In the early 1930s a group of educators, resource persons and researchers associated with the Bishop Museum were invited to give a series of lectures on ancient Hawaiian civilization at Kamehameha Schools. Representing archaelogists, scientists, Hawaiian elders, Polynesian scholars, medical physicians, and other well-informed persons, the lecturers addressed a wide-range of subjects including Polynesian migration, navigation, land use and ownership, agriculture, religion, arts, carving, warfare, sports, games, amusements, language, riddles, proverbs, astronomy and medicine. Fortunately, their lectures were transcribed and publihed in 1933 as Ancient Hawaiian Civilization.

Together with the other nineteenth-century writings of Hawaiian historians and their interpreters it quickly became the most popular English language sources available on Native Hawaiian civilization. When Ancient Hawaiian Civilization was reprinted in 1965, Dr. Kenneth P. Emroy and Marian Kelly wrote updates on Polynesian migration and navigation and land ownership based on more recent scholarship.

The spirit of Ancient Hawaiian Civilization was an important departure away from the forced English assimilation then the general hallmark of the public school system. The authors of Ancient Hawaiian Civilization sent out the message loud and strong that the young generation of Hawaiians had a responsibility to perpetuate the culture of the ancient people and to carry the torch as the future “keepers of the culture.”

“There ought always to be among you of Hawaiian blood, some persons conversant with the great traditions of Hawaii,” the authors wrote, “and some of you able to speak the language perfectly.”

Today Ancient Hawaiian Civilization still serves as an excellent primer and introduction to the Hawaiian culture.

Author: Kamehameha Schools