The archipelago of Hawaii comprises four major islands (Kauai, Oahu, Hawaii, Maui) and a number of smaller or less populated islands (Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, Kahoolawe), and is among the most isolated land masses on earth, an isolation which has resulted in the evolution of thousands of endemic species of flora and fauna.
Mankind first settled in Hawaii between 1,700 and 1,500 years ago, when skilled Polynesian navigators landed, bringing with them plants, animals, lifestyle, tools, and culture. During the period before contact with Western or Asian civilizations, Native Hawaiian kings ruled the islands with a strict legal code that encouraged communal production and sacrifice. They organized settlements around the ahupua’a, a land demarcation stretching from watersheds in the mountains following the course of streams down to the oceans.
King Kamehameha the Great unified all the major Hawaiian Islands during the late18th and early 19th centuries, a period during which Hawaiians increasingly encountered Western sailing vessels (most notably that of Captain James Cooke, the famous explorer and first Caucasian to land in Hawaii). Over time, the interest of the U.S. government in Hawaii grew and the islands were eventually subjugated as part of a coup driven by white merchants resulting in the overthrow of a Native Hawaiian Monarchy.
Hawaii today is a mix of overcrowded urban centers centers along with massive wilderness areas, and plenty of small towns where native Hawaiian culture continues to endure.