© 2023 Hawaiʻi Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Episode 30: The zenith of the Hawaiian population with Dr. Sam Gon

The 1500s to the 1800s witnessed the zenith of the Hawaiian population and the flourishing of society, says Dr. Sam Gon.

“That’s when the more sophisticated rituals, the more sophisticated kapu, the ahupua‘a system were perfected—all of these mechanisms for dealing with lots of people on the land in a limited island system.”

Farmers lived near their fields, fishermen near the sea. Ideas were shared between islands, the arts blossomed, and even warfare, says Gon, was highly managed, accountable to the gods, and ceased during the Makahiki season.

“We had hundreds of thousands of people thriving in this archipelago before Western contact. The majority of them were down along the coast and covered only about 15 percent of the total land area. And that’s not a number pulled out of the hat: we have the archeological evidence, we have the traditional oral sources, we know where the ancient trails were, and when you put that all together, you find that 15 percent would see to all the needs of hundreds of thousands of people, some say approaching a million. One hundred percent self-sufficient, absolutely no contact with anywhere else on earth and yet not only surviving but thriving.”

But in the 1770s, on the other side of the world, preparations were occurring for a journey that would open the door for radical change.

researcher, writter, and narrator of Aloha Aina. She is currently an editor at Hawai‘i’s largest magazine, Hana Hou!, where she has written and edited numerous award-winning articles about Hawai‘i. She was the founding editor of Honolulu Weekly. She holds a BA in Pacific history and journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and a JD from Stanford Law School.
More Episodes