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The Kanaka Maoli

Polynesian culture originated in the islands of Southeast Asia and established itself in the island clusters of Samoa and Tonga between 2000 and 1500 BC.

The Polynesians possessed a remarkable seafaring technology based on a sophisticated understanding of celestial patterns and ocean currents. Traveling in twin-hulled voyaging canoes that spanned as much as 45 m (150 ft) and carried up to 100 passengers, food, planting stocks of food crops, and breeding pairs of domesticated animals, these explorers colonized the Society Islands (Tahiti) and the Marquesas Islands during the first century AD.

It was the Marquesans who dared the 3,000 mile ocean crossing to discover the island chain of Hawai'i, probably around AD 300. Archeologists have based this date on excavations of early habitation sites at Waimanalo on windward O'ahu, Halawa Valley on Moloka'i, and South Point on Hawai'i Island. Hawaiian genealogy chants, which were rigorously preserved in native oral tradition, carry family lines back further, to the beginning of the first century. Experts in working with stone, they built some of the largest irrigation systems recorded anywhere in Polynesia. Their monumental temples, or heiau, mark the significant points of nearly every island landscape.

They were planters, first and foremost, and the cultivation techniques they established drew the admiration of early Western visitors. A class of trained experts, kahuna, specialized in the preservation of cultural knowledge through prodigious acts of memorization.