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Arriving in Hawaii from 300-750 A.D., the first Polynesians were said to be explorers who used our constellation system to navigate in their journeys. Much of ancient Hawaii is has been put together anthropologically and recollected through oral tales passed down through generations but the essentials of ancient Hawaiian life are as follows:
Theories say the name Hawaii comes from the two words Hawa (traditional homeland) and i'i (small and raging). No one knows the exact origins of original Hawaiians though it is debated whether they were of Maori, Tahitian or Samoan descent.
Traditionally, the Hawaiian diet staple was poi, a sticky purplish substance made from the corm of the root of taro plants mixed with water. Poi was the main starch in their diet, replacing bread, potatoes, or rice. Due to its unique qualities, poi was the central item in the Wai'anae Diet Program, causing an average 17 pound reduction in the weights of obese patients (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).
Societal structure was run by the kapu system, which gave rules for nearly every life situation. Order was kept in the Hawaiian society through these rules which governed interactions between men and women and established the class order. The four classes of people were the ali'i (chiefs), kahuna (priests, skilled craftsmen, chiefs advisors), maka'ainana (commoners), kauwa (outcasts).
Land division in ancient Hawaii resembled feudal Europe of the Middle Ages. The most common unit of land, called Ahupua'a, stretched as parcels from the sea to the mountains. The practicality in this was that ruling chiefs could access existing resources to farm, fish and hunt. The elimination of the ancient land division system was a major factor in the fall of the kapu and class system of old Hawaii.
Before Christianity, ancient Hawaiians had a complex system of gods and goddesses that bear similarities to the Greek and Roman deities. Called 'Aumakua (ow-ma-ku-a), the four primary gods were called Ku (war), Kane (life/gods), Lono (farming/peace), and Kanaloa (water/underworld. Each god had their own respective animal representations, foods, offerings and prayer. Pele, the most commonly known goddess of lava, volcanoes and fire was one of the numerous demigods that were derivations of the main ones. Hawaiians worshipped their gods in heiaus (hei-ows) some of which can still be seen today.
Unification of the Hawaiian islands by King Kamehameha I ended the tribal warrings converted numerous chiefdoms into one large kingdom in 1795. By 1819, the kapu (known to westerners as the taboo) system was abolished by King Kamehameha II (Liholiho) who established the new era of "free eating" ('ai noa), where women and men would for the first time be able to eat at the same table.
The period of 'ai noa now marked the end of ancient Hawaii in its entirety.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|