Hawaii History & Growth Of A Civilization
Polynesian Migration, Historical Timelines, Facts and Books
The oral traditions of tracking genealogies in ancient Hawai’i was extensively studied by Abraham Fornander, the director of Bishop Museum in Honolulu during the mid 1800’s. Fornander relied on native accounts which suggested that by 1865 there had been 28 generations of Hawaiian royalty. Chronologically his estimates put the first settlement of the islands at around AD 965 – 1065. By the 1920’s radio carbon dating was invented and archaeologists began scouring the islands for samples to test. On the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawai’i is a large complex of ancient ruins called South Point. It was here in a low lying sand dune that hundreds of bone fishhooks were excavated and some were carbon dated to AD 450.
The legends of the Hawaiians were preserved with marvelous integrity. Their historians were the priests, who at intervals met in council and recited and compared their genealogical meles (chants), in order that nothing might be either changed or lost.
The Keanae Peninsula on Maui’s eastern coastline along the road to Hana is said to have been man made in ancient times with dirt hauled down from the valley above to create flat fertile farmland. This farmland of taro fields can still be seen today. It is one of the finest examples of ancient Hawaiian ingenuity to be found in the islands.
Similar testing around Haleakala’s shorelines, especially the Kahikinui area on the Kaupo side and the Kipahulu area located in Haleakala National Park’s eastern perimeter near Hana, produced dates closer to AD 1000. This doesn’t necessarily mean Polynesians were not on Maui earlier, it’s just that there has been little evidence found to date showing established settlements within an earlier timeframe.
Archaeologists today believe that multiple migrations back and forth between the southern Polynesian islands (known as the Polynesian Triangle) resulted in these carbon dating variances. Most scholars now believe the Hawaiian archipelago became completely isolated sometime around the 13th century. It is theorized that possible changes to the northwestern Hawaiian island chain (loss of atolls used to hop scotch across the ocean) made it difficult to return to this part of the pacific.
The moku (district) of Kahikinui & Kaupo along Maui’s dry southeastern side is known to be the largest intact ruins of an ancient Hawaiian society in the state. It has been untouched by development since it was abandoned in 1895 (due to cattle ranching) by a once substantial native population. Professor Kirch has surmised a population estimate based on the number of ancient hale (houses) and heiau (temples).
Professor Kirch also references a census taken by missionaries in 1832 after 40 years of foreign diseases had decimated an estimated 80% of the native population. Using the known average number of persons living in an ancient kua hale (housing complex) of between 6 and 8 individuals as well as researching accounts by early explorers, he has come up with a population estimate of between 200,000 and 250,000 native Hawaiians living on Maui by the mid 1700’s.
This population, along with the mobility afforded by the “King’s Road” encircling the island, made Maui one of the most powerful islands in the group. For nearly 200 years Maui’s alliances were formed (usually through marriage) with the Big Island, Molokai, Lanai, Oahu and Kauai.
By the mid 1700’s Maui’s king Kahekili II would set the stage for Kamehameha’s war by bringing all the islands under his control except for the Big Island. The irony of it all is that Kahekili had an affair with a Big Island princes who was none other than Kamehameha’s mother. Many suspect Kahekili, sworn enemy of the Big Islands king Kalaniopu’u and his nephew Kamehameha, may have very well been Kamehameha’s father!
An Ancient Chronology
Archeologist like Patrick Kirch, studying the polynesians across the Pacific, have determined the Hawaiian Islands were settled in ancient times during 5 main periods of discovery and growth:
Foundation Period, A.D. 1000 – 1200: the first arrival of Polynesians and initial settlement in the most favorable zones of the island. Several waves of immigration starting from the Marquesas Islands and ending with peoples from Tahiti.
Early Expansion Period, A.D. 1200 – 1400: the end of voyaging contacts with central eastern Polynesia (Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Cook and Society Islands). Development of major irrigation based settlements.
Late Expansion Period, A.D. 1400 – 1650: population growth drives the expansion of settlements in the arid, leeward zones and upper dry-land forests of the islands.
Protohistoric Period, A.D. 1650 – 1778: the period of “classic” Hawaiian civilization with all island zones densely populated.
Post-Contact Period, A.D. 1778 to 1898 overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom: the period after the arrival of Captain James Cook. Sweeping cultural changes due to contact with the West; colonialism, missionaries and other western influences accelerate the de-construction of the Hawaiian religion and society which had stood for over 600 years. From 1810 to 1898 the Kingdom of Hawai’i will see a total of 8 monarchs rule the island chain.
A More Detailed Chronology
*Moses Manu, The Story of Kihapiilani, Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, Aug. 9, 1884. MS SC Sterling
*S.M. Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii, Translated from the newspaper Ke Au Okoa 1961 SC Sterling
*Abraham Fornander, An Account of the Polynesian Race: Its Origins and Migrations London 1876-85
*Pi’opi’o State Park signage- Hilo, Hawaii – Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association, Mamalahoe Chapter
John F.G. Stokes – Curator of Bishop Museum Honolulu writing in the Hawaiian Historical Society publication of 1932
Abraham Fornander – Director of Bishop Museum publication -Origins of the Polynesian Race – 1880
Great Hawaiian timeline – http://www.mauimapp.com/moolelo/chronology.htm
Patrick Vinton Kirch – Author & Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley
Kua’aina Kahiko: Life and Land in Ancient Kahikinui, Maui
Shark Going Inland Is My Chief – Author Patrick Vinton Kirch
Unearthing the Polynesian Past: Explorations and Adventures of an Island Archaeologist
Feathers and Fishhooks – Author Patrick Vinton Kirch