Natural History of Hawai`i


Being an Account of the Hawaiian People, the Geology and Geography of the Islands,
and the Native and Introduced Plants and Animals of the Group


Honolulu, Hawai`i, The Hawaiian Gazette Co., Ltd. 1915


Professor of Zoology and Geology in the College of Hawai`i; Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Member, The American Ornithologists Union; National Geographic Society; American Fisheries Society; Hawaiian Historical Society; Hawaiian Entomological Society; American Museums Association; National Audubon Society; Seven Years Curator of Ornithology in the Bishop Museum, etc.



CHAPTER I: Coming of the Hawaiian Race

Hawaiians the First Inhabitants—Polynesian Affinities—Evidence of Early Immigration—Traditional and Historical Evidence of Early Voyages—Ancient Voyages—Animals and Plants Brought to Hawaii as Baggage—Double Canoes—Provisions for Long Voyages—Steering a Course by the Stars— Establishment of the Hawaiian Race

CHAPTER 2: Tranquil Environment of Hawaii and Its Effect on the People

Natural Environment and its Effect on the People—Kona Weather—Temperature—Effect of the Trade Winds—Altitude and its Effect on Climate— Rains in Hawaii—Effect of a Sufficient Amount of Food—Inter-lsland Communication—Inter-tribal War—Agriculture and the Food Supply—The Fauna and Flora Explored by the Hawaiians—Food and its Effect upon the People—Important Foods of the Natives—Response of the Natives to their Environment

CHAPTER 3: Physical Characteristics of the People; Their Language, Manners and Customs

Splendid Stature and Physical Development of the People—Clothing of the People—Cleanliness—Effect of their Life in the Open Air—Their Language —The Alphabet—Genealogy and History—Meles and Hulas—Marriage—Polygamy—Marriage Among Persons of Rank—Infanticide—The Descent of Rank—The Tabu

CHAPTER 4: Religion of the Hawaiians: Their Method of Warfare and Feudal Organization

Religion Among the Hawaiians—Idol Worship—The Future State—Heiaus—Warfare—Temples of Refuge—Preliminary to a Battle—The King and His Power—Sorcerers—The Nobility, Priests and Common People—The King and the Land—Taxes

CHAPTER 5: The Hawaiian House: Its Furnishings and Household Utensils

Complete Domestic Establishment—Building of a House—House Furnishings —Household Implements

CHAPTER 6: Occupations of the Hawaiian People

Agriculture Among the Hawaiians—Taro Growing—Agricultural Implements—Irrigation—Planting and Harvesting a Crop—Taro and Its Uses—Poi, Sweet Potatoes and Yams—Breadfruit—Bananas—Fiber Plants, Wauke, etc.— The Manufacture of Tapa—Tapa Making a Fine Art Among Hawaiians—Mat Making—Lauhala Mats—Makaloa Mats—Fishing—Salt Manufacture

CHAPTER 7: Tools, Implements, Arts and Amusements of the Hawaiians

The Stone Age—Whet-stones—Rotary Drill—Implements of Stone, Bone and Shell—Ornaments of Feathers—The Kahili—Leis—Medicine Among the Hawaiians—Implements of Warfare—The Hula—Musical Instruments—Boxing the National Game—Wrestling—Spear Throwing-—The Primitive Bowling Alley—Summer Tobogganing—Gambling—Cock Fighting—Children's Games—Surf-Riding



CHAPTER 8: Coming of Pele and an Account of the Low Islands of the Group

Pele's Journey to Hawaii—Legend and Science Agree—Geographical Position of the Islands—The Leeward Islands—Ocean Island—Midway—Gambler Shoal—Lisiansky—Laysan—Maro Reef—Dowsett Reef—Frost Shoal—Gardner—French Frigates Shoal—Necker—Nihoa

CHAPTER 9: The Inhabited Islands: A Description of Kauai and Niihau

Hawaii-nei—Position of the Inhabited Islands—Niihau—Kaula—Lehua—Kauai, the Garden Island—Shore-Line—Waialeale — Lava Soils — Secondary Volcanic Cones—The Canons of Kauai—Valleys and Waterfalls—Region of Napali—Barking Sands—Spouting Horn—Caves

CHAPTER 10: Island of Oahu

Oahu, the Metropolis of the Group—A Laboratory in Vulcanology—Dimensions and Outline of the Island—Honolulu Harbor—Pearl Harbor—Koolau Range— Waianae Range—The Pali—Work of Erosion—Smaller Basaltic Craters and Tufa Cones—Diamond Head—Punchbowl—Elevated Coral Reefs—The Age of Oahu—Black Volcanic Ash—History of Diamond Head—The Geologic History of Oahu—Artesian Wells—Economic Products—Brick—Building Stone—Lime—Points of Geologic Interest About the Island

CHAPTER 11: Islands of Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Kahoolawe

The Position and Relation of Molokai, Maui. Lanai and Kahoolawe—Molokai Described—Valley of Halawa—Mapulehu Valley—The Leper Settlement—Lanai—Kahoolawe—Maui, the Valley Isle—Iao Valley—"The Needle"—Summit of Puu Kukui—Outline of Maui—Haleakala—Plan of East Maui—Trip to the Summit of Haleakala—The Great Crater Described—Sunset Seen from the Summit—Kaupo Gap—Floor of the Crater—History of Haleakala—The Last Eruption

CHAPTER 12: Island of Hawai`i

Size and Position of Hawaii—The Youngest Island of the Group—The Kohala Range—Waipio and Waimanu Valleys—Hamakua Coast—Summit of Mauna Kea—The Ascent of Mauna Kea—Hualalai—Eruption of 1801—Mauna Loa—Early Exploration of the Mountain—History of the Important Eruptions of Mauna Loa—Earthquake of 1868—Amount of Lava Poured Out in the 1907 Flow—Work of Hawaii's Volcanoes

CHAPTER 13: Kilauea, the World’s Greatest Active Volcano

Geologic History of Kilauea—Kilauea an Independent Crater—Dimensions of the Crater—An Exploded Mountain—Rise and Fall of the Liquid Lava—Explosive Eruption of 1789—Condition at the Crater in 1823—Eruption and Flow of 1840—Eruption of 1892-94—Activity in 1902—Activity in 1907—Account of a Visit to Kilauea in 1909—The Journey—First Glimpse of the Crater—Steam Cracks—Sulphur Beds—Kilauea-iki—Keanakakoi—Descent Into the Great Crater—Heat Cracks—Spatter Cones—The Pit of Halemaumau by Day and Night—Side Trips from the Crater—Fossil Tree Moulds—The Road to Honuapo—Kona District

CHAPTER 14: Condensed History of Kilauea 's Activity

Brief Chronology and History of Kilauea from the Earliest Records of Its Eruptions Down to the Present, with Dates and Observations on the Condition of the Lava in the Crater of Kilauea and the Pit of Halemaumau



CHAPTER 15: Plant Life of the Sea-Shore and Lowlands

Plant Life of the Sea-Shore and Lowlands—The Island Flora—Sources—Number of Genera and Species—Endemic and Introduced Plants—Variation in the Flora from Island to Island—Floral Zones: The Lowland Zone—Common Littoral Species—Plants from the Sea-Shore to the Edge of the Forest—Introduced Plants—Grasses

CHAPTER 16: Plant Life of the High Mountains

Plants of the Lower Forest Zone—Native Fiber Plants—Sandalwood—The Middle Forest Zone—Giant Ferns—The Upper Forest Zone—The Silversword—The Mountain Bog Flora




CHAPTER 1: The Coming of the Hawaiian Race


Hawaiians: the First Inhabitants


The Polynesian ancestors of the Hawaiian race are believed to be the first human inhabitants to set foot on Hawaii's island shores. Inasmuch as the group comprises the most highly isolated island territory on the globe, it seems logical to infer that this sturdy race must have migrated to Hawaii from other lands. By tracing the relationship of the original inhabitants it has been found that they belong to the same race as the natives of New Zealand, Samoa, Marquesas, Society, Tonga and other islands in the southern, central and eastern Pacific.


That all the native people found over this vast Pacific region are the scattered branches of one great race, springing from a common ancestral stock, has been demonstrated in many ways. The marked similarity in the manners and customs, language and religion, as well as many peculiar physical characteristics and intellectual traits common to the inhabitants of the widely scattered Pacific islands just mentioned, leaves little doubt in the minds of those who have studied these people of the Pacific, as to their racial affinities.





The splendid physique of the people, their well-shaped heads, attractive features and kindly eyes are well shown by the photographs and indicate the strong individuality and lovable character of the race as a whole. Old Hawaiians, especially of the better class, possessed a high type of Polynesian culture that embraced a thorough and useful knowledge of their isolated environment. At the time of their introduction to European civilization, many among them were intimately acquainted with their own history and genealogy, as well as with the fund of information concerning their traditions, myths, arts, occupations and practices; moreover they possessed a store of knowledge about the islands and their natural history that at once won for the race the respect and admiration of their European benefactors.


Polynesian Affinities


Collectively, this group of Pacific Islanders has been called by Europeans the Polynesian Race, a reference to the many islands inhabited by them. The exceedingly vexed question as to the genesis of the race as a whole and the

fixing of the place from whence the progenitors of the dark-skinned kanaka people entered the Pacific has long been a subject of interesting discussion.


Since the genesis of the race is by no means a settled question it will not be profitable in this connection to dwell upon the matter farther than to say that the origin of the Polynesian race has been traced by different writers, in different ways to various places. North, South, and Middle America, as well as Papua, Malay, China, Japan and India, have each in turn been declared the cradle of this widely distributed people and each made responsible, directly or indirectly, for their presence in the Pacific Ocean.


While it is probable that the origin of the race, as a whole, will always be shrouded in doubt, there is little uncertainty as to the more immediate ancestors of the Hawaiian people. All their various affinities seem to point unerringly in the direction of the islands to the south of us. Although the Society and Samoan Islands, which are the nearest islands in any direction at present inhabited by this race, are more than two thousand miles distant, they, without doubt, form the stepping stones over which the early immigrants passed—if they are not the actual points of origin of the migrations that resulted in the settling of the Polynesian race on this, the most remote group.


Evidence of Early Immigrations


That the race existed here ages ago, perhaps far beyond the traditions of the people, is believed by some to be proven by certain geologic evidence. Whatever the geological facts may be. and the data thus far secured is by no means conclusive, the traditions of the people are more certain. They throw much light on the antiquity of the early voyages of the race and point far back into the shadowy past. Their genealogies, which were handed down from father to son with remarkable accuracy, also contribute much information that can be accepted as reasonably authentic and historic, and give a fair basis for measuring time, especially during the past four or five centuries. The comparative study of genealogical records has brought to light proof of many obscure points that had to do with the history and wanderings of the race as a whole, but their traditions are especially clear with reference to the Hawaiians themselves.


Traditional and Historical Evidence of Early Voyages


Those who have studied, the history and traditions of the Polynesians as a people regard Savaii, in the Samoan group, as the most likely center of dispersal. It is probable that at least one of the bands of early voyagers that settled on these, then presumably unpeopled islands, came from that group in very ancient times—perhaps as long ago as 500 B.C. Just why these early wanderers set out on the long perilous journey over unknown seas will never be known. It is suggested that they may have been forced from their early homes by war and driven from their course by storms. But since there was no written language, the historian, as already stated, is forced to rely for his data on legends, traditions, genealogies and such other meager scraps of information as are available.


Unfortunately, of the very early period scarcely a reliable tradition exists. We are therefore left free, within a certain measure, to construct for ourselves such tales of adventure, privation and hardship as seem sufficient to account for the appearance of the natives in this far-away and isolated land. We know that the first voyages, like many undertaken in more recent times, must have been made in open boats over an unfriendly and uncharted ocean. We know also that they survived the journey and found the land habitable when they came.


To the dim and uncertain period covering the several centuries that followed, many great primitive achievements have been ascribed. Amongst them are such tasks as the building of walled fish-ponds, the construction of certain great crude temples, the making of irrigation ditches, and the development of a distinct dialect, based of course, on their ancient mother tongue. But at last, after the lapse of centuries, perhaps many centuries, this long period of isolation and seclusion ended and communication was once more resumed with the rest of the Polynesian world.

Ancient Voyages

It is reliably recorded in the traditions of the race, but more especially in those of the Hawaiian people, that after many generations of separation from the outside world, communication was again taken up and many voyages were made to Kahiki—the far-away land to the south. From this time on the story of the people becomes much more definite and reliable. We not only know that intercourse was resumed between Hawaii and the islands of the South Pacific, but the names of several of the navigators and the circumstances, as well as the time when their journeys were made, also incidents of their voyages, have come down to us. In some cases the same mariner is known to have made more than a single journey. Naturally the exploits of the brave navigators of the race were made matters of record in the minds of the people and handed down from father to son in numberless songs, stories and traditions. As a matter of fact, there is evidence to prove that during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of our Christian calendar there came an era of great unrest throughout the whole of Polynesia and a great number of voyages were made to the remote parts of the region. In fact it is asserted in the tradition of the people that "they visited every place on earth." This broad statement seems to indicate that to the Polynesian mind the world was confined to Oceanica. as they appear to have known nothing of the great continents which surrounded them on every side. At any rate, there is on record a considerable list of these voyages and an equally long list of the places where they landed, accompanied by incidents of their wanderings.


Animals and Plants Brought to Hawaii as Baggage


Our special interest in the natural history of the plants and animals of Hawaii makes this period of Pacific travel of unusual importance. It was at this time that most, if not all, of the useful plants and animals that had followed the race in their various wanderings were brought as precious baggage with them to these islands from over the sea.


Any one who has experienced the difficulties and disappointments encountered in transplanting a young breadfruit tree from one valley to another, will appreciate in a measure the difficulties that must of beset the Hawaiians in transporting living cuttings of this delicate seedless plant from far off Kahiki to these islands, yet it is practically certain that not only was the breadfruit brought here in this manner but also the banana, the taro, the mountain apple, the sugar-cane and a score or more of their other important economic plants. The wild fowl, the pig and the dog were also brought with them in the same way, in very early times, and were in a state of common domestication over the group when the islands were first visited by the white race.


Naturally there were many references in Hawaiian and Polynesian tradition to these long and tempestuous voyages. When all the circumstances surrounding these rugged feats of daring and adventure are considered, it is not too much to say that the race to which the ancient Hawaiians belonged is worthy of a special place among the most daring and skillful navigators of all times. To this day their prowess and aptitude in matters pertaining to the sea is such as to command the admiration and respect of all.






