Material Culture

Little is known about the earliest Hawaiian material culture. Stone adzes of various types were certainly used, and because these people were fishermen, depending initially almost entirely upon the sea and its produce for their subsistence, simple fishhooks were manufactured as well as trolling lures. Other items found from this early period include coral abraders and flake tools. Cultural items most susceptible to change during the settlement period would have been those used in sea exploitation, because of the different raw materials, marine conditions, and types of marine resources in Hawai'i.

Ultimately certain distinctive patterns of Hawaiian material culture did begin to develop. Fishing gear was refined to adjust to local marine environmental conditions and available materials. Elaborate two-piece bone fishhooks appeared and trolling lures became more distinctive. Styles of coral and sea-urchin files, awls, scrapers, and flake tools remained about the same.

Few new portable artifact types developed over the years, and the basic Hawaiian material culture inventory changed little until the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of foreign goods and materials. However, elaboration of elite status goods, such as feather capes and whale ivory pendants, and wood carving increased. Craft specialists standardized and controlled the production of these valued goods as well as of utilitarian items. At the time of European contact, these status items were much admired for their design and artistry.


Learn more about Native Hawaiian material culture below.

More About Native Hawaiian Material Culture

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