Hawaii is a state in the Western United States, located in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland. It is the only state outside North America, the only state that is an archipelago, and the only state in the tropics. Hawaii is also one of four U.S. states that were once independent nations along with Vermont, Texas and California.
The state of Hawaii derives its name from the name of its largest island, Hawaiʻi. A common Hawaiian explanation of the name of Hawaiʻi is that it was named for Hawaiʻiloa, a legendary figure from Hawaiian myth. He is said to have discovered the islands when they were first settled.
The Hawaiian language word Hawaiʻi is very similar to Proto-Polynesian Sawaiki, with the reconstructed meaning “homeland”. Cognates of Hawaiʻi are found in other Polynesian languages, including Māori (Hawaiki), Rarotongan (ʻAvaiki) and Samoan (Savaiʻi). According to linguists Pukui and Elbert, “elsewhere in Polynesia, Hawaiʻi or a cognate is the name of the underworld or of the ancestral home, but in Hawaii, the name has no meaning”.
The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic activity initiated at an undersea magma source called the Hawaiʻi hotspot. The process is continuing to build islands; the tectonic plate beneath much of the Pacific Ocean continually moves northwest and the hot spot remains stationary, slowly creating new volcanoes. Because of the hotspot’s location, all currently active land volcanoes are located on the southern half of Hawaiʻi Island. The newest volcano, Lōʻihi Seamount, is located south of the coast of Hawaiʻi Island.
A true-color satellite view of Hawaii shows that most of the islands’ vegetation is on their northeast sides, which face the wind. The silver glow indicates calmer waters downwind.
Hawaiʻi has a subtropical climate. Temperatures and humidity tend to be less extreme because of near-constant trade winds from the east. Summer highs usually reach around 88 °F (31 °C) during the day, with the temperature reaching a low of 75 °F (24 °C) at night. Winter day temperatures are usually around 83 °F (28 °C); at low elevation they seldom dip below 65 °F (18 °C) at night. Snow, not usually associated with the tropics, falls at 13,800 feet (4,200 m) on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Hawaii Island in some winter months. Snow rarely falls on Haleakalā. Mount Waiʻaleʻale on Kauaʻi has the second-highest average annual rainfall on Earth, about 460 inches (12,000 mm) per year. Most of Hawaii experiences only two seasons; the dry season runs from May to October and the wet season is from October to April.
After Europeans and mainland Americans first arrived during the Kingdom of Hawaii period, the overall population of Hawaii which until that time composed solely of Indigenous Hawaiians—fell dramatically. Many people of the Indigenous Hawaiian population died to foreign diseases, declining from 300,000 in the 1770s, to 60,000 in the 1850s, to 24,000 in 1920. In 1923, 42% of the population was of Japanese descent, 9% was of Chinese descent, and 16% was native descent. The population of Hawaii began to finally increase after an influx of primarily Asian settlers that arrived as migrant laborers at the end of the 19th century.
As of 2018, the United States Census Bureau estimates the population of Hawaii at 1,420,491, a decrease of 7,047 from the previous year and an increase of 60,190 (4.42%) since 2010. This includes a natural increase of 48,111 (96,028 births minus 47,917 deaths) and an increase due to net migration of 16,956 people into the state. Immigration from outside the United States resulted in a net increase of 30,068; migration within the country produced a net loss of 13,112 people.
English and Hawaiian are listed as Hawaii’s official languages in the state’s 1978 constitution, in Article XV, Section 4. However, the use of Hawaiian is limited because the constitution specifies that “Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law”. Hawaiʻi Creole English, locally referred to as “Pidgin”, is the native language of many native residents and is a second language for many others.
As of the 2000 Census, 73.4% of Hawaii residents age 5 and older exclusively speak English at home. According to the 2008 American Community Survey, 74.6% of Hawaii’s residents older than 5 speak only English at home. In their homes, 21.0% of state residents speak an additional Asian language, 2.6% speak Spanish, 1.6% speak other Indo-European languages and 0.2% speak another language.
