In the two centuries preceding the arrival in Hawai'i of Captain James Cook in 1778-79,
Hawaiian society underwent a profound transformation, with the emergence of divine kingship
and several competing archaic states. This transformation involved major departures from older
Polynesian forms of social and political organization, land tenure, economic structure, and even
religion. Drawing upon multiple lines of evidence, including comparative ethnography,
indigenous Hawaiian oral traditions (mo'olelo), and archaeology, Kirch traces our current
understanding of the historical trajectory of this dramatic transition from classic chiefdoms to
archaic states, and discusses its wider anthropological significance.
Patrick V. Kirch is the Class of 1954 Professor of Anthropology at the University of California,
Berkeley. Working in a diversity of Pacific island settings, Kirch uses islands as “model systems”
for understanding both cultural evolution and the complex dynamics between humans and their
island ecosystems. He has carried out major field projects in the Mussau Islands, Solomon Islands,
Tonga, Samoa, Futuna, the Cook Islands, Mangareva Islands, and Hawaiian Islands. Kirch has
published extensively on the results of his research. He has been elected to the National Academy
of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.
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