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Culture/State Information

Culture/State Information
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Lesson Plans

Hawaiian Culture and Background

Hawaii is the only island state of the United States. It is composed of eight main islands and 124 islets, reefs, and shoals. Hawaii was admitted to the United States Union on August 21, 1959. The land is almost wholly of volcanic origin. The scenery also includes mountains as high as 13,000 feet, stretches of lava beds, beaches with palm trees, cliffs and brightly colored canyons. The state of Hawaii is made up of an island chain that extends for about 1,600 miles between the island of Hawaii in the southeast and Kure Island in the northwest. The state has a total area of 10,931 square miles, including 38 square miles of inland water. Hawaii is the fourth smallest state in the U.S.
From east to west the eight main islands are Hawaii, Maui, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau. Hawaii is almost twice as large as the rest of the islands combined. It is roughly in a triangular shape and extends 93 miles from north to south and 76 miles from east to west. The island is a huge mountainous mass dominated by two volcanic peaks (Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea). In addition to the lava beds and “barren ash-covered slopes,” Hawaii has the largest areas of tropical rainforests, numerous waterfalls, and great stretches of rolling grasslands.
The Hawaiian islands represent the exposed peaks of a chain of extinct, dormant, or active volcanoes. “This chain has been forming for many millions of years as vast outpourings of lava issue from a relatively fixed vent or ‘hot spot’ of volcanic activity on the deep ocean floor. This hot spot is believed to have remained in its present general position for many millions of years.” Over time, the islands either will or some already have, migrate from the “hot spot through plate tectonics. “The large tectonic plate that forms the floor of the Pacific Ocean appears to be moving slowly in a northwesterly direction at a rate of 4 inches per year.” Over long periods of time, the volcanoes will eventually sink back into the crust, leaving no volcanic rock above sea level. There are still three active volcanoes on the island of Hawaii that have erupted since written records have been kept.
The average temperature in Hawaii ranges between 72-79 degrees farenheit throughout the year. Temperatures rarely vary more than 10 degrees F and extreme temperatures rarely occur. Hawaiian seasons can be classified into two periods. Kau (the summer period) lasts from mid-April until mid-October and ho ‘oilo (the winter season) is vice versa. The winter season has only slightly lower temperatures than the summer but has cyclonic storms that can bring strong northerly winds and much rainfall.
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The traditional religion of the native Hawaiians was a form of nature worship. This was abolished by King Kamehameha II in 1819. Christian missionaries arrived in 1820. Within a few years, many of the islanders had converted to Christianity by these Protestant missionaries. In 1827, the first Roman Catholic priests arrived from France. In 1850, Mormons arrived from California. The Protestant Episcopal Church was established in 1862. During the second half of the 19th century, Buddhism, Shintoism, and other Asian religions were introduced by immigrants. Today, the largest religious group is the Roman Catholic Church. Buddhism also has a large following. There are also several Protestants and a small Jewish congregation in Honolulu. Most of the major religions of the world are represented in the state.
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Originally, the Hawaiian islands were settled by Polynesian immigrants more than a 1,000 years ago. Today there is more diversity in the state of Hawaii. “As of the 1990 U.S. Census, there were 1,108,229 people living in Hawaii. Of those people, 369,616 (33.4%) were Caucasian, 247,486 (22.3%) were of Japanese descent, 168,682 (15.2%) were of Filipino descent, 138,742 (12.5%) were of Hawaiian descent, 68,804 (6.2%) were of Chinese descent, and 114,899 were of other ethnic backgrounds (27,195 blacks, 24,454 Koreans, and 15,034 Samoans… Hawaii is clearly the most racially integrated state in the U.S. It is also the only state where whites are not the majority but rather only a third of the population.”
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The first Western schools in Hawaii were started in the 1820’s by the Protestant missionaries from New England. During the 1840’s, the government began supporting public schools in Hawaii. English began to replace Hawaiian as the language of public instruction in the 1850’s. Unlike most other states, Hawaii does not have local or county school boards. Control of education is vested in the state government. About 17% of students are enrolled in private schools. In the 2000-2001 school year, of those students older than age 25, 87.9% of Hawaiian students had high school diplomas compared to the nations average of 82.8%.
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In ancient Hawaii, men and women used to eat their meals apart. The ancient religion made it so commoners and women of all ranks were also forbidden to eat certain delicacies. In 1819, King Kamehameha II changed this biased situation and abolished the traditional religious practices. The luau was born where the King ate at a feast that included women. This became the symbolic act which ended the constricting Hawaiian religious practices.
The luau was named after the favorite dish that the people ate at the feasts. This dish consisted of, “young and tender leaves of the taro plant, combined with chicken, and baked in coconut milk” (Hawaiian luaus cite). The traditional luau feast was eaten on the floor. The people sat on lauhala mats which were made out of “ti” leaves, ferns, and native flowers. Foods such as poi (which is made from pounded taro root), potatoes, salt, and dried fish or meat were laid out on the leaves. At the luau, utensils were never used instead everything was eaten with the fingers. Lavish decorations also accompany the traditional luau. The natives use ferns and many flowers for decorations. The luau’s hosted by royalty of the 1800’s tended to be big. Today, luaus are not as large but are still just as much fun. They eat some of the same traditional foods, and utensils are allowed.
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“Garland, wreath; necklace of flowers, leaves, shells, feathers, ivory, or paper, given as a symbol of affection. Figuratively, a beloved child, wife, husband, sweetheart, younger sibling or child, so called because a beloved child was carried on the shoulders, with the legs draped down both sides of the bearer as a lei.” From

