Culture of Hawai

Superb voyagers, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands migrated to Hawai`i over 1,600 years ago. Navigating by the sun and stars, reading the winds, currents, and the flight of seabirds, Polynesians sailed across 2,400 miles of open ocean in great double-hulled canoes. They brought with them items essential to their survival: pua'a (pigs), `ilio (dogs), and moa (chickens); the roots of kalo (taro) and `uala (sweet potato); the seeds and saplings of niu (coconut), mai`a (banana), ko (sugar cane), and other edible and medicinal plants. Polynesians were well-established on the islands when about 800 years ago, Polynesians from the Society Islands arrived in Hawai`i. Claiming descent from the greatest gods, they became the new rulers of Hawai`i. After a time of voyaging back and forth between the Society Islands and the Hawaiian Archipelago, contact with southern Polynesia ceased. During the 400 years of isolation that followed, a unique Hawaiian culture developed.
Hawai`i was a highly stratified society with strictly maintained castes. The ali`i (chiefs) headed the social pyramid and ruled over the land. Highly regarded and sometimes feared, the kahuna (professionals) were experts on religious ritual or specialists in canoe-building, herbal medicine, and healing. The maka`ainana (commoners) farmed and fished; built walls, houses, and fishponds; and paid taxes to the paramount chiefs and his chiefs. Kauwa, the lowest class, were outcasts or slaves.
A system of laws known as kanawai enforced the social order. Certain people, places, things, and times were sacred -- they were kapu, or forbidden. Women ate apart from men and were restricted from eating pork, coconuts, bananas, or a variety of other foods. Kapu regulated fishing, planting, and the harvesting of other resources, thus ensuring their conservation. Any breaking of kapu disturbed the stability of society; the punishment often was death.
Village life was rich and varied: Hawaiians fished in coastal waters and collected shellfish, seaweed, and salt along the shore. They raised pigs, dogs, and chickens and harvested sweet potatoes, taro, and other crops. Men pounded taro into poi (the staple food of Hawaiians), while women beat the inner bark of wauke (paper mulberry) into kapa (bark cloth). They worshipped akua (gods) and `aumakua (guardian spirits) and chronicled their history through oli (chant), mele (song) and hula (dance). Over several hundred years the people of Hawai`i cultivated traditions that were passed on through generations. But the sounds of taro pounding and kapa beating, rhythmical signatures of Hawaiian village life, would fade away after Captain James Cook arrived in 1778 and introduced the rest of the world to Hawai`i.

Hawaii Islands
Hawaiian Culture

Traditional Hawaiian culture and the customs of Hawaii's ethnically diverse immigrants are an integral part of the social fabric. This is not simply a place where East meets West, but a place where the cultures merge in a manner which seems to bring out the best in all of them.
The revival of traditional Hawaiian culture has seen an explosion of Hula halaus (schools) and many Hawaiian artists and craftspeople are returning to traditional mediums and themes such a tapa weaving, quilt making and the creation of colorful Flower Leis.

Aloha Aina

Aloha aina means love of the land. It is the profound respect we have for Hawaii and the care we take to protect our Islands.
Aina means that the land is the source of our food. In that sense, then, the land is what gives us sustenance; it is Hawaii that sustains us. We who live in the Islands walk upon its earth, breathe its air, drink its water, and eat the food it provides. Hawaii is within us, a part of us. If we defile Hawaii, it is as if we defile ourselves.
Aloha Aina is shared with visitors so they, too, will respect Hawaii and treat the islands with care.
Hawaiian Language
English is the dominant language in Hawaii, but it is infused with Hawaiian words, phrases and pidgin slang. The Hawaiian language is only spoken by an estimated 9000 people, but 85% of all local place names are Hawaiian and they often have interesting stories behind them. Hawaii's early immigrants communicated with each other in pidgin, a stripped and simplified form of English which survives today as a lively, ever-changing local slang.
Hawaiian Music
Music has always played a central role in Hawaiian culture. In early Hawai'i, mele, or chant, was the most important means of remembering myths of gods and deeds of powerful people. Today, Hawaiians continue to use music to define themselves and celebrate aloha 'aina, or love of land.

Western string instruments and Christian hymns, or himeni, introduced to Hawai'i in the nineteenth century, transformed earlier forms of Hawaiian music and provided ingredients for new musical forms. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a newly created tourist industry began to employ musicians and hundreds of Hapa-haole, or half Hawaiian-half English, tunes were composed. These songs reflected some aspects of the older traditions but were primarily a popular commercial genre. Hawaiian music was transformed by the success of these songs on the American mainland.
Steel guitars were originally invented and popularized in Hawaii. Legend has it that Joseph Kekuku, a Hawaiian schoolboy, discovered the sound while walking along a railroad track strumming his guitar. He picked up a bolt lying by the track and slid the metal along the strings of his guitar. Intrigued by the sound, he taught himself to play using the back of a knife blade.
Other persons who have been credited with the invention of the steel guitar include Gabriel Davion, an Indian sailor, around 1885, and James Hoa, a Hawaiian of Portuguese ancestry.
Hawaiian groups were a big hit at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. From there the sound of the Hawaiian guitar spread throughout the United States. From about 1915 to 1930, a large number of Hawaiian guitar methods and songs were published by the major music publishers.
The sound of the Hawaiian guitar was picked up and incorporated into blues and country music. From there, the steel guitar slid its way into rock, pop, African and Indian music.
More information about Hawaiian steel guitar may be found on the Hawaiian Steel Guitar page.
Hawaiian Cooking
The islands' ethnic diversity makes eating out a real treat. You can find every kind of Japanese food, an array of regional Chinese cuisine, spicy Korean specialties, native Hawaiian dishes and excellent Thai and Vietnamese food. Fresh fish is readily available throughout the islands as well as an abundance of fruit including avocado, coconut, guava, mango and papaya.


History and Culture

Keiki Hula Dancers
© Ann Cecil

The Aloha Spirit is the coordination of mind and heart within each person. It brings each person to the Self. Each person must think and emote good feelings to others. In the contemplation and presence of the life force, Aloha, the following unuhi laula loa (free translation) may be used:

• Akahai, meaning kindness to be expressed with tenderness;
• Lokahi, meaning unity, to be expressed with harmony;
• Oluolu, meaning agreeable, to be expressed with pleasantness;
• Haahaa, meaning humility, to be expressed with modesty;
• Ahonui, meaning patience, to be expressed with perseverance.
These are traits of character that express the charm, warmth and sincerity of Hawaii's people. It was the working philosophy of native Hawaiians and was presented as a gift to the people of Hawaii.
• Aloha is more than a word of greeting or farewell or a salutation.
• Aloha means mutual regard and affection and extends warmth in caring with no obligation in return.
• Aloha is the essence of relationships in which each person is important to every other person for collective existence.
• Aloha means to hear what is not said, to see what cannot be seen and to know the unknowable.
Source: Hawaii Revised Statutes, § 5-7.5

The ancient Hawaiians worshipped nature. They saw its forces manifested in a multiplicity of forms to which they ascribed godlike powers. Daily life was based on this animistic philosophy. Any object, animate or inanimate, could be a god.

In today's world, God is a brand name. Christ is considered to be the true path to heaven, Allah is praised, the Torah is chanted, and nirvana is available at Hindu temples.

To the Hawaiians:
God is love. God is aloha.

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