The house shown is in a valley near the stream and is surrounded by a few useful trees and plants, including the cocoanut, mountain apple, banana and taro. The small terraced taro ponds nearby are supplied with water drawn by ditches from the swift, rocky stream. In the extreme distance, the valley is crossed by a trestle carrying a modern irrigation flume.



Double Canoes.


The making of the large canoes employed in their important journeys by the use of stone tools alone, was by no means an ordinary task. Aside from the descriptions of their canoes handed down to us in their traditions, we know that a century ago there existed in these islands the remains of war canoes, such as we are told were used in those early voyages, that were seventy feet in length by more than three feet in width and depth, capable of carrying seventy persons from island to island. What is still more remarkable the hull in each case was carved from a single giant koa log.


The selecting of a suitable tree from among its fellows in the mountain forests, the felling and shaping of it by means of the crude stone implements of the time, and the subsequent transporting of the rough-hewn canoe to the sea by main strength, was an undertaking not to be lightly assayed; but the executing of a 2,000-mile voyage in such a craft seems almost incredible. In this connection it is well to remember that the early Polynesians made not only single canoes of monstrous proportions, but double ones by lashing two together and rudely decking over the space between them. In this ingenious way they made a craft capable of carrying a large number of people and a goodly supply of provisions.


Provisions for Long Voyages.


It is probable that in their more extended voyages, especially when they were voluntarily undertaken, the natives used the double canoe and provided the craft with a mast to which they rigged durable sails made of mats. The legendary mele telling of the coming of Hawaii-loa states that during live changes of the moon he sailed in such a craft to be rewarded at last by the sight of a new land ever after called Hawaii.


As to the supply of provisions it is to be remembered that the Polynesians have several kinds of food capable of being preserved in a compact form. The cocoanut, either fresh or dried, was an invaluable article of food, while dried fish and squid are not to be despised. The taro, breadfruit and sweet potato, or yam, are articles of daily diet, capable of being transported in an edible condition for great distances at sea. Besides cocoanut water, in the nut, to drink, they had utensils for storing fresh water and it is probable that they provided themselves with calabashes and wooden bowls specially prepared for use on their long sea journeys.


Steering a Course by the Stars


As they were expert fishermen and exceedingly hardy seamen the perils of the deep were considerably minimized. Add to this their intimate knowledge of the food to be found living everywhere in the sea at all seasons and their acquaintance with the habits and methods of capture, as well as skill in the preparation of such animals and plants as they esteemed as food, and we must conclude that they were by nature well fitted for such journeys. With such substitute food as the sea would furnish, always at hand, it was possible for them to travel far and suffer but little, for they were able to eat, not only such fresh and dried food as we have mentioned, but to relish many creatures of the sea in a raw state—as flying-fish, squid and seaweed—that would scarcely be thought of as food by a more fastidious people. Moreover, in making these journeys they were able to roughly guide their course by the stars, the sun and the moon, as they had a crude but working knowledge of astronomy. In addition to this they had a number of traditions, telling of mysterious lands, far away beyond the horizon, that served them both as an inspiration and an assurance, besides being useful to them in many ways in their practical navigation.


Establishment of the Hawaiian Race


Great care was always exercised in selecting the proper place and season for setting forth on their journeys. Once having made a successful voyage they were particular to start from the same spot in making similar journeys thereafter. In this way the south point of Hawaii as well as the southern end of the little island of Kahoolawe came to be known as the proper points from which to embark on a journey to Tahiti.


There is but little doubt that in those times they were expert navigators, who in addition to being able to guide their courses at sea by the stars, also knew the art of steering their canoes in such a fashion as to catch and ride great distances on the splendid long ocean swells, after the manner of the surf riders of less adventurous times.


Just how these striking feats of navigation were accomplished we may never know. At any rate there is every reason to believe that they were performed. We do know, however, that the perils attending them were safely passed, the difficulties of the journeys surmounted, and that those who performed them lived to tell the tale of their daring to their children, and they to their children's children. We know that through them in time the Polynesian race came to occupy a new land, established the Hawaiian people and built up a crude though worthy civilization.   Back to Contents


CHAPTER 2: Tranquil Environment of Hawaii and Its Effect on the People


The Natural Environment.


Without dwelling further on the remote and uncertain period which had to do with the origin and early migration of the Hawaiian people, it will be fitting to briefly consider the race in connection with their natural environment. It is well within the purpose of this sketch of the natural history of Hawaii to treat of the people as the native inhabitants, and for that reason we shall dwell upon their primitive and interesting native culture rather than their more recent political history.


In dealing with the race as a natural people it will be of interest to enumerate some of the various forces of nature among which they developed for centuries, since without doubt their environment helped to make the race what it was at the time of its discovery,—a swarthy, care-free, fun-loving, superstitious people, with a culture that, now it has been more fully studied by unbiased ethnologists and is better understood, has at last gained for the ancient Hawaiians, not only the respect, but the admiration of their more highly-cultured and fairer-skinned brothers.


Kona Weather and Trade Winds


One of the most important physical influences that has affected the people is the climate. Although the Hawaiian Islands lie at the northern edge of the torrid zone, their climate is semi-tropical rather than tropical, and is several degrees cooler than that of any other country in the same latitude. The temperature is moderate, at least ten degrees below the normal owing to the influence of the cool northeast ocean currents. The delightfully cool northeast trade wind, which is obviously the principal element in the Hawaiian climate, blows steadily during at least nine months of the year. During the remaining months the wind is variable, and occasionally storms with heavy rains that blow from the southwest, producing what is known as "Kona" (Southerly) weather. Taken through a long period, the temperature at sea level rarely rises above 90 degrees during the hottest day of the year, and seldom falls below 60 degrees for more than a few hours at a time, with the mean temperature fluctuating about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The difference between the daily average midsummer and midwinter temperature is about 10 degrees. With reference to human comfort the temperature excels for its equableness. This fact, coupled with the refreshing trade winds that sweep over thousands of miles of cool ocean and the bright and genial warmth of the tropical sun, produces the climate of Paradise—a condition found in no other region on the globe.





1. Hawaiian boy with wavy hair. 2. Hawaiian girl with straight hair; the holoku or dress is of a style introduced by the early missionaries; the lei of necklace of flowers is of introduced red and white carnations. 3. & 4. Typical children of the country villages.


Altitude and Its Effect on Climate


In fact the Hawaiian language had no word for "weather," as it is usually understood. Nevertheless, a remarkable difference in climate is experienced in passing from one side of the islands to the other, or from lower to higher altitudes. The northeast, or windward side of the group, which is exposed to the trade winds, is cool and rainy, while the southwestern or leeward side is, as a rule, much drier and warmer. The most important variation, however, is due to altitude; the thermometer falling about four degrees for every 1,000 feet of ascent. It is therefore possible to look from the palm groves that bask in tropical warmth along the coast of Hawaii to the highest mountain peak of the group (Mauna Kea, 13,825 feet) to find it frequently snow-capped, particularly during the cooler months. As to rainfall, similar variations occur. At Honolulu the average precipitation is thirty-eight inches, at the Pali, five miles away in the mountains, 110 inches; while at Hilo, on the north side of Hawaii, it is nearly twelve feet. If the group is taken as a whole, almost every variation from warm to cold, wet to dry, windy to calm, may be found.


Effect of a Sufficient Amount of Food


The direct influence of these facts on the character of the people, however, is rather obscure. Aside from the bearing it may have had on their clothing, food and shelter it is indeed difficult to trace. Although it is the general opinion that a warm climate is not liable to be conducive to a higher culture, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary here and elsewhere, and considering the insular position of the Islands, their limited food supply, the lack of raw materials for manufacture, the absence of such metals as iron and copper and the want of domestic animals as beasts of burden, the Hawaiians achieved a remarkably high stage of development before their discovery. The degree of their development is especially shown, as we shall see, by the thoroughness with which they had explored their environment and utilized the natural raw materials which it supplied.


The easy tropical conditions, as well as the unsettled political state which surrounded them originally, were not necessarily conducive to the highest physical or mental achievements. According to Blackman, the regular recurrence of a sufficient amount of food to supply their needs may also have prevented the development of the traits of thrift and frugality that are so inbred in the races of the north. There is no doubt that the bright, warm, cheerful climate had its influence on their temperament, their health, and their home life, by diminishing the relative importance of permanent shelter, by enticing the people out of doors; and also on their morality, as we interpret it, by rendering clothing the thing least required for bodily comfort.


Inter-Island Communication.


Another important point in their environment was the fact that the inhabited islands were sufficiently numerous and near enough together to influence one another decisively, yet far enough apart to make inter-island communication difficult. The group was far enough removed from other groups to prevent frequent migrations and small enough to render a wandering life and contact with other people and tribes impossible. At the same time they were just far enough away from each other to satisfy the natural human desire for travel, adventure and experience.


Inter-Tribal Wars.


The valleys on the various islands constituted natural divisions of the land that had a marked influence on the government of the people by district chiefs who were frequently at war with one another. To offset this there were intertribal and inter-island marriages enough to produce a uniform stock throughout the group. This interchange of blood and ideas was most beneficial in bringing about the homogeneity and compactness necessary to preserve inherited habit and secure the persistence of traditions, customs and the learning of the whole people.


Agriculture and the Food Supply.


Although the valleys are usually fertile, they are limited in extent. The soil though rich, varies greatly in productiveness, and being of a porous nature, needs much water to render it valuable for the various pursuits of agriculture. To meet this demand, extensive irrigation systems were built and used by the native farmers. Besides the valley lands, there are broad tracts of rough lava and dry upland country that were of little use to the aborigines with their primitive methods of agriculture. In brief, the conditions were such as to require much labor and skill to produce sufficient food from the soil to supply their wants. For this reason, among others, their life was not the one of indolence it is sometimes thought to have been, yet conditions were uniformly more favorable to life in Hawaii than were those met within certain other groups in the Pacific to which Polynesians migrated and settled, presumably as they did in these islands.


Fauna and Flora Explored by the Hawaiians


So much must be said of the animals and plants in another connection that, though they form an important feature of environment, it will suffice here to note the salient facts. The flora furnished trees for the construction of their canoes and houses, the implements of their warfare and peaceful pursuits, the raw material for the manufacture of their clothing, nets, calabashes, medicines, and above all, a sufficient amount of wholesome food throughout the year to provide for their sustenance.


The most important animals existing on the islands at the time of their discovery by the whites were the swine and the dogs, both of which were freely used as food. There were domestic fowls of the same species as were common throughout the Polynesian islands. The waters about the group provided a never failing supply of fish food. The insects were all inconspicuous and harmless. The only game birds, as ducks and plovers, were not abundant, while the reptiles were represented by a few species of small, inoffensive lizards that were of little importance.


The Hawaiians were preeminently an agricultural people with a natural love for the soil and its cultivation. They had an appreciation of the beautiful in flower and foliage that has had an abiding influence on their homes and home surroundings. They were also skilled fishermen. The lack of animals, domestic or wild, other than the few species mentioned, prevented them from following the hunting and pastoral life, and as a result they were settled in permanent villages, usually along the coast.


Since there were no noxious insects, poisonous serpents or dangerous birds or beasts of prey, there was no occasion for the alertness and constant fear that so frequently makes life in a tropical country a never-ending strain if not an actual burden.


Food and Its Effect on the People.


While the chiefs and the more prosperous of the people were well supplied with meat, the common people had it only at rare intervals. They were forced to subsist on a diet chiefly vegetable, which was lacking in variety, and, although fat-producing, was also diffuse and bulky. To the character of their food may be attributed the habit of alternately gorging; and fasting, which was so common a trait of the ancient Hawaiians, and which is believed to have resulted in the abnormal development of the abdomen, formally so noticeable among them.


Although taro was the staff of life in Hawaii, sweet potato, or yam, also figured largely in the every day diet of the common people. Though meat was never abundant, as has been stated they were not entirely without animal food. Fish was always available, and certain kinds were often eaten raw. Fowl, pork and dogs were occasionally to be had as a change and were much esteemed as delicacies. The poi-dog, when carefully fed and fattened on poi, was regarded as even more delicious in flavor than pork. Dogs always formed an important dish at the native feasts and on such occasions large numbers of them would be baked in earth ovens.






1. Scraping and preparing a pig (puaa) for baking. 2. The earth oven (imu) hollowed out and filled with heated stones ready for the food. 3. The imu filled and closed; the heat and steam bakes the food which is wrapped in ki or banana leaves. 4. The food baked and ready to be eaten, 5. Pounding poi on a "double" board (papa kui poi), which is a shallow trough made of hard wood; "single" boards were also common. About the grass house may be seen cocoanut palm trees in the rear, papaya trees to the right and left and a small noni tree at the end of the house.



Response of the Natives to their Environment.


Looking broadly at their environment it may be said that the most decisive factors in the surroundings of the Hawaiian race were isolation, the evenness of the climate and the conditions which made the pursuit of agriculture a necessity. The latter induced a more regular and constant activity and more settled life than is found among a hunting and roving people, and in connection with the other conditions mentioned it had an important bearing on the temperament of the race. The isolation, even temperature, and always sufficient food supply must have had their effect in producing a patient, tranquil. self-reliant mind—a satisfied disposition—an even temper—a settled attachment to the soil—an aptitude and faculty for the development of their peculiar forms of learning, and above all, habits of life and customs of dress that were peculiarly suited to and the result of the gentle demands of their environment.   Back to Contents


CHAPTER 3: Physical Characteristics of the People; Their Language, Manners and Customs


Stature and Physical Development of the People


At the time of the discovery of the Hawaiians they were physically one of the most striking native races in the world. Moreover, they were distinguished as being among the kindest and most gentle mannered of people, and but for the oppression of their priests and chiefs, they would undoubtedly have been among the happiest.


As a race they were tall, shapely and muscular, with good features and kind eyes. In symmetry of form the women have scarcely been surpassed, if equaled, while the men excelled in muscular strength, particularly in the region of the back and arms.


