Exploration of Hawaii and the Pacific Region

Timeline of Hawaiian History

The area of time in Hawaiian history this research project covers extends from AD 200 (the first settlement of the Hawaiian Islands by humans) – through AD 12oo (when Tahitians are thought to have first arrived on the Hawaiian Islands). This timeline comes from Hawaiian Encyclopedia: http://www.hawaiianencyclopedia.com/

c. 4000 B.C. – c.3000 B.C.—Beginning of several waves of seafaring migrations from the Southeast Asian mainland by voyagers (Austronesians) who eventually inhabit hundreds of Pacific islands.

These ancient mariners sailing voyaging canoes first migrate from Taiwan and China to the Philippines and Indonesia (see approximate dates below), then to West Polynesia, East Polynesia, New Zealand, and eventually Tonga, Sāmoa and the Hawaiian Islands.

Note: Genetic studies indicate that humans first migrated out of Africa into Europe and Asia about 50,000 years ago.

c.2500 B.C.—Early Austronesian voyagers travel from Taiwan to the Philippines likely by outrigger canoe.

Note: Root words for outrigger canoes show up in the language at about this time.

c.1500 B.C.—The Lapita, an ancient Pacific Ocean people, migrate eastward from the Bismarck Archipelago, a group of volcanic islands off the northeast coast of New Guinea in the southwest Pacific. The eastward expansion of this Early Eastern Lapita people continues an early migration into the Western Pacific from Southeast Asia, and eventually gives rise to the Polynesians.

The rapid migration activities of the Lapita begin about 1500 B.C., reaching the Solomon Islands in Melanesia by about 1300 B.C. and then New Caledonia by about 1200 B.C..

Note: The Lapita culture is known for its distinctive and colorful earthenware pottery, which can be traced through Melanesia to Sāmoa, Fiji, and Tonga, where many characteristics of typical Polynesian culture evolve during the first millennium. By the time the Hawaiian Islands are settled, however, the use of pottery disappears and is replaced instead by stone adzes and other crafts.

Lapita pottery appears in Melanesia and then New Caledonia and Sāmoa. The people of the Lapita culture are the founding members of Tonga, Sāmoa, and Fiji. (See Ancient Polynesians, Chapter 12.)

c.900 B.C. – c.800 B.C.—The Lapita people migrate east as far as Tonga and Sāmoa where the culture then disappears and the Polynesian culture arises.

Note: About this time, mentions of the Polynesian gods first appear and this is also likely when the double voyaging canoe is developed, allowing the Polynesians to make long voyages extending thousands of miles.

c.1000 B.C. – 900 B.C.—Western Polynesia (including Tonga and Sāmoa) is first settled, and becomes the homeland of the Polynesians who develop a Proto-Polynesian language that leads to at least 36 documented Polynesian languages. More than 4,000 words of this Proto-Polynesian language have been reconstructed.

c.500 B.C. – c.A.D. 900—Polynesian settlers migrate north, east, and southwest, and settle Eastern Polynesia, including the Marquesas Islands, Society Islands, Austral Islands, Cook Islands, and eventually New Zealand, Easter Island, and the Hawaiian Islands.

Austronesian voyagers journey from the Philippines in several directions, reaching the Marianas Islands in Micronesia by about 2000 B.C. to 1500 B.C., and reaching Indonesia by about 500 B.C.

Note: Molecular biologists have discovered phenotypic homogeneity and common genetic markers among Polynesians, suggesting a “genetic bottleneck” took place early in the history of the Polynesian race, likely around the time that Fiji, Tonga, and Sāmoa were settled. [iv]

Austronesian Dispersal Theory

Recent research by Bishop Museum chairman of anthropology Tianlong Jiao and Taiwanese archeologists Dr. Li Kuang-ti and Dr. Tsang Cheng-hwa produced results in agreement with the research of University of California Berkeley scientist Patrick V. Kirch and Peter Bellwood of the Australian National University.

Kirch and Bellwood espouse an Austronesian dispersal theory that Micronesians, Melanesians, and Polynesians are not separate races (as previously believed) but instead are all descended from the Austronesians who originated on the southern coast of China.[v]


Marquesan people, in the Marquesas. Photo taken in late 1800s.

