Professor Patrick V. Kirch
Our main study site lies within the ancient district (moku) of Kahikinui on SE Maui. Two adjacent ahupua'a, Kipapa and Nakaohu, comprise an area of 8 km² in central Kahikinui and were the focus of an intensive settlement pattern survey in 1966, by Peter Chapman (affiliated with the Bishop Museum). Building on this 1966 survey, from 1994-99 we accomplished a nearly 100% surface survey of this area, from the coast up to 1200 m above sea level where site density becomes essentially zero. This has resulted in a database including some 1,789 archaeological features. We are developing a Geographic Information System (GIS) database for this Kipapa-Nakaohu area, which incorporates the digitized archaeological settlement pattern map, digital elevation model, and digitized low-level color infrared photographic images of the area. Based on our 1996-99 ground-truthing, the latter images have been analyzed for detailed vegetation and substrate patterns, allowing a fine-grained interpretation of settlement distribution in relation to major environmental variables.
Map of the Kahikinui moku, showing the locations of its eight ahupua’a.
Recently, we have expanded survey and excavation into the ahupua’a of Mahamenui and Manawainui, where field research directed by doctoral candidate Lisa Holm has resulted in the discovery and recording an of additional 700 archaeological sites. Survey work has also been carried out in the coastal sections of Luala’ilua and Alena ahupua’a.
Major Research Questions
Summarizing the results of his two-decade long research project on Hawaiian society and economy at the period of initial European contact, Marshall Sahlins writes: "Everything looks as if Hawaiian society had been through a history in which the concepts of lineage—of a classic Polynesian sort, organizing the relations of persons and tenure of land by seniority of descent—had latterly been eroded by the development of chiefship. Intruding on the land and people from outside, like a foreign element, the chiefship usurps the collective rights of land control and in the process reduces the lineage order in scale, function, and coherence. Of course, no one knows when, how, or if such a thing ever happened" (Sahlins 1992, Anahulu, Vol. 1, p. 192). What Sahlins refers to is indeed the fundamental distinction between Hawai'i, and most other Polynesian societies in which land and resources were controlled by structures of kinship. In Hawai'i a structure of kingship had emerged by the Proto-Historic Period (A.D. 1650-1795), although some would argue that this was not fully developed until the early post-contact period. Working only from the perspective of comparative ethnography, Sahlins and other ethnologists inevitably confront the problem of knowing "when, how, or if" such a change from kinship to kingship as the organizing principle of society occurred.
The issue cannot be resolved by comparative research with Polynesian ethnographic sources—no matter how refined or sophisticated—because the problem is fundamentally historical, and requires diachronic data. Archaeologists in Hawai'i have contributed significantly to a historical understanding of sociopolitical change in late prehistory. For example, we have substantial information on the demographic context of change, on the intensification of agricultural production, and on labor investments in temple architecture used to symbolically legitimate chiefship. However, archaeologists have yet to combine these varied insights into a convincing model of the emergence of the uniquely Hawaiian sociopolitical system out of an ancestral Polynesian structure. We argue that such an undertaking will require attention to the following specific research issues:
1. Regional variability within the Hawaiian archipelago. At initial European contact (A.D. 1778-79), the Hawaiian archipelago was divided among four great polities, centered on the islands of Kaua'i, O'ahu, Maui, and Hawai'i. In 1795, the Hawai'i paramount chief Kamehameha defeated Maui paramount Kalanikupule, bringing all of the archipelago from Hawai'i to O'ahu under his control. Kaua'i was soon incorporated, so that before Kamehameha's death in 1819, the entire Kingdom was under the effective control of the Hawai'i Island ruling elite. As a result, a Hawai'i-centric bias in the ethnohistoric sources has masked a great deal of variability present among the four great Hawaiian polities prior to their subjugation by Kamehameha in 1795. The more astute ethnographers allude to such variation, but such variability cannot be reconstructed from the ethnohistoric record alone. Rather, the archaeological record of late Expansion and Proto-Historic Periods must reveal the range of variations in production, political organization, ritual systems, household organization, and systems of exchange, which are of the greatest significance to understanding archipelago-wide processes of sociopolitical change. Moreover, it is vital that archaeologists not simply impose the Hawai'i-centric ethnohistoric models onto their data (as has been typical). Variability in the archaeological record must be given primacy. back to top
2. Households: structure and nature of variability. A major advance in the archaeological study of complex societies in recent years has been a focus on the household and on variability in domestic space, artifacts, and depositional contexts. In Polynesia, there is increased interest in the household as a critical unit of investigation, even though monumental architecture continues to dominate most settlement pattern analyses. Analysis of household-level variability plays a key role in our project, stemming from our theoretical position that the early stages of social transformation from kinship- to kingship-based structures will be best evidenced through increased differentiation between households.
