For many Australians, a flight to a holiday island destination in the Pacific means flying to Fiji – a flight of around five hours.
But for North Americans, Fiji is 12 hours or more by plane … whereas Hawaii is only 5, and has the benefit that you don’t even need a passport.
6.45 million people visit Hawaii each year – and while the lion’s share of those are Americans, there’s also a substantial number of Japanese – and an even bigger number of Chinese and Koreans.
And a handful of Aussies, like us 🙂
Hawaii is the northern-most point in the ‘Polynesian triangle’ – which stretches down to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and across to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).
The triangle includes Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Tahiti and French Polynesia.
It’s likely that all Polynesians descended from indigenous people from Malaya and Taiwan .. who sailed through Micronesia and Melanesia.
Expansion began around 5000 to 2500 BC out of Asia and continued for centuries after. Then in the western Pacific a distinctive culture arose that excelled at settlement .. scholars called this “the Lapita Cultural Complex”… active from around 1600 to 500 BC. It thrived on Pacific islands north of New Guinea: the Bismarck, Solomon and Fiji islands.
The Lapita culture is identified by a distinctive pottery type, round pots which bear tooth-like imprints from stamps. Pottery shards can’t tell us about the ethnic origins or the language or the beliefs of the people – but the appearance of this style of pottery does allow archaeologists to follow the Lapita expansion from island to island to island. Master sailors, the Lapita people ventured out into the Pacific on great adventures that took them over hundreds of kilometres of open seas into the unknown.
The theory called “Express Train to Polynesia” argues that this culture originated in coastal south east Asia… perhaps Taiwan, or the Philippines or coastal China…and then it then swept eastwards marked by astonishing speed and onward momentum…hence ‘express train’. By around 1000 BC these navigators had reached Samoa and Tonga. They then perhaps settled Easter Island, or Rapa Nui before 400 AD or perhaps even earlier … and New Zealand by the year 1000AD.
As for Hawaii? We know they settled there by 400AD, and while there may have been a significant influx of Tahitians about 600 years later, the culture lasted largely untouched until Europeans made contact on the 1700s.
There’s an interesting sidelight for Aussies here – the European who brought Hawaii to the eyes of the west was James Cook – the same explorer who ‘discovered’ Australia (if you ignore the fact that it had been discovered 40-thousand plus years earlier by the people who became Australia’s Aboriginal people)
Cook called Hawaii the “Sandwich Islands” .. and was killed in a battle there after kidnapping a local chief and holding him for ransom.
I mentioned that there are more than six million tourists travel to Hawaii each year – drawn by the beauty of the Hawaiian islands.
There are the volcanos on the “Big Island” (Hawaii), lush rainforests on Maui, amazing beaches on Kauai – and then there’s Oahu – which hosts the state capital Honolulu, and its world-famed Waikiki Beach.
And Pearl Harbor – the site of the attack by planes from the Empire of Japan in 1941.
2500 people lost their lives in the unannounced attack – an attack that was later found to be a war crime – and the stated aim (to keep the US out of the Pacific theatre of war) backfired spectacularly.
While the US would almost certainly have entered the war on the side of Allied forces eventually, historians have no doubt that the anger Americans felt at what their president called “a day of infamy” kick-started their war effort – and effectively quashed the isolationist attitudes that were held by many Americans at the time.
And Pearl Harbour remains a site where that anger, and sorrow, and determination live on.
The naval base is still operating (in fact, it’s now much larger and has been combined with the neighbouring Hickam Air-Force base) – but the site of the attack remains a solemn memorial to those who died.
We were there on a grey December day, and I cannot described the sorrow you feel as you pause, looking across at the watery grave that is the remnants of the USS Arizona.
I’m not an American – but I will always be grateful to those men and women who were willing to lay their lives on the line in the defence of freedom across the Pacific.
Because their sacrifice helped keep my country free.
Lest we forget.