Hawaii’s history in story and legend is ancient and proud, dating back at least a thousand years before American colonies became a nation in 1776. It is highly unlikely that the exact date when Polynesian people first set foot on these previously uninhabited islands will ever be known, nor much details about events occurring between that date and the first contact with Europeans.
The Hawaiians were a people without writing, who preserved their history in chants and legends. Much of the early history has disappeared with the death of the kahunas and other learned men whose function it was to pass on this knowledge, by means of chants and legends, to succeeding generations.
Modern Hawaiian history begins on January 20, 1778, when Captain James Cook’s expedition made its first contact with the Hawaiian people on the islands of Kauai and Niihau. Captain Cook was not the first man to “discover” the Hawaiian Islands. He was the first known European to arrive.
The language of Hawaii and archaeological discoveries indicate that Hawaii was settled by two distinct waves of Polynesian migration. Cook himself knew that the original Polynesian discoverers had come from the South Pacific hundreds of years before his time. First, from the Marquesas, came a settlement as early as 600 or 700 AD, and then from the Society Islands, another migration about 1100 AD. Lacking instruments of navigation or charts or any kind, the Polynesians sailed into vast oceans. They staked their knowledge of the sky and its stars, the sea and its currents, the flight of birds and many other natural signs. They were superior seamen of their time.