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Reviewed by:
  • Kua‘āina Kahiko: Life and Land in Ancient Kahikinui, Maui by Patrick Vinton Kirch
  • Michael Dega, Ph.D.
Kua‘āina Kahiko: Life and Land in Ancient Kahikinui, Maui. Patrick Vinton Kirch. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. 2014. 310pp. 77 illustrations, 3 maps, 6 tables. Cloth. $49. ISBN 978-0-824-83955-0.

This captivating volume builds upon more than 17 years of archaeological, ethnographic, geographic, and demographic research by the “Dean of Hawaiian Archaeology,” Dr. Patrick Kirch, along the dry, windswept leeward coast of Kahikinui, Maui, Hawai‘i. Kirch combines autobiographic accounts of his many years in Kahikinui with serious archaeological research in a way that is extremely accessible to a wide range of audiences. Kirch’s special relationship with the kama‘āina, or residents of the land, as well as his anecdotal prose, should make his book appeal to a general readership while still being instructive to specialists in Hawaiian archaeology, history, and the natural sciences.

Kirch herein lifts a veil from the discipline of archaeology to allow the general public to see how archaeology is conducted. The book interlinks the practicalities of field archaeology with scientific examination of material findings, building toward understanding the landscape and occupational change through time. The intensively investigated Kahikinui area of Maui exemplifies the varied details of a major research project.

The book covers many topics, but centers on Kirch’s quest to uncover the entire settlement pattern and history of a community that lived productively in a seemingly marginal, dry environment. He uses this data to defend resettlement of the area by contemporary Hawaiian beneficiaries. Archaeology and oral histories are the main tools used to understand what transpired on the landscape, here presented in a narrative of the past lifeways of Native Hawaiians who settled these lands over a 400-year period.

Multiple threads are woven throughout Kirch’s autobiographic sketch of his time in Kahikinui, including his desire to understand the past through the stone structures and cultural materials left behind, the traditional lore of the area, and the battle of contemporary residents to reoccupy these lands. The self-reflexive account provides a nice memoir for Kirch’s many students who worked at various points during the project’s long duration, but it works most powerfully as a record of one of Hawai‘i’s longest-running archaeological projects. This research has intense relevance for the Native Hawaiians who today live on these lands. The archaeological record presented in this book proves what Native Hawaiians have been saying all along in their discussions with government officials: “Our ancestors thrived in this environment and so can we.” They just need water!

This research is compelling not only because of the questions being explored and the methods of obtaining answers, but also because of the almost Pompeii-like nature of the archaeological landscape, from coastline to uplands. The sites are exceptionally well preserved, as if they had been frozen in time. As Kirch succinctly states about this extremely rare situation, Kahikinui “is one of the few places in the islands where an entire moku can still be viewed, explored, studied, more or less in the state that it had been for centuries. . . . In Kahikinui one can still see, not just disjointed fragments of this past time, but how an entire landscape once functioned as an integrated socio-ecosystem” (p. 261). In brief, Kahikinui presents great potential for research across a large, unspoiled swath of land reminiscent of older Hawai‘i prior to the physical, economic, social, and political transformations of the modern era.

The saga of the maka‘āinana (commoners) living in Kahikinui is threaded throughout the book. Indeed, those from the ‘āina (land) are the true beneficiaries of the knowledge gained through the research. Today, the descendants of those who built and occupied this landscape since the a.d. 1400s are reclaiming the lands of their ancestors. Archaeological sites across the landscape are given meaning through painstaking study by Kirch and his many students who worked on the [End Page 229] project over the years. This meaning is ascribed to changes in the social and natural environments. In the end, Kirch shows that these windswept lands were indeed home...