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Polynesian Migrations

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Polynesian Migrations

Over the span of 800 years, Polynesians explored 16 million square miles of ocean and settled on every habitable island in the Pacific. They brought their world view with them when they arrived in Hawai`i by voyaging canoe from the southern Pacific (primarily the Marquesas), settling the islands circa 300-600 AD. After they arrived in Hawai’i, the stories and chants they brought from western Polynesia soon grew to include events and details derived from their new home. The travelers also brought with them an array of plants and animals, including taro, ti, kukui, noni, olona, `uala (sweet potato), wauke, chickens, pigs and dogs.

A second wave of Polynesian migrations took place circa 1000-1300 AD with voyagers traveling back and forth between Hawai`i and the Society Islands. Tahitian chiefs and priests, most notably the high priest Pa`ao, introduced new religious forms and social structure to Hawai`i. At this time, human sacrifice was established as an element of religious observance, restrictions of the kapu increased, and Hawaiian society became more stratified and rigid. Consensual rule through `aha councils, or councils of elders and experts, gave way to the rule of ali`i, the chiefly class whose position was confirmed by lineage. The population of the islands increased rapidly and chiefs undertook the building of large public works projects such as fish ponds, taro terraces, irrigation systems and heiau (temples). After 1300, long distance voyaging ceased, and Hawaiian culture and society continued to develop along its unique path.

 Sites for further information

"Challenge of the Wind" A simulation of the Hawaiian Canoe (Bishop Museum)

Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey: Polynesian History and Origin (PBS)

"Voyagers came on waves and a prayer" (Star-Bulletin)

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