Isles of Hiva: Prehistory and Archaeology

Photo right: Paepae: A Stone Foundation for a House



photo of Paepae: A Stone Foundation for a HousePeriods of Hivan prehistory were devised by Robert Suggs after his work in the islands from 1956-58 and elaborated upon by Yoshihiko Sinoto in the 1960's and 70's.

Settlement Period (150 B.C. to 100 A D.): Artifacts from the earliest period of settlement suggest that the first settlers lived near the sea and depended heavily on marine resources for survival, rather than on farming or livestock (Sinoto). Arti facts include fishooks, sinkers, and adzes. Pottery fragments suggest the first settlers came from the Lapita cultural area in Western Polynesia, or that there was contact between Western and Eastern Polynesia. Few utensils for preparing vegetables for co oking have been found from this early period. No pig or chicken bones have been found; a dog's tooth, but no dog bones, have been found; bones of fish and turtle, as well as seabirds such as the shearwater, petrel and booby dominant the midden. These anim als were probably the main sources of protein.

Developmental Period (100 A.D. to 1200 A.D.): The settlers began to spread inland. New types of fishhooks and adzes are found. A greater number of peelers, scrapers, and pounders for land-grown vegetables suggest the growing reliance on horticultur e. Breadfruit became an important part of the diet. Pig and dog bones have been found, though not in great quantity. (Dogs eventually became extinct in the isles of Hiva.)

Expansion Period (1100 A.D. to 1400 A.D.): Eventually, the population spread to all habitable space, including the interior of valleys. Raised platforms (paepae) for houses begin to appear, and fortified sites suggest competition for resources may have led to warfare. Shellfish and human bones begin to dominate the midden; charred human bones suggest cannibalism. Pig bones were also found, while pottery disappears. The basic material culture appears stable for over 1000 years (Rolett). Similarities in implements suggest contacts with the Tuamotus and the Society Islands (Ottino 15).

Classic Period (1400 A.D. to 1600 A.D.): After 1400, certain religious and ceremonial structures, some of monumental size, were built. Tohua (paved public plazas) and large stone tiki are characteristic of this classical period. Terraces and irrig ation ditches for growing taro also appeared. These were apparently built in order to increase food production to feed an expanding population (Ottino 15).

Archaeological remains include the following:

1. Paepae: stone platforms, usually rectangular, that formed the foundation for traditional houses.

2. Ua ma: These pits for fermenting breadfruit were dug in clay soil, usually near houses. A communal tribal pit in Taipivai on Nuku Hiva was "eighteen feet in diameter and at least thirty feet deep" (Linton 103).

3. Tohua or taha ko'ina: Stone dance plazas, once used as community sites for festivities. These sites were constructed by the haka-iki, or chiefs, and could accomodate hundreds, even thousands of of particpants (Ottino 33).

4. Me'ae: sites kapu for religious ceremonies. Me'ae consisted of platforms, walls, and pavements. They were located in secluded spots. The remains of chiefs and priests were often kept at these sites (Ottino 36). Human sacrifices were offered to insure v ictory in war, or to break a drought, insure a good harvest, or cure illness of an important person. Sometimes sacrifices were offered on other occassions, such as the consecration of a new canoe or a new house for a chief, chiefess, or priest; or to hono r some great chief or priest; or to celebrate the completion of the tattooing of a chief's son (Handy Native Culture 240). "Feia'u" (cf. Hawaiian "heia'u" or temple site) referred not to the temple as a whole, but to "small temporary structures at both pu blic and private sacred places." These small, temporary structures were erected for various rites such as rites performed in honor of a chief's first-born child or marriage rites (Handy Native Culture 236).

5. Tiki: Wood and stone images representing powerful, protective ancestral figures; these images were placed at me'ae to aid in worshipping of the deified ancestors; some of the tiki were quite large, as high as 10 feet. According to Linton, there is a "c lose resemblance in body and leg treatment between the Hawaiian tiki and Marquesan tiki (93).

6. Pa (cf. Hawaiian pa, or enclosure): a defensive site, used as a place of refuge or to cover the approach to a valley. Only a few stone walls of such sites still remain; those forts with barriers of timber have disappeared. (Linton 20)

7. Petroglyphs: drawings on the surfaces of rocks are found at various sites in the islands.