The average height of an adult Polynesian is given as five feet nine and a third inches, and the Hawaiians were well up to, if not always, that average, while individuals of unusual size, often little short of giants, were not uncommon among them. There is an authentic record of a skeleton found in a burial cave that measured six feet seven and three-quarters inches in length, and there is sufficient evidence to establish the fact that men of even larger stature were by no means unusual. Instances of excessive corpulency have been common among Hawaiians, especially among the chiefs who were always better nourished than were the common people. Having plenty to eat and little to do, they grew large and fat. This tendency to corpulency, as has been elsewhere noted, was, however, more common among the women. Many of them were perfectly enormous in size, but this is not to be wondered at since the Hawaiian ideal of female loveliness includes stoutness of figure as a fundamental requisite.


The natives, before their mixture with foreigners, were a brown race, varying in color from light olive to a rich swarthy brown. Their hair, usually raven black, was straight, wavy or curly, but never kinky. Their lips were of a little more than medium thickness, with the upper lip slightly shortened. This gave to the mouth a peculiar form that is characteristic of the race. Their teeth were sound, regular and very beautiful, a fact frequently ascribed to the character of the food they ate. The nose, a rather prominent feature, was in most cases broad and slightly flattened. The eyes of the pure-blooded Hawaiian were always black and very expressive. Their foreheads were usually high, and perhaps a trifle narrow in proportion. In general, their features were strong, good-humored, and in many instances, when combined with their splendid physiques, produced a striking and impressive personality that gave the impression of their belonging to a very superior race.


Clothing of the People.


At the time of their discovery the men wore the malo, a plain piece of tapa cloth, about the loins in the form of a T bandage. The women wore the pa'u of tapa, which was a simple piece of bark cloth, wrapped about the waist, to form a short skirt, that hung down to the knees. While the foregoing were the usual articles of dress they were by no means averse to answering the call of their environment by stalking about naked or nearly so, if a pretense offered. They were fond of certain kinds of adornment, particularly flowers, using them as garlands about their necks or as wreaths about their heads. The children while often wearing flowers about their necks, went otherwise unadorned until six or eight years of age.




Although the Hawaiians wore their tapa cloth clothing as long as it would hold together, the people as a whole took great pride in personal appearance and cleanliness. They were fond of ornaments and were skillful in their manufacture. Both sexes wore ornaments fashioned from shells, nuts and ivory about their heads and shoulders in addition to the flower garlands just mentioned. While tattooing was indulged in as a form of decoration its use in this respect was not carried to the extent that it was among the New Zealanders or the Marquesians. Its principal use in Hawaii was to denote rank or lineage, to brand a slave or sometimes as a token of mourning.


Although the chiefs were markedly superior physically and otherwise, when compared with the common people, they were, nevertheless, descendants of the same race. The difference in stature and capability which they exhibited seems to have been the natural result of their environment. Being better fed, having more leisure, and relieved of the burdens of living and in many ways pampered and protected, they escaped the marks that exposure, excessive toil, hunger, fear and superstition invariably stamp on the less fortunate of every race.


Life in the Open Air


The unusually salubrious Hawaiian climate stimulated the habit of out-of-door life, which was almost universal. The native huts were used chiefly as sleeping places and for protection from the rain. Their aquatic, athletic and sea-going habits were the growth of the open-air life they led. The love of frequent bathing, the nearness of the sea and the necessity of securing at least a part of their sustenance from the ocean, all combined in making them the most powerful and daring swimmers in the world and developed among them, perhaps, the world's most expert and intelligent fishermen.


Their Language and Alphabet


Their language was singularly deficient in generic and abstract terms, but to make up for this general deficiency it was especially rich in specific names of places and things, most of which were derivatives that were full of meaning, frequently taking account of nice distinctions. Broadly speaking the Hawaiian language was little more than a simple tribal dialect of the Polynesian tongue that was spoken with much uniformity in a large number of the Pacific island groups. In fact, there is less variation in meaning and pronunciation of the language throughout Polynesia than exists today between the Spanish and Italian tongues. Besides the language of every-day life there was a style especially appropriate for oratory and another suited to the demands of religion and poetry. Since there was no written language, not even a picture language, at the time of which we write, one of the first acts of the American missionaries was to reduce their speech to writing. For this purpose only five vowels, A, E, I, O, U, and seven consonants, H, K, L, M, N, P, W, were found necessary. In the use of these twelve letters the European pronunciation of the vowels was adopted.


The letter A is sounded as in arm; E as in they; I as in machine, and U as in rule. The diphthong AI, resembles the English ay, and AU has the sound of ow. The consonants were sounded as in English except that K is sometimes exchanged for T, and the sound of L confounded with K and D.


The dearth of consonants and the over-plus of vowels gave to the spoken language such openness, fluidity and richness as to be particularly noticeable to persons unacquainted with the tongue. By some this peculiar quality of the spoken language, by reason of its intellectual indefiniteness, perhaps, is believed to represent, or at least reflect, the open, frank character of the people who developed it.





1. The nose flute player and hula dancer. 2. Hawaiian house on a raised stone platform. 3. Making fire by the ancient Hawaiian method: a hard stick of olomea (Perrottetia Sandwicensis) is rubbed in a groove on a soft piece of hau wood until the friction ignites the tinder-like dust that accumulates in the end of the groove. 4. A temporary house made of sugar-cane leaves. In the foreground taro and tobacco are shown, to the left a papaya, while in the background lauhala, banana, breadfruit and cocoanuts may be seen.



Genealogy and History


Their legends and traditions, many of them identical with those found in other groups in Polynesia, as has been stated, were handed down, generation after generation, by a highly honored class of genealogists and bards. Each family or clan had its respected historians and poets, and generally the position of genealogist, at least, became hereditary, to be handed down from father to son. It was the especial office of the genealogist to keep and correctly transmit the historical records of chiefly unions, births, deaths and the achievements of the more important people of their community.


In this way much of the history of the people, as well as many of their legends and much of their historical beliefs, superstitions and practices, have come down to us in fairly accurate form, often from very remote times.


Meles and Hulas


Their meles and hulas were the supreme literary achievements of the ancient historians and poets, and, as their subjects were diverse, they vary much in substance and character. Many are folk songs; some are of a religious order, being prayers or prophecies; others are name songs, composed at the birth of a chief, in his honor, recounting the exploits of his ancestors; the dirge was a favorite form of composition; others again are mere love songs, and still others are composed to or about things and places.


Although they are without rhyme or regular meter, as it is generally understood, many of them are strikingly poetic in spirit. A single example taken almost at random from the many excellent translations given by my friend. Dr. N. B. Emerson, in his book on the Hula, may serve to illustrate their appreciation of the poetic side of nature as well as to demonstrate their natural descriptive power and literary gift.


By way of introduction, we should know that Koolau is a district on the windward, or rainy, side of the Island of Oahu and that the stanza given is one taken from one of the many songs for the hula ala'a papa. It is but an episode from the story of Hiiaka on her journey to Kauai to bring the handsome prince Lohiau to the goddess Pele. Hence,—

"Twas in Koolau I met the rain;

It comes with lifting and tossing of dust,

Advancing in columns, dashing along.

The rain, it sighs in the forest;

The rain, it beats and whelms like the surf;

It smites, it smites now the land.

Pasty the earth from the stamping rain;

Full run the streams a rushing flood;

The mountain walls leap with the rain.

See the water chafing its bounds like a dog,

A raging dog, gnawing its way to pass out."

Many find a suggestive parallelism of expression in the Hawaiian meles comparable with the Hebrew psalms, others to the rugged poetry of Walt Whitman. No better illustration of this dignified form of Hawaiian poetry can be found, perhaps, than the passage from the dirge, "In the Memory of Keeaumoku," as preserved by the Rev. William Ellis:

"Alas, alas, dead is my chief.

Dead is my lord and friend;

My friend in the season of famine,

My friend in the time of drought.

My friend in my poverty,

My friend in the rain and the wind.

My friend in the heat and the sun,

My friend in the cold from the mountain.

My friend in the storm.

My friend in the calm,

My friend in the eight seas,

Alas, alas, gone is my friend,

And no more will return.”

As so frequently happens with people gifted with a lyric talent, the Hawaiians were also possessed of an extraordinary musical talent. There were many among them at the time of their discovery that sang with skill, after their own fashion, and they were by no means slow to acquire the technique of our own more intricate written music, a fact which soon revolutionized their form of musical expression.




Passing now to the more domestic customs of the people it may be said that among the Hawaiians, marriage was entered into with very little ceremony, except, perhaps, in the case of a few of the more important chiefs. Among all classes the relations among the sexes were very free and it is difficult to determine, with accuracy, what the exact condition was originally with reference to chastity. All the evidence goes to show that the habits of the people in this regard were far better formerly than they afterwards became. Whatever may have been brought about by the coming of white men, and we refer to the hardy seamen of the early days, it is a mistake to assume that wholesale promiscuity existed originally among them comparable to the debasing type found among certain classes in our own scheme of social civilization. Although there was much freedom on the part of both parties in the marriage relation and scarcely any restraint at all among the young previous to entering the more settled domestic arrangement, it is an error to suppose that there was an absence of a definite marital relationship, accompanied by well understood obligations between the parents and their offspring.




By such Hawaiians as could afford and command more than one wife, polygamy was practiced to some extent, rather more as a mark of distinction and affluence than otherwise. The poor and dependent condition of the mass of the common people, if there had been no other reasons, prevented the practice from becoming widespread among them. It is a curious and interesting fact in this connection to note that the Hawaiian called all of his relatives of the same generation as himself "brothers" and "sisters," and those of the next older—"fathers" and "mothers"; those of a younger generation "sons" and "daughters," and so on. This tendency is taken by some as indicative of the uncertain relations that existed among them, since brothers, to a certain extent, shared their wives in common, and sisters their husbands. But the marital form, where one man and one woman habitually cohabit, while yet indulging in other attachments, was the rule among them at all times and in all classes as is clearly shown by the earliest recorded facts on the subject.


It is known that in certain instances betrothals were arranged by parents and friends while the children who were the principals in the arrangement were still quite young. Among the common people, as distinguished from the chiefs, marriage was largely a matter of caprice, but among the chiefs it was a subject of serious concern, involving matters of state, public policy, position and power. Especially was this true at the mating of women of rank, since rank, position and inheritance descended chiefly, though not wholly, through the mother. For example, the offspring of a woman of noble birth would inherit her rank despite the rank of the father. But the children of a father of high rank would fail to retain their position if born to a woman of inferior position.


Marriage Among Persons of Rank


For this reason reigning families were careful to examine into the genealogy of those who were liable to join themselves with members of the more exclusive families. For reasons of policy, brothers were forced on rare occasions to marry sisters, that there might be no question as to the rank of their children.


While there was no set wedding ceremony the event was often made an excuse for a feast; and frequently, particularly among the common people, the bridegroom declared his choice by throwing a piece of tapa cloth over the bride in the presence of her relatives, or less frequently by their friends throwing a piece of tapa over both bride and groom. It is an astonishing fact, that with the exception of marriage, almost every act in the life of the people was celebrated with prayers, sacrifices and religious ceremonies. It cannot be doubted, therefore, that the marriage tie was a loose one, lightly assumed and lightly put off, and depended largely for its duration on the will of the husband. As might be expected, separation was of frequent occurrence among them: and while fond of their children, after time had given opportunity for an attachment to develop between parent and child, it was never-the-less a widespread practice among them, for mothers to part with their babies at birth, giving them freely and without reserve to relatives or friends who might express a wish tor the child.






1. A sturdy old native in characteristic European dress. 2. The Hawaiian warrior Kamehameha I. From a monument in front of the Judiciary Building in Honolulu, erected, during the reign of King Kalakaua, one hundred years after the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain Cook. The statue, by an American artist, is a composite based on a painting of Kamehameha by a Russian artist and supplemented by photographs of the finest types of modern Hawaiians. The figure is shown wearing the helmet (mahiole) made of wicker-work covered with feathers; a long cloak (ahuula) of feathers attached to a fine net work of olona; about the chest and over the shoulders is draped the malo of Umi, also made of feathers on an olona foundation. About the loins is tied the common tapa malo—the covering worn by the men of ancient Hawaii when at work; in the left hand is the spear (newa), the chief implement of warfare. The Honolulu statue is a duplicate of the original which was lost in a wreck on the voyage to Honolulu. The sunken statue was subsequently raised and now stands in the court yard at Kohala, Hawaii. Four pictures in bas-relief about the base of the monument (not here shown) represents (a) canoes greeting Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay; (b) six men hurling spears at Kamehameha; (c) a fleet of war canoes built for the invasion of Kauai, and (d) men and children on the roadside. 3. Muscular young Hawaiian.





There can be no doubt but that infanticide was prevalent among them and that a very large percent of the children born were disposed of in various ways by their parents, soon after their birth. Generally speaking, it appears that in Hawaii, as throughout Polynesia, the struggle for existence and life's necessities, was largely evaded by restricting the natural increase in population in this way. Whatever the cause may have been for this unusual restriction, it is quite generally admitted to have been an effective one so far as keeping the population down to where a comfortable subsistence could be had by all who were permitted by their parents to live past the perilous period of early infancy. From the purely economic point of view this artificial check was most beneficial. Freed from crowding by overpopulation, the primitive community need not live under the scourge of grinding poverty. By limiting the size of the family to the means and ability of the parents to provide, there could be enough for all.


Direct reasoning led them, therefore, to free themselves from the irksome necessity of providing more or dividing less, by restricting the increase in population to a point well within the apparent normal food supply. My friend, Dr. Titus Munson Coan, without upholding the crude methods employed in adjusting the two important factors mentioned, feels the freedom which the people enjoyed from the necessity of providing, to be the main cause of the unusual development of the genial and generous traits of the Hawaiians, and in it finds the principal source of their marital happiness. Other writers account for the practice of infanticide among the Hawaiians on the unpardonable ground of laziness—unwillingness to tike the trouble to rear children. But as we are told that parents were fond of their children and parental discipline was not rigorous, and as children were left largely to their own devices, their care could hardly be regarded as a serious burden; moreover, more girl children were destroyed than boys, indicating that the former reason was the more economic and, therefore, the more human and logical one. On the other hand it may be urged that a certain amount of brutality was always exhibited toward their own kind. The old and physically unfortunate among the common people fared roughly at the hands of the community.


Old age was despised. The insane were often stoned to death and the sick sometimes left to die of neglect or, less frequently, were put to death by their relatives.


