Many people are fond of Hawaii not only for its mesmerizing beaches, hidden waterfalls, and lush mountains, but also for its rich culture. The native culture in Hawaii attracts people from all over the world due to its captivating customs, traditions, legends, and more. In this paper, the Native Hawaiian’s views on many different cultural aspects are explored.
In order to determine the race and ethnicity of Hawaiian natives, it is important to know where the natives originated from. The natives are descendants of Polynesians who migrated to Hawaii.
The voyage came in two waves. The first wave came from the Marquesas Islands around 400 A.D., and the second wave came from Tahiti in the 9th or 10th century (Encyclopædia Britannica). Native Hawaiians have brown skin, straight or wavy black hair, and a large, fine physique. Hawaii has become one of the most racially diverse places in the world. In the 2010 census, 23.6% of Hawaii residents claimed multi-ethnic backgrounds which is more than any other state in the United States.
The native population has been declining resulting in fewer than 8,000 pure Native Hawaiians living today. Most of the people who claim to be Native Hawaiians today are less than 50% Native Hawaiian.
The political organization for the Native Hawaiians was most similar to a chiefdom. The society had a highly stratified hierarchy system. There was usually a chief called a mo’i who was typically a male and had the highest authority in all areas. The mo’i was the ultimate owner of all annual taxes.
He oversaw important religious rites and acted as leader during times of war. The kalaimoku and the kahuna nui were the two primary advisors for the mo’i. The kalaimoku acted as a chief minister, and the kahuna nui was a high priest. The ruling classes tended to be inbred. Polygyny and polyandry were practiced, especially among the chiefs (HawaiiHistory.org).
Rank descended mainly through the mother. The ali’i were lower level ranking chiefs than the mo’i. The ali’i have their status ascribed to them based off their parent’s genealogies. The power of an ali’i is much more restricted than a mo’i. Priests and highly-skilled craftsmen were in a social class called the kuhana. The largest class in the Hawaiian society was called the maka’ainana. This class refers to all the common people. These people were all the laborers and workers who performed tasks such as farming and fishing. These were the people who fought in the wars during wartime. The kauwa refers to the outcasts of the society. The outcasts are born into this position without a way to change their status.
Violence and warfare are a part of many societies, and the Native Hawaiians are no exception. In order for a chief to gain and hold territory, strategic battles were fought. The Native Hawaiian’s military was advanced yet primitive. The Hawaiians created their own Hawaiian weapons through ingenuity of their resources. For example, they used shark teeth to make slashing weapons, and swordfish swords to make daggers. The natives would make pikes, war clubs, spears, and daggers out of heavy tropical woods. The natives used innovative tactics to gain an advantage upon their opponent. The Hawaiian warriors would lather themselves in oil to make themselves more difficult to grip. The warriors would train at night so that no one would be able to learn their deadly martial art, Lua.
The martial art of Lua “emphasized bone-breaking, punching, kicking, wrestling, pressure point attacks and strangulation (AncientMilitary.com).” The natives independently developed tactics similar to tactics in Western history like pike formation without foreign influence. The Hawaiian Islands were discovered in 1778 by Captain Cook. The arrival of the Europeans did not impede on their traditional warfare techniques. In fact, the natives just incorporated the European weapons and technologies into their military tactics. Competing chiefs would purchase cannons, muskets, and steel weapons to gain an advantage over their competitors.
When it comes to religion for the Native Hawaiians, religion and political organization are interconnected. The high priest advises the ruler on how to gain support. The high priests are considered to be the founder’s direct descendant and an expert in every branch of religion. Public worship of the gods take place at a heiau which is an open-air religious center. When it comes to a design or location of a heiau, it depended on “a chief’s power to command labor and on the kahuna-architect’s traditionalism or creativity (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed).” The natives believed in supernatural forces that controlled the sky, land, and air. These forces were personified into individual gods who controlled nature and mankind through their mana. The natives believed in four principal gods, and numerous lower level gods and deities.
The four principal gods were Kane, Kanaloa, Ku, and Lono. Kane, whose name translates to “male,” was the most approachable, forgiving, and revered god of the four major gods. Kanaloa, Kane’s younger brother, was the god of squid and is associated with healing. Ku symbolized the east, the sunrise, and the right hand. Ku also united people into a single stock. Each occupation tended to have many Ku gods. Ku gods can be in different forms and “the highest form of Ku gods was invoked during national crises—war, famine, disease—after the king had first built or rebuilt a luakini where harsh and complex rituals called upon the Ku gods for aid (The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th Ed).”
