Preface

Preface—A Quick Overview

This is the story of the Hawaiian Islands, a beautiful and enchanted land, a place of pristine white sand beaches and luminous rainbows, waterfall-laced mountains and lush valleys—a rich landscape filled with rare and extraordinary plants, animals, fish, and birds that evolved in isolation for millions of years—a story of species evolution like nowhere else on Earth.

The ancient history of the Hawaiian people is a story of celestial navigators in voyaging canoes, ancient warriors and hard-fought battles, petroglyphs and temples of stone, gods and goddesses, kings and queens, hula dancers and sacred chants passed down through the generations.

Wooden sleds were ridden at high speeds down mountains in the sport of he‘e hōlua, and firebrands were hurled from cliffs in the ‘ōahi (fire-throwing) ceremony.

The post-contact era involves stories of foreign ship captains and sandalwood traders, sugar barons and whalers. There are also tales of Hawai‘i’s awesome natural forces, famous surfers and daring ocean rescues, mysterious disappearances at sea and perilous adventures in the rugged mountains—volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, landslides, and tsunamis—this is the story of the Hawaiian Islands.

Volcanic Origins

It all began many millions of years ago. A giant plume of liquid rock rose from thousands of miles deep in the Earth and burned up through the Earth’s crust, then erupted onto the Pacific seafloor nearly 20,000 feet (6,000 m) beneath the ocean’s surface.

Deep underwater a volcano formed, and the lava continued to build up layer upon layer for hundreds of thousands of years until finally the volcano’s summit reached the ocean’s surface, then rose above in a fit of steam and ash and molten rock—a volcanic island was born.

Thousands upon thousands of years passed as the island continued to grow. The upper layers of rock were gradually turned to soil by the wind and rain, and by the lichens and other plant species that took hold, multiplied, and over time evolved into completely new species—eventually the island supported a great variety of life.

Even as the volcanic island continued to erupt it was slowly pulled to the northwest by the movement of the Earth’s crust, and this made way for a new volcano to emerge over the stationary erupting plume of lava, and then another volcano formed, and then another and another, until eventually the whole chain of volcanoes, the Hawaiian Islands, had been created.

Polynesian Settlers—The First Hawaiians

The first Hawaiians were the Polynesians, a race whose roots extend back to some 6,000 years ago when ambitious sailors in voyaging canoes ventured farther and farther out from the Southeast Asian continent to inhabit Pacific islands.

More than 1,000 years ago those seafaring voyagers discovered the Hawaiian Islands, the most remote archipelago on Earth. These first Polynesian settlers of the Hawaiian Islands created an amazingly rich and complex Pacific island culture unlike any other.

Ke ēwe hānau o ka ‘āina.

The lineage born of the land.

A native Hawaiian who is island-born and whose ancestors

were also of the land.

(Pukui: 1691-182)

The Story of an Archipelago

This text contains a great deal of information about those first Hawaiians and the islands on which they lived, and explores the varied yet interwoven threads of life in the Hawaiian Islands, including the deep connections between Hawaiian culture and the natural environment.

Also told is the story of the descendants of those first settlers, including the many changes that have taken place in the Hawaiian Islands since ancient times, as well as the post-contact period through the 1800s and 1900s and up to the present day.

The prominent and ongoing geological and biological processes of the Islands are also discussed, including the processes of species evolution that gave rise to an unmatched diversity of native flora and fauna now spread over the vast array of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats in the Hawaiian Islands.

The goal of this text is to assist readers in gaining an authentic and integrated understanding of the Hawaiian Islands and their people by providing easily accessible and well-organized information.

While striving above all to be concise and accurate regarding Hawai‘i’s human and natural history, culture, native species, and scientific processes, this text also has the goal of helping readers gain a better perspective on how these various topics are related and interconnected, including historic sites as well as cultural traditions, beliefs, and legends, and their significance to the inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands.

Hopefully this text will also serve as an educational tool that contributes to the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage of the Hawaiian Islands, including the many endangered native Hawaiian plant and bird species now imminently threatened with extinction.

Gaining a broader and deeper awareness and understanding of the Hawaiian Islands fosters and perpetuates a respect for the indigenous culture as well as the native species of the land and sea, and allows them to be seen and experienced in a more intimate and enduring way. Enjoy!


In the Beginning

“In very ancient times of darkness in the land of Hawai‘i Nei, Kāne and Kanaloa arrived at this archipelago called from long ago Hawai‘i Nui Kuauli. At that hill called by that ancient name, Kaukamōlī, they established Holani Kauhale and the Pae [rows of] Manu‘u a Kāne. These people, Pae Manu‘u a Kāne, were ‘aumākua, called perhaps at this time guardian angels of men.”

Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekūhaupi‘o[i]

“‘Ano lani; ‘ano honua.”

A heavenly nature; an earthly nature.”

“Said of some ‘aumākua who make themselves visible to loved ones by assuming an earthly form, such as fish, fowl, or animal,

yet retain the nature of a god.”

Pukui: 119-15[ii]


According to Hawaiian legend, in the beginning there was a dark abyss with a single life form, the spirit of Keawe. Shined upon by the light of the energy of creation, Keawe evolved order, opening his calabash, out of which came the sky and the sun.

Keawe then manifested himself as his own daughter and son, Na Wahine and Kāne, and their spiritual mating produced the royal family of primary gods.

Ka honua nui a Kāne i hō‘inana a ‘ahu kīnohinohi.

The great earth animated and adorned by Kāne.

Kāne was the god of fresh water and life.

(Pukui: 1316-143)[iii]


Kāne rules water and earth; he is the giver of life, and god of all living creatures. Lono is the god of agriculture and fertility, bringing rains, abundant harvests and peace.

In the rocks and forests there is Kū, founder and architect, a benevolent god but also a war god. His wife is Hina, mother of the god Māui who pulled the Hawaiian Islands up from the ocean. Hina’s sister is Laka, the goddess of hula. Deep in the ocean is Kanaloa, ruler of the dead and the banished gods.

Kāne, Kū, Lono and Kanaloa are the four primary Hawaiian gods, but there are many lesser gods. One of the most prominent is Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes, a creator and also a destroyer.

This is told in the 2,077-line Kumulipo,[iv] an ancient genealogical creation chant that recounts the history of the Hawaiian Islands and its people.

“There were three main gods of Hawai‘i Nei: Kāne, the god who made the earth; Lono, the god of all growing things; and Kū,

the god of the growth of mankind.”

Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekūhaupi‘o[v]



[i] p. 285, Desha, Stephen L., translated by Frazier, Frances N. Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekūhaupi‘o. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 2000; originally published in Ka Hoku o Hawaii (The Star of Hawai‘i) between December 16, 1920 and September 11, 1924.

[ii] p. 15, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 119.

[iii] p. 143, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 1316.

[iv] One published version is: The Kumulipo: A Hawaiian Creation Chant. Translated and edited with commentary by Martha Warren Beckwith. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, Facsimile reproduction of first edition, University of Chicago Press, 1951. Including Foreword by Katharine Luomala, The University Press of Hawaii, 1972.

[v] p. 247, Desha, Stephen L., translated by Frazier, Frances N. Kamehameha and his Warrior Kekūhaupi‘o. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools Press, 2000; originally published in Ka Hoku o Hawaii (The Star of Hawai‘i) between December 16, 1920 and September 11, 1924.