Mano the Shark pt 2

Book Review

A Shark Going Inland is My Chief: The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawaii

by Patrick Vinton Kirch, University of California Press, Berkeley

In Part 1 of, A Shark Going Inland, I shared my personal history of learning about Ancient Hawaii from kupuna (Native Hawaiian elders) who had learned about the olden times from their kupuna.  After the islands were opened to the world by Captain Cook there the Hawaiians were hit by white man’s diseases and the Native population took a huge nose dive. After Cook came the (haole) Missionaries arrived to teach the Hawaiian people about the western world. The Hawaiians rapidly learned English and the Hawaiian chants and mele were written down and translated. It would take decades for the hard work of Archaeologists to be able to match the ancient chants with hard evidence that indeed the Hawaiians had a long and rich history which involved intensive farming and fish farming in fish ponds.

Contrary to what many old school Anthropologist believed the Ancient Hawaiians left more behind then just fish hooks and heiau (temples and shrines). To uncover the forgotten past of Hawaii Archaeologists had to dig, collect samples and wait until the science caught up with the questions about time. One of the early archaeology sites to be dug using new archaeology methods was in Makaha — on the North west side of Oahu, north of Waikiki. Makaha is an area that I knew as a kid — my Native Hawaiian friend and I walked the roads toward the mountains and she showed me where the springs were and where the irrigated fields used to be up by the mountains. The kapuna still living in the area told stories of the old days and the harvest. Once even the Queen had been way out to Makaha the old ones still talked about Queen Liliuokalani as if she still lived.

The Kapuna who remembered the old times were proven correct about the Makaha agricultural area. The good thing/bad thing about the major building that has happened throughout Hawaii is that a law requiring Archaeologists to first determine if anything within the proposed building site related to Ancient Hawaii. So Archaeologist’s work is being funded. The good news also is that science has advanced so that more accurate dates can be found for the carbon, rocks, pond sediment, coral and etc. I bought a copy of the Makaha field research and did a happy dance for my Native Hawaiian friend who predicted that someday the college guys would dig and find out about the past.

As a student of Anthropology I also did library research and field research in Hawaii. I revisited the old kupuna from the church I went to and asked them more questions about the stories of the olden days told by the kupuna of their day. Missionaries are often very arrogant, especially the ones who come to “educate” the primitive, backward indigenous population. Hawaiians were very quick to learn and as Kirch writes, there were three men who were largely responsible for putting Hawaiian oral history into a written form and thus saved the genealogy and history for those of us who would be interested. Archaeology, Linguistics and Carbon dating as well as the collected oral history was used to trace Hawaiian’s history back to Tahiti and on further back to the very earliest voyages.

Some of the Anthropology instructors at the University I graduated from were still old school enough that they couldn’t or wouldn’t be convinced that Hawaii was in fact a unique civilization and that Hawaii’s “high chiefs” (male and female) were in fact kings — god-king status. I really believed that the anthropology/archaeology of Hawaii and the civilizations of North and South America should have been taught as a unit. Probably back then when the old archaeology ruled — the data to support the classification of the independent evolution of Hawaii to Kingdom/civilization status wasn’t yet documented by the field diggers.

Kirch retells the discovery of Hawaii by voyaging people from Tahiti. The early days of Bishop museum etc. Archaeology detective work was largely ignored except for locating and recording physical structures of heiau, the temples of stone for example and for digging in shelters for fish hooks. The Bishop Museum has a vast collection of fish hooks — that were carefully dug out in sequence, labeled and stored. The earliest fish hooks are similar to fish hooks found on other Pacific Islands in the South Pacific. I’ve read many of the technical original papers of the Archaeological research and Kirch’s method of retelling the history of Archaeology in Hawaii and the South Pacific digs is much easier to read — plus a far greater time span can be covered for the non Archaeologist.

Oahu was a very important island in ancient times — this island was the birth place of the earliest days of the civilization of Hawaii. Paradise was not peaceful — the chiefs or Ali’i fought — these guys were skilled warriors. Way back in the time of Ma’ilikukuhi who was an ali’i kapu (sacred chief) the ancient chants give this great ali’i credit for moving away from Tribal organization to more of an early primitive state organization. Mak’ilikukuhi lived in the fifteenth century and the contact between the South Pacific and Hawaii had stopped for many generations — the memorized chants still reminded the Hawaiians of others to the south but Hawaii was on her own to culturally evolve on her own. Hawaii is unique in that her evolution to a Kingdom occurred independently — agriculture, land mass, population growth, a need to control the production of food, development of a class system — the elite and the farmers and crafts people. These essential elements of civilization happened in Hawaii.

