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Modern Hawaii

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Roughly sixty percent of the million-plus modern Hawaiians were born here. Around one-third are Caucasian, one-third Japanese and one-sixth Filipino, with 200,000 claiming at least some Hawaiian ancestry. With agriculture in decline, the need to import virtually all the basics of life results in a high cost of living.

Few vestiges of ancient Hawaii remain. What is presented as “historic” usually postdates the missionary impact. Ruined temples (heiaus) to the old gods still stand in some places, but Hawaii’s “old towns” are pure nineteenth-century Americana, with false-front stores and raised wooden boardwalks. While authentic hula dancing is a powerful art form, you’re most likely to encounter it bastardized in a luau. Primarily tourist money-spinners, these “traditional feasts” provide an opportunity to sample Hawaiian foods such as kalua pig, baked underground, and local fish such as ono, ahi, mahi-mahi and lomi-lomi (raw salmon).

The Hawaiian language endures primarily in place names and music. At first glance it looks unpronounceable – especially as its written form uses just twelve letters (the five vowels, plus h, k, l, m, n, p, and w) – but each letter is enunciated individually, and long words break down into repeated sounds, such as “meha-meha” in “Kamehameha”.

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