Kānaka Maoli is what Hawaiians call themselves.  Long before they became known as Hawaiians, the people simply referred to themselves as The People, Kānaka Maoli.  They were the first immigrants to Hawaiʻi.

Hawaiʻi was settled by Polynesians who came between 300 and 800 AD.  Hawaii is the northern most of the Polynesian triangle.  Some archealogists believe that the Polynesians came in waves and each brought their own variety of edible plants.  Others believe that there was a single, extended period settlement that ended in about 1300 AD.  Why the Polynesians ended their long distance traveling is unknown.

In their 80- to 100-foot canoes, these Polynesians discovered island after island in the largest body of water on Earth, the Pacific Ocean.  This ocean exploration occurred while the Europeans thought the Earth was flat.

Archaeologists have determined that the Marquesans were the first settlers and they brought ʻUlu (breadfruit).  The Tahitians introduced baking banana.  Other Polynesians brought coconuts, sugar cane, ʻawa (kava), ʻuala (sweet potatoes), yams, puaʻa (pork), moa (chicken), and ʻilio (dog).  The ocean surrounding Hawaii provided fish, shellfish, and limu (seaweed) in abundance.  Breadfruit, sweet potato, kava and heʻe (octopus) are associated with the Hawaiian mythological gods, Kāne, Kū, Lono and Kanaloa.

The most important edible plant brought to Hawaiʻi was taro.  It became the staple of the Hawaiian diet.

Polynesians share language and cultural traditions such as religion, social organization, myths and material culture.

The Polynesian Triangle in the Pacific Ocean from Wikipedia article on Ancient Hawaii
with Hawai'i, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and New Zealand at its corners

Ancient Hawaii was a caste society ruled by a kapu system.  It was the universal lifestyle, gender roles, politics, and religion.

     Aliʻi Class.  The high and lesser chiefs governed wtih power called mana.

     Kahuna Class.  Priests who conducted religious ceremonies in the heiau and other locations.  They were master carpenters, boatbuilders, chanters, dancers, genealogists, physicians and healers.

     Makaʻāinana Class.  Commoners who farmed, fished, and exercised the simpler crafts.  They labored to support themselves and their families and the chiefs and kahunas.

     Kauwā Class.  They were belived to have been war captives or their descendants.  Marriage between higher castes and the kauwā was forbidden.  They worked for the chiefs and were often used as human sacrifices at the luakini heiau.  (Law breakers of all castes or defeated political opponents were also used as human sacrifices.)

All land belonged to the gods (akua).  The aliʻi was the manager of land.  On the death of a chief and the accession of another, lands were re-apportioned.  When a chief was defeated by another the land was redistributed among the winning warriors.  Normally, the commoners were left in place.  The konokiki (overseer) changed.  The chief and lesser chiefs to whom they paid tribute and supplied labor changed.  

Religion held the ancient Hawaiian society together.  The legal system was based on religious kapu.  There was a correct way to live, worship, and eat.


1.  Voices of Wisdom, Hawaiian Elders Speak, M. J. Harden, 
Aka Press, Kula, HI, 1999, Revised in 2013.

2.  Information extracted from Wikipedia article Ancient Hawaii.

—————————————— Published Sep 2015 —————————————— 

©Apr 2018                       Honolulu County Coordinator Doreen Harunaga-Ewing