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Hawaii Early HistoryHawaii Early History: Hawaii Flag

First Early Inhabitants of Hawaii

Early history examines the archaeological record that tells the story of the first inhabitants of Hawaii. Learn about the prehistory and culture of the first early inhabitants, and what lessons it might teach us about the early history of Hawaii.

Hawaii First Early Inhabitants Timeline

  • 5.5 Million BP    The main Hawaiian Islands began to form as the Pacific tectonic plate moved over a “hotspot” in the Earth’s mantle. The 5 largest islands formed in order: Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Maui and the Big Island. Molokai and Maui were originally joined. (NH, 10/1/04, p.33)
  • 800,000    The Haleakala shield volcano on Maui, Hawaii, appeared about this time.  (SFEM, 3/16/97, p.28)
  • 200,000    About this time a major earthquake in Hawaii caused a large tsunami that crossed the Pacific in 4 hours and up the shoreline of Japan for 300 yards.    (SFC, 2/17/97, p.A4)
  • 100,000    About this time another major earthquake in Hawaii caused a large tsunami that crossed the Pacific in 4 hours and up the shoreline of Japan for 300 yards. [see 200,000BP]    (SFC, 2/17/97, p.A4)
  • c38,000BCE    Volcanic activity on Kauai ended.  (SFEC, 8/29/99, p.T6)
  • 200-300CE    The original Polynesians arrived probably from the Marquesas. They brought with them edible plants and animals.   (SFEM, 2/8/98, p.10)
  • c600CE    Small porkers came to Hawaii with the Polynesians some 1400 years ago, and big pigs arrived with the Europeans.  (WSJ, 7/25/95, p.A-6)
  • c600CE    Early settlers from the Marquesas built the Alakoko fishpond and taro fields on Kauai.    (SFEC, 8/29/99, p.T6)
  • 1100 AD - Migration from the Society Islands
  • c1297    A temple was built near the Kilauea Volcano that is believed to have been used for human sacrifice. The Waha’ula Heiau temple near Volcanoes National Park was one of the first temples built on the islands, supposedly by a foreigner, who brought brutal religious rituals to the islands.    (SFC, 8/12/97, p.A3)(SFEC, 9/7/97, p.T8)
  • c1550        A Great Wall was built on the Big Island behind which refuge, sanctuary and purification could be sought. Puhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park later marked the area.    (SSFC, 8/26/01, p.T9)
  • 300 - 900 A.D. - Polynesians arrive by outrigger canoe from Tahiti.

Early History of Native Americans in Hawaii

The Indigenous People of Hawaii

The exact date is unknown and probably will remain so forever. But sometime after the beginning of the Christian era, Polynesians first set foot on these islands. Linguistic and cultural evidence suggest that the first inhabitants came from the Marquesas Group, to the north of Tahiti.

The language of Hawaii and archaeological discoveries indicate that Hawaii was settled by two distinct waves of Polynesian migration. Cook himself knew that the original Polynesian discoverers had come from the South Pacific hundreds of years before his time.

First, from the Marquesas, came a settlement as early as 600 or 700 AD, and then from the Society Islands, another migration about 1100 AD. Lacking instruments of navigation or charts or any kind, the Polynesians sailed into vast oceans. They staked their knowledge of the sky and its stars, the sea and its currents, the flight of birds and many other natural signs. They were superior seamen of their time.

These travelers came from the South Pacific, across 4,000 miles of open ocean, with only the stars and knowledge of the currents to guide them. They brought livestock, seeds, tools, food, and fresh water, along with a rich culture, lyrical language, and well-established way of life. As many as 300,00 Hawaiians may have lived on the islands when the first Europeans arrived in the 18th century.

The name "Hawaii"is a form of Hawaiki, the legendary name of the Polynesian homeland.

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