pipeline, and Waimea Bay on Oahu; ‘Jaws’, a.k.a. Pe’ahi on Maui; and Honolii Beach Park in Hilo, Hawaii.