After the missionaries: Historical archaeology and traditional religious sites in the Hawaiian Islands

James L Flexner, Mark D McCoy

JPS, Vol 125, No 3 pg (307-332)


Archaeology of traditional religious sites in Polynesia tends to focus on the “pre-contact” era, before religions were transformed by European influence. An historical archaeology of traditional religious sites is essential, however, for understanding the relationship between 21st-century traditional or indigenous religious beliefs and practices, and the transformations wrought during the colonial era. Traditional religion certainly did not disappear with the arrival of Christian missionaries, but there would have been some transformations. Using case studies from the Hawaiian Islands (Puhina o Lono or “Cook’s Heiau” on Hawai‘i Island and the leprosarium at Kalaupapa, Moloka‘i Island), we explore some of the ways that sacred sites were transformed in the 18th and 19th centuries. These are initial observations and we offer a number of recommendations for future research, particularly relating to the interpretation of architectural modifications and ritual offerings. The largely unexplored colonial archaeology of traditional religious sites merits a more prominent place in Polynesian archaeology.


Religious sites, historical archaeology, Hawai‘i, heiau, Captain Cook

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