The native Hawaiians probably came originally from islands in eastern
Polynesia, sometime between the 7th century and the 13th century.
By the time of the arrival of the first Westerners late in the 18th
century, the islands were divided among several kingdoms, which
were often at war.
In 1778 British explorer Captain James Cook sailed to the islands
and named the chain the Sandwich Islands in honor of his patron,
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. Sometime around 1785, the islands
became an important provision port for European and North American
ships trading with East Asia. Foreign ships frequently remained
in Hawaiian harbors for several months, leading to substantial mingling
of the crews and the native Hawaiians. The foreigners introduced
cattle, horses, and orange trees, as well as other plants and domestic
animals that in the end also introduced a number of highly infectious
diseases, causing thousands of Hawaiians to die.
Kamehameha, a chief on the island of Hawaii, became the first ruler
of a unified Hawaiian kingdom as Kamehameha I in 1810. He ended
regional warfare and adopted uniform laws. Eventhough he was open
to new ideas brought by foreigners, Kamehameha maintained Hawaiian
independence during a time of Western colonial expansion.
The Hawaiian dance known as the hula, is a traditional dance originally
both a religious exercise and a form of entertainment. The ukulele,
an instrument closely associated with Hawaiian music, is an adaptation
of a small guitar brought to the islands by Portuguese laborers.