Polynesian voyagers sailing double-hulled voyaging canoes reach the Hawaiian Islands, probably from the Marquesas Islands, a ring of ten steep, volcanic islands about 2,500 miles (4,023 km) to the southeast of the Hawaiian Islands, 740 miles (1,191 km) northeast of Tahiti, and 3,700 miles (5,955 km) west of Peru.

The Marquesas are part of the South Pacific island group known as French Polynesia, an archipelago that includes 130 islands divided into five groups: the Gambier Islands, the Australs, the Tuamotus, the Society Islands, and the Marquesas. By A.D. 1200 the Polynesian voyagers settle nearly every habitable island over some ten million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

The Polynesians bring with them to the Hawaiian Islands on their voyaging canoes many different species of plants and animals, including pua‘a (Sus scrofa, pigs), moa (Gallus gallus gallus, chickens), and ‘īlio (Canis familiaris, dogs) along with at least 24 (probably more than 26) species of plants for food and other uses. (See Polynesian-Introduced Plants, Chapter 9.)

The Hawaiian settlers construct houses of pili grass (Heteropogon contortus, twisted beardgrass) thatched on a wooden frame. They clear the lowland forests to plant kalo (Colocasia esculenta, taro). The eat taro’s lū‘au (young leaves) and pound the underground tubers (corms) into poi, a staple of their diet. The taro is grown in earthen and rock-terraced fields irrigated by networks of ‘auwai (irrigation channels).

These first Polynesian settlers of the Hawaiian Islands also catch a variety of fish and shellfish from the ocean, eat honu (sea turtles) as well as limu (seaweed), and utilize many native Hawaiian plants as well as dozens of Polynesian-introduced species that they brought with them to the Hawaiian Islands on their voyaging canoes. In the coastal shallows the ancient Hawaiians build large loko i‘a (fishponds) that they keep well stocked.

The Polynesians reach the Marquesas and Tahiti about A.D. 700, Easter Island by A.D. 900, and New Zealand by A.D. 1200.

c.A.D. 1000—The existence of the sweet potato in Polynesia by this date suggests South American contact because the sweet potato is indigenous to South America. Polynesians may have sailed to South America, or the sweet potato may have been brought to Polynesia or arrived by some other means.

c.1000 – c.A.D. 1200 (perhaps one or two centuries later)—Tahitians, sailing voyaging canoes first arrive in the Hawaiian Islands. The Tahitians comprise a second wave of immigrants to the Hawaiian Islands, and they conquer and dominate the earlier Marquesan settlers.

Note: Tahiti encompasses 402 square miles (1,041 sq. km), and is the largest island of the Society Islands group of French Polynesia, which also includes the Marquesas. The island of Tahiti is almost directly below the Hawaiian Islands and about half way between California and Australia.

c.1100—A Tahitian kahuna (priest) named Pā‘ao arrives in the Hawaiian Islands to start a high priest line known as kahuna nui, introducing the war god Kūkā‘ilimoku and constructing luakini heiau (temples of human sacrifice).

Pā‘ao returns to Tahiti and brings back a chief named Pili [Kaaiea], who rules Hawai‘i Island and sires the royal line that begins a 700-year dynasty culminating with the Kamehamehas.

c.1300 – c.1400—Contact with southern Polynesia ceases or severely diminishes, and a period of time begins in which Hawaiians no longer complete long-distance, open-ocean voyages.

During this time a unique Hawaiian culture develops and continues to evolve.

c.1400s—Surfing is likely introduced to the Hawaiian Islands around this time. The first papa he‘e nalu (surfboards) are up to 18 feet (5.5 m) long and weigh up to 175 pounds (79 kg). (See History of Surfing, Chapter 3.)

1492—Spanish explorer Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus) reaches North America.

c.1500—Ruling chiefs battle for power, and engage in numerous inter-island wars. The paramount chief of Maui is Kiha-a-pi‘ilani. Early rulers of Hawai‘i Island include Līloa and his son ‘Umi-a-Līloa [‘Umi] (son of Līloa).