Hawaii is among the most religiously diverse states in the U.S., with one in ten residents practicing a non-Christian faith. Christianity remains the majority religion, mainly represented by various Protestants groups and Roman Catholics.
The second largest religion is Buddhism, which is concentrated in the Japanese community, and comprises a larger proportion of the population than any other state. The unaffiliated and nonreligious account for roughly half the population, making Hawaii one of the most secular states. According to data provided by religious establishments, religion in Hawaii in 2000 was distributed as follows:
Post-annexation, Hawaii’s economy and demographic changes were shaped mostly by growth in the agricultural sector. From the end of World War II onwards, depictions and photographs, such as this, of Hawaii as a tropical, leisure paradise encouraged the growth of tourism in Hawaii, which eventually became the largest industry of the islands.
The U.S. federal government’s spending on Hawaii-stationed personnel, installations and materiel, either directly or through military personnel spending, amounts to Hawaii’s second largest source of income, after tourism.
The history of Hawaii’s economy can be traced through a succession of dominant industries: sandalwood, whaling, sugarcane, pineapple, the military, tourism and education. Since statehood in 1959, tourism has been the largest industry, contributing 24.3% of the gross state product (GSP) in 1997, despite efforts to diversify. The state’s gross output for 2003 was US$47 billion; per capita income for Hawaii residents in 2014 was US$54,516. Hawaiian exports include food and clothing. These industries play a small role in the Hawaiian economy, due to the shipping distance to viable markets, such as the West Coast of the United States. The state’s food exports include coffee, macadamia nuts, pineapple, livestock, sugarcane and honey.
The aboriginal culture of Hawaii is Polynesian. Hawaii represents the northernmost extension of the vast Polynesian Triangle of the south and central Pacific Ocean. While traditional Hawaiian culture remains as vestiges in modern Hawaiian society, there are re-enactments of the ceremonies and traditions throughout the islands. Some of these cultural influences, including the popularity (in greatly modified form) of lūʻau and hula, are strong enough to affect the wider United States.
Tourism is an important part of the Hawaiian economy. In 2003, according to state government data, there were more than 6.4 million visitors, with expenditures of over $10 billion, to the Hawaiian Islands. Due to the mild year-round weather, tourist travel is popular throughout the year. The major holidays are the most popular times for outsiders to visit, especially in the winter months. Substantial numbers of Japanese tourists still visit the islands but have now been surpassed by Chinese and Koreans due to the collapse of the value of the Yen and the weak Japanese economy. The average Japanese stays only five days, while other Asians stay over 9.5 days and spend 25% more.
Hawaii hosts numerous cultural events. The annual Merrie Monarch Festival is an international Hula competition. The Hawaii International Film Festival is the premier film festival for Pacific rim cinema. Honolulu hosts the state’s long-running LGBT film festival, the Rainbow Film Festival.
Public elementary, middle and high school test scores in Hawaii are below national averages on tests mandated under the No Child Left Behind Act. The Hawaii Board of Education requires all eligible students to take these tests and report all student test scores. This may have unbalanced the results that reported in August 2005 that of 282 schools across the state, 185 failed to reach federal minimum performance standards in mathematics and reading. The ACT college placement tests show that in 2005, seniors scored slightly above the national average (21.9 compared with 20.9), but in the widely accepted SAT examinations, Hawaii’s college-bound seniors tend to score below the national average in all categories except mathematics.
A system of state highways encircles each main island. Only Oʻahu has federal highways, and is the only area outside the contiguous 48 states to have signed Interstate highways. Narrow, winding roads and congestion in populated places can slow traffic. Each major island has a public bus system.
Honolulu International Airport (IATA: HNL), which shares runways with the adjacent Hickam Field (IATA: HIK), is the major commercial aviation hub of Hawaii. The commercial aviation airport offers intercontinental service to North America, Asia, Australia and Oceania. Hawaiian Airlines and Mokulele Airlines use jets to provide services between the large airports in Honolulu, Līhuʻe, Kahului, Kona and Hilo. These airlines also provide air freight services between the islands. On May 30, 2017, the airport was officially renamed as the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), after U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye.
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