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Sandwich Islands

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Courtesy of Hawaii State Archives

Hawaian Chant, "A Hamakua au 'ike i ka pali"

The Sandwich Islands, now known as the Hawaiian Islands, are an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean made up of eight major islands. The islands are the exposed peaks of a great undersea mountain range formed by volcanic activity over a hot spot in the Earth's mantle. Located approximately 1,860 miles from the nearest continent, they are the most isolated grouping of islands on earth.

The islands were originally settled by Polynesians who traveled there using large double-hulled canoes. They brought with them pigs, dogs, chickens, taro, sweet potatoes, coconuts, banana and sugarcane. In 1778, Captain James Cook visited the island, naming them the Sandwich Islands.

When whaleships began traveling to the Pacific,they found the Hawaiian islands to be a convenient place to stop and resupply. By the mid-1800s, the ports of Lahaina on the island of Maui and Honolulu on the island of Oahu were frequent stopping places.

Honolulu offered a large wharf that served the needs of ships and crew. Many whaleships, filled with oil, whalebone, and men, anchored in the harbor. It became the principal port in the Pacific. From here a ship would make a summer whaling voyage to the Okhotsk Sea, then return to ship their cargo to New Bedford or San Francisco and refit before leaving to whale in the south for the winter months.

Whalers arriving in Hawaii might have heard traditional Hawaiian drum dance chants. Hawaiian music was chanted peotry, acompanied by dancing and sometimes instruments. To hear a clip of the Hawaiian drum chant,"A Hamakua au 'ike i ka pali", click on the "play music" button above.

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