- Kua‘āina Kahiko: Life and Land in Ancient Kahikinui, Maui by Patrick Vinton Kirch
Patrick Kirch remains one of the eminent scholars on Hawaiian archaeology. His work leads the field. This book ultimately makes some important contributions to his legacy, the most important of which is the testing of his theory that “the marginal lands” of Polynesia have become “hotbeds of historical dynamism” (p. xvi), using his years of field research in Kahikinui on the island of Maui as a case study.
Kirch undoubtedly proves his point regarding the significance of archaeological peripheries. The significance of this claim reaches far beyond this text and academia. Areas like Kahikinui, which remain rich with integrity due to the lack of development, may be poised for greater protection as a result of foundations Kirch establishes herein. In this regard, this text is a must-read for archaeologists and cultural resource managers. Communities and policy makers should be paying attention.
Kirch’s strength remains research. In the preface, he explains that he “tried to give a sense of what it has been like to do field research in this kua‘āina landscape” (p. xvii), and he accomplishes this. This text chronicles seventeen years of research in Kahikinui and his engagement with the community there. This book should be a must-read text for any course in archaeology in Hawai‘i or the Pacific. It should be required for any permitted archaeologist in Hawai‘i.
Kirch theorized that these peripheral areas would be significant to understanding traditional Hawaiian living. His seventeen years of dedicated fieldwork uncovers a tremendous amount of data, much of it gathered from house sites. He writes:
… suffice it to say that the many months spent mapping, digging, sifting, and studying the scraps of stone, bone, and shell from those Kahikinui house sites has opened a window on the world of the maka‘āinana who made that windy land their home. It has revealed something of … how they structured their lives in their humble kauhale, the menfolk offering prayers to the ‘aumakua, men and women cooking their sweet potatoes in the separate imu, yet eating together in their hale noa (even as they roasted fish and other foods in separate hearths). The picture that emerges of this habitus—this practice of everyday life—is [End Page 220] in its main outlines consistent with the accounts of Davida Malo and Samuel Kamakau. Yet the habitus of these country folk had its own peculiarities, as with eating in the hale noa. Studying these sites has reinforced my belief that archaeology can add important insights into ancient Hawaiian lifeways that are not recorded in the classic written sources.(p. 133)
This insight that archaeology, and empirical science generally, can serve to offer additional viewpoints that enrich contemporaneous understandings of pre-contact traditions, emphasizes the potential for collaboration between varied fields of study. This method is known as makawalu, literally “eight eyes,” but figuratively the term means to see something from many perspectives. The hope is that more archaeologists, ecologists, researchers from other fields will begin to see how they can work in collaboration with communities and traditional texts to build enriched historic records of pre-contact societies.
The author makes considerable strides towards this effort in this book with his recounting of the community’s engagement with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. Articulating the modern struggle Hawaiians face in maintaining traditional activities and accessing land is an important part of the discursive narrative that is often excluded from academic texts; I am pleased to see it included here. The ‘ohana of Kahikinui add a richness to the text too often missing from these accounts, especially when written by western authors. Ultimately, the story of Kahikinui is Hawaiians’ to tell and Kirch seems to understand that—my hope is that other authors begin to follow suit.
An author’s engagement with community voices should be seen as an initial step for American scholars, but it should...