The Pacific Ocean is enormous - more than 10,000 miles north to south, more than 10,000 miles east to west at its widest. In area it is more than 70,000,000 square miles, by far the biggest single feature of the globe.

Polynesia, of which the Hawaiian Islands form a part, occupies an area roughly triangular in shape. South of the equator, the extremities of the triangle are New Zealand in the west and Easter Island in the east. Hawaii is the third extremity, north of the equator in the vicinity of Tropic of Cancer.

The location, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest point of the American continent, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest major island group to the south, makes the Hawaiian Islands the most isolated archipelago in the world. This, together with the fact that the total land area of the Hawaiian chain is less than 6,500 square miles, makes it understandable that discovery and settlement by a native population did not take place until late in the world's history-on the evidence, perhaps as late as the eighth century A.D.

Westerners came upon Hawaii for the first time something like a thousand years later - in the eighteenth century. It was immediately obvious to the white men that the Hawaiians were physically and culturally related to islanders in other parts of the Polynesian triangle south of the equator. Equally clearly, Polynesians as a whole were different from the other broadly recognizable groups of islanders in the Pacific, Melanesians and Micronesians. 

Considering the vastness of the Pacific, and the enormous difficulty experienced by white men in sailing it and plotting the positions of the principal islands - a process that took them more than 250 years - the achievement of the Polynesians in locating and peopling their islands could only be described as remarkable. Their origins and their migrations among the islands of the great triangle have always been matters for speculation. Scholars and scientists have tried - and are trying - any number of ways to get at the facts, but even now a good many matters remain unexplained.


The Polynesians themselves had an elaborate tradition of their origins and history, maintained in religious, genealogical and narrative chants. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a good many traditions were set down in writing by interested white men and by natives with a Western education, and scholarly studies have been made, reconciling the traditions of one island group with those of another, and trying to connect the traditions of Polynesia as a whole.

Others it was possible for scholars to put together a likely sequence of historical events, but to assign a reliable Western chronology was difficult, because the Polynesians dated events no more exactly than by generations or by the reigns of chiefs. Accordingly if, for example, a generation was taken by a scholar to be 25 years on the average, rather than 30, an event mentioned as taking place 20 generations in the Polynesian past could be located only in a given century, not in a particular year or even a particular decade. This kind of difficulty reappears in studies of the Polynesian language itself. It is possible to make an extensive list of words common to all of Polynesia, and to note how in different island groups a word retains its meaning but changes its pronunciation. With a sufficiently large body of evidence, it would be possible to make hypotheses about the length of time the population of one island group had been separated from another, giving these changes time to develop/ And from this, either hypotheses might be made about the direction of migration. But again, this useful linguistic work does not yield precise results in historical terms.

Physical anthropologists have studied the skeletal remains of ancient Polynesians, and have compared them with the physiques of modern-day Polynesians, in the hope of determining relationships within Polynesia, and with other parts of the Pacific. Parallel studies have been made in serology, to determine the occurrence of different blood types among modern islanders, again in an effort to learn something of their origins, dispersal, and eventual groupings. Again the results have been useful but inconclusive.

The science most likely to solve the Polynesian puzzle - if indeed a solution is possible - is archaeology; the systematic study of plant, animal and human remains recoverable in historical sequence above and below ground in the islands. Archaeological work of permanent usefulness is relatively recent in Polynesia - its beginnings are only a few decades in the past - and a great deal more work is needed. But already the outlines of the migrations that settled Hawaii from south of the equator are much clearer than they have ever been, and the larger question of the general origins of the Polynesians is being attacked with encouraging results.

Polynesian Origins And Migrations

The first Hawaiians came from south of the equator, from the Marquesas Islands and the Society Islands of central Polynesia. But where did the central Polynesians come from in turn? Archaeological findings, together with studies of winds, currents, flora and fauna, suggest that the origin of the Polynesian culture was in the western Pacific. Linguistic studies support this idea. The vocabulary of the Polynesian islanders is related to a widely dispersed language family extending west across Southeast Asia-as far west, indeed, as Madagascar. Current theory suggests that the major island complex of Samoa-Tonga is the first place where a distinct Polynesian culture developed. A characteristic physical type and social organization were then spread by migration to develop in specialized ways on widely separated island groups/. The Society Islands and neighbouring archipelagos were evidently stepping-off places for migratory voyages to the extremities of Polynesia: Easter Island, New Zealand, Hawaii.

In opposition to this general body of theory and evidence is the work of Thor Heyerdahl, who has devoted a great part of his active life in the idea that the origin of Polynesian culture is not Asian but American. Certain elements of the Polynesian flora and fauna are American in origin, and Heyerdahl's own Kon-Tiki raft expedition demonstrated that human contact was possible between the Pacific coast of South America and Polynesia. But whether America has been a main element in the emergence of Polynesian culture, or merely subsidiary, or indeed no more than a problematic presence, remains an unresolved question. The weight of available evidence, as indicated, favours an Asian origin.

