A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites
on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island
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Overview of Hawaiian Prehistory


E. Major Aspects of Traditional Hawaiian Culture (continued)

3. Subsistence

     a) Marine Activities

          (1) Inshore and Offshore Fishing

               (a) Techniques

Abundant marine resources, including aquatic plants such as seaweed and edible algae and animals such as crustaceans and shellfish, provided the primary protein component of the Hawaiian diet because of the limited supply of other protein foods such as pig, dog, chicken, and wild birds. The ancient Hawaiians quickly became familiar with the various species of fish frequenting the waters adjacent to their shores, closely studying their habits and feeding grounds and adopting gathering methods suited to their particular characteristics. Although a constant,

Fishing took place both inshore and offshore. Many fishing techniques were used, each demanding different equipment and procedures. The principal open sea marine exploitation practices at the time of European contact included hand catching, snaring, spearing, basket trapping, netting, hook and line fishing, and poisoning.

Inshore fishing was probably the most productive and reliable source of seafood for the ancient Hawaiians, yielding fish, echinoderms, crustaceans, molluscs, and edible seaweed. [58] Women and children participated in this type of fishing, although canoe fishing and even several of the reef methods were restricted to men. Several types of fish, including crabs, lobsters, eels, sea urchins, shellfish, octopi, and shrimp, could be caught by hand along the rocky coasts in shallow coral reef areas and shoreline pools or by divers in underwater caves.

Eels and lobsters could be caught by snaring with a noose hung from a pole. When an eel stuck its head outside its hole to get at the bait on the other side of the noose, the noose was drawn tight and the eel ensnared and raised to the surface. Using hardwood spears about six feet long, underwater divers stood on the bottom of the shore and impaled fish as they swam by. Spears were used above water for turtles, octopi, and fish that were mesmerized by torches at night in shallow water.

Women used basket traps to catch shrimp and fish. Woven of vines or branches and filled with bait, these baskets could be lowered to the shallow bottom. Women then dove down and brought the filled traps to the surface. More sophisticated baskets had conical woven entries, making it impossible for the fish to find their way out.

Several types of gill nets were used, according to the type of fish to be caught and the type of habitat. The three techniques of fishing with these involved setting up a stationary net in which fish became entangled as they swam about; driving the fish into a stationary net; or moving the net to encircle the fish. Seine nets were also used in shallow water and trapped fish by impounding them within a complete circle formed by the net or between the net and the shoreline. Bag nets were made into enclosed purses with one open end in which bait attracted fish. [59]

A leguminous plant called 'auhuhu was pounded to make a material called hola; this was applied to holes or tidal pools to stupefy the fish, which floated to the surface where they could be retrieved in scoop nets. Or divers stuffed the pounded fibers into an underwater cave that had been sealed earlier to trap the fish inside. In a few minutes the dead fish were retrieved by hand. Another plant, called akia, found in the forests and foothills also served this purpose. [60]

Professionals did most of the offshore fishing, using canoes to reach the deep sea fishing grounds. Only through long and careful training did men become acknowledged fishermen. The head fisherman of a group, for whom this activity was a profession and sole occupation, was the po'o lawai'a. He could be a chief of lower rank or a commoner and often supervised a company of apprentices. Knowledge of the habitats and movements of different species of fish, of the methods of capturing them, and of the types of fishing apparatus needed and of how to manufacture them (these were usually made for him by craftsmen) had been handed down to him. It was therefore his duty to choose pupils to whom to transmit his expertise so the cycle could continue. His assistants helped in fishing beyond the reef, an activity that needed to be done in concert. Often one member of the party stayed on shore to watch for the schools of fish, whose location he signalled to the fishermen. The po'o lawai'a could be commanded to accompany the high chief for a sporting fishing expedition, he could be ordered to fish for the chief, or he could go whenever he wanted. [61]

Knowledge of the location of good fishing places off shore was a family or community possession. These spots were defined by taking bearings on natural features on shore. Several kinds of line fishing from canoes were practiced. The primary type was trolling for tunas with an unbarbed trolling hook, or lure. At other times a one-piece bone or shell hook was attached to a line, sometimes 600 feet long, weighted at the bottom with a stone sinker. Hooks were fastened to the ends of short sticks standing out at right angles along its length, which caught different kinds of fish frequenting different depths. [62]

The first fish caught were reserved for the gods and offered on altars on shore or given to priests as soon as the canoes landed. The best fish of the catch were then set aside for the chief's personal needs and those of his household. After apportions had been made to the various kahuna and konohiki (resident land manager of the high chief), the common people finally received their share according to their need. [63]

Resources caught along the coasts and on reefs were usually eaten raw. Fish were caught mainly for immediate consumption, but surpluses could be preserved by drying or by salting and drying on racks in the sun along the beach. Salt fish went especially well with poi, the staple Hawaiian plant food. Preserved fish could be stored for later food needs or became an important article in internal and external trade or exchange. Fish could also be wrapped in ti leaves and cooked in an imu (underground oven), laid on coals and cooked, or boiled in a calabash (gourd bowl). [64]

As mentioned earlier, salt was an important adjunct to the fishing industry, with villagers collecting and evaporating sea water in either naturally or artificially pan-shaped rocks along the shore. The extraction of salt from ocean water for domestic use was an ancient art. [65]

               (b) Religious Aspects

As with so many other activities in early Hawaiian life, success in fishing was closely tied to signs, omens, and the will of the gods. At the beginning of the fishing season, many ceremonies took place in which offerings such as pigs, coconuts, and bananas were made. There were also specific ceremonies surrounding the christening of a new canoe, the initial use of a new net or hook, and the catching of the first fish.