Now this Ma’iliukuhi was not the highest ali’i kapu on Oahu — that honor went to a ali’i Haia who turned out to be a pretty bad fellow and he was killed. The three chiefs of the districts of Oahu felt that they still needed a main chief to train and prepare warriors for the invasions and whatever else the ali’i kapu was supposed to do.

It would seem that while Ma’iliukuhi was watching the ruling chief become the most hated man on the island — Ma’iliukuhi was thinking about how to organize and find ways to keep the sub ali’i busy. The royal court was upland of what is now Waikiki — this area way back in the olden days grew a large portion of the food needed for all the people. There were family plots of land and chiefs/ali’i and then the three main chiefs of the island. Mostly the system was ready made for land wars, water wars and food wars. Ma’iliukuhi reorganized the whole social order — and the land division which went from the ocean (makai) to the mountains (mauka). Ma’iliukuhi was a management, resources, people specialist. Throughout human history ruling elites have came along with the early management skills to shift a people into what we call in Hawaii’s case — an Island civilization.

Ma’iliukuhi was smart — he had the other ali’i sent their sons to train and be taught warrior skills. Although Oahu was now peaceful — there were ali’i on other islands who wanted to rule all the islands. The people on Oahu were happy and ali’i from Maui came to see this new experiment and they returned to Maui and copied what they learned on Oahu. The Big Island/Hawaii’s ali’i decided that the lazy peaceful and rich island of Oahu was ripe for a take-over. Hawaii’s ali’i lost big — because the wise Ma’iliukuhi was preparing and he was training warriors.

In the Southwest of what is now the United States and in Peru there was a parallel managerial organization evolution of leadership. Today all we have is evidence of a complex civilization of the Chaco Canyon (New Mexico_ people are the monuments called the Great Houses. In the Phoenix region of Arizona, the builders of Casa Grande left no oral history — but they did leave a complex canal system which took high level organizational skills to manage. South America and Central America also had emerging civilizations with organization of people and resources. There is also a ceramic/pottery tradition in the Southwest which is a record left behind of the existence and passing of the ancients.

In a class called Anthropology Theory we learned about two differing theories about how culture develops — one way is for skills and knowledge to be passed down from individual to individual and from neighboring nations or cultural groups. This would be for things like arrow heads — which one person may invent and then teach others within the tribal group. Domestication of plants like cotton or corn happen in one area and then spread outward. Irrigation methods for dealing with irregular rainfall are another skill set which can be taught and passed from tribal areas. Karl Jung proposed that there was an evolution of humans on an unconscious level — which would account for the universal belief in gods. Human behavior researchers tell us that humans are hardwired to believe in god. Jung called this belief in the spiritual and myth making — the collective unconscious. Certain patterns and designs are found almost universally at each stage of human development. It is human nature to name things and to find order and explain the unknown.

The next really great Ali’i Kapu in the chants was ‘Umi on the Big Island — Hawaii. ‘Umi’s story is another epic tale — which has no doubt been told to countless generations of Hawaiians. Umi had to fight his half brother for the throne and in the process he lived among the farmers and fishermen before killing his abusive older half brother. The ali’i were given a lot of power but much was expected of these men and women. Upon becoming the ali’i of a few districts Umi set out to unit the Big Island. Which happened with a few battles fought to settle which ali’i was the greatest. ‘Umi then had to set up a management system — to make sure the fields produced crops and the people sent tribute to the ali’i, kahunas and retainers. As on Oahu when the main Ali’i Kapu was settled the lessor ali’is and land managers set out to feed the growing population. There is a tremendous amount of hard evidence which shows how intensively land was farmed. Every patch of land that could be used to grow food was exploited.

During ‘Umi’s reign Maui was united — due in part to the political alliance made by a wise kapuna. ‘Umi married the daughter of one Maui’s Ali’i — and her brother later came to ‘Umi to ask his help in overthrowing the ally of his enemy. Each island was united by one ruling Ali’i and political alliance between the islands were being made — one more step toward the Kingdom of Hawaii.

Limited land resources — population growth. Ancient Hawaii as a lesson for the whole world — limited land resources, limited fresh water and population growth. The Ali’i of Hawaii tacked these problems. One thing from my research that was done by the Ali’i was to manage the resources of the ocean surrounding Hawaii. These methods were complex — but also the Ali’i were aware that the ocean was not an unlimited resource of food.

End of Part II


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