Ahupua'a: Arrival

Polynesian explorers, unlike the native plants and animals that preceded them, achieved landfall through premeditated voyaging. They sailed against prevailing winds to reach new lands, carrying with them the food plants they would introduce to their new homes. The discovery of the Hawaiian Islands was one of the greatest accomplishments of the Polynesian navigators, who explored and colonized islands from New Zealand to Rapa Nui (Easter Island). In this section we will ask when and how they got here, and where they came from?

Photo of Mo'olele by Tom Russo
Arrival relies extensively on Feathered Gods and Fishhooks, by archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch. In addition, the paintings of Herb Kane give life to Polynesian voyaging and arrival throughout the Ahupua'a section. Arrival also excerpts commentary from Pacific World's beyond excellent web site, Ha'ena, by RDK Herman

Polynesian explorers began their voyages of colonization into the Pacific over 3000 years ago. Their success depended on three things:
1) the development of crop plants
2) the refinement of navigational techniques,
3) sophisticated watercraft able to voyage long distances.
(Patrick V. Kirch)
Photo of Mo'olele by Brien Foerster
Map from Atlas of Hawai'i
The original Polynesian colonists of Hawai'i came from the Marquesan Islands some time between 350 - 750 A.D. The evidence pointing to the Marquesas as the original homeland of the first Polynesians to settle Hawai'i is based on three things:
1) The Hawaiian language is most closely related to Marquesan.
2) An analysis of prehistoric skeletal remains shows a very close relationship between traits of the Hawaiian and Marquesan populations.
3) A comparison of DNA in populations of the Pacific Rat, which was widely spread by the Polynesians, shows a link between the Hawaiian and Marquesan rat populations.(Patrick V. Kirch)
It is possible that there was more than one settlement voyage, with multiple voyages from both the Marquesas and Tahiti. Hawaiian oral traditions speak of long distance voyages and their famous navigators, Pa'ao, Mo'i-keha, Kila, and La'a-mai-kahiki.(Kirch)
Hokule'a 1 painting by Herb Kane

The successful expeditions of the modern day double-hulled voyaging canoe Hokule'a from Aotearoa (New Zealand) to Rapa-Nui (Easter Island) attest to the sailing and navigational skills that made Polynesia's explorers the greatest sailors of all time.
Navigator painting by Herb Kane
From modern day explorer Carlos Andrade: "The first people who came, they would have needed really safe anchorage. Not only in the sense that it was safe, but it had to be a place where they could sail into and sail out of, and not be blown up onto the land, Because they had fairly good size canoes, which you wouldn't be able to paddle very well, so you had to come into a place where the direction of the wind allowed you to sail into the beach and off of the beach really quickly, in case the weather changed."
( from Pacific World's Ha'ena, by RDK Herman)
Modern day voyaging canoe Hokule'a -
safe anchorage at Nawiliwili Bay.
Photo by Dennis Chun
Photo by Dennis Chun
Archaeologist Patrick Kirch speaks about the resources that the Hawaiian settlers encountered: "To the eyes of the first canoeload of Polynesians who arrived on a Hawaiian beach, here was a pristine [untouched], verdant [covered with green vegetation] group of large islands, with diverse forests made up of strange plants and inhabited by abundant birds, and with reefs rich in fish and shell fish. Among the resources critical to the Polynesians were water (both for consumption and for agriculture), soils, the natural vegetation (for wood, cords and ropes, thatching materials, and so on), wild animals and marine life, and stone for tool production."
From Chipper Wichman - "When the first settlers arrived here, they found incredibly unique ecosystems, but within those ecosystems there was very little that could sustain them, other than the marine ecosystem. The plants they brought with them in their voyaging canoes were the core of their culture. They were their food plants, their fiber plants, their medicine plants, their ritual plants. Initially, they would have looked for a place with abundant marine resources, fresh water, and rainfall to water the plants that they
had brought with them on their voyages."
(from Pacific World's Ha'ena by RDK Herman)
Photo by David Boynton
The ahupua'a of Nawiliwili Bay offered five streams, large and flat valley bottoms with fertile soil for agriculture, mature reefs with abundant marine life, wild animals, natural vegetation, and dike stone for tool production. Nawiliwili Bay was a safe harbor with everything the voyagers needed. Once they had arrived, what kind of changes did these intrepid (fearless) settlers make in their new island world?
Created June 2001