Descent of Rank


While the descent of rank through the female line gave women a place of unquestioned importance in their social scheme and often elevated her to the highest positions in the political order, it did not save her from certain forms of social degradation directed irrevocably at all her sex. For example, her sex was excluded from the interior of their chief heiaus. At birth she was more unwelcome than her brother and more liable to be summarily sent to the grave. She was the object of the most oppressive of the regulations of the tabu system. She must not eat with men or even taste food from an oven that had been used in preparing food for them. She was not allowed in the men's eating houses, and several of the choicer food products of the islands were absolutely forbidden her. Such delicacies, for example, as turtle, pork, certain kinds of fish, cocoanuts and bananas, were reserved by the tabu for the exclusive use of the male sex. But as a sort of compensation the men attended to the preparation and cooking of the food, and women were allowed the privilege of accompanying and aiding their husbands and brothers in battle. They could manufacture bark cloth without fear of competition by the men, and they could engage in the practice of medicine, as they understood it, on equal terms with the sterner sex.


The Tabu


Reference has just been made to their tabu system. A cursory examination of it will show what a far-reaching, serious and exceedingly complicated system of penal exactions and regulations it was. No one, not even the king, was altogether free from its influence, and the common people were made to bow to its dictation at every turn of their daily lives. As an institution, the system was both religious and political, in that the violation of the tabu was a sin as well as a crime. As a punishment for its infraction the offender was liable to bring down the wrath of the gods, and they were numerous, as well as bring about his own death, which was often inflicted in an exceedingly cruel and barbarous manner. This extraordinary institution, although common throughout Polynesia, was worked out to a finer detail, and more sternly enforced in Hawaii, perhaps, than in any of the Pacific islands. For the present purpose it would be tedious to sketch the system in anything more than a general way. Suffice to say that the tabu was the supreme law of the land. In its final analysis it was a system of religious prohibition founded on fear and superstition, the interpretation and use of which was in the hands of a powerful and unscrupulous priesthood, the kahunas, who were supported with all the physical power that the kings and influential chiefs could bring to bear.


Some of the tabus were fixed and permanent, being well understood by all the people. Many such there were relating to the seasons, to the gods and to oft-repeated ceremonies. Others were special, temporary and erratic, leaving their inception in the will or caprice of the king or the pleasure of the kahunas. Some of the more burdensome were specific and directed against certain persons or objects. For example, the persons of the chiefs and priests were tabu - as were the temples and the temple idols. Some in effect were exceedingly rigid requirements, others partook more of the force and importance of regulations. There were four principal tabu periods during each month. During these periods a devout chief was expected to spend much time in the heiau. At such times women were forbidden to enter a canoe or have intercourse with the other sex until the tabu was lifted. An especial edict made it incumbent that during the whole period of her pregnancy the expectant mother must live entirely apart from her husband, in accordance with a very ancient tabu. At the periods sacred to the great gods many were put to death for infractions of the tabu, as many restrictions were promulgated and enforced at such seasons, and, through ignorance, the people were liable to disregard them.


We are informed by the people and through the records of early visitors that at such times no person could bathe, or be seen abroad during the day-time, no canoes could be launched, no fires were allowed, not even a pig could grunt, a dog bark or rooster crow for fear the tabu might be broken and fail of its purpose. Should it fail the offenders were made to pay the penalty with their lives.


Any particular place or object might be declared tabu by the proper person by simply affixing to it a stick bearing aloft a bit of tapa, this being a sufficient sign that the locality was to be avoided. The bodies of the dead were especially sacred objects and always tabu. As long as the body remained unburied it was subject to the vagaries of the system. Those who remained in the house or had to do with the corpse were defiled and forbidden to enter other houses in the village.


Owing to the tabu, two ovens must be maintained, one for the husband, the other for the wife: two houses must be built to eat in, a third to sleep in. In a thousand similar ways the system was fastened on every act of the daily life of the people to such an extent that it was ever present, dominating their every thought and deed. It oppressed their lives, curtailed their liberties, and darkened and narrowed their horizon beyond belief.   Back to Contents


CHAPTER 4: Religion of the Hawaiians: Their Method of Warfare and Feudal Organization


Complex and bewildering as was the Hawaiian system of tabus, their religious system was even more so. Moreover, the one was so intertwined with the other that the two subjects cannot be treated separated. Since the Hawaiians were naturally a highly religious people, they found many objects to worship and many ways in which to worship them. As a matter of fact, the earth, the sea and the air were filled with their amakuas, in the form of invisible being's, who wrought wonders in the powers and phenomenon of nature. The presence and power of the amakuas was evidenced to them by the thunder, lightning, wind, earthquakes and volcanoes.






1. The Heiau of Puukihola at Kawaihae—a huge stone enclosure built by Kamehameha I. as a protection against the perils of war. Many human sacrifices were made on this altar to the great war god Kukailimoku; among others the bodies of Kamehameha 's rival, Keoua, and his followers who, on a peace mission, were treacherously slain while landing at Kawaihae from a canoe in the year 1791. 2. Entrance to the Heiau at Kawaiha. 3. Double war canoe equipped with mat sails; the gourd masks worn by the warriors are also shown. 4. Feather cloak (ahuula) worn by chiefs of importance; made of red (iiwi) and yellow (mamo and o-o) bird feathers. 5. The city of refuge, Puuhonuaa, at Honaunau; a stone wall twelve feet high and fifteen feet thick encloses seven acres of tabu ground. To such sanctuaries women and children, warriors worsted in battle, criminals and others in peril might flee for safety from their avengers. 6. Heiau of the open truncated pyramidal type; compare with the rectangular walled type shown in figs. 1 and 2.



Religion Among the Hawaiians


Of the innumerable gods in the pantheon, Ku, Kane, Lono and Kanaloa were supreme. These important gods were supposed to exist in the heavens, in invisible form, and to have been present at the beginning. They were also believed to appear on the earth in human form. In addition to these each person had his or her own titulary deity, and each occupation was presided over by a special amakua, to which worship was due. Thus the fisherman, the canoe maker, the hula dancer, the tapa maker, the bird catcher, even the thieves and the gamblers, all had presiding deities with power to prosper them in their callings and bring them good luck in their undertakings. Other deities were clothed in life in the form of numerous animals and plants. Disease and death were quite naturally regarded as the work of the gods and appreciated by the people as material evidence of their invisible powers.


Idol Worship


They worshipped their deities chiefly through idols made of wood or stone. They believed that such images represented, or in some way were occupied by the spirit of the deity that they sought to worship. The people as a whole had a rather well defined conception in regard to existence after death. They believed that each person had an invisible double. They also thought that after death the spirit lingered about in dark places in the vicinity of the body and was able to struggle in hand to hand encounters with its enemies. A nightmare was interpreted as a temporary quitting of the body by the spirit and in certain cases, through proper prayers and ceremonies, it was believed to be possible to put the soul back into the body after it had left it. This was usually accomplished by lifting the toe-nail of the unfortunate person concerned. Many places were believed to be haunted and the spirit was supposed to journey from the grave to its former abode along the path that the corpse was carried for burial.


The Future State


They had a rather indefinite notion as to the exact nature of the future state. However, they believed that the two usual conditions, misery and happiness, existed. If the soul after journeying- to the region of Wakea was not favorably received, it was forced through despair and loneliness to leap into the abode of misery, far below. Precipices from which the souls of the unhappy departed were supposed to plunge on this wild leap are occasionally pointed out at various places about the group. One at the northern point of Oahu, another at the northern extremity- of Hawaii, and a third on the western end of Maui are well known to those acquainted with Hawaiian superstition.




In order to propitiate their gods, or better accomplish their worship, the people through fear or at the command of the king or priests, erected numerous temples or heiaus. To many students of the race this blind fear of their gods and their chiefs, and their unreasoning acceptance of the tabu, are subjects of continual wonder. Their principal temples were of two general forms, the older being composed of rough stones laid up without mortar in the form of a low, truncated pyramid, oblong in shape, on top of which were placed the altar of sacrifice, certain grass houses, the idols of the temple and the other grotesque wooden images and objects used in their worship. The later and more common form of heiau was made by erecting four high walls of stone, surmounted with numerous images, enclosing a space occupied, as before, by the various images, oracles, sacred places and altars of worship. These temples were numerous in the more thickly settled regions on all the islands and were usually built near the shore. On Hawaii, in the region from Kailua to Kealakekua, particularly, they were very numerous and close together. The principal heiaus were dedicated to their chief gods, but many smaller ones were built, as fish heiaus, rain heiaus and the like, and were dedicated to the special god of the builder.


Where temples were found in large numbers a corresponding number of priests were to be expected. Of these there were many orders and sub-orders. They and their rights were constantly made use of by the chiefs for the purpose of terrifying the people. Through them the tabu was coupled with idol worship, and their combined cruelties, terrors and restrictions made an integral part of the general system of government.




War among the ancient Hawaiians was one of the chief occupations and with them, as with other races, war was the "sport of kings." In making preparations for war the king, however, in addition to the council of his chiefs, had the advantage of the advice and skill of a certain class of military experts who were instructed in the traditions and wisdom of their predecessors. Being well acquainted with the methods of warfare that had been successfully resorted to by kings in former times, they were at all times among the king's most respected advisors.


Fortifications, as we understand them, were not a part of their scheme of warfare, though sites for camps and defenses were selected that possessed natural advantages in the matter of their defense against the enemy. That part of the population not actually engaged in battle was sent to strongholds, usually steep eminences or mountain retreats. In case of a rout the whole army retired to these strongholds and valiantly defended them. In addition to these natural forts, there were temples of refuge or sanctuaries to which those broken in battle, or in peril of their lives in time of peace, might flee and escape the wrath of all powers without. These temples were crude though permanent enclosures, whose gates were wide open to all comers at all times.


The Hawaiian warriors had many methods of attack and defense, depending usually on such matters as the strength of the enemy, the character of the battlefield and the plan of campaign. Their battles were generally a succession of skirmishes, the whole army seldom engaging in a scrimmage. They usually, though not always, made their attack in the daytime, generally giving battle in open fields, without the use of much real military strategy. Occasionally interisland wars occurred in the form of naval battles in which several hundred canoes were used by both sides, but as a general thing their differences were settled on land.


Practically the entire adult population was subject to a call to engage in hostilities. Only those who were incapacitated through age or from infirmity were exempt from the summons of the recruiting officer sent out by the king to gather warriors, when anything like an extensive military operation was determined upon. If occasion required, a second officer was sent to forcibly bring to camp those who refused to answer the call of the first. As a humiliation and mark of their insubordination it was a custom to slit the ears of the offenders and drive them to camp with ropes around their bodies.


Preliminary to a Battle


The army stores were usually prepared beforehand, and each warrior was expected to bring his own provisions and arms. Not infrequently notice of an impending attack was sent to the opposing forces and a battlefield mutually satisfactory to both forces selected for the engagement. The women took an active share in the important part of the work connected with the commissary; often following their husbands and brothers onto the battlefield, carrying extra weapons or calabashes of food. When the forces were assembled and all things in readiness for the fray, an astrologer was consulted by the king. If the signs were auspicious the battle would be undertaken. As the opposing armies approached each other, the king's chief priests were summoned to make the king's sacrifice to his gods. Two fires being built between the armies, the priests of each army made an offering, usually a pig which was killed by strangling. When the various religious ceremonies were over the battle would begin, the, priests accompanying the armies, bearing their idols aloft that the bodies of the first slain in battle might be properly offered to the gods. Their idols took the place of banners. During the heat of battle they would be advanced in the midst of the warriors, while the priests, supporting them, to cheer their followers and spread terror in the hearts of the enemy, would give blood curdling yells accompanying them with frightful grimaces, all of which were supposed to come from the images themselves, and to be an unmistakable token that the gods were in their midst.


In opening the attack, it is related, a single warrior would sometimes advance from the ranks, armed only with a fan and when within hailing distance would proceed to blackguard the enemy, daring them to attack him single-handed. This exasperating challenge would be answered by a number of spears being hurled at the taunting warrior, who would nimbly avoid them or seize them in his hands and hurl them back at the enemy. Such incendiary maneuvers were well calculated to precipitate trouble and not infrequently they resulted in the death of the intrepid warrior. A fierce struggle would then follow to gain possession of his body.


Their battles were often almost hand to hand encounters, lasting sometimes for days. However, they do not seem to have been very fatal. Often they resulted in routing one party or the other, the conquerors taking possession of the land and portioning it out among the victorious chiefs. A heap of stones was made over the bodies of the victorious dead, while the vanquished slain were left unburied. Captured warriors were occasionally allowed their freedom, but more frequently they were put to death or kept as future sacrifices. The women and children of the captured were made slaves and bound to the soil.


When peace was sought a branch of ki leaves or a young banana plant was borne aloft by the ambassadors as a flag of truce. When terms were arrived at a pig was sacrificed and its blood poured on the ground as an emblem of the fate of the party to the treaty who should break its conditions. The leaders of both armies would then braid a lei of maile and deposit it in a temple as a peace offering. The heralds were then sent running in all directions to announce the termination of the war, and the event would be appropriately celebrated with feasts, dancing and games.






1. Typical Hawaiian burial cave. The common people after death were usually secreted in caves in the neighborhood; the burial took place during the night. Great care was taken, however, to hide the bones in secret places to prevent them from being used for fish hooks and arrow points. The important bones of the kings, including the skull, leg and arm bones, were gathered from the decayed flesh, collected into a bundle, wrapped with tapa and bound up with cord; the bundle was then deified by elaborate ceremonies before the bones were placed in the most secret and inaccessible caves, often being carried from one island to another. The bones of a high chief were preserved in vault-like caves in the cliffs and not infrequently were laid at rest in the warrior's canoe together with other precious possessions belonging to the departed. 2. An aged kahuna. 3. Kukailimoku, the god of war; taken from a figure in Cook 's Voyages; other representations of this god are on exhibition in the Bishop Museum. 4. Burial cave (near view of fig. 1) showing a ''transition" burial in a coffin hewn from a log. 5. Burial cave showing portion of a canoe, mats, tapa, etc. 6. Ancient wooden idol. Prior to the landing of the missionaries idolatry was abolished and the idols of the nation hidden away in caves; later many of them were collected and burned. A number, however, were preserved and are now in museums in Hawaii, America and Europe.



The King and His Power.


