Cultural Importance

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) is often cited as the first place that Pele and her family landed in Hawaiʻi .  Everywhere she goes, she is pursued by her sister, Nāmakaokahaʻi, and forced to flee until eventually settling on Hawaiʻi Island, her current residence.  These traditions recount the geological formation of the islands and in order of the hotspot prior to modern science identifying these phenomena.  It also provides the migration route for Polynesians that came to Hawaiʻi.  Carbon-dating of artifacts left in the NWHI confirms settlement at about 1000 AD.  The NWHI, then, are considered a place where life comes from and to which it returns upon death.

Much of the information about the cultural importance of the NWHI is recorded in oral histories and genealogies that note the continual use of the islands by the people of Hawaii.  Regular trips by canoe were made to the NWHI for fishing, sea turtles, and seabirds up until the 1800s.  Upon arrival of western sailing ships that exploited the area, the Aliʻi recognized the importance of the NWHI with the Queens and Kings politically annexing the islands into the Kingdom.

Today, the cultural importance is being rediscovered as archeological and ethnological research have identified important areas for traditional navigation, resource collection, and use of the islands.  For more on the cultural significance of the NWHI see NOAA