Colonization (and the ‘Peopling of the Pacific’) began about 40,000 years ago with movement from Asia; by BC 1250, people were settling in the eastern Pacific. (Kirch) By BC 800, Polynesians settled in Samoa. (PVS)
Using stratigraphic archaeology and refinements in radiocarbon dating, studies suggest it was about 900-1000 AD that “Polynesian explorers first made their remarkable voyage from central Eastern Polynesia Islands, across the doldrums and into the North Pacific, to discover Hawai‘i.” (Kirch)
The motivations of the voyagers varied. Some left to explore the world or to seek adventure. Others departed to find new land or new resources because of growing populations or prolonged droughts and other ecological disasters in their homelands. (PVS)
At some point, Polynesians probably reached the coast of South America, returning with the sweet potato (a plant of undoubted American origins.) By AD 1000, sweet potato was transferred into central Polynesia. (Kirch)
The central Society Islands were colonized between AD 1025 and 1120 and dispersed to New Zealand, Hawaiʻi and Rapa Nui and other locations between AD 1190 and 1290. (PVS)
The Pacific settlement took a thousand years. However, after the 14th-century, the archaeological evidence reveals a dramatic expansion of population and food production in Hawai‘i. Perhaps the resources and energies of the Hawaiian people went into developing their land rather than travel. (Kawaharada; PVS)
Over in the Atlantic, Europeans were sailing close to the coastlines of continents before developing navigational instruments that would allow them to venture onto the open ocean; however, voyagers from Fiji, Tonga and Samoa began to settle islands in an ocean area of over 10-million square miles.
The pioneer in European expansion was Portugal, which, after 1385, was a united kingdom, and, unlike other European countries, was free from internal conflicts. Portugal focused its energies on Africa’s western coast. It was Spain that would stumble upon the New World. (Mintz & McNeil)
In 1492, Columbus was trying to find a new route to the Far East, to India, China, Japan and the Spice Islands. If he could reach these lands, he would be able to bring back rich cargoes of silks and spices.
By the time European explorers entered the Pacific in the 15th-century almost all of the habitable islands had been settled for hundreds of years and oral traditions told of explorations, migrations and travels across this expanse. (Kawaharada)
The 15th and 16th century voyages of discovery brought Europe, Africa and the Americas into direct contact, producing an exchange of foods, animals and diseases that scholars call the “Columbian Exchange.”
For more than a century, Spain and Portugal were the only European powers with New World colonies. After 1600, however, other European countries began to emulate their example.
By the end of the 16th century, a thousand French ships a year were engaged in the fur trade along the St Lawrence River and the interior, where the French constructed forts, missions and trading posts.
England established its first permanent colonies in North America during the 17th century. Between 1660 and 1760, England sought to centralize control over its New World Empire and began to impose a series of imperial laws upon its American colonies. (Mintz & McNeil) (The associated conflict was later resolved through the Revolutionary War and formation of the United States.)
By the time Europeans arrived in Hawai‘i in the 18th-century, voyaging between Hawai‘i and the rest of Polynesia had ceased for more than 400 years, perhaps the last voyager being Pāʻao or Mōʻīkeha in the 14th-century. (Kawaharada)
Although New Zealand was originally settled by Polynesian migrants (the ancestors of Maori) around AD 1250–1300, links with Polynesia were lost until European vessels renewed those connections.
With the expansion of European and North American whaling activities in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the protected anchorages of New Zealand’s Bay of Islands became an important base for the provisioning of Pacific-bound vessels, particularly from America. (Te Ara)
Maori agriculture was transformed by servicing whaling ships. Forests were cleared to make way for cultivation of potatoes, wheat and maize, and Polynesians were recruited aboard American ships bound for the Pacific whaling grounds.
Many of these vessels deliberately left New England short-handed, intending to pick up a full crew in New Zealand, Hawaiʻi or elsewhere amongst the Pacific Islands.
The foundation of the New South Wales penal colony in 1788, and the expansion of European settlement to Hobart Town in Tasmania, and across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, soon fostered sporadic trade linkages with the Pacific Islands. (Te Ara)
The first European colonies in Oceania were Australia (1788) and New Zealand (1840.) Soon after, the French seized French Polynesia (1842) and New Caledonia (1853.) Britain, at first, resisted pressure to annex scattered South Pacific Islands; however, Fiji was taken in 1874.
Then came the emergence of the Panama Canal and the rush of annexations by Britain, France, Germany and the US between 1884 and 1900. In 1899, Samoa was split between Germany and the US, with Tonga and the Solomon Islands were added to Britain. (Stanley)
Early on, in the Pacific, some thought the US was a colony of Great Britain. Until Thomas ap Catesby Jones’s visit to the Society Islands in 1826, “the inhabitants supposed the United States to be a colony of Great Britain, upon a par with Sydney, New South Wales, &c, &c.”
Jones then went to Hawaiʻi; an astonished Kalanimōku (who was the equivalent to Prime Minister in the Islands) noted “It is so…. Is America and England equal? We never understood so before.”
“We knew that England was our friend and that Capt Charlton was here to protect us, but we did not know that Mr Jones, the Commercial Agent, was the representative of America.” (Jones Report to Navy Department, 1827) During Jones’ visit in 1826, he signed an Articles of Arrangement (the first treaty between the US and Hawaiʻi.)
Later, on June 28, 1880, Kalakaua’s Premier Walter Murray Gibson, introduced a resolution in the legislature noting, “the Hawaiian Kingdom by its geographic position and political status is entitled to claim a Primacy in the family of Polynesian States …”
“The resolution concluded with an action “that a Royal Commissioner be appointed by His Majesty, to be styled a Royal Hawaiian Commissioner to the state and peoples of Polynesia …” (Kuykendall) They proposed a Polynesian Confederacy, with Kalakaua as its ruler.
“Then the idea of a great island confederacy dawned upon and fascinated him (Gibson.) He discerned but little difficulty in the way of organizing such a political union, over which Kalakaua would be the logical emperor, and he (Gibson) the Premier of an almost boundless empire of Polynesian archipelagoes.” (Wheeler) “Kalakaua’s dream of empire” failed.
The Polynesian Triangle is a geographical region of the Pacific Ocean with Hawaiʻi (1), New Zealand (Aotearoa) (2) and Rapa Nui (3) at its corners; at the center is Tahiti (5), with Samoa (4) to the west.