Hawaii is well known as a tourist destination, and every year vacationers travel from around the world to bask on the glorious beaches, enjoy the magnificent ocean views and observe the exotic plants and wildlife on the islands. This island state has many advantages as a tourist attraction, including miles and miles of beautiful coastline, a pleasant tropical climate and some of the most amazing scenery in the world. But in addition to all of these features, Hawaii also has a rich cultural heritage that is unique to this chain of islands. And while most tourists on vacation are exposed to a few aspects of Hawaiian culture during their stays, many people who travel to Hawaii miss out on a true understanding of Hawaii's cultural background. There is more to Hawaiian culture than the forms of traditional clothing and dance that are on display at popular tourist destinations. Learning about the cultural traditions of Hawaii can make your vacation experience more interesting and enriching.
It is believed that Hawaii was first settled by Polynesians some 1,500 years ago. Confirming the date of Hawaii's first settlement is very difficult, however, because no written records exist from that time period on the islands. Instead of a written history, the culture of Hawaii has a longstanding oral tradition that preserves its language, arts and other forms of cultural expression. Hawaii's cultural history has been passed from one generation to another, with elders teaching the younger generations about their past.
Over time, many aspects of Hawaiian culture have changed, including the system of government. Though now part of the United States, Hawaii was originally a kingdom. Yet the significance of Hawaii's traditional rulers is still commemorated. For example, a statue of King Kamehamea, regarded as the greatest of Hawaii's monarchs, is located on the Big Island. Also on the Big Island is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a site with great cultural as well as geological significance. The park's name makes reference to the two volcanoes which can be found there, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. According to tradition, Kilauea is home to the goddess Pele, who causes the volcano's eruptions. Kilauea has been active since 1983, and the cultural importance of Kilauea is appropriate considering that the islands of Hawaii were originally formed through volcanic activity.
Because traditions are such an important feature of Hawaii's culture, there are individuals and organizations trying to prevent these traditions from fading away or being forgotten. Every spring, the Merrie Monarch Festival serves as a venue for displaying and promoting traditional Hawaiian art forms, especially traditional music and dance. Though it is a major draw for visitors, this festival is not simply a production geared toward tourists. Instead, the festival is part of the Hawaiian renaissance, an effort to keep Hawaii's traditions alive. If you plan to visit Hawaii for a vacation, keep in mind that the visit can be much richer and more vibrant if you take some time to learn about the islands cultural heritage before you go.
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