Kinohi: Hawaiian Origins

#204 in the Moʻolelo series, this could really be called “Part 1,” but I donʻt want to call it that until I write Hōkūleʻa – Part 2!

Hawaiian oral histories offer varying and competing answers to the questions of Hawaiian origins. These questions include the place of origin of Hawaiians, the first people to arrive or appear in Hawaiʻi, the first chief or chiefs, the first site of settlement, and voyagers who arrived in Hawaiʻi. In terms of the time of origin or settlement, Hawaiian oral histories offer a generational estimate (i.e., how many generations passed between settlement and a later time, rather than a year of settlement as in the western sense of time).

Hawaiian scholars David Malo, Samuel Kamakau and Kepelino all concur with Kumulipo that the place of origin of early inhabitants of HawaiʻI was “Kahiki” [or “Tahiti”]. As Malo (1951, 6) states, “it is thought that this people [early Hawaiians] came from lands near Tahiti and from Tahiti itself, because the ancient Hawaiians at an early date mentioned the name of Tahiti in their mele, prayers, and legends.” The meaning of the name Kahiki not necessarily refer to the island of Tahiti in the Society Islands, as the term means any foreign place. 

Davida Malo

            In addition, Malo names another source, a place called Lolo-i-mehani, which he makes clear was not in Hawaiʻi: “It is said that from Wakea down to the death of Haumea there were six generations, and that these generations all lived in Lolo-i-Mehani; but it is not stated that they lived in any other place; nor is it stated that they came here to Hawaii to live.”There are notable [disparities/differences] between Kepelino’s account and those of other Hawaiian scholars. Arista (1998, 90) notes that some “Hawaiians tried to bridge the gap between the two traditions [Hawaiian and Christian] by attempting confusion. The Hawaiian [Roman] Catholic Zepherino Kepelino altered Hawaiian traditions so that they would better fit his new Christian paradigms.” [citing Beckwith, 1932]. Later the archaeological and other evidence that points to an origin in the Marquesas Islands will be discussed (in Part 2!).

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