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History of Kauai and Hawaii

People Come to Kauai

Strangers From a Strange Land

From Force and Might Come Unity

The Russian Affair

The End of Kapu

All God’s Children Must Go to Heaven

The Whalers Tale

Add Sugar To The Mix

Kauai Timeline

A Succession of Monarchs

History of Kauai Hawaii Travel Guide

People Come to Kauai  

 

People did not rush to settle in the world’s most remote place.  Humans have inhabited other parts of the Earth 60 times longer than they have lived in Hawaii.  The first migrations to Kauai and the other Hawaiian islands likely came from the 11 islands that make up the Marquesas, 2,000 miles to the southeast.  The Marquesans were masters at building great double-hulled canoes.  The two hulls were fastened together to form a catamaran with a cabin built in the center.  At 60-80 feet long, these voyaging canoes could carry an extended family of 30 people as well as all the staples they would need in a new land.


As new evidence comes to light, anthropologists have pushed the date of the first journey to Hawaii back to about 400 A.D.  The Polynesian sailors had neither charts nor navigational instruments, but relied on an internal navigational system programmed by intuition, knowledge and experience.


The first settlers came prepared.  With them they brought useful plants such as taro, ti, sugar cane, ginger, yams, bamboo and the breadfruit tree.  They also brought the small pigs of Polynesia, dogs, fowl and stowaway rats.  Native lowland forests were cleared with slash-and-burn techniques to plant crops.  The new Hawaiians started to irreversibly and profoundly alter their environment.  Habitat loss, competition for food, and predation by the introduced animals wrought havoc upon the native animals.  Many species of birds had already become extinct before the arrival of Europeans.


The Polynesians likely settled the southernmost island of Hawaii first.  To the northwest, they could have easily accessed Maui by crossing the narrow channel and the migration would have continued across the Hawaiian chain.  For seven centuries the Marquesans continued their voyages to Hawai‘i.  They lived peacefully on the new land and the tribes coexisted in relative harmony since there was no competition for land.  


In about the 12th century, an exodus of aggressive Tahitians subjugated the settled Hawaiians.  The Tahitian priest, Pa‘ao introduced the warlike god Ku and replaced basic animistic beliefs with the rigid kapu (forbidden) system.  Deciding that the Hawaiian blueblood was too diluted, Pa‘ao summoned Pili, a Tahitian chief, to establish a new royal lineage.  With Pili as ruler and Pa‘ao as high priest, a new dynasty was formed.  It was to last seven centuries.


Scholars speculate that this second wave of Polynesians drove the former Marquesans farther north in the Hawaiian chain until they were eliminated from the islands.  Conquered Marquesans may have been the Menehune mentioned in early Hawaiian and Tahitian chants.  Tahitians bore a similar term, manahune, with honor until warriors from Raiatea conquered their island and the word took on a new context.  Manahune became the derisive name for a commoner.  When the Tahitians seized the position of leadership in the Hawaiian Islands they likely labeled the early settlers Menehune, repeating the Raiateans process of hierarchical demotion.

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Legend turned the Menehune into a race of gnome-like, shy, forest dwellers credited as master builders capable of completing major projects in one night.  They were regarded as physically small, muscular people that were low on the social scale.  The mythical Menehune worked with great diligence, often forming lines miles long, passing stones hand-to-hand.  They are credited with such engineering feats on Kauai as the construction of the Malae Heiau at Wailua and the Alekoko, or Menehune, fishpond at Nawiliwili.  Remnants of the Menehune Ditch, which was used to divert water from the Waimea River to irrigate taro fields, are still visible.  The walls of the ditch were built of cut-and-dressed lava stone, rare in the Hawaiian Islands.


