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)
“(I)n the earliest times all the people were alii … it was only after the lapse of several generations that a division was made into commoners and chiefs”. (Malo)
Kamakau noted, in early Hawaiʻi “The parents were masters over their own family group … No man was made chief over another.” Essentially, the extended family was the socio, biological, economic and political unit.
Because each ʻohana (family) was served by a parental haku (master, overseer) and each family was self-sufficient and capable of satisfying its own needs, there was no need for a hierarchal structure.
As the population increased and wants and needs increased in variety and complexity (and it became too difficult to satisfy them with finite resources,) the need for chiefly rule became apparent.
As chiefdoms developed, the simple pecking order of titles and status likely evolved into a more complex and stratified structure.
Eventually, a highly stratified society evolved consisting of the aliʻi (ruling class,) kahuna (priestly and expert class of craftsmen, fishers and professionals) and makaʻainana (commoner class.)
Most of the makaʻainana were farmers, a few were fishermen. Tenants cultivated smaller crops for family consumption, to supply the needs of chiefs and provide tributes.
The aliʻi attained high social rank in several ways: by heredity, by appointment to political office, by marriage or by right of conquest. The first was determined at birth, the others by the outcomes of war and political process.
Power and prestige, and thus class divisions, were defined in terms of mana. Although the gods were the full embodiment of this sacredness, the royalty possessed it to a high degree because of their close genealogical ties to those deities.
The kahuna ratified this relationship by conducting ceremonies of appeasement and dedication on behalf of the chiefs, which also provided ideological security for the commoners who believed the gods were the power behind natural forces.
With the stratified social system, it was important to retain the division between aliʻi and makaʻainana. This was done through a physical separation, such as the Royal Centers that were restricted to only the aliʻi and kahuna.
Royal Centers were where the aliʻi resided; aliʻi often moved between several residences throughout the year. The Royal Centers were selected for their abundance of resources and recreation opportunities, with good surfing and canoe-landing sites being favored.
When working on a planning project in Kona, we came across references to “Royal Centers.” In the centuries prior to 1778, seven large and densely-populated Royal Centers were located along the shoreline between Kailua and Hōnaunau.
The compounds were areas selected by the ali‘i for their residences; ali‘i often moved between several residences throughout the year. The Royal Centers were selected for their abundance of resources and recreation opportunities, with good surfing and canoe-landing sites being favored.
The Hawaiian court was mobile within the districts the aliʻi controlled. A Chief’s attendants might consist of as many as 700 to 1000-followers, made of kahuna and political advisors; servants which included craftsmen, guards, stewards; relatives and others. (NPS)
Aliʻi often moved between several residences throughout the year. There was no regular schedule for movement between Royal Centers. In part, periodic moves served to ensure that district chiefs did not remain isolated, or unsupervised long enough to gather support for a revolt. (NPS)
When working on a planning project in Kona, we came across references to “Royal Centers.” In the centuries prior to 1778, seven large and densely-populated Royal Centers were located along the shoreline between Kailua and Honaunau:
- Kamakahonu – At Kailua Bay, this was occupied by Kamehameha I between 1813 and 1819. This was Kamehameha’s compound after unifying the islands under single rule. The first missionaries landed here, just after the death of Kamehameha I.
- Hōlualoa – Three major occupation sequences: Keolonāhihi, A.D. 1300; Keakamahana (mother) and Keakealaniwahine (daughter,) A.D. 1600; and Kamehameha I, A.D. 1780. It was split into two complexes when Ali‘i Drive was constructed in the 1800s: makai (seaward and west) designated Keolonāhihi State Historical Park; mauka (inland and east) is referred to as Keakealaniwahine’s Residence.
- Kahaluʻu – Complex of Lonoikamakahiki ca. 1640-1660, and the oral histories specifically note its use by Alapa‘inui, Kalani‘ōpu‘u and Kamehameha — successive rulers from mid-1740s. The focus of this center was Kahalu‘u Bay, a sand fringed bay, with a complex of multiple heiau (many recently restored.)
- Keauhou – Noted for the largest hōlua slide in Hawai‘i (the volume of stone used in its construction dwarfs that of the largest known temple platforms, making it the largest surviving structure from ancient Hawai‘i.) This is also the birthplace of Kauikeaouli; stillborn, revived and went on to become Kamehameha III (ca. 1814-1854), last son of Kamehameha I to rule Hawai‘i.
- Kaʻawaloa – Home of Kalani‘ōpu‘u, ruling chief in power when Captain Cook sailed into Kealakekua Bay. Between Ka‘awaloa and Napo‘opo‘o is Pali Kapu O Keōua, a 600′ pali (cliff). Named for the ali‘i Keōua, who ruled in the mid-1700s, the pali was kapu (off limits) as a sacred burial area.
- Kealakekua – Hikiʻau Heiau was dedicated to Lono (god of agriculture and prosperity.) Kamehameha rededicated Hikiau, “the most important heiau in the district of Kona.” This is where Opukahaʻia had trained to be a kahuna after being orphaned in Kamehameha’s wars. Opukahaʻia fled Hawaiʻi, spent nine years in New England and inspired the first missionaries to come to Hawaiʻi (he died before being able to return with the missionaries to Hawaiʻi.) When Captain James Cook landed in Kealakekua, he was received by the Hawaiians and honored as the returning god Lono.
- Honaunau – Early in the area’s prehistory, a portion of land on the southwest side of the bay was declared a pu‘uhonua (sanctuary protected by the gods – almost every district in the islands had at least one pu‘uhonua in it.) There kapu breakers, defeated warriors and criminals could find safety when their lives were threatened if they could reach the enclosure before their pursuers caught them. This way of life began disappearing with Cook’s arrival in 1778 and, ultimately, Liholiho (Kamehameha II) abolished the kapu system in 1819.