Hawaiians are thought to be one race with the people of Tahiti, Marquesas, and the surrounding islands of the Pacific region. Studies have supported that the Hawaiian people closely resemble one another regarding their physical features, languages, genealogies, traditions, legends, and the names of their deities.
The first Hawaiians were Polynesians who set sail in double-hull canoes. Hawaiians were expert steers men who navigated two thousand miles north through the Pacific Ocean to find their new land.
The first Hawaiians brought the necessary supplies and food to survive the uncharted journey. They believed they were guided through their Akua (God), and with their knowledge of the stars, currents, birds, and winds, they discovered Hawai‘i. As the Hawaiians completed their long journey to the island of Hawai‘i, they were relieved to discover the new land.
They could only gasp, and Hanu nui (take a deep breath), as they set their eyes upon their new home, abundant with food and cascading waterfalls. In Hawaiian culture, the wai (water) represents creating and sustaining life for the future. The word Hawai‘i broken down translates to Hā - breath Wai - waters ‘ī - the calling by God.
As the first Hawaiians set foot upon the shore, they accepted the calling and responsibility of being stewards of the land. In appreciation of this gift from the Gods, Hawaiians established heiau (temples) all over the Hawaiian Islands. During the settlement of Hawaiians, the local population became established, adapted to their new surroundings, and gradually developed distinct cultural complexes, including unique political and social systems.
For many generations, Hawai’i continued to remain off the western map due to its remote location. Secluded from other civilizations around the world, Hawaiians knew themselves not as Hawaiians but simply as The People (kanaka maoli).
Hawaiians had a close relationship to Akua (God), nature, and the elements. Hawaiians have four major Gods that they believed in. Kāne, the eldest of the four major Gods, is known to be the creator. He was the creative parent of man and all living creatures. He is sometimes associated with dawn, freshwater, sun, and sky. Lono is the God of agriculture, farming, rain, and peace. Kū is the God of war and works of men. Human sacrifices were offered to him. Lastly, Kanaloa was a companion of Kāne. He was believed to be kolohe or mischievous. Kāne took the kuleana [responsibility] to mālama [take care of] Kanaloa to make sure he behaves properly. Together with Kāne, they opened many of the springs of waters in Hawai‘i. A famous motto of their partnership is Ka Wai Ola a Kāne [water of life of Kāne]. From these four Hawaiian Gods, the evolution of thousands of Gods and Goddesses were formed in Hawai‘i.
Each of these major Gods had its own temples, kahuna (priest), sacrifices, and sacred rituals. Heiau were places for Hawaiians to practice their religious beliefs and worship Akua (God). They are found close to ocean shorelines, inland, and on the highest mountain peak.