The First Settlers
The first settlers of Hawaii’ are believed to have come from the Marquesas Islands sometime around A.D 400. Then more immigrants from Tahiti arrived in Hawai’i in the 14th & 15th centuries. By navigating with the help of ocean currents, the stars, the moon and the clouds these men, women and children amazingly crossed vast areas of open ocean (over 2000 miles) and finally reached the shores of Hawai’i.
The few settlers that arrived founded a unique and isolated culture, which remained undisturbed by outside influences for possibly 900 years, during which it developed into what was most likely the largest Polynesian culture on earth before the arrival of Western influence in 1776.
Upon arrival to the islands, the settlers divided the land. Chiefs ruled with the strong “kapu” (laws & taboo) system, which regulated life between men and women, and divided the society into commoners and chiefs.
As the population grew, the land was cultivated, and fishermen, farmers and canoe builders refined their skills to contribute to the overall good of the society. Everyone shared with each other, particularly within their extended family group. The farmers depended on the fishermen and vice-versa. The long journey across the vast ocean had left only the strongest, and with a diet consisting mainly of fruit, fish, and taro, Hawai’ians were a strong and healthy people. Prior to Captain Cooks arrival in 1776, it is estimated that more than 300,000 Hawai’ians lived on the islands.
The kapu system, the social order of old Hawai’i, was defined by very strict societal rules, do’s and don’ts, and the offender paid with his or her life. Every crime was a capital offense; things like stepping on the chief’s shadow or fishing out of season were paid for with one’s life. Acquittal was possible if the offender could reach a pu’uhonua (place of refuge) and be cleansed as well as exonerated/forgiven by a kahuna (priest).
British explorer James Cook (1728-1779) discovered Hawai’i in 1776 and named Hawai’i “the Sandwich Islands” after his sponsor, John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was the inventor of the sandwich. At first, the Hawai’ians regarded Cook and his crew members as gods. Supposedly the Europeans’ fair skin and light eyes amazed the Hawai’ians, as did their guns and mirrors. But eventually the natives began to suspect the white men weren’t really gods. For one thing, they could feel pain.
In 1779 Cook visited one of the islands and left, then returned to repair a decayed mast. A Hawai’ian chief named Palea stole a boat from one of Cook’s ships, and Cook and his men decided to detain another chief until the boat was returned. Fighting broke out between the whites and Hawai’ians. Cook slashed a chief with a sword. The chief hit Cook with a club and the captain fell on some lava rocks, groaning. Now the chief knew for sure that Captain Cook wasn’t a god – and he killed Cook and four of his men.
See also: Kauai Facts