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
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
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: How
Hawaii Came To Be A US State