I had wanted to visit the 50th state for a long time and recently had the chance to do so.
What an enchanted place Hawaii is! All those great things you hear about the weather, beaches, people and the spectacular sights are true.
As I laid on Waikiki beach reading the masterful James Michener novel “Hawaii” — considered by many to be his greatest work — it really put into perspective how history might have been different if these beautiful islands never became part of the United States.
While it is impossible to summarize the history or general magnificence of the Hawaiian Islands in a single column (after all, Michener needed 1,000 pages), here is a brief overview of this great nation’s most recently declared state:
Hawaii is the only state made up entirely of islands. While there are hundreds in total, the eight largest ones have almost all the population. They lie about 2,500 miles west of California and have two official languages: English and Hawaiian. Along with Texas, it is the only state that was once an internationally recognized independent nation.
The first known settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were Polynesian voyagers who arrived sometime in the eighth century. In the early 18th century, American traders came to Hawaii to exploit the islands’ sandalwood, which was much valued in China at the time.
In the 1830s, the sugar industry was introduced to Hawaii and became well-established by the mid-19th century. American missionaries, planters and business people brought about great changes in Hawaiian political, cultural, economic and religious life.
In 1840, a constitutional monarchy was established, stripping the Hawaiian monarchy of much of its traditional authority.
Following much interest shown in the islands by other countries — China and the United Kingdom in particular — in 1893 a group of American expatriates and sugar planters supported by a division of U.S. Marines deposed Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s last reigning monarch.
One year later, the Republic of Hawaii was established as a U.S. protectorate with Hawaiian-born Sanford B. Dole, part of the Dole Pineapple family, as its first and only president.
Many in Congress opposed the formal annexation of Hawaii, and it was not until 1898, following the use of the naval base at Pearl Harbor during the Spanish-American War, that Hawaii’s strategic importance became evident and formal annexation was approved. Two years later, Hawaii was organized into a formal U.S. territory.
As everybody knows, Hawaii became firmly ensconced in the American identity following the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, described by President Franklin D Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.” That led to full-scale war between America and Japan, and Pearl Harbor was a major U.S. command center during and after World War II.
In March 1959, the U.S. government approved statehood for Hawaii. In June of that year, Hawaiians voted, by a wide majority, to accept admittance into the United States. On Aug. 21, Hawaii officially became the 50th state — just 7 1/2 months after Alaska was admitted Jan. 3, 1959
President Dwight D. Eisenhower not only signed the proclamation admitting Hawaii into the Union, but also issued an order for an American flag featuring 50 stars arranged in staggered rows: five six-star rows and four five-star rows. The new flag became official July 4, 1960.
Of course, Hawaii is not only America’s newest land in a political sense, but also in a geographic sense. During our stay on the Big Island, I was lucky enough to take a helicopter tour that flew over the lava fields of the volcanoes still erupting on Hawaii — truly the newest land on earth. Hovering over sheer vertical cliffs, in excess of a half-mile high, next to the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean was truly breathtaking.
As I have many times since making the U.S. my home, I marvel at the sheer size, splendor, range and diversity of this wonderful land.
I leave you with a quote from American novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux: “Hawaii is not a state of mind, but a state of grace.”
God bless America!
Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. Email her at email@example.com or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com.