The Māori name Hawaiki refers to the mythical land to which some Polynesian cultures trace their origins. It may also refer to an underworld in many Māori stories, and in Mangaia in the Cook Islands. Tregear (1891:392) records that the Cook Islands Maori word Avaiki only means "underworld". Buse however (1996: 90) in his dictionary Cook Islands Maori Dictionary with English Finderlist (edited by Bruce Biggs and Rangi Moeka'a almost a century after Tregear's work) writes this entry for 'Avaiki:

'Avaiki, prop. n. Hawaiki, the legendary homeland of the Polynesians. I tere tū mai rātou mei 'Avaiki. They voyaged direct from Hawaiki.


The Māori name Hawaiki figures in legends about the arrival of the Māori in Aotearoa (New Zealand). The same concept appears in other Polynesian cultures, the name appearing variously as Hawaiki, Havai‘i, or ‘Avaiki in other Polynesian languages, though Hawaiki or Hawaiiki appear to have become the most common variants used in English. Even though the Sāmoans (themselves forming one of the oldest communities in Polynesia) have preserved no traditions of having originated elsewhere, the name of the largest Sāmoan island Savai‘i preserves a cognate with the word Hawaiki, as does the name of the Polynesian islands of Hawaii (the okina denoting a glottal stop that replaces the "k" in some Polynesian languages).

Other cognates of the word Hawaiki include sauali'i ("spirits" in Sāmoan) and hou'eiki ("chiefs" in Tongan). This has led some scholars to hypothesize that the word Hawaiki, and, by extension, Savai'i and Hawaii, may not, in fact, have originally referred to a geographical place, but rather to chiefly ancestors and the chief-based social structure that pre-colonial Polynesia typically exhibited (Taumoefolau 1996).

In Easter Island, the name of the mythical home country appears as Hiva. According to Thor Heyerdahl Hiva allegedly lay east of the island. Sebastian Englert records:

He-kî Hau Maka: "He kaiga iroto i te raá, iruga! Ka-oho korua, ka-û'i i te kaiga mo noho o te Ariki O'Hotu Matu'a! [Translation:] "The island towards the sun, above! Go, see the island where King Hotu Matu'a will go and live!"

Englert puts forward that Hiva lies to the West of the island. The name "Hiva" is found in the Marquesas Islands, in the names of several islands: Nuku Hiva, Hiva Oa and Fatu Hiva (although in Fatu Hiva the "hiva" element may be a different word, ʻiva).


According to various oral traditions, Polynesians migrated from Hawaiki to the islands of the Pacific Ocean in open canoes, little different from the traditional craft found in Polynesia today. The Māori people of New Zealand trace their ancestry to groups of people who reportedly travelled from Hawaiki in about 40 named canoes (waka) (compare the discredited Great Fleet theory of the Polynesian settlement of New Zealand). However many stories also quote New Zealand as hawaiki. The bountiful land.

Polynesian oral traditions say that the spirits of Polynesian people return to Hawaiki after death. In the New Zealand context, such return-journeys take place via Spirits Bay, Cape Reinga and the Three Kings Islands at the extreme north of the North Island of New Zealand — giving a possible pointer as to the direction in which Hawaiki may lie.

Modern science and practical testing of theories

Until recently, many anthropologists had doubts that the canoe-legends described a deliberate migration, preferring to believe that the migration occurred accidentally when seafarers became lost and drifted to uninhabited shores. In 1947 Thor Heyerdahl sailed the Kon-Tiki, a balsa-wood raft, from South America into the Pacific in order to show that humans could have settled Polynesia from the eastern shores of the Pacific Ocean, with sailors using the prevailing winds and simple construction techniques.

However, DNA, linguistic and archaeological evidence indicates that the Austronesian-speaking peoples (including the Polynesians) probably originated from islands in eastern Asia, possibly from Taiwan, and moved southwards and eastwards through the South Pacific Ocean. The common ancestry of all the Austronesian languages of which the Polynesian languages form a major subgroup, supports this theory. This evidence indicates that at least some of the migration occurred against the prevailing winds, and hence deliberately rather than just accidentally. Austronesian and Polynesian navigators may have deduced the existence of uninhabited islands by observing migratory patterns of birds.

In recent decades, boatbuilders (see Polynesian Voyaging Society) have constructed ocean-going craft using traditional materials and techniques, and have sailed them over presumed traditional routes using ancient navigation methods, showing the feasibility of such deliberate migration.

See also



  • Buse, J., Taringa, R., Cook Islands Maori Dictionary With English Finderlist, edited by Biggs, B. and Moeka'a R. (1996), 90. Canberra: The Australian National University.
  • M. Taumoefolau, "From *Sau 'Ariki to Hawaiki". The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 105(4), (1996), 385-410.
  • E.R. Tregear, Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay), 1891.

External links

  • Hawaiki in Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

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