Hawaiian People & Culture, Hawaii

Hawaiian People & Culture

People in Hawaii

Since first native Polynesian arrived between the fourth and fifth century, Hawaii’s population has grown to about 1.4 million.

There is a diverse mix of ethnicities, ranging from White Americans, Asians, natives, African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos to American Indians and Alaskan natives. In fact, Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asian and Multiracial Americans and the lowest percentage of White Americans, compared to any other state.

Languages in Hawaii

In Hawaii, the official languages are Hawaiian and English. However, the latter is more commonly used all over the Islands, with only a small fraction of the total population speaking the Hawaiian language. Hawaiian belongs to the Austronesian language family, bearing similarities to other Polynesian languages like Tahitian and Māori. Other minority languages spoken include Spanish, Tagalog, German, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese and Japanese.

Many natives also speak Hawai’i Creole English (HCE) or “Pidgin” as a second language. HCE deviates structurally from standard English and its vocabulary contains words borrowed from Hawaiian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Tagalog and Ilocano, thanks to the spike in immigration in the 19th century.

Design & Architecture

Hawaiian architecture paints a vivid picture of Hawaii’s evolution into the multicultural society it is today, with the influx of various influences from beyond its borders at different points in time.

The earliest form of Hawaiian architecture originated from the grass shacks of ancient Hawai’i, which indicated social status, skill, profession and wealth based on building material. Now, New English and European influences are prevalent in buildings like the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace and Kawaiha’o Church, which were built using coral reef blocks from regions like Ala Moana and Kaka’ako, in addition to other building materials readily available on native soil. Other European architectural styles also reflected in landmarks and monuments include Gothic (e.g. Royal Mausoleum, Aloha Tower), Renaissance (e.g. ‘Iolani Palace) and Romanesque (e.g. the buildings of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum).

Many downtown Honolulu office buildings feature an American form of Bauhaus architecture – most notably, the Hawai’I State Capitol, which combines the clean open structure of the Bauhaus style with Hawaiian treatments, such as koa wood doors and the capitol dome inspired by the Hawaiian Islands’ volcanic origins. Also bearing such native motifs are the First Hawaiian Tower and First Hawaiian Center, which are recent inroads into creating a skyscraper skyline.

Residential homes on the outskirts, as well as buildings like the Ala Moana Centre and Hawaiian Village Hotel, reflect a contemporary adaptation of Hawaiian plantation architecture, perhaps the most famous style exported globally. 

Cultural & Legal Restrictions

Hawaii’s most distinctive feature the characteristic, almost familial warmth of its locals that complements the island’s balmy climate. The resultant cheerful, laid-back “hang loose” atmosphere also extends to attire. Shorts are acceptable around the Islands but you are advised not to go bare-chested or barefoot unless at the beach. Skinny-dipping is strictly illegal as well.

It is also recommended that you do not assume that all residents consider themselves “Hawaiian”; the term is usually reserved for descendants of the native aboriginal people of Hawaii. To be safe, Hawaii residents could simply be referred to as “islanders” or “locals” instead.

The religions practiced in Hawaii are as diverse as its multitude of races. Most locals are Christians; other religions include Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Daoism, amongst others. Ancient Hawaiian religions are also practiced in many heiaus (temples) all over the Islands. An example is Ho’oponopono, an ancient healing philosophy of forgiveness and reconciliation with prayer.

Due to Native Hawaiians and the large Asian population, cultural differences exist between Hawaiian and general American etiquette. For instance, you must remove your footwear prior to entering an islander’s home, just like in many parts of Asia. People display a strong connection to nature, often attributing spiritual qualities to the land – as observed in the urban legend that removing volcanic rock from Mauna Loa or Kilauea will anger the goddess Pele and cause misfortune to befall the offender. In any case, taking rocks, plants or other natural “souvenirs” from national parks and reserves is illegal.

With the largest population of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults in the country, Hawaii is the 15thstate to legalize same-sex marriages.

Going To Hawaii

Many airlines, including low-cost carriers, have non-stop flights to Honolulu from most major airports in the United States. The island of Oahu is where most US and international flights land in Honolulu. You will need to book an inter-island flight if you’d like to go to a Neighbour Island (anything outside Oahu). You can also travel between islands on a Hawaiian cruise ship.

Accommodation in Hawaii

Backpackers, couples, and families will be pleased with the wide array of Hawaii accommodation options located all over the Islands. From 5-star luxury hotels to condos and hotels, there is definitely an option for every budget. Campsites are also available in National, State, City, and County Parks. The rise of ecotourism, which promotes sustainable tourism activities to conserve Hawaii’s natural resources, has spawned many eco-lodges and resorts where you can be assured of an environmentally friendly stay in Hawaii.

Getting around Hawaii

You are advised to plan for at least a three-week long stay if you want to visit all the Islands. Make the best of your sightseeing time by flying domestic. You could also book a helicopter sightseeing tour to explore the otherwise inaccessible parts of Hawaii. Charter boats and cruises sail between some islands as well. A ferry connects Lanai, Molokai, and Oahu to Maui.

On land, limousines, cabs, and coaches are easily available. Oahu is the only island with an extensive island-wide bus service route. Vehicle rentals are available but not necessary in Honolulu due to its established public transport system. Do be careful when driving at night, as roads between towns can be narrow and poorly lit. For those who prefer to go off the beaten path, you can hire a bike and start exploring smaller towns.

Hawaiian Currency 

The Hawaiian currency is the US Dollar. Tips up to around 15 percent in restaurants and 10 percent in taxis are expected. Generally, tour guides also appreciate a few dollars of gratuity per person.

Entry Requirements

Visitors to Hawaii require a valid passport or valid travel document with sufficient validity. Anyone entering Hawaii directly from a different country needs to meet the same entry requirements for the United States. Visa requirements vary for different countries of origin, so be sure to check here. To apply, face-to-face interviews with a US embassy or consulate is mandatory for nearly all nationalities, except for those from the 38 countries within the Visa Waiver Program, Canadians, Mexicans holding a Border Crossing Card, Caymanian, Bermudians, Turks and Caicos Islanders with British Overseas Territories passports.

Hawaii Climate

Year-round temperatures are similar in the Islands, ranging from 18°C to 30°C. The weather is appropriate for summer clothes and you should probably also throw on a few layers of sunscreen for good measure, when at the beach. Do later up for mountain hikes as it can get quite chilly in the highlands. It is common for the weather in Hawaii to vary even over short distances. Travellers should take note of the wetter season that runs from October to March.


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