Outrigger Canoe Travel

by Terry Wallace

ancient paddlers

‘Olelo No‘eau - a proverb:
‘Au i ke kai me he manu ala. - Cross the sea as a bird.

When Captain James Cook landed on Kaua‘i and later on Hawai‘i, he gave the island group a name, after his patron James Montague, the Earl of Sandwich. For the next seventy-one years the islands were called (by outsiders) the Sandwich Islands. The connotation rubbed local inhabitants the wrong way.

These eight major islands form four separate counties. Starting at the oldest in the northwest, Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau is one county. O‘ahu is its own county. Next comes Maui County, which includes Moloka‘i, Lana‘i and Kaho‘olawe. At the southeast corner of the group lies Hawai‘i, with more square miles than the rest of the islands put together. Moku O Hawai‘i (Hawai‘i Island) is the youngest and is still growing by lava flow.

The greatest distance between the islands is between Kaua‘i and O‘ahu at about 82 miles (137KM). Kaua‘i came to be known as a “separate kingdom”. And Kaua‘i was different from the rest of the islands in many ways. All the islands were different kingdoms and warfare, especially in the late 1700’s was rife. However, trade continued to flourish in the only way possible, by sea. Canoes allowed the people of these islands to become accomplished fishermen, merchants, sailors, and amphibious warfare specialists.

Na Kanaka Maoli (The Original People), both paddled and sailed and most canoes were specialized in their use. The largest were double canoes, wa‘a kaulua. Trade goods consisted of specialties traded to those who had another kind of specialty, such as ko‘i (adze blades) from Hawai‘i for a special dried fish only available from Moloka‘i. These travelers also devised special, non-perishable foods such as popo poi, (balls, different from Aotearoa - New Zealand) to keep them in their journeys.

Then, in 1795 and after provocation from both sides, the King of O‘ahu, Kalanikupule, plotted to assassinate Kamehameha, the King of Hawai‘i. This attempt was thwarted by foreigners and Kamehameha subsequently invaded and conquered O‘ahu by way of Maui and Moloka‘i.

In the series of canoe amphibious invasions, some 1,200 double and outriggers carried more than 12,000 warrior-paddlers (about the same as the Norman invasion of England in 1066). They crossed Ka‘iwi Channel between Moloka‘i and O‘ahu, landing on an early morning high tide in mid-August. At that time, the Waikīkī district extended for ten miles (17KM) from what is now downtown Honolulu almost to the foot of Koko Head. Most of the army landed in Kahala, then moved toward Nu‘uanu between the fishponds and the mountains. After six days, Kamehameha pushed the remnants of the O‘ahu army off the Pali and took the island.

It wasn’t until several failed invasion attempts and much negotiation that in 1810 Kaua‘i also came under the rule of Kamehameha. Thus, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and the term “Hawaiians” was born, under the rule of the richest, most populated and predominant island, Hawai‘i.

In 1849, the term, “Sandwich Islands” was officially discarded by the Legislature and the term “Hawai‘i” began.

Ka pau ‘ana ihola no ia o ka‘u mo‘olelo - So ends this story.

Sources; Kamakau, Fornander, Papa I‘i, Pukui, Joesting, Kane & Wallace.

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