The king was the recognized head of all civil and military, also ecclesiastical authority. The lands, the people, their time, their possessions, the temples, the priests, the idols, the tabus, the prophets, all belonged finally to him. Everything was his to use as he willed so long as he was in the favor of the gods. The priests, who were the only ones skilled in interpreting the oracles and learning the wishes of the gods, were also the class which determined the offerings that would placate the deities worshipped. In this way, through fear, they were able to hold no small amount of influence over the affairs of state by reason of the king's dread of the wrath of the gods of his realm.


The high priest kept the national war god and was at all times in close relation to the monarch. Other priests were charged with perpetuating the traditions of the people as well as their own medical, astronomical and general learning. Besides the regular orders of priests there was a numerous class of more irregular priests or kahunas, that were little more than sorcerers. They were able to cause the death of persons obnoxious to themselves, their clients, their chiefs or their king.


In order to pray any person to death it was only necessary for one of their kahunas to secure the spittle, the hair, a finger nail, or personal effects belonging to the intended victim, and, by means of certain rites, conjurings and prayers to the gods, to so work upon the fear and imagination of the individual as to almost invariably cause his death. As a result they were unpopular as a class and not infrequently were conspired against by the people, or themselves prayed to death by the more powerful of their cult.


The Nobility, Chiefs and Common People


In the time of which we write the population was divided into three classes, the nobility, including the kings and chiefs; the priests, including the priests, sorcerers and doctors; and the common people, made up of agriculturists, artisans and slaves taken in war. There was an impassable gulf between the classes including the chiefs and the common people.


The distinction was as wide as though the chiefs came from another race or a superior stock, yet as we have said elsewhere they were undoubtedly all of one and the same origin with the people under them. A common man could never be elevated to the rank of a chief, nor could a chief be degraded to that of a commoner. Hence the rank was hereditary in dignity at least, though not necessarily so as regards function, position or office. Within the class of the nobility, sharp distinctions were numerous and a certain seniority in dignity was maintained. As far as can be learned there was no distinction between civil, military, ecclesiastical and social headship, and there was no separation between the executive, judicial and legislative functions. The power, in an irresponsible way, was entirely centered in \ho hands of the nobility.


Since the chiefs were believed by the common people to be descended from the the gods in some mysterious and complicated way, they were supposed to be in close touch with the invisible powers. They were looked up to with superstitious awe, as being both powerful and sacred. This advantage was shrewdly employed by the ruling class in securing the respect and unquestioned submission of the common people. Death was the penalty inflicted for the slightest breach of etiquette. Through the enforcement of such submission the chiefs were able to exact the marks of distinction claimed by them from the masses, and to control and direct them through a blind rule of duty. Singularly enough the chiefs were respected while living and in most cases were revered by the people after their death.


Among the chiefs themselves there was constant bickering and class rivalry. The moi, or king of each island usually inherited his position, but the accident of birth did not guarantee that he would long remain in power, for unfortunately the assurance of his pace lay in the hands of the district chiefs under him. Seldom could they' be relied upon for unshaken fealty. Their love of power and capacity for intrigue, as a rule, was not of a common order and they were often able to demonstrate their complete mastery of the game of politics.


The important chiefs were therefore usually summoned by the king to sit in council as an advisory body when weighty matters were to be passed upon. But the immediate source of all constructive law as such, among the ancient Hawaiians, was the will of their king. Not unlike kings in more enlightened lands, they were guided in important matters by their stronger chiefs whose influence they required. These, in turn, were influenced by and dependent upon the good will of the people under them, for there was nothing to prevent the common people from transferring their personal affections and allegiance to other and more considerate chiefs. But back of the king, the chiefs, and the people was the traditional code of customary law that served as a powerful restraint on the king in preventing the promulgation of purely arbitrary decrees. The traditional law of the land related mostly to religious and customary observances, marriage, the family relation, lands, irrigation, personal property and barter. With such crimes as theft, personal revenge was the court of first resort. The aggrieved person had the right, if he so desired, to seek the aid of a kindred chief, or to resort to sorcery with the aid of his kahuna. The king, however, was the chief magistrate, with his various chiefs exercising inferior jurisdiction in their own territories.


The King and the Land


The king was regarded as the sole proprietor of the land: of the people who cultivated it, the fish of the sea,—in fact everything of the land or in the sea about it was the property of the king. The king, in short, owned everything, the people owned nothing, so that technically, the people existed in a state of abject dependence. The system that developed from this was one of complete and absolute feudalism. The king made his head chiefs his principal beneficiaries. They, in turn, established a grade of lesser chiefs or landlords, who gathered under them the common people as tenants at will. The lands being divided, those who held the land owed every service and obedience to the chieftain landlords. On these landlords the king relied for men labor munitions and materials to carry out his plans and fight his battles.




This system was so offensive that it is said that the laborer did not receive one-third the returns due him for his toil; the lion's share of everything, even in this simple system, went to the over-lords, in the form of a tax. There was first, the royal tax that was collected by each grade paying to its superiors until the whole tax, which consisted of such articles as hogs, dogs, fish, fowl, potatoes, yams, taro, olona, feathers, and such articles of manufacture as calabashes, nets, mats, tapas and canoes, was collected. In addition to the foregoing, the people were subject to special taxes at any time, and labor taxes at all times, when they were called upon to build walls, repair fish ponds, cultivate the chief's taro ponds, or construct or repair the temples.


Besides all these, and other means of taxing the people, there were customs which made it necessary to make extraordinary presents to the king, especially when that dignitary was traveling, with the penalty that if enough presents were not brought, plunder and rapine was the consequence. With this hasty review of some of the more general and especially interesting or striking peculiarities of the Hawaiian people, as a branch of the Polynesian race, that are of importance as salient characteristics when we wish to compare them and their natural human history with that of other races of mankind, we can now pass to a brief review of their arts, occupations, ornaments, weapons, tools and kindred subjects in which they made use of the materials with which nature surrounded them.   Back to Contents



CHAPTER 5: The Hawaiian House: Its Furnishings and Household Utensils


The houses of the common people were little more than single-room straw-thatched  hovels, supported upon a crude frame-work of poles, the structure  in many instances being scarcely sufficient to shelter the family. On the other  hand, the houses of the better class, notably the chiefs and the nobility, were  much superior. Being well built and neatly kept, they were not so devoid of  simple comfort as their absolute lack of architectural beauty might suggest.


While their houses varied much in size and shape they were uniformly  dark and poorly ventilated, being invariably without windows or doors, save  the small hole left, usually on one side, through which the occupant might pass  in and out in a crouching posture.


Complete Domestic Establishment


As with the various occupations that had to do with the gathering of their food and the making of their raiment, so the building of the house which sheltered them was attended by many important religious observances, the omission of any of which might result in the most serious consequences. Every stage, from the gathering of the timbers and grass in the mountains, to the last act of trimming the grass from over and around the door before it was ready for final occupancy, furnished an occasion for the intervention of the priests and the imposition of special tabus that must be satisfied before the house could be used as a dwelling.


As has been suggested elsewhere, a complete domestic establishment was made up of several conveniently grouped single-room houses that were given over to special purposes. The well-to-do Hawaiian boasted of at least six such single-room houses. The house for the family idols and the men's eating house were both always tabu to women. The women's eating house, a common sleeping house, a house for the beating of the tapa, and lastly, a separate house for the use of the women during various tabu periods made up the group. Occasionally the better houses were on a raised stone foundation, and a fence made about the group to separate them from their neighbors and to mark the limits of the sphere of domestic influence. To the foregoing might be added a house for canoes, a storehouse, and others for special purposes as might be required.


Building of a House


The building of a grass house of the better type was an important task and one that called for much skill and experience. The timbers of which it was constructed were selected with great care, different woods being preferably used for certain purposes. When trimmed of the outer bark, notched and fashioned into shape by crude stone tools they were placed into the positions which they were intended to occupy in the framework of the structure and then firmly bound together with braided ropes of ukiuki grass.


The corner posts were first to be put in place, each being securely set in the ground. The side posts were next planted in line and the plate pole lashed to the top. The tall poles at the end of the house w^ere next put up and the ridge pole put into place. The rafters were then added and the upper ridge pole lashed firmly above the main ridge pole. Small straight poles were finally lashed horizontally, a few inches apart, on the outside of the completed frame work. This clone the thatch was added and a rude sliding door made and fitted in place. The outside was trimmed, and over all a large net placed to hold the grass in shape while it dried. Pili grass, lauhala leaves, sugar-cane and ki leaves were used as a thatch according to circumstances. When completed a group of Hawaiian houses resembled nothing as much, in general appearance, as a number of neat hay stacks.  


While as a general rule each man was expected to be able to perform all the various forms of labor necessary to the building of a house, making a canoe or carving his dishes, there were those who by choice did certain things in exchange for the work of others. That is to say, should a chief order a house built, certain men would cut the timbers, others gather the pili grass, others hue the timbers, while still others made the binding cords or prepared the holes for the corner posts. The thatchers would then perform their work, so that by piece work, all working together, a house could be completed in two or three days. If well made it would last a dozen years,—when it would require re-thatching






Among other objects shown in 1 are three large wooden calabashes (umeke| of flat form on a fine lauhala mat; four kahilis of various forms; a wicker-work basket |hanai poepoe) woven over a wooden umeke or a gourd-calabash, a fine Niihau (makaloa) mat, a sled (papa holua) for coasting on the grass on steep hills and two spears; in 2 are a number of small objects including gourd water bottle (huewai), small idol, canoe model, bowling stones (ulu-maika). Hawaiian brick shaped pillows (uluna), gourd hula drum (pahu hula), three large and several small umekes, fans, a feather malo or waistband and a large and small kahili; in 3 the old Hawaiian keeper (kahu) is surrounded by numerous objects of native manufacture, including poi pounders (pohaku kui poi), kukui nut and feather leis, the famous skirt (pa-u) of o-o feathers (made for the sister of Kamehameha III. and last used over the coffin of Kalakaua) and two large and two small kahilis; in 4 are three large umekes in nets (koko), a carrying stick (auamo), a gourd fish line container (poho aho), several choice umekes, rare tapas, kukui nut leis and a small kahili.



House Furnishings


The furnishings and utensils in even the best houses were meager in the extreme. The raised portion of the floor, covered with mats that formed the beds by night and lounge by day, and the space on the stones in the center of the floor, that served as a fireplace when required during rainy weather, were the most noticeable evidences of comfort. The braided mats and ornamented tapas were the most conspicuous among their possessions, but the bowls and dishes for the serving and storage of food were, perhaps, the most important household necessities. These few objects formed characteristic features of the Hawaiian home. The most valuable of their household utensils, without doubt, was the calabash. It was fashioned from wood or made from the shell of the gourd, for though clay was known to the Hawaiian people they made no use of it and knew nothing whatever of the potter's art.


In the carving of these wooden bowls or umekes they exhibited much skill, using only the simple stone implements of their culture and such primitive devices as they knew in fashioning them. Some wonderful bowls were produced from the woods of the native kou, kamani and the koa trees. After the log had been soaked for a long period it was roughly shaped without and was hollowed out within by hacking and burning until the desired form was secured. By this method the wooden sides were reduced to a fraction of an inch in thickness.


The receptacle was then smoothed by rubbing first with coral, then rough lava, and lastly with pumice. The real polishing was done by rubbing with charcoal, bamboo leaves and at last with breadfruit leaves and tapa. Often a lid, made and polished in the same way, was added, and usually a koko or net of convenient form for carrying or handling them was provided. It may be truthfully said that the splendid vessels made in this way, some of them thirty inches in diameter, were among the most remarkable objects wrought by the ancient Hawaiians.


Household Implements


In the manufacture of other household implements, as pig dishes, dog trays, fish dishes, finger bowls, slop basins and the like, the same tools and materials were used and the same general method of working them into shape was employed, though frequently they were carved or ornamented in various ways.


In the calabash gourd the Hawaiians had a substitute for the more laboriously prepared wooden bowl just described. While the calabash gourd is not a native of Hawaii and was not found on the other islands in Polynesia, it was in general use among the natives of this group at the time of their discovery and the shells of the fruit put to many uses in their economy, often being employed as receptacles for food, containers for water and storage boxes for clothing and personal effects.


A slightly different though equally useful species was the bottle gourd. Unlike the former, it was known and used quite generally throughout Polynesia. The smaller ones served as first-rate water bottles and the larger specimens were utilized in the manufacture of their hula-drums, which were sometimes three feet or more in height. Both species were extensively cultivated in the period of which we write. In preparing them for use the soft, bitter pulp was first scraped out as clean as possible and the shell allowed to dry. When it had become thoroughly hardened the remaining portion of the soft material was scraped out with a piece of pumice or a fragment of coral. They were then filled with water and left to stand until they had become sweet.


In making water bottles where the small neck did not admit of the preliminary scraping, the soft part was allowed to rot out. Then stones and sand were put inside and shaken about until the contents came away, leaving only the clean, hard outer shell. To the bottle was added a sea shell or folded palm leaf as a stopper, and the container was ready for use. The different forms often had different uses. When it was desired to carry them,—or indeed any heavy burden,—the larger gourds were usually provided with carrying nets of one form or another and suspended one on either end of a tough wooden carrying stick which was notched at each end.


Finger bowls were in general use among the Hawaiians long before they were introduced by the whites, and many ingenious devices were perfected by the natives to remove the sticky, pasty poi from their fingers. These bowls varied greatly in size, shape and design, but were generally made from the kou.


With the finger bowl at hand, into which the fingers might be dipped or the hands washed, and with a plentiful supply of fresh leaves as napkins, the absence of knife, fork and spoon from the Hawaiian table was not such a serious omission as it might at first seem. However, in certain parts of the group, as Puna, where a less tenacious poi was made from the sweet potato, a general utility implement w^as fashioned in the form of a generalized spoon from a fragment of cocoanut shell that served very well the combined purpose of spoon and ladle.


Other household implements for special use were made from the shells of cocoanuts. Besides serving many varied purposes they were chiefly useful as cups and were made in special forms as containers for awa.


The Hawaiian mirror was an ingenious device consisting simply of a polished piece of wood or a piece of smooth, dark-colored lava. In order to produce a reflecting surface it was dropped into a calabash of water. The image was thus produced on the surface of the water, or, if sufficiently polished, it! could be used after immersion in the water. To trim the hair, a shark tooth firmly fastened in a stick was employed; or, if this method proved to be too painful, fire might be used instead. A fan of curious form, braided usually from the leaves of the pandanus or the loulu palm, was a convenience of ancient origin among the Hawaiians. The form, however, has been greatly modified in recent times. The back-scratcher, a scraper-like implement made of hard wood and provided with a long handle, was a decided comfort to the ancient Hawaiians. and they were in general and frequent use at the time of which we write.