The idea of a physically small race of people caught the imagination of early Westerners.  Menehune may have had small importance in the social system of the Tahitians, but of the skeletal remains discovered on Kaua‘i, none indicate a race of physically small people.  It is not known for certain what became of the Menehune.  A story passed down that the king of the Menehune decided that their race had become impure from intermarriage and led his people to seek new lands.  Stone structures on the small northwestern islands of Necker and Nihoa indicate that some people stopped there.  These tiny islands could have sustained only a very small population.  


The Tahitian migration to the Hawaiian Islands lasted for about a century.  Their intricate system of beliefs and practices was transformed into a stratified and rigid Hawaiian culture.  This caste system placed the ali‘i or noble class at the top.  Slightly lower in prestige were the kahunas, which included priests, healers and astrologers.  Lower down were the kanakawale, the craftsmen and artisans who made the canoes, calabashes and lei. Next were the maka‘āinana or common people who worked the land and at the bottom were the kauwā or untouchables.  The noble class had lower chiefs within it who provided the higher chief with taxes and commoners to serve as soldiers.  Land was divided among the chiefs into wedge-shaped plots, called ahupua‘a, which extended from the ocean inland to the mountain peaks.  The tightly circumscribed bloodlines could not be crossed.  Most people were at death what they had been at birth.

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Life centered on the kapu, a complete set of rules that dictated what was sacred or forbidden.  A kapu forbade women to eat pork, bananas and shark meat; nor could they eat in the company of men.  According to the 19th century Hawaiian scholar, David Malo, a person could not allow his shadow to fall upon the house of a chief, or pass through that chief’s stockade or doorway.

 

Kapu-breakers were believed to be violating the will of the gods and could be executed.  While many kapu may seem strange, some were founded as conservation measures, such as seasons being established for the gathering or catching of scarce food.  The word kapu is believed to be the Hawaiian version of the Tahitian tapu, from which the word taboo is also derived.


Hawaiians generally worshiped privately at small shrines or in their homes.  The focal points of most major religious observances were large open-air temples known as heiau.  Ruins of these heiau can still be found throughout Hawaii.  Today what remains are usually simple platforms, terraces and walls made of lava stones.


Because ancient Hawaiians did not have a written language, their past was kept alive with the voices of kahuna who chanted the sacred mele, or historical record.  The most important mele was called the Kumulipo and it retold the genealogies of the ali'i.  It was by their direct lineage to the progenitor gods, Wakea and Papa that the ali'i claimed divine right to rule.  They believed the union of these gods gave birth to the islands of Maui, Kaho‘olawe, Hawaii, Kauai and Ni‘ihau.  The rest of the Hawaiian Islands were believed to be created when these gods took other mates.


The Kumulipo tells us that Kaua‘i enjoyed many decades of peace after the invasion and conquest of a prince called, Moikeha.  Years of peace had not debilitated the prowess of Kaua‘i's warriors.  Their courage and battle skills were renowned.


Succeeding Moikeha was Kūkona, who was to become the symbol of the highest ideals of chivalry in battle for all Hawai‘i.  The kahunas of Kauai came before King Kūkona in the mid-14th century to foretell an invasion and a battle in which he would prevail.  Across the 90-mile-wide ocean channel the allied forces of all the other Hawaiian islands under the command of Kalaunui-Ohua, set sail on an armada of war canoes.  Kūkona sent his heir, Mano-Kalanipo, to represent him in battle.  The forces of Kauai numbered only 500 but in one brief battle the combined armies of the invaders suffered absolute defeat.

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As was custom, the ali‘i leading the defeated armies faced being slaughtered and offered as sacrifices to the war god, Ku.  Kūkona, however, decided to set the chiefs free providing they took an oath promising that they or their descendants would never again invade Kauai.  With promises sworn, Kūkona set the conquered chiefs free and gave them and their men provisions.  He had their canoes repaired and even gave them more from his own fleet.  This was the beginning of a long peace on Kauai that lasted until 1795.  The chivalry and grace embodied in Kūkona remained throughout centuries of Hawaiian history as the criterion by which all other acts of warfare were measured.


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