A map of HawaiiThe Hawaiian Islands, located in the central Pacific Ocean, are of volcanic origin (see the Hot-spot volcanoes page to find out how they were formed). The state includes most of the Hawaii archipelago, which consists of hundreds of islands spread out over 1500 miles (2400 kilometres). The eight main islands lie at the southeastern end of the archipelago. All are surrounded by coral reefs. Hawaii is the largest of the group and is often called the "Big Island”.
The state of Hawaii takes its name from its largest island. According to Hawaiian myth, the legendary figure Hawaiiloa discovered the islands when they were first settled. The British explorer James Cook, who named the archipelago the Sandwich Islands after his sponsor, John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, recorded the native name for the islands as “Owyhee”. In other related Polynesian languages the word for “homeland” is quite similar. In the Maori language, for example, it is Hawaiki; in Samoan it is Savaii.
Mauna Kea Observatory in the snow
More ethnic and cultural groups are represented in Hawaii than in any other US state. Chinese labourers, who came to work in the sugar industry in the 1850s, were the first many immigrant groups to arrive. They were followed by Portuguese, Germans, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Filipinos and Koreans. Intermarriage has left the number of “pure-blooded” Hawaiians a mere 6% of the population.
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