In the evening artificial light was supplied by burning the nuts of the kukui, which were strung on slender strips of bamboo. The oil of these useful nuts was also pressed out and burned with a tapa wick in a stone cup or crude lamp. Occasionally the fat of the pig and dog was used as an illuminating oil.




The Hawaiian method of lighting a fire was by the friction of two pieces of wood. A sharp hard stick w^as pressed firmly into a groove on a large and softer stick and rubbed up and down until the fine dust that rubbed off and accumulated in one end of the groove ignited from the heat of friction. When everything was properly managed only a few minutes were necessary to start the tinder and transfer the light to a bit of tapa or other inflammable material. The trouble incident to igniting a fire was obviated by carrying fire from place to place. To do this old tapa was twisted into a cord a third of an inch in diameter and rolled into a ball to lie used when desired as a slow-burning torch. In this way a lighted fuse might be carried a long distance.


The Hawaiian broom was simply a conveniently-sized bundle of palm-stem midribs tied together. And since sweeping was not an exacting art, it served every purpose. While wooden pillows were used, oblong six-sided ones made of platted pandanus leaves were more common.  


Small stones of different shapes for various domestic purposes were used, some for cooking birds, others as bath rubbers, and so on. But the principal use of stone in the household was in the manufacture of poi pounders and mortars, to which reference has been made in another chapter. Lastly, reference should be made to their wooden slop jars which were in common use as receptacles for refuse food, banana skins, fish bones and offal. While many of them were roughly made of kou, others were finished, and a few belonging to the chiefs were inlaid with the bones of their enemies or those whom they would dishonor.     Back to Contents



CHAPTER 6: Occupations of the Hawaiian People


Agriculture Among the Hawaiians


Agriculture was one of the principal occupations of the ancient Hawaiians and like almost everything they did, was accomplished by a set of more or less elaborate religious ceremonies. They were particular to plant in the proper time of the moon, and prayers were said, and offerings made and tabus kept during the various stages of the growth of the plant. When necessary, prayers were made for rain or to allay the wind, or to stop the ravages of insects, and at last when the crop was ripe, prayers of thanksgiving were said and appropriate offerings were made to the family gods.


The growing of taro was the chief industry among their farming activities, and the simple dishes manufactured from this plant have always been their principal and often only article of food. Two methods of planting were and still are followed. Where running water was to be had from the streams taro, or kalo, could be grown at all seasons, and only a scarcity of water could seriously influence the yield. Where water could be led onto the ground from the streams or be led to the fields by their primitive irrigation ditches, the crop was always in a flourishing state of growth. The work necessary to prepare the ground, plant, irrigate and cultivate the crop, then as now. formed the most laborious part of the native farming.






1. A chiefess (alii) wearing a holoku; about the neck is shown a lei (lei palaoa) of braided human hair ornamented with a pendant ivory hook; in the hand is a small kalihi with ivory and tortoise shell handle. The lei palaoa and the "fly flap" are both insignia of chieftainship. 2. Middle-aged corpulent Hawaiian; beside the poi board is shown the taro roots as they appear before baking. 3. Group of Hawaiian diving boys in Honolulu harbor. 4. Hawaiian woman plaiting a lauhala mat; beside her is a finished mat and a bundle of the lauhala leaves ready for use. 5. Ohulenui, whose father, as a boy, was familiar with the history and practices of worship at Hiiliopoi, the great heiau on Molokai in Mapulehu Valley. 6. A pure blood middle-aged Hawaiian surrounded by objects of more or less recent manufacture.



Taro Growing


Considering the character of the country, the natives had arrived at a degree of skill in the cultivation of the useful taro plant that has been difficult to improve upon. After a century of contact with European ingenuity and learning, the crop is still cultivated in the ancient manner, with the exception that the primitive digger or oo, made of wood, has been supplanted by some of the more modern garden implements made of metal.


The taro ponds are usually small and irregular in form, and vary in size from a few yards to a half acre or more in extent. They were formerly made with the utmost care, by first removing the earth down to a water level and using the surplus soil to build strong embankments on hillsides of the pond, which, when necessary, were re-enforced with stones, sugar-cane and cocoanut leaves. The earth in the pond was then carefully manipulated so that the bottom and sides could be beaten solid. In early times the hard end of a cocoanut leaf was used as a flail when it was necessary to pack the earth firmly to form the walls and bottom into a water-tight basin. When the pond was water-tight the earth was thoroughly spaded and worked over for a couple of feet in depth. The water was then let into the pond and the earth mixed and stamped with the feet until a thin muck was formed.


The next step was the planting of the new crop. The leaves cut off in a bunch just below the crown of the plant as the ripe roots are harvested, form the huli. The taro is usually propagated by planting the huli while still fresh, in rows eighteen inches to two feet apart. Water is let into the patch, after planting, so as to form a shallow pond and a fresh water supply is constantly kept running into the patch until the roots become mature, when they, are ready for use.


The taro plants usually require from nine to fifteen months in which to ripen, but they will continue to grow and improve in quality for two years or more. The provident Hawaiian would therefore plant but a small area at a time with the result that the plants would not all be ready to harvest on the same date.  In addition to the common method of pond cultivation just described. several other methods continue to be made use of in the planting and cultivation of taro, which vary more or less in detail. In regions where streams were not available and where other conditions were suitable, the land was cleared of weeds and large holes dug in which several plants were set. When necessary the soil was enriched with kukui leaves, ashes and fine earth. The crop, if carefully planted in this way, and tended faithfully would yield abundant returns.






1. Kahuna pule ainana. It was the business of these sorcerers to procure the death of persons obnoxious to themselves, or the chiefs, or their clients, by means of prayers and religious rites. They secured the spittle or some intimate belonging of the person whom they wished to destroy and by means of certain rites, conjuring and prayers to the gods, so wrought upon the imagination and superstitious fear of the individual as to almost invariably bring about his death. At the left is shown a large cocoanut hula drum (pahu hula) that formerly was only beaten on the occasion of a royal birth. 2. Group designed to show the process of poi pounding. 3. Tapa making; the old woman is shown boating the bark on the wooden anvil (kua kuku) with a tapa club for the purpose of thinning the wet bark or felting the edges of the strips together. The girl stands by with an umeke of water to sprinkle on the bark from time to time; on the bush beside her are a number of strips roughed out ready to be beaten thin and smooth; behind her a finished sheet is in the process of being ornamented. 4. Scraping olona. The long fibers of this useful plant are hackled out by scraping the bark on a narrow board (laau kahi olona) with a tortoise shell scraper (uhi kahi olona kuahonu). From the fiber, twine for all purposes, but especially useful in the manufacture of fish nets, was made. In the case behind are shown such fishing apparatus as seins, nets, fish hooks, shrimp baskets, sinkers and all the various articles made use of by the native fisherman.



Taro and Its Uses


Several varieties of taro were planted by the natives which varied in size, flavor and growth. In general, however, the varieties all have large, thrifty, heart-shaped leaves of a light green color. The flower is a fragrant, green-yellow, calla-like blossom and inconspicuous. The root is of a regular oval form, from four to eight inches in length, and from two to four inches in diameter. In a natural state, when either ripe or unripe, both the root and the leaves have the exceedingly acrid, pungent taste so characteristic of the genus of plants to which the taro belongs. But when thoroughly cooked it becomes mild and palatable without a more disagreeable, peculiar or characteristic taste than spinach or potatoes might be said to have. When the root is ripe it is compact and whitish in color, both before and after cooking; but when poor in quality or unripe, it is liable to be a dull lead color. There are several varieties, as the pink or royal taro, and the blue, or common taro, which differ as indicated in the color of the ripe and cooked roots as well as in the color of the poi made from them.


The natives prepared the root for use, as they cook all their food, by first baking it in a curious oven called an inui. The oven is formed by digging a hole two or three feet in depth and six or more feet in circumference and placing in the bottom of the hole a layer of stones. On the stones wood is piled and on top of the heap still other layers of stones are laid. A fire is then lighted in the pile of wood and kindling. When the stones are thoroughly heated those on top are thrown to one side and the taro, sweet potatoes, bananas, pig, dog, fish or whatever is to be cooked is wrapped in ki or banana leaves and laid on the stones in the bottom of the hole. The loose hot stones are thrown in on top of the bundle of leaves containing the food, and a little water is added to create steam; the earth and leaves are then hurriedly placed on the mound to prevent the heat from escaping.




The taro after being cooked in this manner was and is made into the favorite dish of the Hawaiians, namely poi. The process of manufacture, though simple, was laborious and was invariably performed by the men. The first step in the process of transforming taro into poi was the removing of the rough outer skin of the root after it had been thoroughly cooked. The scrapings thus secured were put aside to he returned to the ponds as a fertilizer. The roots when carefully scraped were thrown on a short plank of hard wood called a poi board. The board was scooped out slightly in the middle, like a shallow tray. On this plank the roots were pounded with a thick, heavy stone pestle, of which two or three forms were formerly in use.


Poi pounding is real work, and when it was to be done properly the natives stripped themselves of everything save thcii- loin cloths. Seating themselves cross-legged, usually one at each end of the poi board, the pestling of the mass would continue for an hour or more. With careful manipulation the roots were thus reduced to a sticky, dough-like mass. As the pounding proceeded, water was judiciously added to prevent the mass, in the form called paiai. from sticking' to the stone pestle. When it was sufficiently smooth and firm, it was removed from the board and at once made into poi by thinning with water to whatever consistency was desired; or made into good-sized bundles wrapped with ki leaves. In this way the paiai could be kept for months at a time and was often shipped from place to place. It was in this condition, in all probability, that taro formed one of the chief stores made use of by the natives in their long voyages.


Whenever poi was required a portion of the doughy mass, paiai, was put in a calabash and thinned with water. It was ready for use in a few hours after the water was added, but the natives preferred it after it had soured, or worked, for a day or more.


Poi was eaten by thrusting the forefinger of the right hand into the mass and securing as much as would adhere to the finger, and then passing the food from the bowl to the mouth by a neat revolving motion of the hand and finger. The native name for the forefinger signifies the "poi finger.' For this reason it was quite the custom to grade poi as one-finger poi, two-finger poi, and so on, thereby indicating its consistency. When ready to be eaten a dozen or more natives might surround one calabash and greedily dip up its contents, sucking their fingers and smacking their lips in a state of obvious enjoyment. Usually they finished the entire allowance at one sitting, only to fall asleep afterwards— "full and satisfied." Poi was occasionally mixed with the tender meat of the cocoanut, and was specially prepared for the sick in several ways. Baked taro also makes an excellent vegetable, and the leaves of the plant, as well as the stems and flowers were cooked and greatly relished by the natives.


Sweet Potatoes and Yams


Next to the taro, sweet potatoes and yams were the most important food plants grown in the islands. Many varieties, accurately described and named by the natives, were in general cultivation. They thrived in the drier localities and were eaten raw, baked or roasted. They were also made into a kind of poi. Poi and sweet potatoes v,-ere fed to their pigs and dogs to fatten them, and animals cared for in this way were regarded as particularly delicious by the TT;i- Mayans of a century ago.


Breadfruit and Bananas


The breadfruit was much used as a food by the natives, after being cooked in their ovens or roasted in an open fire. It was pounded into a delicious \nn as well. The natives were very skillful in growing this delicate plant which was propagated by root cuttings. Bananas were also cultivated by lliciu and eaten both raw and cooked. Sugar-cane calabash gourds, the paper nnilberry, olona, ki, cocoanuts and awa were anioiiL; tlic uscrul plants fornio'ly grown by the Hawaiians.






1. A case of stone implements in the Bishop Museum showing pestles, poi pounders of various forms, stone cups, mortars, squid hook sinkers, and other similar objects. 2. Hawaiian traveler carrying gourds containing food and clothing, suspended in from a carrying stick (auamo).



In addition to the foregoing list of plants that were cultivated to a certain extent, there were a number of others that were made use of as food in times of scarcity that could hardly be regarded as cultivated in a strict sense.


Fiber Plants


The paper mulberry, called wauki, one of the plants from which their bark cloth was manufactured, was regularly cultivated, there being extensive groves of this small tree planted about almost every native home. The plant was kept carefully trimmed from its earliest growth in order to prevent it following its inclination to branch out from the main stem. In this way a single shoot was secured unbroken by branches. When it had attained a height of ten or twelve feet and a diameter of an inch or two. the men cut the plants and the women stripped off the bark in a single piece by splitting it from end to end of the stem. The outer bark was then scraped off and the fibrous part forming the inner bark, was rolled endways into loose disk-like bundles and left to dry until it had taken on a fiat surface. The bark was then placed in water until it became covered with a mucilaginous coating; then it was laid on a stone or a log prepared for the purpose and beaten with a series of round and square sticks of hard wood, known as tapa beaters.


Manufacture of Tapa


In the making of tapa cloth, strips of raw material were laid side by side and doubled, pounded and manipulated in order to unite the free edges, the mass being kept saturated with water during the process. The length and breadth of the tapa sheet was increased at pleasure by the addition of more bark. Sheets double the size of an ordinary blanket were frequently made in this simple way. The water mark in the fibre, as well as the texture and thickness, was regulated by the amount of the beating and the character and markings of the mallet used. Places torn in making the sheet were mended by rewelding the edges. When finished the tapa was spread in the sun to dry and bleach.


The next step in the process was the dying and marking of the cloth. The tapa is naturally of a light color and much of it was worn in that state, but a great portion of it was stained either with dyes, mostly of vegetable origin, or by mixing with the sheet while in a plastic state fragments of old colored tapas that had been reduced to pulp. The colors used were both beautiful and durable—yellow, salmon, straw, blues in various shades, purple, green, red, lilac, pink, dove, chocolate, brown, fawn, as well as black and white were quite common. The list of vegetable and mineral dyes utilized to produce the various colors is a long one and shows a knowledge of the simple chemical reactions of the dyer's art that is truly remarkable. Leaves, roots and bark were used in various conditions, singly and in combination, often with mineral substances, as salt, earth, muck, charcoal, or occasionally wild animal dyes, as that derived from the sea-urchin, the squid and certain sea slugs.






