The Hawaiian Archipelago is the result of a hot spot beneath the Earth’s crust that continually spews lava. The hot spot creates islands over time. The hotspot today is under Hawaii, the Big Islands. It was previously under Maui, and before that, Oahu.
However, the Pacific plate is continually moving ever so slowly west, creating a chain of islands – the Hawaiian Archipelago. Over time, the islands erode under the relentless waves and wind, until nothing is left by coral atolls that eventually collapse into undersea sea mounts.
The Hawaiian Islands were colonized by Polynesians around 300 BC. Their closest linguistic relative is the Marquesan languages of French Polynesia. It is more distantly related to Maori, Samoan and Tuvalu, suggesting that the first Hawaiians may have started their journey from the islands in French Polynesian as the early Maori and Samoans did. It also shares some linguistic ties with Tahitian, which is likely due to trade and visits between the islands. However, Hawaiian voyages to other islands had essentially ceased in the centuries before the West arrived.
Captain James cook arrived Hawaii in 1778. By the early 1800s, a large proportion of the native population had been wiped out by diseases. This enabled Kamehameha the first to unit the islands and remaining 150,000 or so natives into a single kingdom.
There are 132 islands, reefs and atolls in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Eight of the Hawaiian Islands are inhabited, most of which are also the largest islands. The largest islands are Hawaii, Maui, Moloka’I, Oahu and Ni’ihau. Kahoolawe and Lanai are off of Maui.
The winds across the Pacific constantly move air from east to west, and the most southeastern islands are thus called the windward islands. Many of the large islands like Hawaii have a wet side and a dry side, where the mountains created by the volcanic activity block the flow of moisture laden air across the island. The windward side thus gets most of the rain, while the other side of the island is very dry.
The northwesterly islands are called the leeward islands. Nihoa is considered the first of the leeward islands. Many of the small northernmost islands are uninhabited. The leeward islands include Necker, Gardner, Laysan, the French Frigate Shoals, Lisianski, Midway Island, Pearl and Hermes Reef, and Kure. The entire Hawaiian Archipelago stretches over 1500 miles. It covers a total of 6,425 square miles.
The largest island in the chain is the big island of Hawaii. However, the most populated island is actually Oahu, with almost a million people, because it is home of Honolulu, the state’s capital. The big island is the second most populated, with close to 200,000 people. However, the Big Island is home to the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, at the peak of the volcano. Keck is the largest optical, infrared and sub-millimeter observatory in the world.
All islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago are part of the state of Hawaii, except for Midway Island, which is managed as an unincorporated territory. Hawaii and Alaska became the last of the 50 states of the United States.
Before that, Hawaii was a territory for roughly fifty years. Before that, Hawaii was a monarchy.
The Hawaiians had little resistance to diseases brought by explorers and later sugar cane plantation workers. Today, less than 1% of the Hawaiian population speaks Hawaiian as a native language. It is only spoken by the majority of the population on one island in the Hawaiian Archipelago, Ni’ihau. Ni’ihau is the exception because the island is privately owned and masses of immigrant labor weren’t brought in; there is no tourism there and few visitors, so the native speakers weren’t overwhelmed by English speakers. Its roughly 200 speakers are a linguistic time capsule.
Hawaiian pidgin, a creole language that includes Hawaiian and terms for many other languages used by plantation workers from China, Korea and other nations.