1519—Spanish Explorer Ferdinand Magellan (Fernão de Magalhães) completes the first trans-Pacific voyage, as captain of the first ship to circumnavigate the Earth, though Magellan dies before the ship makes it back to Spain. Soon after this, many other ships begin to traverse the Pacific Ocean, including Spanish, French, Dutch and English ships.

Note: Despite the fact that ships of many countries sail the Pacific Ocean in the early 1500s, there are no verifiable records of any European ships or other Western ships reaching the Hawaiian Islands until more than 250 years later, in 1778, when British Captain James Cook officially becomes the first Westerner to visit the Hawaiian Islands.

However, Spanish galleons voyaging between Mexico and the Philippines may have encountered the Hawaiian Islands earlier (see 1555; 1620), but this remains speculative.

c.1555—Spanish navigator Juan Gaetano (Gaytan) documents an island group at the latitude of Hawaiian Islands, but records an incorrect longitude. Gaetano names the island group “Islas de Mesa,” (“Table Islands”) or “Los Majos” (“The Tableland”).

Other maps and charts dating to the 1600s also show an island group thought to be the Hawaiian Islands, which are located just a few hundred miles from the routes known to be used by Spanish ships traveling between the Far East and Latin America during this time period.

c.1580 – c.1600—The paramount chief of Hawai‘i Island is Līloa, whose reign is relatively peaceful.

c.1600—Hawai‘i Island chief ‘Umi-a-Līloa [‘Umi] marries Pi‘ikea, the daughter of the Maui ruler Pi‘ilani. Lono-a-Pi‘ilani, the eldest son of Pi‘ilani, becomes ruler of Maui after his father dies, and then is defeated by his younger brother Kiha-a-Pi‘ilani who is victorious in the battle due to the assistance of his brother-in-law ‘Umi-a-Līloa, who continues to rule the Hāna district. Kiha-a-Pi‘ilani builds a road known as alaloa circling the island.

c.1600 – c.1620—Hawai‘i Island ruler ‘Umi-a-Līloa [‘Umi] inherits the guardianship of the war god Kūkā‘ilimoku (though he was not named heir), and becomes ruler of Hawai‘i Island after defeating his half-brother Hākau at Waipi‘o and uniting the Hawai‘i Island chiefs under his rule.

c.1620—The legendary Konaliloa wrecks at Ke‘ei near Kealakekua Bay on Hawai‘i Island, according to Thrum’s first chronology in 1882 listing the marine casualties of the Hawaiian Islands (some accounts say the wreck occurred up to one century earlier).

It is said that the vessel’s captain and his sister barely made it to shore, where they were cared for by the natives.

Also in 1620, a group of Puritans known as the Pilgrims who are dissatisfied with the Church of England colonize New England, arriving there on the ship Mayflower.

c.1620—c.1640—Keali‘iokaloa, the son of ‘Umi-a-Līloa [‘Umi], rules Hawai‘i Island, but he is not a popular leader and his son Kuka‘ilani is defeated by Keawenui-a-‘Umi [Keawenui] (another son of ‘Umi-a-Līloa [‘Umi]), who becomes the ruling chief of Hawai‘i Island.

c.1700—Lonoikamakahiki [Lono] is ruling chief of Hawai‘i Island. Kanaloakua‘ana, the grandson of ‘Umi-a-Līloa [‘Umi]. serves as Regent because Lonoikamakahiki [Lono] is so young. The warriors of Lonoikamakahiki [Lono] battle rebel chiefs on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, and Moloka‘i.

c.1700—The forces of Alapa‘iniu, the paramount chief of Hawai‘i Island, attack the forces of Kekaulikenuiahumanu [Kekaulike] on Maui. Kekaulike responds with a counterattack against Hawai‘i Island.

Kekaulike is the great grandfather of King Kamehameha I’s sacred wife Queen Keōpūolani [Keōpūolanikauhiakama; Kalanikauika‘alaneokeōpūolani], and the great great grandfather of King Kamehameha IV (Alexander Liholiho ‘Iolani), and King Kamehameha V (Lot Kapuāiwa Kamehameha).

c.1713—Birth of Kahekilinui‘ahumanu [Kahekili] to Kekaulikenuiahumanu [Kekaulike] and Keku‘iapoiwa (I) [Keku‘iapoiwanui].


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