Oral histories of the Hawaiian temple system indicate that several functional types existed, although all that remains today is dry-laid lava rock foundations and the ruins of stone altars, offering pits, and the foundations of thatched houses and wooden images.
Three general functional categories have been identified archaeologically with the excavation of eight Maui temples, (1) small open court ancestral shrines, (2) large platform temples used for major political rituals and feasts that helped glorify successful chiefly lines, and …
(3) smaller enclosed temples used for local rituals and feasts that promoted collective cosmological principles and encouraged consensus among political groups.
These temples ranged in size from family structures (~2,000 sq ft) to medium-sized community shrines ( ~7,000 sq ft) and larger polity temples (upwards of ~21,000 sq ft – about one-half acre).
Analysis of radiocarbon data show progressive changes that occur over three centuries: from open temples ~AD 1400 to large platform temples ~AD 1500 and finally the addition of small enclosed temples ~AD 1600.
However, Kirch and Sharp report dates of near-surface coral dedicatory offerings taken from seven temples from the political district of Kahikinui, Maui, and an additional temple from the neighboring island of Molokai.
Because these dates all fall into a very short interval of 60 years (~AD 1565-1638), they argue that Kahikinui’s temple hierarchy was rapidly built during a time of predatory territorial expansion under the reign of a single Maui chief around the turn of the seventeenth century AD.
New data relevant to this was included in analysis by Kolb, including an extensive radio carbon dating chronology consisting of a corpus of 73 new and 17 published dates.
This new chronology indicates a prolonged period of island-wide temple construction (~ AD 1200-1800) that consisted of four distinct ‘periods’ which correlate with some important social trends noted in the oral-historical literature of Hawai‘i.
Kolb’s analysis notes four distinct modes with notable peaks at – AD 1240-60, 1360-80, 1540-60, and 1800-1820, each of which is statistically distinguishable (95% confidence interval) by cluster analysis.
The first mode peaks at AD 1220-60 – these early dates document the oldest temples in Hawai‘i. On Maui because the data comes from sound architectural contexts of seven different temples, they may also signify the inception of an island-wide temple network.
Oral traditions from the 13th century indicate that this was a period of intensive social change with a widening economic and social gap between chief and commoner, more authoritative chiefly rule and the formation of at least three ruling political districts (Lahaina, Wailuku and Hana).
These early temple building episodes were small, located upon promontories, tied to public activities of ancestor worship and dispersed across most of the island – characteristics of a formative temple network used to mark emerging territorial boundaries.
A second mode peaks at AD 1360-80; these dates mark the clear expansion of the temple network. Temple-building episodes representing this mode were similar in style and location to those of earlier temples but larger in scale.
Oral traditions speak about the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries as a period of political polarization between the genealogically distinct and often antagonistic ruling lines of East and West Maui.
Competition was intense and led to a series of intra-island wars over rank succession and territory. Conflicting genealogies during this time also lend credence to the idea of polarized and shifting rule.
The next mode peaks at AD 1560-80. Oral history of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries indicate, that this time was marked by political strife and the competing territories of East and West Maui eventually merged.
When this merger actually occurred, however, is difficult to say. At least three generations of chiefs are said to have been recognized as rulers by both East and West Maui: Kāka‘e, who ruled jointly with his brother Kaka‘alaneo; Kawaokaohele; and Pi‘ilani.
The final mode peaks at AD 1800-1820 (most Hawaiian temples were abandoned in AD 1819). Taken as a whole, these dates seem to indicate a final island-wide period of temple construction/use during the early nineteenth century.
Ethnohistory from this period sits on very firm ground, consisting pf numerous eyewitness Hawaiian and European accounts.
This was a time of interisland warfare and conquest, when competition between the Maui and Hawai‘i island ruling chiefs grew especially intense. The chiefs Kekaulike and Kahekili II dedicated numerous Maui war temples during the course oi their internecine struggles.
The Maui chiefly line abruptly ended in AD 1795, when Kamehameha I, a conquering chief from Hawai‘i Island, absorbed Maui into his emerging kingdom.
This last mode coincides with a flurry of temple activities that included Kamehameha’s rededication of the Maui temples in AD 1800-18001 to his own war god. It also coincides with other archaeological data documenting the rise of the Hawaiian incipient state, such as settlement intensification, internecine warfare and temple sacrificial activity.
The general trend of temple construction followed four phases between – AD 1200 and 1800, phases that correlate with some general sociopolitical trends distilled from ethnohistory.
These include (1) the formation of district-sized polities and the rise of chiefly prerogatives, (2) the expansion of the chiefly hierarchy and a bifurcation of the island into eastern and western kingdoms, (3) island unification and a shift in land tenure and (4) interisland competition and eventual absorption into a larger incipient state.
An important shift in temple construction and use coincided with island unification and a shift in land tenure and occurred – AD
1452-1625. Overall, the temple system followed a cycle of construction and use characteristic of incipient state development, coinciding with distinct periods of political tension when it was important to encourage and control social allegiances.
This pattern has significance for the development of complex societies throughout the world, where the processes of political formation and ritualized ideology can be interwoven with architectonic and economic questions in discussions of historical or archaeological change. (All here is from Kolb.)