Story by Samson Reiny
Photos by Dana Edmunds
In the mid-2000s, at a site just south of Shanghai, archeologists began excavating a settlement left behind by a Neolithic people called the Hemudu. An analysis of ancient plant remains and rice paddies at the site suggested the Hemudu were among the earliest cultivators of rice in the world. But it was another find— canoe paddles, one dated as far back as seven thousand years ago—that garnered the Hemudu an even greater distinction: progenitors of the most remarkable seafaring people in history. The Hemudu’s descendants would embark on double-hulled canoes and over the millennia colonize countless islands stretching thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean. One of the last of these great migrations was to a lush and remote archipelago, where these voyagers would, as their ancestors had done repeatedly throughout the ages, carve out a distinct culture. Among their many exploits was mastering kalo (taro) cultivation and establishing a dance called the hula. They would come to call themselves Kanaka Maoli, better known as the Native Hawaiians.