1. Large wooden idol of ohia wood, long buried in a fish pond. 2. A wooden image of Kalaipahoa, the poison god. 3. Hawaiian fish baskets and traps. 4. Canoe paddle. 5. Small kahili. 6. Slop bowl ornamented with human teeth. 7. Stone lamps of various forms. 8. Feather cape (ahuula). 9. Tapa beater. 10. Poi pounders (ring form). 11. Pandanus baskets. 12. Finger bowls of various designs. 13. Spittoons. 14. Large and small umekes or bowls. 15. Hanai poepoe. 16. Carved dish for baked pig. 17. Gourd hula drums. 18. Hawaiian fans. 19. Cocoanut wood hula drums. 20. Uliuli hula or rattles. 21. Mortar and pestle.



Tapa Making a Fine Art


The plain or colored tapas were, often, beautifully and tastefully printed with ingenious figures or patterns of various designs. The pattern lo he transferred to the cloth was first cut on the side of a narrow strip of bamboo. The bamboo was then dipped into the color and the pattern carefully printed on the tapa by pressing the stick on the tapa and against the hand. This operation was repeated until little by little the intended design was completed. Often the entire tapa was printed with various designs and colors in this primitive manner. Some kinds were marked with a string dipped in the color to be transferred. The string was then drawn taut across the tapa and the color snapped on it in the same manner in which the chalk line is commonly used.


In the preparation of their "printing inks" the colors were frequently mixed with kukui nut oil. Some tapas were saturated with cocoanut oil to render them waterproof and to make them more durable. Tapas which were not oiled could not be washed. For this reason the laundry work to be done in the Hawaiian family was reduced to the minimum. But the amount of time and labor expended in the manufacture of the tapa must have been enormous, since three or four days were required to beat an average sized tapa and a new set was required about once a month. Other materials were used by the Hawaiians in the manufacture of tapa, the most important being the bark of the mamake, which grew wild in the woods. It was gathered by the women and steamed in an oven with a certain fern that gave off a dark red coloring matter. The bark from tender breadfruit stems was sometimes used, as was also the bark from the hau tree.


Provision was commonly made for carrying on this work by providing a special house devoted to the purpose and also by the setting aside of certain special gods to preside over the undertaking. Certain of their tapas were delicately perfumed with the root of the kupaoa; maile and mokihana were also used in this way on account of their delicate and lasting scents.


It is worthy of remark that tapa beating was common among all the Polynesian islanders, when suitable material was to be had. It was an art that was old in the hands of the pioneer Hawaiians at the time of their settling on these islands. While tapa making was generally practiced over the whole of the Pacific, and indeed almost the whole world, it fell to the painstaking Hawaiian women to carry the manufacture of paper cloth to the highest degree of excellence attained among any primitive people. Their best tapas were but little, if any, inferior to the fine cotton fabrics that have entirely displaced them. So completely, however, has the art and manufacture disappeared that the implements used in its manufacture even are only to be seen in museums, while the technique of the art must be gleaned from the scanty records of the early missionaries and travelers.


Mat Making


Perhaps the manufacture next in importance to the making of tapa was the plaiting of mats. These were used by the natives to lounge upon by day and to sleep upon by night. Mats were also used as sails for their canoes, as partitions in their houses, as food mats, clothing and robes,—in fact their uses were innumerable. Taken altogether, being more durable than tapa, their possession in abundance was regarded as unmistakable evidence of material wealth.


The typical bed of the Hawaiian chiefs was a raised portion of the floor, perhaps one entire end of the house. The elevated portion was made of loosely laid stones forming a pile eight or ten feet square, over which was spread several thicknesses of mats, as many as thirty or forty being employed on the lied of a well-to-do chief. Naturally the coarsest ones were placed at the bottom and the finer ones spread on top. Lauhala mats are still made and used quite generally throughout the group, many of the best houses being furnished with them in place of the more familiar though less approved floor rugs. Several materials were made use of in the weaving of mats, the most important being the lauhala; next came the stems of the makaloa, and lastly species of other native sedges.


Lauhala Mats


In the making of lauhala mats, the leaves were broken from the trees, by the women, with long sticks. They were withered over a fire for a short time and then dried in the sun. The young leaves were preferred to the old ones, so that in plaiting the mats the raw material was carefully selected and graded as to quality and color. It was then scraped, the saw-like edges removed, and split into strips of the required width, varying from an eighth to an inch or more in width. The braiding was done by hand without the aid of a frame or instrument, and, though mats were often made twenty-five feet square, they were finished with great evenness of texture and regularity of shape. The finer braided ones were usually small in size and left with a wide fringe; being greatly prized, they were occasionally carried by attendants to be spread down on other coarser mats when their chiefs chose to sit.


Makaloa Mats


The rush or sedge mats, called makaloa mats, are soft and fine; the islands of Kauai, and particularly Niihau, were famous for their production. For this reason the mats are frequently spoken of as Niihau mats. But on both islands the finest mats were those made from the young shoots.


Many of the lauhala, as well as most of the Niihau mats were ornamented with much taste—red and brown sedge stems being used for the purpose. These were worked in on the upper surface of the mat in patterns that resembled embroidery; various designs being formed, as squares, diamonds, stripes and zigzag lines.


The plaiting of mats, like the beating of tapa, was women's work in ancient Hawaii, and those who possessed much skill in these important arts were; esteemed for their labor and praised for their handiwork.




Aside from war, fishing and agriculture were the chief occupations engaged in by the men, so that, in general, men procured the food while the women did their full share in making the provisions for the Hawaiian family, and supplying the raiment that their civilization required.


Fishing, like agriculture, was associated with religious ceremonies and the worship of idols. Among this class, the practice was carried to such an extent that special heiaus and altars were constructed and a somewhat different form of worship established. Like the fishermen in all lands and in all times, the natives were firm believers in good luck and their faith in signs and omens was accordingly deep-seated. Their gods were numerous, so that each fisherman worshipped one of his own choice. Likewise the tabus of their gods were many and the devotee would go to a great length in carrying out the fancied desire of his patron deity. The god of one fisherman would tabu black, for example, and in observance of the tabu, the fisherman would have nothing black on his net or canoe, would take nothing black from the seas, and his dutiful wife would wear nothing black upon her person nor allow the tabu color to appear even in the vicinity of her home.


The business of fishing was carried on with great skill and those engaged in the occupation had an extensive knowledge of the habits, feeding grounds and species of fish in the sea round about the islands.


Fish nets were made in various forms for various purposes. They were netted of a twine manufactured by twisting the fiber of the olona to form cordage, most remarkable for its durability. As a substitute in certain cases, cord made from the cocoanut fiber was used, though it was by no means as flexible or durable as the former. The olona grew in a semi-cultivated state, in the mountain valleys, where abundant rainfall was assured. The bark was gathered from the young shoots, which were stripped and hackled with a scraper made of tortoise shell or bone.


Nets of various sizes and patterns were designed for various purposes, as were various fish hooks, poisons, traps and the like.


Salt Manufacture


Salt was an important article among the Hawaiians and they were adept in the manufacture of a coarse salt from the sea water. Two methods were employed: One, that of putting the water in shallow scooped-out stone dishes to evaporate; the other, by impounding the sea water in small shallow ponds and collecting the residue as the water evaporated. Salt Lake, on Oahu, also was an important source of supply.


The foregoing were the principal productive occupations that consumed the four to six hours a day that the ancient Hawaiians devoted to labor. It is, however, not to be presumed that these were the only pursuits in which they could engage. Certain districts and settlements became famous for their peculiar wares and products. Occasional fairs or markets were held at which the products and articles of manufacture of one district were exchanged for those of another, and a crude sort of barter was thus in vogue by which, recognizing the importance of specialized skill, or by utilizing special natural advantages, the wants and necessities were supplied, so that food, clothing, ornaments, utensils and tools might be had by all.     Back to Contents



CHAPTER 7: Tools, Implements, Arts and Amusements of the Hawaiians


The Hawaiians at the time of their discovery by white men were still in the stone age. The absence of iron, copper or any of the metals in a workable form was a serious handicap to their development. Stone, bone and wood w^ere the materials at their disposal, and from them they were forced to construct such tools as they could devise.


Implements of Stone, Bone and Shell


Of the simpler tools made use of by the natives, none was of more value and importance than was the stone adz. It was formerly in general use throughout the whole group, as it was throughout the most of Polynesia. In Hawaii adzes were made in various shapes, weights and sizes, for various purposes, but the principle was the same in all and consisted in the securing of a cutting or bruising edge of stone that might be held in a convenient form for use as a hand tool.


The hardest, most compact clinkstone lava was selected for the bit by the ancient adz maker. The rough stone was patiently worked into form by chipping, splitting and grinding. When at last the proper shape was secured, the bit was bound to the handle, (usually made from a branch of the hau tree), by means of a cord made of cocoanut or olona fiber.


In certain cases, the bit was used without the addition of a handle. For heavy work, as the felling of trees, the shaping of canoes, or the framing of the house timbers, large adzes were required, and there are some in existence that weigh several pounds. For more exacting work, as in carving their hideous idols, or finishing and mending the umekes, fine chisels were needed, and examples are extant that are, in effect, carving sets in which simple forms of  gouges, chisels, and the like can easily be recognized. Among their implements they had sharpening stones made of hard phonolite, which were used to give an edge to their tools, or as polishing stones. Some of these were boulders and were permanently located, while others were smaller and could be taken about as required. The saw-like teeth of the shark were used as tools in many ways, where cutting, scraping, and sawing edges were required. One of the most curious of their tools was the rotary or pump drill. The staff, tipped with a slender piece of hard lava or a Terebra shell, was fitted with a crude fly-wheel and a bow-like device, which caused it to spin back and forth. This simple device was convenient for boring the innumerable holes required to accommodate the cord that, for want of nails, was used in fastening all kinds of objects together. Hand stones for hammers, stone files for making fish hooks of bone, scrapers of bone and shell, stones for smoothing, fine pumice, coral grit and other fine materials for polishing, w^ere all tools commonly found in an artisan's kit. The oo or digger, a long staff of hard wood, was almost the only tool of husbandry, while in net manufacture the simple and widely used seine needle and mesh gage were practically the only tools employed.


As we think of the endless variety of tools necessary to perform even the most ordinary task in our own more complex civilization, it seems incredible that the patient Hawaiian, with such exceedingly simple tools at his command, could have utilized the materials of his environment to such splendid purpose. The wonder of their achievement grows when we contemplate not only the variety and amount of their handicraft, but the neat and substantial character of their work—a trait for which the ancient Hawaiians are .justly famed.


Ornaments of Feathers


Ornaments wrought from the feathers of birds were among their most valuable possessions. Among their handicraft, especially such as had to do with adornment, nothing made by them surpassed in elegance their feather capes, helmets, cloaks, leis, kahili, and feather pa 'us or dresses. So handsome were they that their possession was almost entirely limited to the alii or persons of rank, or those of special distinction.


The most valuable of all were the feather cloaks or robes of state, which were indeed priceless insignia of rank. The most valuable were made entirely of the rich, golden-yellow feathers of the very rare and now extinct native mamo. A robe in the Bishop Museum that was the property of Kamehameha I, is composed almost entirely of the feathers of the mamo, and constitutes one of the Museum's chief treasures. As the arrangement of the cloak was always such that additions could be made from time to time, it is not to be wondered that this beautiful robe of state, which occupied over one hundred years in making, should be valued at as high a figure as a million dollars, when the amount of labor involved in the gathering of the raw material from which it was made is taken into account. As a substitute for the rarer golden-yellow mamo feathers, certain more common yellow feathers from the now equally rare oo were used by the old Hawaiians. The feathers of other birds as the iiwi, apapane, ou, koae and iwa were used in combination with the foregoing or in various other ways, in the different articles mentioned, that chiefs and those who could afford them might have capes; but the yellow feathers were reserved for royalty only. The ground work for the capes and cloaks was a fine netting made of the native olona; to this the feathers were firmly fastened in such a way as to overlap each other and form a smooth and uniform surface.







1. Tapa making. 2. Eating poi and playing the nose flute. 3. Playing Puhenehene―a guessing game. 4. Sweeping a mat with a broom made of cocoanut leaf ribs.



The Kahili


The kahili, a fly brush or plumed staff of state, was the emblem and embellishment of royalty and was held in the time of which we write, solely as an adjunct of the alii. A few of these curious feather plumes were of enormous proportions, there being records of some that were borne on poles thirty feet in length. The plume was composed of feathers arranged in bunches, bound on stems, which were attached to the central staff in such a way as to form a loose, fluffy, cylinder-shaped head, sometimes two or more feet in diameter by three or four feet in length. The handle was occasionally made of alternate rings of ivory and tortoise shell. In some instances the bones of the famous alii slain in battle were placed on the stem as trophies of victory or as savage ornaments. However, the kahili handle was commonly made of a stout spear-like shaft of kauila wood. Many of the smaller kahilis were definitely used for the purpose of fly flaps and are thought to be the form from which the larger and more ornamental ones were evolved.


Their helmets, which were exceedingly picturesque and striking ornaments, were generally worn by the chiefs on state occasions. They were made of wicker work of the aerial ieie roots, covered with the feathers of several species of the birds mentioned, red and yellow being chiefly used, and were extremely variable in form.


Hideous effigies of the powerful war god Kukailimoku were made of wicker work and feathers, like the helmets, and were usually supplied with staring pearl-shell eyes and horrible grinning mouths set round with dogs' teeth. We are told that not more than a dozen of these curious feather gods have been preserved in various museum collections.




The feather lei was the simplest form of feather work wrought by the Hawaiians, and may be regarded as the royal counterpart of the more common and perishable garlands made of flowers, nuts and seeds. The flower and feather leis were twined through the hair or slung gracefully around the necks of both sexes, and seem to have had but little real significance other than to gratify a taste for ornament. Durable leis were also made of such objects as sea and land shells, boars' tusks and dried fruits.


An ornament much worm by the chiefesses was a necklace that consisted of many strands of finely braided human hair on which was suspended, as a pendant, a much-prized ornament, the palaoa, made from the tooth of a whale or walrus. These were tabu to all below the rank of chief. Necklaces of ivory beads were also prized; bracelets of shells, especially the pipipi, and of whale ivory, were worn, fastened on the back of the wrist with a small cord of olona. Boars' teeth were also used as bracelets. A beautiful amber tone was given to many of the ivory ornaments by wrapping; them in ki leaves and exposing them for considerable time in the heavy, strong smoke of sugar-cane.


