Indigenous People of Hawaii


” A ho’okupu, a gift from the heart, enriches the giver. In the sound of the ocean, I can hear my ancestors calling. The gift of knowledge is never diminished.”

Hawaiían (Kanaka Maoli) Literature

Hawaii’s history in story and legend is ancient and proud, dating back at least a thousand years before American colonies became a nation in 1776. It is highly unlikely that the exact date when Polynesian people first set foot on these previously uninhabited islands will ever be known, nor much details about events occurring between that date and the first contact with Europeans. The Hawaiians were a people without writing, who preserved their history in chants and legends. Much of the early history has disappeared with the death of the kahunas and other learned men whose function it was to pass on this knowledge, by means of chants and legends, to succeeding generations. Modern Hawaiian history begins on January 20, 1778, when Captain James Cook’s expedition made its first contact with the Hawaiian people on the islands of Kauai and Niihau. Captain Cook was not the first man to “discover” the Hawaiian Islands. He was the first known European to arrive.

The language of Hawaii and archaeological discoveries indicate that Hawaii was settled by two distinct waves of Polynesian migration. Cook himself knew that the original Polynesian discoverers had come from the South Pacific hundreds of years before his time. First, from the Marquesas, came a settlement as early as 600 or 700 AD, and then from the Society Islands, another migration about 1100 AD. Lacking instruments of navigation or charts or any kind, the Polynesians sailed into vast oceans. They staked their knowledge of the sky and its stars, the sea and its currents, the flight of birds and many other natural signs. They were superior seamen of their time.The Hawaiian language word Hawaiʻi derives from Proto-Polynesian *Sawaiki, with the reconstructed meaning “homeland”; cognate words are found in other Polynesian languages, including Māori (Hawaiki), Rarotongan (ʻAvaiki), and Samoan (Savaiʻi).

The Kapu System separated Hawaiian society into four groups of people:

1) the alii, chiefs who ruled specific territories and who held their positions on the basis of family ties and leadership abilities – the chiefs were thought to be descendants of the gods and the highest chiefs, alii kapu, were considered gods; 2) the kahuna, priests or skilled craftspersons that performed important religious ceremonies and served the alii as close advisers; 3) the makaainana, commoners (by far the largest group) who raised, stored, and prepared food, built houses and canoes, and performed other daily tasks; and 4) the kauwa, outcasts forced to lead lives segregated from the rest of Hawaiian society.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s