As far as the narrower question of the immediate origin of Hawaiian culture is concerned, archaeological findings, including dating of material by radio-carbon techniques have now made it possible to say with some certainty that the first permanent settlements were made by migrants from the Marquesas Islands in about the eighth century A.D., and that subsequent migrations from the Society Islands between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries A.D. established the culture which, in a developed form, was brought to Western eyes by the discoveries of white explorers in the late eighteenth century. 

Quite apart from the question of origins, the navigational techniques of the Polynesians have fascinated Westerners. Hawaiian tradition, for example, speak of two-way voyages between Hawaii and Tahiti, a distance of well over 2,000 miles of open ocean. What clouds the question is that at the time of the Western discoveries, such voyages had ceased, and they were never resumed by the islanders, the old technical knowledge - and perhaps the old confidence - having apparently been lost. White men have tried endlessly to reconstruct, on paper and in practice, the techniques which enabled the Polynesians, without sailing ships of large size and deep draught, and quite without Western instruments and maps, to find for the first time, and then find again, island groups so widely separated.

The big double-hulled, decked and roofed oceanic sailing canoes in which the migratory voyages must have been made were still being used for shorter inter-island voyages when the white discoverers came to Polynesia, and detailed drawings of them by Westerners survive. No modern scientific voyages using such canoes have been made, but attempts have been made to sail vessels of Western design on long voyages using what is recoverable of traditional Polynesian navigational technique. Other tests, using modern-day Hawaiians as subjects, have been made in long-distance canoe paddling, with a view to finding out short energy use and nutritional needs for this exhausting work. On a more theoretical level, computer studies are being made to work out the probabilities of success and failure in oceanic voyaging in Polynesia over a long period of time.

At one extreme of theory is the proposition that Polynesia could have been peopled by random one-way voyages - that is to say, more or less accidentally, by castaways, political rules, and adventurers. Given enough time, and enough canoes swept into unknown waters by changing winds and currents, enough survivors would have found new archipelagos and settled them. This theory, of course, does not really account for the existing traditional evidence of two-way voyaging between an island homeland and a newly-settled archipelago a great distance away. Apart from anything else, two-way voyaging voyaging argues a considerable knowledge of astronomy, which obviously would have to be built up over a period of time. Current reconstructions suggest that the Polynesians' astronomical knowledge was serviceable, and that they were extremely skilled sea-goers - as would be expected from their adaptation to life on small islands in a great ocean.

For more information on Polynesian voyaging, you are invited to visit Jane Resture's "Polynesian Voyaging" at: http://www.janeresture.com/voyaging/main.htm


At 7.55 a.m. on Sunday, December 7, 1941, carrier-based fighters and bombers of the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor and other military installations on Oahu, sinking a number of battleships and other heavy vessels, and inflicting in one morning the worst damage to American armed strength in the history of the nation.

Martial law was declared in the islands on Pearl Harbor day, and remained in effect until late in the war, despite the vigorous efforts of some members of the civilian administration to have it lifted after the theatre of conflict to the Pacific moved further and further west, away from Hawaii, as the tide of battle turned. To begin with, in the hours that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, the entire Japanese population of Hawaii, about 160,000, was under suspicion of complicity, and there were tense days before it became clear that the first devastating attack was not to be followed by invasion. Among the Japanese community, a number of Buddhist and Shinto priests, language teachers, newspaper editors, and other leading figures were arrested and interned, first to Hawaii, then on the mainland in all, less than one per cent of the Japanese of Hawaii. Investigations during and after the war by the FBI and other agencies confirmed that no Hawaii Japanese was guilty of espionage or sabotage.

For the younger Japanese, those born in the islands, the great test of loyalty was to fight under the American flag. Those who wanted the opportunity were at first denied it. The armed forces would not take them as recruits. After a year of war the Army reconsidered, and an all Japanese volunteer unit was formed. First as the 100th Battalion, then as the 442nd Regimental combat Team, the young Japanese, nisei in their parents' language, Americans of Japanese ancestry by their own designation, fought with great distinction in the European theatre. They became the most highly decorated unit in the United States armed forces.  

The war changed Hawaiian society irreversibly. There was no chance that after 1945 things would revert to their pre-war condition. The most easily visible sign was that the Oriental population became politically active and influential. This movement was led to a large extent by war veterans, including many members of the 442nd, who went on to college after the war on the GI Bill, and then took a law degree and went into politics. Given the domination of the islands by the Republican Party in the great days of the plantation society, it was predictable that the war that the new generation of Oriental politicians and voters would attach themselves for the most part to the Democratic Party. After the first few years of organization in the post-war period, the Democratic Party established itself as a genuinely multi-racial organization, broadly based on the diverse population of the islands. This became in turn its guarantee of success at the polls. By 1954, with Republicans in power nationally, the Democrats became the party of power all through the rest of the 1950s and all through the 1960s.