Medicine op the Hawaiians


Of the practice of medicine and the use of medicinal herbs among the ancient Hawaiians, but little is known further than that it was a matter of worship rather than the practice of a healing art. It seems that superstition was the principal element combined with vegetable substances and crude surgery. The doctors were a distinct class of priests who worshipped certain gods from whom they were supposed to have inherited their knowledge of medicine. They were regular in the practice of their art in that they exacted offerings for the god of medicine before they would undertake a cure, and then forbade certain articles of food to the sick. As a matter of fact they seem to have had considerable knowledge of the medicinal properties of herbs though they were by no means uniformly successful in their prescription and use. They followed a crude form of external diagnosis for internal ailments. They were adept in the use of rubbing and manipulation to alleviate soreness and minor ills. They set limbs with some skill, reduced inflammation by the use of herb poultices and made use of the pulp of the calabash gourd vine as a cathartic. Patients were held over the smoke of specially prepared fires for certain ailments, were steamed over hot stones for others, and so on through a long list of practices that were, no doubt, useful in securing to the patients the satisfaction of feeling that they were at least doing something for their ailments. From the natural history point of view their practice of medicine adds much interest to the study of the botany of the islands, for a surprisingly large number of native plants were well known as specifics for different diseases, and to this day frequent allusions are made by the natives to the uses of various plants by the old kahuna doctors.


Implements of Warfare


Although war was an important vocation with the ancient Hawaiians, there being a certain period of the year set apart during which it might properly be engaged in, the implements were few and simple. They consisted chiefly of spears, javelins, daggers and clubs made of tough wood and were, as a rule, smoothly polished. They had no armor other than the gourd masks worn by the canoe men. The Hawaiian warriors preferred to fight dressed in their malos only. As a substitute for the shield, a device of which they appeared to be ignorant, they used their stout spears in warding off blows. These were made of heavy solid wood perfectly straight in form and were twelve to twenty feet in length. Their javelins were smaller, being about six feet in length and were provided with plain arrow-shaped or barbed heads which, though dull, were effective when thrust against the bare skin of the enemy. The next most important of their weapons were stout clubs of various sizes and forms made of wood, stone or hone. With these they were able to deal a powerful blow. Their dagger-like sword was from sixteen inches to two feet in length and was frequently pointed at both ends. This weapon was supplied with a string of olona by which it was suspended from the wrist. Another form of sword had a saw-like edge set with a few shark teeth. The bow and arrow in a diminutive form, although used by the alii in the royal sport of shooting rats and mice, was never made use of in warfare; instead, slings manufactured of human hair, braided pandanus or cocoanut cord were the important weapons of defense. With them they were able to hurl the smooth egg-shaped pebbles which they prepared with special care, with great force and accuracy. The canoe breaker, made for naval warfare, was simply a round stone firmly fastened to the end of a rope. This could be whirled about the head and thrown with sufficient force to smash the thin shell of the enemy's canoe.


The instruments made use of in hand-to-hand encounters were knives fitted with one or two shark's teeth; disemboweling weapons were made by fastening a single shark tooth firmly in a short stick of wood, so arranged as to be carried concealed in the hand, until, in an unguarded moment, it could suddenly be made use of with fatal effect. A rarer weapon, used in securing victims for human sacrifice, was a stout cord in a slip-noose form, that was firmly fastened to a knob-like handle. In use the noose was stealthily thrown over the head of the intended victim and hauled taut from the rear by the knob, the back of the victim usually being broken in the attack that followed.  


While the natives were industrious and skilled in the pursuits of peace, expert in their primitive arts of war, and an exceedingly religious people, they found much time for amusements and devised many games suited to both children and adults, from which they derived much enjoyment.


The Hula


The hula was the form of diversion most commonly indulged in. It was not so much a dance in the usual sense of the term, as a form of religious service in which acting in gesture and movement was made use of in developing the ideas expressed by the song: which the gestures accompanied. Like everything else the Hawaiians did it was made the subject of extensive religious ceremonies and was accompanied by an intricate form of worship in which Laka was the chief goddess. Naturally there were many forms of the hula, some of them extremely lewd. The latter class, unfortunately, have been used more than any other single thing to spread the fame and infamy of Hawaii, and create an erroneous and distorted impression of the Hawaiian race. Yet it should be understood that their dances were, in the main, entirely chaste; but, unfortunately, some of them were intended for the gratification of the baser instincts and it is these, under the encouragement given by a certain class belonging to our own European civilization, that are most frequently seen in our own times.


The dancers, who were usually though not always women, wore the pa'u, or hula skirt, about their waists, with wreaths of flowers about their heads and shoulders. Occasionally dogs' teeth anklets, dogs' teeth bracelets and whales' teeth ornaments were worn by the participants. The performers stood or sat singly, or in companies, according to the hula being given, usually staying in one place and moving their body and limbs in perfect time and in keeping with the sentiment of the accompanying chant, which was accentuated with the various sounds produced by a series of primitive musical instruments. It is a curious fact that almost all the Hawaiian musical instruments were made use of in the performance of the hula. Naturally the most important instruments were those calculated to mark the crude intervals of time in their chanted songs. The large drums, some of them three feet in height, with half that diameter, made of hollow cocoanut stems over which shark skin heads were stretched, were played by rapping with the finger tips and were especially prized. Other drum-like instruments, with astonishing resonance, were made from large bottle gourds, two of which were joined ))y inserting the neck of one within the other.






1. Hula girls with ki leaf skirt and anklets. 2. Hula girl wearing lauhala leaf skirt; an ilima lei is on the head; a maile lei about the shoulders; an ukulele (a modern instrument) is held in the hands. 3. Six hula dancers as seen on the occasion of the coronation celebration of King Kalakaua. 4. Six hula musicians with gourd drums (ipu hula).



Musical Instruments


To produce the sound desired, the gourd instrument, held in the hand by a loop, was dropped on the padded floor of the house and at the same time beaten with the palm of the hand, thus varying the sound to accord with the action and feeling of the accompanying song. The deep base of the larger drums was supplemented by the rattle of lesser drums made from cocoanut shells with shark skin heads, or by rattles of small gourds partly filled with dry seeds. Other rattle instruments were made by splitting a long joint of bamboo for half its length, to form small slivers, so that the free ends, in response to the lively motion from the hands of the player, produced a curious swishing sound. A still more primitive instrument was made of two sticks of hard, resonant wood which were struck together.


The most ambitious musical instrument of the ancient Hawaiians and one requiring unquestioned skill in its manipulation, was the nose flute. To make the nose flute, a long, single joint of bamboo was used. One end was left closed by the joint and three small holes bored along the upper side, one near the closed end, the other two about a third of +lie distance from either end. In playing, the instrument was held so that the end hole was squarely under the right nostril. The sound produced was modified by the finger holes to give five notes, which might be varied at the pleasure of the performer.


A similar instrument was the love-whistle or kiokio, made of very small gourds in which three holes were pierced. The method of playing this tiny instrument was similar to that of the nose flute. Another instrument sometimes used to accompany the mele, was based on the principle of the Jew's harp. It was made of a short stick of bamboo slightly bent in such a manner as to hold the three strings of olona fiber taut. In use one end of the instrument was placed in the open month which served as a resonator for the feeble tones produced by striking the strings with the fingers or with a bamboo splinter as a plectrum.


Boxing the National Game


Returning to their festivals and games, for there were many in which strength, skill and chance played an important part, we find boxing was, perhaps, the national game. It was regulated by certain rules, umpires were appointed, the victor defended the ring against all comers, the conqueror receiving the highest honors. A great crowd of all classes usually attended their games and sports, and wild excitement and much hilarity prevailed. In many of the important contests between the followers of various chiefs, not infrequently death was the result of blows received.


Wrestling and foot racing were also popular sports. It is recorded that the king's heralds were frequently able to make the circuit of Hawaii, a distance of three hundred miles, over exceedingly rough trails, in eight or nine days.


A game which must have contributed much to their skill as warriors, in their form of warfare, was one in which spears were thrown a short distance at the body of the contestant—to be parried by him. The more skillful, it is said, were able to ward off a number of spears at once. Mock fights with stones, spears and other missiles, were also indulged in.


The Primitive Bowling Alley.


A favorite amusement was one which consisted in bowling or rolling a smooth disk-like stone over a track especially prepared for the purpose, with sufficient skill to cause the stone to pass between two sticks driven a few inches apart at the opposite end of what may be termed a primitive bowling alley. The game had many variations, one being to excel in bowling the longest distance. Still another modification of this game had as its object the breaking of the opponent's bowling stone. Amusements of precision, like the above led to great care being exercised in the selecting of the material and the employment of much skill in the manufacture of their ulu or olohu stones. The best were preferably perfect disks in shape, of hard lava stone, or coral rock, and were three or four inches in diameter by an inch or more in thickness, with an average weight of about one pound. They were slightly thicker in the center, gradually thinning slightly toward the edge of the stone. While this was the usual form, others that were perfect spheres are in existence that measure over seven inches in diameter and weigh as much as twenty-two pounds.


A sport which was justly popular with all classes was what might be called "summer tobogganing." It consisted in sliding down hill over carefully prepared slides, a few yards in width, on a long, double-runner sled. There are a number of these slides that are still pointed out as favorite coasting places of ancient times. Any smooth mountain slope of sufficient steepness would serve the purpose. The only complete sled in existence is in the Bishop Museum. The two runners of this one are each just over eleven feet in length and are three inches apart. They are firmly fastened to the narrow frame. The native tobogganer would lie fiat upon this curious sled, the papa holua, and give it a push with his foot, to start it off. During the decent it would frequently gain an immense velocity, and the sport, while exhilarating, must have been accompanied with great danger to life and limb. Several of the old slides are more than a half mile in length, one on the town side of Diamond Head ran far out on the plain, and another still longer one is to be seen from King street, at the opposite end of the city of Honolulu.




Many of their sports and games were more properly games of chance. Gambling in various forms was indulged in by all classes in the natural state of their civilization. Seldom did they enter into serious contests without an accompanying bet of some sort, so that food, clothing, ornaments, crops, wives, their daughters, and even the bones of their bodies after death, were wagered on the outcome of some simple contest.


In addition to those already described, cock fighting was also much affected in the ancient times, and was a game of chance of rare interest. They also played a game resembling checkers on a flat lava stone, divided into numerous holes or squares, using black and white stones for the men.






1. Hawaiian youth standing on the surf board (papa hee nalu). 2. Showing the shape and size of the board. 3. Racing in the surf at Waikiki; Diamond Head in the background. 4. An outrigger canoe (waa) showing the outrigger (ama) of wiliwili wood and the connecting bars (iako) of hau and the gunwale (moo) of ulu. The paddles (hoe) are of koa and kauila wood. 5. Two single canoes on the beach. The hull of the canoe is always made of a single koa log.




Surf Riding


A favorite game in which women engaged with much skill, consisted in hiding a pebble, the noa,  which was held in the hand, under one of five piles of tapa. It was for the opposing side to guess in which pile the stone was left, striking the pile selected with a rod tipped with feathers. There were also many children's games, such as flying kites, cat's cradle and jumping the rope. But the sports par excellence in which the chiefs and common people, both old and young indulged, were those which had to do with the wonderful surf for which the islands are far-famed. Being excellent swimmers from their youth the natives were as a race devoid of fear. They would leap from high precipices into the foaming surf below, fifty, sixty and seventy feet; and it is still common to see the swimmers and divers in the harbor leap one after another from the bridge or from the life boats of the largest ocean steamers. But riding the surf with the surfboard was and is still the favorite amusement, and an art in which the Hawaiians always exhibited wonderful skill and dexterity. For this amusement a plank, preferably of koa wood, known as a surfboard, was used. It was a coffin-shaped plank averaging about ten feet in length by a foot and a half in width, though they were occasionally eighteen feet or more in length, and from that ranged down to very small ones for children. Some were made of the very light wiliwili wood. They were always made with great care and were kept smoothly polished. The swimmer, with his board, would gradually work his way out through the shallow water, over the fringing coral reef to where the high rollers rise over the outer reef and follow each other in rapid succession over the table-like reef toward the shore. The more terrific the surf, the greater the pleasure to those skilled in the sport, a form of recreation that is enjoyed in these modern and more strenuous times by natives and foreigners alike.


Selecting the proper kind of wave, the surf-rider would get his board under way by paddling furiously with his hands and feet. At the proper moment, mounting a high wave he throws himself on the board just as it is seized by the force of the on-rushing water. Skillful manipulation is required to manage and keep the board just abreast of the crest of the towering wave, which, if everything goes as planned, carries the swimmer and his board, at race-horse speed, clear into the shallow water at the beach.


In this manner they disported themselves for hours at a time, returning again and again, often standing erect and gracefully poised on their boards as they were wafted in on the bosom of the foam-capped wave. Surf-riding extended to canoe racing in which the principle just indicated was even more elaborately applied.


Strong crews of picked men would man their best type of racing canoes and pull out to where the surf began to rush over the reef. There amid the rush and dash of the sea, each crew would await the signal, when the race would begin, each man paddling furiously, until the canoes were caught by the waves, and amid wild shouts of exhilaration, scarcely audible above the ocean's roar, the successful crew would reach the shore, claiming the race, to the unbounded joy of all.


Thus we have hastily passed in review, the life, the customs and the culture of this splendid, though vanishing race. We have seen how, though isolated as they were from their own kind, they developed a natural civilization well adapted to their needs and their peculiar environment. We can now approach the natural history of the animals and plants, and the land itself, with a better understanding of its meaning to the natives and a livelier appreciation of otherwise unimportant elements which have long been determining factors in the lives of these people.  


We can now better understand the changes and modifications which have been wrought on the whole by the introduction of another race that has transplanted hither the animals, the plants, the industries and the arts of a more aggressive and far different civilization.






1. Hawaiian girls plaiting lauhala mats. 2. Spear practice (from an old drawing). 3. Sheet of copper formerly affixed to a cocoanut tree at Kealakekua Bay marking the spot where Captain Cook met his death February 14, 1779. 4. Captain Cook's monument at Kealakekua Bay. This monument was erected by the British Government about fifty years after the death of the great explorer at a spot as near as possible to the place where he fell when killed by the natives. 5. Two old Hawaiians at home.    Back to Contents



Section Two:  Geology, Geography and Topography of the Hawaiian Islands


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