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How Chiefs Became Kings

Divine Kingship and the Rise of Archaic States in Ancient Hawai'i

Patrick Vinton Kirch (Author)

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In How Chiefs Became Kings, Patrick Vinton Kirch addresses a central problem in anthropological archaeology: the emergence of “archaic states” whose distinctive feature was divine kingship. Kirch takes as his focus the Hawaiian archipelago, commonly regarded as the archetype of a complex chiefdom. Integrating anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, traditional history, and theory, and drawing on significant contributions from his own four decades of research, Kirch argues that Hawaiian polities had become states before the time of Captain Cook’s voyage (1778-1779). The status of most archaic states is inferred from the archaeological record. But Kirch shows that because Hawai`i’s kingdoms were established relatively recently, they could be observed and recorded by Cook and other European voyagers. Substantive and provocative, this book makes a major contribution to the literature of precontact Hawai`i and illuminates Hawai`i’s importance in the global theory and literature about divine kingship, archaic states, and sociopolitical evolution.
Patrick Vinton Kirch is Class of 1954 Professor of Anthropology and Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of many books, including Feathered Gods and Fishhooks and On the Road of the Winds (UC Press).
“Concise, but data-rich and sophisticated in its dissection of social theory.”—Norman Yoffee Times Literary Supplement (TLS)
“Kirch and Marshall Sahlins are the two current giants in the field of Hawaiian studies. Kirch cements his reputation in this book with his most comprehensive overview of aboriginal Hawaiian social, economic, and political evolution to date. . . . A rich and wide­ranging summation and elegant refinement of all his past themes––here we see the master at the top of his game.”—Paul D’Arcy Anthropos
“[Kirch’s] argument is . . . complete and compelling. . . . This is an important book, and everyone with a serious interest in Hawaiian history should read it.”—Thomas A. Woods, Executive Director, Mission Houses Museum Hawaiian Jrnl Of History
“Written in a very accessible fashion, this book is as much for the general public as it is for professional researchers.”—Choice
"With unparalleled knowledge of Polynesia's history, ecology, languages, and archaeology, Patrick V. Kirch shows us how, when, and why Hawaiian society crossed the gulf from chiefdom to state. Elegantly crafted and eloquently stated, this compelling case study offers a model for understanding state emergence and the origins of divine kings."—Joyce Marcus, University of Michigan

"This volume masterfully synthesizes diverse sources of evidence to richly document a key episode of political change in the Pacific. Historical, archaeological, linguistic, and a wealth of other data are effectively woven together to argue that an archaic state was founded prior to European contact on the island of Hawaii. Professor Kirch deftly and systematically integrates these empirical resources to elucidate how multiple causal factors operating over the short- and long-term prompted this political shift. The richness of the materials under study enables the author to enhance our perspective on this long-discussed episode of cultural change and how it can be understood at multiple spatial and temporal scales. The book is destined to become a key resource for both scholars interested in the deep history of Pacific peoples as well as researchers investigating preindustrial chiefdoms and states."—Gary M. Feinman, The Field Museum

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