The Hawaiian Islands were settled by Polynesian migration beginning around the year 300. These people navigated the Pacific Ocean in large, double-hulled canoes and brought pigs, chickens, taro root and other commodities to the islands. Successive waves of immigrants arrived in the archipelago, but gradually lost ties with their Polynesian homelands and developed their own, distinctly Hawaiian culture. Dominated by the chieftain class, Ancient Hawaiian society was highly stratified and abided a strict caste system. It also maintained a rich oral tradition that was passed down through song, dance and chant.
Two active volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, are located within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. These volcanoes were sacred to the Ancient Hawaiians, who would travel to their summits to make offerings during eruptions. Hawaiian legend states that Kilauea is the home of the volcano goddess Pele. The Kilauea summit caldera remained an important cultural and religious site to Hawaiians even after their religion was abolished in 1819. As the most active, non-explosive volcano in the world, Kilauea is also of great interests to volcanologists.
Interest in the volcanoes was closely tied to tourism in the late 19th century. Lorrin A. Thurston, the grandson of the missionary Asa Thurston, who was one of the first Christian missionaries to Hawaii, became a tireless advocate for the establishment of a national park after investing in hotels that had been built along the rim of Kilauea. Of these hotels, Volcano House — actually a series of buildings — remains. Notable visitors to it included Mark Twain, who chronicled his 1866 stay in his travel literature collection Roughing It.
Hawaii National Park was founded in 1916, comprising part of the current Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as well as Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. The parks split in 1960. In 2004, lands totaling more than 115,000 acres were added to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, increasing its size by 56 percent.