Contemporary with the rise of the Democratic party, and connected with it in many ways, was the rise of an organized labor movement in the islands. This again was part of a great social transformation. As early as the beginning of the twentieth century, there had been strikes on the plantations from time to time, some of them long and bitter, involving thousands of workers. To handle the labor problem, the plantation companies used a mixture of methods, ranging from the introduction of strike-breaking workers to sensible and humane concessions strategically timed. Compared with the situation on the American mainland, the life of an agricultural laborer on a Hawaiian plantation was by no means had, and it compared favourably even with the life of a good many mainland industrial workers. This comparison, of course, was not one made by the workers themselves, and when it was brought to their attention it did not make them any the less interested in labor organizations which might bring further improvements.

If the labor movement was not quick to grow to a position of strength, this was due principally to the mixed racial and national origins of the work force of the plantations. Communication and cooperation were difficult between native Hawaiians and part-Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos. All the plantation strikes before World War Two were mounted by workers organized according to nationality, and this meant that there was no industry-wide workers' program of any significance.

The modern labor movement got definitively under way with the passage by Congress in 1935 of the National Labor Relations Act and the affirmation of its constitutionality by a decision of the Supreme Court in 1937. This opened the way for systematic organization of unions in Hawaii as elsewhere in the nation. A good deal depended, in the case of the mechanized plantations of Hawaii, on having workers classified for organizational purposes as industrial rather than agricultural, because the national legislation was aimed at factory rather than farm. Decisions of the National Labor Relations Board favoured industrial classification for the great bulk of Hawaii's plantation workers, and with this established organization could go about with every prospect of substantial success.

The first successful union organizers were men who had had experience in the maritime unions of the American west coast, and in fact organization in Hawaii was begun on the waterfront, spreading from there to the plantations. The International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union emerged as the chief spokesman of the workers, and had just succeeded in writing the First sizeable contracts with management when World War Two broke out.

Labor organization was effectively brought to a halt during the war, and had just succeeded in writing the first sizeable contracts with management when World War Two broke out. Hawaii was under martial law with its restrictions on civil liberty and industrial mobility. But after peace returned, the same forces which brought the Democratic Party to a position of strength at the polls created a labor movement which could number its members in the tens of thousands. The ILWU went into politics vigorously, and during the early years of its post-war activities, it sometimes seemed on the brink of taking over the Democratic Party altogether. This never happened, but then and later endorsement by organized labor was regarded as a considerable asset to a political candidate.

In the course of establishing its dominant position in the post-war years, the ILWU, under its leader Jack Hall, called several major strikes on the plantations, and an extremely long and bitter one on the waterfront in 1949. As virtually all of Hawaii's commerce was seaborne, this was tantamount to bringing the economy to a stand-still - evidence of the tremendous power organized labor had come to wield. The tactics of the ILWU were undoubtedly extreme, too much so for a good many Democratic politicians, certainly so for almost all Republicans. Some of the union leaders came out of the Marxist-oriented maritime unions oft he 1930s. These facts, considered in the general climate of the Cold War of the early 1950s, led to several investigations of Communism in Hawaii by congressional committees. The upshot was that in 1953 Jack Hall and six others, among them some Orientals, were tried and convicted under the Smith Act (their convictions were eventually reversed on appeal). 

For further information on The Harbor Story, you are invited to visit http://www.janesoceania.com/hawaii_pearl/index.htm

Soak in the enchanting sounds of the sun-drenched Oceania/Pacific Islands coming to you in 64kbps FM Stereo!


Thank you so much for visiting the above four Domains. I am very pleased to be able to share with you that further limited advertising on Hawaii-The Pearl Harbour Story Page, along with other Web Pages within the above four Domains, are now available. Potential advertisers are cordially invited to choose from several thousand Web sites available for placement of your important advertisements. For further information, please contact me at:

jane@janeresture.com or jane@pacificislandsradio.com

Jane's Hawaii Home Page

Hawaii Postcards and Picture Galleries

Oceania Postcards and Picture Galleries

Jane Resture's Oceania Page

Jane's Oceania Home Page Newsletter
to get the latest news, information and Web site updates!
Please enter your email address below,
then click the 'Join' button for your free Newsletter!

 Join newsletter! 

Pacific Islands Radio Stations

(E-mail: jane@janeresture.com -- Rev. 3rd August 2011)  

 yahoo.gif (465 bytes)