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I Kahiki ke Ola: In Kahiki there is Life, Ancestral Memories and Migrations in the New Pacific

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posted on 2021-11-15, 13:22 authored by Emalani Case

While exploring different topics and issues—examining everything from the importance of our Pacific genealogies, to the analysis of Hawaiian language literature, to the power of prophecies and predictions for the future, to the need to be reflexive in the creation of culture, and finally to the act of building a nation—each chapter of this thesis is connected by one shifting concept: Kahiki. Furthermore, they are joined by the idea that there is life to be found there. As an ʻōlelo noʻeau, or a Hawaiian proverb, states, “Aia ke ola i Kahiki,” “Life is in Kahiki”. This adage has served as the foundation of this research and each chapter has been written with the belief that there is life—in the form of reconstructed knowledge, new interpretations, and growing understandings—to be found in Kahiki.  Encapsulated in this one term are our ancestral memories of migration. When islanders traveled to different parts of the Pacific region, they maintained knowledge of their homelands. Although the names of these homelands differ throughout the Pacific, the concept is the same: islanders knew that their life in a particular place, a particular group of islands, was dependent on other places and peoples that although out of sight were never completely out of memory. After generations, however, the specificity of these “homelands” was blurred, and one name came to represent the genealogical connection that people shared with other places in the Pacific. What was Pulotu for some, therefore, became Hawaiki for others, and eventually became Kahiki for my ancestors in Hawaiʻi. Thus, Kahiki became a general term for all lands in the region outside of Hawaiʻi, and more importantly, became a way for Hawaiians to explain their existence to themselves. In later generations, however, particularly when people from other parts of the world came to Hawaiʻi, Kahiki became a term used to refer to all lands beyond Hawaiʻi’s shores.  This thesis, therefore, studies the life of this one concept through time: looking at it as part of our Pacific genealogies, as presented in oral traditions; examining it as a means of making nationalistic statements, and sometimes, even as a means of justifying colonialism in the nineteenth century; and then exploring contemporary articulations and engagements with Kahiki, particularly in the era following the Hawaiian renaissance, when a group of men on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi built a single-hulled canoe, brining tools, teachers, and knowledge from Kahiki to give new “life” to their people. Studying the way this one concept has shifted through time provides a means of understanding how people in each generation used one term to make sense of their experiences. Furthermore, it gives us the chance to examine our contemporary movements and to reengage with Kahiki in a way that will empower us to do and be more for our people, our region, and the world.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Pacific Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Va’aomanū Pasifika

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Teaiwa, Teresia; Adds, Peter