Historic Periods of the Hawaiian Islands

Historic Periods

of the Hawaiian Islands

Note: Historic periods listed below, except the Modern Period, are based on classifications proposed by Patrick Vinton Kirch in Feathered Gods and Fishhooks (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1985).

Colonization Period

A.D. 300 (±200)—c.600

Initial arrival and colonization of the Hawaiian archipelago by Polynesians, most likely from the Marquesas Islands about 2,500 miles (4,000 km) to the southeast. Relatively little is known about the culture, social customs, and rituals of this time period.

Developmental Period


Development of food production and acquisition strategies; utilization of plentiful native and Polynesian-introduced resources, including plants, birds, shellfish, and fish (including large game fish); the population reaches an estimated 20,000 people, moving beyond the windward valleys into arid leeward valleys and coastal areas; a unique Hawaiian culture begins to develop.

Expansion Period


Major increase in population; increased agriculture; the first true loko ‘ia (fishponds) and the aquaculture techniques used to manage them; development of ahupua‘a system (natural watershed land divisions extending from the mountains to the sea) with land divisions under the control of sub-chiefs responsible to a paramount chief; and other significant changes in social and political structures.

Protohistoric Period


Further increases in food production, including irrigation in lower valleys; continuing social and political changes with independent chiefdoms competing for rule; changes in architecture of heiau (sacred places of worship), including increasingly large luakini heiau where human sacrifices occur.

Modern Period


Western goods and weapons bring dramatic changes in traditional ways of living; the Hawaiian monarchy is overthrown in 1893; the Hawaiian Islands are annexed to the United States in 1898; sugar becomes the driving force of the economy through the first half of the 1900s; the Islands are increasingly utilized by the United States as a strategic military location, and become the 50th state in 1959; tourism grows to 7.4 million visitors in 2006.