3. Internal structure of the ahupua'a. The organizational structure whereby individual households were merged into a public economy—thereby permitting an intensification of rank and chieftainship—was the well-known ahupua'a system. In theory self-sufficient territories that cross-cut the ecological grain of an island (thereby incorporating key resource zones), ahupua'a were chiefly estates often redistributed by the ruling paramount to loyal supporters following the successful conclusion of a war of conquest. Ahupua'a, managed for the chiefs by a specialist class of managers (konohiki), were fundamental to the organizational structure of Proto-Historic Hawaiian society. Moreover, this system replaced the older (and widespread) Polynesian pattern of kin-groups with associated "houses" and ancestral estates. Hommon, Cordy, and others have suggested that the ahupua'a system developed during the Expansion Period (A.D. 1100-1650).
Understanding the organizational structure of the ahupua'a system is key to the larger research questions surrounding Hawaiian sociopolitical change. Yet the ahupua'a as such has rarely been the focus of archeological investigation, because such large units are conceived to be beyond the scope or resources of individual projects (or do not correspond with the development-imposed boundaries of most CRM projects, where resources are frequently more generous). A few projects have been conceived at the ahupua'a level, but in reality involved only partial survey coverage.
view of a mid-sized temple site (heiau) known in Naka'ohu ahupua'a.
have been thrown into high relief by Stannard's (1989, Before the Horror)
contention that the pre-contact population of the archipelago, as estimated
by the accounts of early European voyagers and missionary census reports,
has been vastly underestimated. Rather than a maximal population of ca.
250,000, Stannard suggests that a figure of as many as 800,000 is supportable
on a re-evaluation of the ethnohistoric evidence, and on a model of catastrophic
loss of life in the first few decades following European contact (due
primarily to the effects of disease for which the isolated Hawaiian population
had little or no resistance). Resolution of these debates requires new
data, principally from archaeology. For example, Stannard argues that
vast inland areas, especially on Maui and Hawai'i, were overlooked by
early voyagers (such as Cook and Vancouver) and held large populations.
Our Kahikinui study area is one such region, and we are now in a position
to construct reasonably accurate estimates of the pre-contact population
size and density; such an empirical study will greatly aid in constraining
the competing models of Hawaiian demography.
2003 J. Stock, J. Coil, and P. V. Kirch, Paleohydrology of arid southeastern, Maui, Hawaiian Islands, and its implication for prehistoric human settlement. Quaternary Research 59:000-000.
2002 S. Millerstrom and P. V. Kirch, History on stones: A newly discovered petroglyph site at Kahikinui, Maui. Hawaiian Archaeology 8:3-12.
2002 P. V. Kirch and S. O’Day, New archaeological insights into food and status: A case study from pre-contact Hawaii. World Archaeology 34:484-97.
1998 P. V. Kirch, Landscapes of Power: Late prehistoric settlement patterns and land use of marginal environments in the Hawaiian Islands. In P. Vargas Casanova, ed., Easter Island and East Polynesian Prehistory, pp. 59-72. Santiago: Instituto de Estudios Isla de Pascua, University of Chile.
1997 P. V. Kirch, Editor, Na Mea Kahiko o Kahikinui: Studies in the Archaeology of Kahikinui, Maui, Hawaiian Islands. Oceanic Archaeological Laboratory, Special Publication No. 1. Berkeley: Archaeological Research Facility. (xiv + 81 pp., 38 figs., 7 tables)
1996 P. V. Kirch and C. van Gilder, Pre-contact and early historic cultural landscapes in the Kahikinui District, Maui, Hawaiian Islands. Hawaiian Archaeology 4:38-52.
1979 P. S. Chapman and P. V. Kirch, Archaeological Excavations at Seven Sites, Southeast Maui, Hawaiian Islands. Department of Anthropology Report 79-1. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum. [x + 40 pp., 19 figs., 3 tables] (This volume presents results from the original Bishop Museum 1966 project.)
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Photos courtesy of Patrick Kirch and Lisa Holm.