Prepared by James D. Brightman and Lilette A. Subedi
The purpose of this brief, developed as part of a series of Asia and Pacific Island culture briefs, is to present readers with a quick overview of the Hawaiian culture and to introduce references that will provide more in-depth perspectives.
The islands in the Hawaiian archipelago are among the most geographically isolated locales on earth, located more than 1,860 miles from the nearest continental land mass. In 1959, the Hawaiian island archipelago officially became the 50th member of the United States of America, following a legally contested annexation, the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893, and more than 100 years of unwelcome assimilation through colonization that had begun in 1778 after the arrival of Captain James Cook.
The state of Hawai'i contains seven inhabited islands comprising a land area of 11,000 square miles. The distance from the northern tip of the northern island (Kaua'i) to the southern tip of the southern island (Hawai'i) is approximately 350 miles. Of the state's total population of 1.3 million, approximately 900,000 live on the island of O'ahu. About 25% of the state's population lives on neighbor islands. Hawai'i holds the distinction of being the only state composed entirely of islands. The term "Hawaiian" is an English word that generally describes anything affiliated with the entire archipelago, not just the islands in the state of Hawai'i. However, when referring to people, the word "Hawaiian" denotes exclusively those of Hawaiian ancestry. Therefore, while residents of the states of Georgia or California quite properly say "I'm a Georgian"or "I'm a Californian," residents of the state of Hawai'i who are not of Hawaiian ancestry would say, "I live in Hawai'i," or "I'm from Hawai'i." Many Hawaiians prefer to call themselves "Native Hawaiians." Governance of Hawai'i
Like many other states, Hawai'i is governed by three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. A Governor and Lieutenant Governor head the executive branch. The legislature has two bodies--Senate and House of Representatives. The judicial branch consists of a Supreme Court and lower courts. Federal courts have jurisdiction over federal matters in the islands.
For local governance, the state of Hawai'i is divided into counties that correspond roughly to names of the islands--e.g., Maui County, Kaua'i County, and so on. Counties have mayors and city councils. Smaller islands (Lana'i and Moloka'i) are part of the county of a neighbor island. The island of Moloka'i, most of which is part of Maui County, also contains a separate county, Kalawao, which is administered by the state Department of Health. The island of O'ahu contains one county, which shares the name of the state's capital city, Honolulu. Honolulu "Honolulu" is a Hawaiian word that means, in English, "sheltered harbor." Honolulu is the largest city in Hawai'i and the major port and economic center of the state (MSN Encarta, 1993-2007). MSN Encarta (1993-2007) further informs us that Honolulu and Honolulu County have the same boundaries and government, and together they are officially known as the City and County of Honolulu. Although Honolulu technically encompasses all of O'ahu, it generally refers to only the urban area on the island's southeastern coast.
Ethnically, Honolulu is one the most diverse cities in the United States. According to the 2000 census, people of Asian ancestry constituted 55.9 percent of Honolulu's population, Caucasians 19.7 percent, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders 6.8 percent, African Americans 1.6 percent, Native Americans 0.2, and people of mixed heritage or not reporting race 15.8 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, were 4.4 percent of the population. The largest nonwhite ethnic groups in Hawai'i are Japanese, Hawaiian or Part Hawaiian, Filipino, and Chinese.