1. If you guessed that “hau`oli la hanau” means “happy birthday,” you’re right. But you might need that sounded out: how-oh-lay la ha-now. The Hawaiian language comes with a bit of a learning curve. For starters, there’s only a 13-letter alphabet and every word—and syllable—ends with one of five vowels.
2. That apostrophe-like mark you see in some words is called an ʻokina. It’s a consonant that signifies a slight pause. If two words are spelled exactly alike, but one has an ʻokina, you’re looking at two different words. For example, “moa” means “chicken,” while “mo’a” means “cooked.”
3. The kahakō symbol is a line placed over a vowel. It directs speakers to stretch out a vowel sound. Speaking of which….
A is pronounced “ah”
E is pronounced “eh”
I is pronounced “ee”
O is pronounced “oh”
U is pronounced “oo”
You might be wondering, “Is there a great song to summarize everything I just read? A fun song for children that will get stuck in my head all day long?” Yes, here it is:
4. The state of Hawaii consists of 8 main islands, the biggest of which is called, you guessed it, the Big Island. The Big Island’s official name is Hawai’i.
5. The Big Island’s getting bigger—by more than 42 acres each year—thanks to Kīlauea Volcano. It’s been erupting for 30 years!
6. Mauna Loa, the world’s biggest volcano, is also on the Big Island. Astronauts once trained for moon voyages by walking on its hardened lava fields. Most recently, six NASA-funded researchers spent months on the northern slope simulating a Mars space station.
7. Hawaii is the only U.S. state that grows coffee, cacao, and vanilla beans. (Also: It can take up to five years to grow a single vanilla bean.)
8. The Aloha State’s also good at growing … people. It’s got the highest life expectancy in the United States, despite the fact that…
9. The people of Hawaii consume the most Spam per capita in the U.S.
10. The average life expectancy of 81.3 years might have something to do with the fact that the state’s healthcare system insures more than 90 percent of its residents and focuses on preventive care. Since 1975, businesses have been legally required to insure employees who work over 20 hours per week.
11. No matter how old you are, only people with Hawaiian ancestry are called “Hawaiians.” People of non-Hawaiian ancestry—even those born and raised there—call themselves “locals.”
12. One Hawaiian: Theridion grallator, also known as the happy face spider.
13. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Hawaii has the highest percentage of Asian Americans (38.6 percent) and multiracial Americans (23.6 percent) in the United States. It also has the lowest percentage of White Americans (24.7 percent).
14. Regardless of ancestry, most families traditionally celebrate a child’s first birthday with a luau.
15. No celebration’s complete without a lei. The flower garlands come with strict rules. For starters, it’s impolite to refuse a lei, remove it in front of the person who gave it to you, or wear one that you intend to give to someone else. A lei should never be thrown away. Instead, it should traditionally be returned to the earth, ideally to where its flowers were gathered. And it’s bad luck to give a tied lei to a pregnant woman, as it suggests an umbilical cord around a baby’s neck.
16. There are no seagulls in Hawaii. The closest thing is the white tern, a seabird that lays eggs directly on tree branches without building a nest to protect them.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons
17. Hawaii has its own time zone 10 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. It’s also one of two U.S. states that doesn’t practice Daylight Saving Time. (Arizona’s the other one.)
18. Barbecue aficionados in Hawaii prefer meat smoked with guava wood, instead of hickory or mesquite.
19. The state gem isn’t a gem at all. Black coral is technically an animal, but it’s often used to make jewelry.
20. The Aloha State is one of four that have outlawed billboards. (The others are Alaska, Maine, and Vermont.)
21. Snakes are also outlawed. The only legal serpents are housed in zoos.