The first people to set foot on Hawaii were probably Polynesian fishermen, or perhaps defeated warriors whose canoes were drawn hopelessly northward into unfamiliar waters. They arrived by a combination of extraordinary good luck and an uncanny ability to sail and navigate without instruments, using the sun by day and the moon and rising stars by night.
Original settlers of Polynesia migrated through South-East Asia and Indonesia across Melanesia, before settling the Polynesian islands from 1000 BC to 500 AD. Hawaii was one of the last island groups to be settled. Archaeological evidence indicates the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii from the Marquesas between 500 and 700 AD.
The first wave of Tahitians arrived in Hawaii in about 1000 AD conquering and subjugating the Marquesans, forcing them to build temples, irrigation ditches and fishponds. The menehunelegends of a tribe of little people may well refer to the Marquesans for the word ‘menehune’ is very similar to the Tahitian word for ‘outcast’.
The earliest Hawaiians had simple beliefs which were the result of being in tune with the spirits of nature. Offerings to their gods consisted mainly of praying and a sharing of their harvest. The Hawaiians had gods for all natural phenomena, consisting of the four main gods: Ku, Lono, Kane, and Kanaloa. Ku was the ancestor god and took charge of the male gods and Hina took charge of the females. They were responsible for heaven and earth, fishing, forests, and farming. Lono was the god of the rain, the harvest, fertility, and peace. Kane created the first man and was the god from which all Hawaiians descended. Kanaloa was the god of the underworld and ruler of the dead. Under these main four were many lesser gods.
Temples erected in ancient Hawaii, called heiaus, were built in two basic styles using lava rock. One was a rectangular enclosure built directly on the ground, the other consisted of raised terraced platforms with rocks piled high. Many of these heiaus can still be found throughout the islands today and are considered sacred places.
According to legend, the god Lono, after a spiff with a chief who was lusting after Kaikilani, his wife, killed her and set sail on a canoe with a tall mast hung with sails and promised to return one day on a “floating island”. The Hawaiians remembered Lono each year with a harvest festival, called the makahiki, which lasted from October to February. Even during wartime, fighting would be suspended for the festivities dedicated to Lono.