HISTORY OF THE HULA: (Culture and Music)
The hula began as an ancient Polynesian action dance with bodily movements following the song or chant. Hula teachers were sacred masters inspired by the gods. There were three main goddesses associated with the hula. Pele (the fire goddess) inspired her followers with hula chants; Hi’iaka was the patroness of the hula to whom many cycles of storytelling are attributed to; and finally, the sacred hula was often dedicated to Laka. (surfing for life website).
Both men and women performed the sacred hula in ancient times. Same genders did not perform at the same time though. “The men’s hulas were vigorous and forceful while those of the women were more sensual and aesthetic.” The sacred hulas were delicate, artistic and subtle forms of the dance, mastered only after long years of apprenticeship under a master teacher. Sadly, today only a few masters carry on the art form tradition. Besides this sacred form, there also existed a more “profane” form for entertainment of the royal and common class. Most of today’s dances are descended from this popular type of hula.
The hula has had its share of struggle for survival in the past 180 years. At one time, there were about 300 distinct hulas in Hawaii. When the Westerners arrived in Hawaii, the hula was Hawaii’s “living theater.” It was danced as an accompaniment to an oral tradition of poetry. The hula lost its popularity in 1819 when the Hawaiian’s abolished their religion and temples. The article believes that this was a result from Western contact. The Western missionaries found the hula to be “lewd and offensive.” They did all they could to suppress the dance. The hula faded from the public sight during the middle decades of the 19th century and was performed in secrecy by the rural people.
Despite missionary objections, Hawaiian kings encouraged the revival of the hula. In 1840, King Kamehameha III attempted to revive the hula. He, along with other successive kings, realized that the extinction of the hula would mean the end of an important cultural Hawaiian aspect. It was not until the reign of King David Kalakau that the hula was effectively revived. During his reign, professional hula troupes became popular again. Today, the hula is more popular than ever. The revival of the hula as an integral part of Hawaiian culture has occurred in the past thirty years. Recently, “halaus” or hula school’s, have been established in Hawaii. I suppose the moral of this tale is that although we as Americans are molding and melding our cultures with one another, we must remember to keep in contact with our own heritage that has been passed down from generation to generation.
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“In hula, the dancers become one with everything in nature. They bent, swayed and gestured, moving in countless ways to tell countless stories, most of which had deep meanings. Behind these graceful, expressive, sometimes dignified and sometimes earthly dances, lay years of study, meditation and prayer. It’s your spirit, it’s your soul. It’s unlike anybody else. The bubbling up in your heart is your personal expression, your original way of saying things. It comes from a place of love and kindness… They’ll be no obstacle if you keep your love. That’s the answer.” –Auntie Winona Beamer, Hawaiian hula master