Guest Author - Gordana Liddell
As far as can be determined, it all began about 50 000 years ago. Australia and New Guinea were the first settlements in Oceania. From about the years 1600-1200 BC, the migration, or voyages, began across some 10 million square miles of the Pacific, leading to the eventual settlement of the Hawaiian Islands. The actual routes and courses of events are still studied and widely discussed issues, however, most anthropologists agree with the basic origins and timelines.
The seafarers from New Guinea set off in their outrigger canoes in order to explore and settle new lands. They first came upon the islands of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, and from here, the Polynesian culture began to develop some 900-1300 years later.
Continuing on with their voyages, they moved eastward and settled Tahiti, the Cook Islands, the Marquesas and Easter Island, all up until about 300AD.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the first settlers arrived in the Hawaiian Islands from the Marquesas around 300-400 AD, (this evidence coming from artifacts, linguistic similarities and shared physical characteristics). The Marquesas, also being located southeast of Hawaii, would have made for a logical sailing route due to the prevailing easterly trade winds. Let us not forget, however, that although it is believed the original settlers in Hawaii were from the Marquesas, they were already a blend of their own varied settlers from New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.
Animals such as dogs, chickens and pigs, along with subsistence-providing plants like taro and breadfruit were also brought to Hawaii by these voyagers.
One can’t imagine the bravery and expertise of these seafarers, with no modern equipment, sometimes navigating routes of more than 2000 miles at a time. They used their knowledge of the ocean and the sky and ancient sailing methods to guide their boats through ocean waters, often leaving some of them dead, all in search of a new homeland.
At about 1300 AD, the Tahitians arrived in Hawaii. They, in fact, conquered the existing population and began forming kingdoms/territories ruled by local chiefs (ali’i). There was constant warfare between them and each of the Hawaiian Islands eventually became a separate kingdom.
The most powerful ali’i, Kamehameha, was a great warrior and from the year 1784, he began slowly taking control over island after island, chiefdom after chiefdom. Only the island of Kauai held fast and resisted his reign.
The beginnings of western infiltration into the islands were marked by the arrival of British explorer Captain James Cook in the year 1778. He was the first to officially discover the Hawaiian Islands. More accurately, he was the first to plot and publish its geographical co-ordinates. He named them the Sandwich Islands after John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, one of the sponsors of the expedition.
The westerners brought with them weaponry and expertise which they shared with Kamehameha, and by the year 1810, the great ali’i had gained control over all of the Hawaiian Islands and established the first monarchy.
The arrival of the haole, or foreigner to the Hawaiians, brought about much change to their culture and traditions. Before this, the Hawaiians’ main economic system was extended family run farms. But the introduction of “civilization” meant upheaval to the Hawaiians and never again would their islands or their way of life be the same.
The plantation economy was introduced in Hawaii, but the islands’ population could not sustain it, (largely due to the fact that along with the colonization of the islands, the Europeans brought with them new diseases which killed off many of the indigenous people). Thus, workers were brought in from China, Portugal, Japan, Germany, Mexico, and the Philippines in order to meet the labor needs of the plantations.
Given the now large mixture of ethnicities, as well as subsequent immigration over the centuries, it is easy to see how a true “Hawaiian” by definition is quite a rarity. In the census of 2000, somewhere between 9-20 per cent of the population in Hawaii was considered to be Hawaiian, and in order for this to apply for them to gain homestead rights, the person must be of at least 50 % Hawaiian ethnicity themselves. It is clearly a difficult thing to determine.
Within the islands of Hawaii dwell beautiful people of mixed races, religions and cultures. Among all of this seeming confusion, however, the ancient culture and folklore of Hawaii still abound. Old traditions are passed on proudly, some by “talking story", and some have been thankfully documented so that they remain strong and are never forgotten.
The fascination of tourists is also an interesting factor in the preservation of Hawaiian culture. From its music and dance, to its dress, folklore, cuisine and stories of its beginnings, it is so tremendously embraced by the visitors to the islands that it seems to be timelessly kept alive. Each curious traveler who appreciates this beautiful culture will oddly play an important role in helping it to remain remembered and unchanged.
Every nation should, somehow, remember to stay true to their roots, even though its inhabitants will invariably become more ethnically diverse and their cultures intermingled over time. For isn’t the origin of the nation, its history and its colorful indigenous people with their cultures so beautifully different from our own, isn’t this what lures us to travel there in the first place?