Project Report PR-96-02
Water: Its meaning and management in pre-contact Hawaii
Robert W. Franco
Since Wittfogelºs controversial theory linking irrigation with “oriental despotism,” western archaeologists have focused a great deal of attention on early forms of irrigation and water management. During the late prehistoric period in ancient Hawaii, irrigation and other water management practices supported the sociopolitical evolution of a proto-state formation, and archaeological interpretations of these developments have dominated the literature. This report uses the archaeological Data as a point of departure in an analysis of the meaning and management of water. Woven into the archaeological Data is an analysis of Hawaiian chants, legends, and proverbs in an attempt to better understand the meaning of water to the indigenous people of the Hawaiian islands. This report is based on the premise that intraisland (windward – leeward) and interisland (geological – hydrological) variation produced localized meanings of water, particularly as they were related to the characters of Kane, Kanaloa, Lono, and Ku. Further, these meanings changed over time, largely in relation to population growth, production intensification, and increasing sociopolitical complexity.