An 808 way of life


The early settlement history of Hawaii is still not completely resolved. Some believe that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaiʻi in the 3rd century from the Marquesas and were followed by Tahitian settlers in AD 1300 who conquered the original inhabitants. Others believe that there was only a single, extended period of settlement. Patrick Kirch, in his 2001 Hawaiki, argues for an extended period of contact but not necessarily for a Tahitian invasion:

There is substantial archaeological as well as paleoecological evidence confirming Hawaiian settlement no later than 800 AD, and quite possibly as early as AD 300–500 (Kirch 1985; Athens 1997). The immediate source of the colonizing population in Hawaiʻi is likely to have been the Southern Marquesas, but continued contact between Hawaiʻi and islands in the core region is indicated by linguistic evidence (lexical borrowings from the Tahitic subgroup), abundant oral traditions (Cachola-Abad 1993), botanical indications, uniquely shared mtDNA sequences in populations of the Pacific Rat (Matisoo-Smith et al. 1998), and possibly some archaeological style changes as well. However, long-distance voyaging between Hawaiʻi and the central Eastern Polynesian core became less frequent after about AD 1200, and was little more than a memory encoded in Hawaiian oral traditions by the time of European contact.

The only evidence for a Tahitian conquest of the islands are the legends of Hawaiʻiloa and the navigator-priest Pa’ao, who is said to have made a voyage between Hawaiʻi and the island of “Kahiki” (Tahiti) and introduced many new customs. Some Hawaiians believe that there was a real historical Paʻao. Early historians, such as Fornander and Beckwith, also subscribed to this Tahitian invasion theory, but later historians, such as Kirch, simply do not mention it.

King Kalakaua, in his book, The Legends and Myths of Hawaii, claims that Paʻao was from the South Pacific. The religion he brought, the “kapu” system of religio-government was from Tahiti or Samoa. Paʻao was instrumental in bringing the High Chief Pili from Tahiti to rule the island of Hawaii. These later chiefs from the South Pacific would intermarry with the existing Hawaiian chiefs of that time.

Some writers believe that there were other settlers in Hawaiʻi, peoples who were forced back into remote valleys by newer arrivals. They claim that stories about menehune, little people who built heiau and fishponds, prove the existence of ancient peoples who settled the islands before the Hawaiians. Luomala, in her 1951 essay on the menehune, argues that these stories, like stories of “dog people” with tails living in deep forests, are folklore and not to be construed as evidence of an earlier race. Archaeologists have found no evidence suggesting earlier settlements and menehune legends are simply not mentioned or discussed in current archaeological literature.

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