Lono was the god of peace and seasonal winter storms. Lono was also a god of healing. The gods could be separated into divisions, and some of the divisions are “ghost-gods, gods-going-a-far-distance, deliberately created familiar spirits, ancestral guardian spirits, gods patronizing canoe-carving, farming gods, gods who right canoes [which are overturned], sending gods, and so on (Waimau 79).” The natives believed that objects and forces such as animals, places, families, plants, and professions had their own gods or spirits. One of the most captivating practices that the natives held is the fact that human sacrifices were a part of the culture. Human sacrifices were only made when ordered by the priest in a ritual for Ku and Ka’li, a personal god of Ku. One of the most well-known goddesses in the Native Hawaiian’s religion is Pele, the volcano goddess. Pele was believed to be violent if ignored. The arrival of Christian missionaries led to a decline in the practices of the native’s traditional religion although many of traditional religious beliefs and ceremonies still remain today.
The subsistence economy of the Native Hawaiians became very complex and specialized over time. Families began to commit to certain careers, and the career path would continue through the family line for generations. People would specialize in certain skills such as house builders, stone grinders, fishermen, canoe builders, bird catchers, hunters, roof thatchers, and more. The society became so specialized that the islands would specialize in certain skilled trades. Maui became the primary canoe manufacturer. The island of Hawai’i specialized in the production of dried fish, and Oahu was known as the majority kapa manufacturer. Kapa is a type of cloth made from tapa bark and other specific trees and shrubs. Hawaiians reliance on subsistence has continued to be substantial to the society, and it is engaged in it more than any other ethnic group.
Subsistence plays an essential economic role especially for the lower income Hawaiians, and “the fact that Hawaiians engage more in subsistence than others also provides evidence that these activities are embedded in the culture and can be explained through a history of adaptation, the development of an indigenous economy, and the maintenance of cultural traditions despite the influx of foreign lifeways (Hoff 35).” Health has always played a vital role in Hawaiian culture. In fact, the Hawaiian word for health, ola, also means life. Hawaiians were traditionally fit, and their diet consisted of a simple, high starch, high fiber, low saturated fat, low sodium, and low cholesterol diet. The main sources of protein for the society was fish, chicken, birds, hogs, squid, crab, and other seafood. After colonial influence, whales also became a commonly hunted protein source, but the main reason the whales were hunted was for whale oil.
The main leafy green vegetables in their diet included taro tops and other edible plants. The natives also used seasonings that came from many sources such as seaweed, the kukui nut, ho’io fern, and salt. Many of the occupations in the society included farmers, hunters, fishers, and gatherers. Sustenance created many jobs, and some of them were “they planted and irrigated taro patches; cultivated crops such as yams, arrowroot, or breadfruit; hunted birds and pigs; gathered vines, ferns, herbs and medicinal plants from the forests; practiced both net and deep-sea fishing; harvested shrimp, picked seaweed, and collected shellfish (Ka Hana ‘Imi Na‘auao 1).” Living on an island, the options for foods sources can be limited, but the natives made up for it by acquiring food in a variety of ways.
Hawaii is enriched with many cultural traditions. Hula dancing isn’t just for social entertainment. It is a dance with chants that has aided in keeping history, genealogy, mythology, and culture alive since before Native Hawaiians even had written language. Through hula dancing, the Native Hawaiians connect with their gods and the land by swaying their hips with a flow of hand gestures. The art form of hula dancing has two types: Hula Kahiko and Hula Auana. Hula Kahiko is the traditional style of hula tied to hula lineage with motions, voice and choreography that comes from an old place, patterned after ancient hula, and Hula Auana is the modern style of hula, usually coming from a school of hula that has a genealogy, but with new choreography and music (GoHawaii.com).
Hula dancing has continued to have cultural significance to the Hawaiian society. Now there are even hula competitions, and “the rise of hula competitions after 1971 afforded performing troupes’ venues of high prestige, further promoting interest in participation in hula (Mageo 197).” Another Native Hawaiian tradition is the art of surfing. Although the Hawaiians didn’t invent surfing, there is evidence indicating that the natives have been surfing since the 15th century. Surfing is a sport that is popular with males and females of all ages. It was such a big part of the native’s life that they would drop whatever they’re doing when the big waves started rolling in. Chiefs would compete in surfing contests with boards made out of the best materials around. Hula dancing and surfing are some of the most popular and well-known traditions, but there are many other remarkable traditions of the abundant Hawaiian culture.
The Native Hawaiians are fascinating in numerous different cultural aspects. From the human sacrifices to innovative warfare tactics to riding large waves on a large plank of wood, the natives have a culture full of unique attributes. Native Hawaiians are a culture with many gods, a political organization resembling a chiefdom, and a heavy subsistence economy. Although the population of true Native Hawaiians many be declining, this is a culture that needs to be preserved to keep the identity of one of the most interesting cultures around. The culture of Native Hawaiians is not only an amusing part of a Hawaiian vacation, but an extraordinary part of history.