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Invasion of the Ali'i

During the 12th and 13th centuries, new waves of Polynesian settlement dramatically altered the patterns of Hawaiian life. These came not from the Marquesas but from the Society Islands (Tahiti).

According to oral tradition, these invasions were cruel. Casting themselves as reformers of a weakened Polynesian race, the newcomers established a rigid class system with themselves as ruling chiefs, ali'i, who regulated the daily lives of the maka'ainana (literally, "eyes of the land") through the harshly enforced kapu system. As a signal that they meant business, certain temples were re-dedicated as luakini heiau, places for human sacrifice. The chief figure in this reform was a Tahitian priest named Pa'ao, who established a line of kuhina nui, or high priests, and brought in a powerful chief named Pili to consolidate political power.

Five hundred years later, Kamehameha could claim a direct kinship to Pili; his kuhina nui could trace his own lineage similarly to Pa'ao. For unknown reasons, these sea voyages ceased after the 13th century, leaving classical Hawaiian culture to flourish undisturbed for half a century.