How the history of Hawaii foretells the future of the Earth

There are eight main Hawaiian Islands, created by erupting lava in a universe of ocean, just as there are eight planets (sorry Pluto) adrift in space. Hawaii is easily the world’s most isolated landmass, and the last to feel the footprints of humankind—by the Marquesans from Polynesia around 200 A.D.

The Marquesans were followed by the dominant Tahitians in 700 A.D. Using celestial navigation, these mariners sailed 2,500 miles across unchartered seas in outriggers, carrying livestock and 23 “canoe plants.” The Tahitians made the 5,000-mile round-trip journey for five centuries, bringing with them more plants and animals and people. Then, around 1200 A.D., these return voyages stopped, and the for the next 500 years (count ’em) the Hawaiians were alone on their island planets in the middle of the Pacific—all 65-million square miles of it.

Kings Trail

Why did the migrations stop? Some say it’s all about the ahupua’a (ah-hoo-poo-ah-ah). An ahupua’a is the section of land required for Hawaiian villages to exist—it is a stream valley with agricultural terraces that open to a beach and is fringed by mountains and forests. An ahupua’a has all the ingredients for life. Once all these prime villiages were established, newcomers were unlikely to be welcomed.

Petroglyphs on the Big Island

We will never know what would have happened to Hawaii had Captain James Cook and his crew not arrived in the late 1700s—the last place on earth to be ‘discovered’ by Western Civilization. In subsequent decades, the Hawaii population was decimated by diseases. In 1898, the U.S. unlawfully annexed the internationally recognized Hawaiian Nation.

But an alternate-universe history of Hawaii may not have been all that rosy. Upon Cook’s arrival, the population of the islands was nearing a million, not that far below what it is today. Inter-island wars had persisted for a couple of centuries. Although the armies (men and women) of the ruling class, the Ali’i, were astounding physical specimens, early reports by Westerners tell of common people malnourished and living in fear of the kapu, a system that brought justice in the form of a swift club for minor rule violations. Kamehameha was on his way to conquering all the Islands (though Kauai has never been defeated in battle ), and perhaps he would have succeeded, bringing peace and homeostasis to the Hawaiian Nation, but no one knows for sure.

Fish Pond at Mauna Lani Resort

In Hawaii, Aloha means many things—but it also means one thing: people living and working in balance with nature to sustain life in perpetuity. The Hawaiian understanding of sealife, plantlife, and building habitable space out of the jungle is complex. It is based upon sustaining the ahupua’a, which in turn sustains the Islands. The ability to grow is limited, and the ability to consume is finite. Many centuries may pass before the earth reaches the state that Hawaii was in the late 1700s. But today’s Earthlings would be smart to study the Hawaiian way of life—which was (is) extremely practical and organized, yet synced directly with art and religious beliefs.