Among the ancient Polynesians, Hawaiians and anthropologists believe the original inhabitants of these islands came from the Marquesas and Tahiti, starting as early as 1,500 years ago. There is also oral tradition of early interaction with Samoa, as well as Hawai'i being an origin of some of the early Maori emigrants to Aotearoa (New Zealand).
British Captain James Cook is credited with being the first European to discover Hawai'i in 1787, although some oral traditions and scholars hold that the Spaniards — who first crossed the Pacific Ocean in 1522, and regularly crossed from Peru to the Philippines by the late 1500s — also made inadvertent landfall in Hawai'i, but never correctly mapped or claimed credit their accomplishment. When Cook arrived, he was well received and some Hawaiians thought he might even be an incarnation of their god Lono, whose sign was white kapa or tapa cloth like the sails of Captain Cook's ship. Of course, Captain Cook is also well known for having been killed several months later by Hawaiians at Kealakekua Bay in Kona while trying to retrieve a long boat.
After Cook, the stream of Europeans quickly grew, even including Russians for a short period. In addition to appreciating the beauty of the islands, they participated in whaling and the sandalwood trade. The first Christian missionaries arrived in 1820 and the people quickly converted: The year before, King Kamehameha II and Queen Kaahumanu had abolished the age-old kapu or taboo system based on the ancient Hawaiian religion.
In 1850 the Sandwich Islands kingdom made it possible for foreigners to own private property in Hawai'i, which along with increasing international trade with America, gave rise to the sugar industry. The rapid depletion of the Hawaiian population due to illnesses eventually led the sugar plantation owners to import contract laborers from China, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Russia, Scandinavia, Portugal and the Azores, Europe and Puerto Rico, among other places: The descendants of those who stayed give Hawai'i its cosmopolitan population today.
In 1893 a revolution largely led by influential non-Hawaiian businessmen deposed the last reigning Hawaiian monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani. In 1900 the United States of America annexed Hawai'i, reportedly for the purpose of gaining the Pearl Harbor anchorage: We were known as the Territory of Hawai'i until an overwhelming majority of the population voted for statehood in the 1950s: Hawai'i became the 50th state in 1959.
Today, Hawai'i with its ancient Polynesian heritage and overlays of Asian and other cultures is one of the most unique parts of America.