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Hawaii’s cultural scene is one of its biggest draws. Each year, millions of people visit to catch some of the aloha spirit. Aloha is used to say hello and goodbye but it also means love and affection. It’s a way of living in Hawaii, and a spirit that can be felt anywhere you go.
The first settlers to the islands were part of the Polynesian migration. Through the years, people came from all over the globe to work the plantations. The result is a multi-ethnic population that includes Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Tahitians, and many others cultures. Today, Hawaii celebrates its rich history by preserving traditions from the past.
One of the main ways Hawaii celebrates its ancient culture is through hula. According to island history, hula began on Molokai when the Hawaiian goddess Laka began dancing to appease her sister, Pele, the goddess of fire. Laka, according to the lore, then traveled from island to island teaching the dance. In the years that followed, hula — which refers to movement and hand gestures — played an important role in oral tradition. The people of Hawaii combined the dance movements with chants to express everything about their lives. Every movement in hula has a specific meaning, every gesture a special significance. Despite the cultural importance of hula, it nearly became a lost art when Protestant missionaries arrived in the island in the late 1800s. Seeing only the provocative movements of the dance, the missionaries denounced hula as heathen and banned it. But Hawaiians had a cultural patron during this time in King David Kalakua, who not only encouraged hula and other local arts to continue, but is credited with their preservation. You can catch an authentic hula performance at a luau. And we have to say: Attending a luau while you’re in Hawaii is a must.
You’ll find heritage sites, natural wonders and sacred places throughout the islands. In Oahu, be sure to visit the Bishop Museum, Diamond Head State Monument and the Polynesian Cultural Center. In Maui, make a trip to Haleaklala National Park to see the sunset and endangered species. Of course, there’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Be sure to also visit Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park on the southern Kona Coast to see where Captain Cook first arrived on the Big Island. On Kauai, you’ll want to visit Waimea Canyon State Park, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.