Many deities were associated with fishing. Although an ancient noted fisherman Ku'ula-kai, his wife Hina-hele, and their son Aiai, were the chief deities of this activity because they supposedly presided over the sea, each fisherman also had his own god, which might be a stone or image of the family guardian spirit ('aumakua), which would bring good luck in fishing and to which he said prayers and made offerings. 'Aumakua belonged to and protected families, or a group of kinsmen, and passed from generation to generation. They were thought to be ancestors of these kinship groups. Good-luck stones, sometimes carved with human form or in the shape of a fish, were either taken along when fishing or left at home facing the sea. In addition, a variety of shrines and altars were placed along the shore near villages or fishing places. Fishing shrines (ko'a), comprising a pile of stones usually of coral or limestone, were erected on promontories or headlands overlooking the ocean. Ko'a also took the form of small thatched temples built on rock platforms, which were enclosed with wooden fences or rock walls and sheltered by banana trees. All these structures were designed to entice the deities to attract shoals of fish to the area, and offerings of fish and sometimes fishhooks were placed on them prior to setting out to sea. After successful fishing expeditions, fishermen again placed offerings of fish on their altars. [66]

Missionary William Ellis, describing his tour around Hawai'i in 1823, mentions that upon

Leaving the heiau [Kauaikahaloa], we passed by a number of smaller temples, principally on the sea shore, dedicated to Kuura [Ku'ula], a male, and Hina, a female idol, worshipped by fishermen, as they were supposed to preside over the sea, and to conduct or impel to the shores of Hawaii, the various shoals of fish that visit them at different seasons of the year. The first of any kind of fish, taken in the season, was always presented to them. . . . This custom exactly accords with the former practice of the inhabitants of Maui and the adjacent islands, and of the Society islanders. [67]

As mentioned, the protective spirit of an 'aumakua was considered to be related to a specific kinship group. This was because the Hawaiians thought that the spirit of an illustrious deceased relative or young child could be ritually induced to enter some kind of fetish, either an inanimate object, a carved image, or an animal, and thus become a patron. The animal selected as the receptacle of the spirit would be treated as a pet, and a familiar relationship between its species and the family would be established. The early Hawaiians regarded certain sea animals, such as sea turtles, eels, squids, porpoises, and most notably sharks, as the physical embodiments of personal gods ('aumakua).

Ellis conjectured that

In some remote period, perhaps, they had observed the sharks chasing or devouring these fish, as they passed along among their islands, and from this circumstance had been led to deify the monster, supposing themselves indebted to him for the bountiful supplies thus furnished by a gracious Providence. [68]

If a species of shark were 'aumakua, any of its members received offerings for special favors, such as good luck at sea and protection from drowning, prior to embarkation of a fishing expedition. Many fishermen, however, regularly fed a shark at a special spot along the shore or from a canoe and came to recognize them as individuals and even as pets. [69] According to J. S. Emerson,

The shark was perhaps the most universally worshipped of all the 'aumakuas, and, strange to say, was regarded as peculiarly the friend and protector of all his faithful worshippers. . . . Each several locality along the coast of the islands had its special patron shark, whose name, history, place of abode, and appearance, were well known to all frequenters of that coast. Each of the sharks, too, had its kahu (keeper), who was responsible for its care and worship. The relation between a shark-god and its kahu was often times of the most intimate and confidential nature. The shark enjoyed the caresses of its kahu as it came from time to time to receive a pig, a fowl, a piece of 'awa, a malo, or some other substantial token of its kahu's devotion. And in turn it was always ready to assist the kahu, guarding him from any danger that threatened him. [70]

Religious practices related to fishing not only helped ensure successful fishing ventures, but the kapu related to fishing and fishponds also helped conserve the sea's food supply. These kapu were rigidly adhered to, not only through tradition, but because it was the will of the chiefs and of the gods and one could expect severe punishment for ignoring them. Hawaiian exploitation patterns were designed to preserve fishing grounds by tapping specific types of marine biota at certain periods. Kapu, or closed, seasons on certain fish during their spawning time helped in the conservation of that species. Elaborate religious ceremonies accompanied the switches in open fishing seasons. Other kapu involved prohibiting fishing at certain places along the shore when deep sea fishing was open; alternating fishing times at inshore fishing places; and making certain that seaweed remained off limits at certain times of the year to preserve it as fish food and thus ensure good shore fishing. The ancient Hawaiians were not only skilled and knowledgeable fishermen, but they also respected the customs and traditions associated with this activity, which was a mainstay of their life. Fishing kapu were considered especially important because they were the method of preserving the harvest of the sea for coming generations, and they were observed with great care. [71]

          (2) Aquaculture

               (a) Fishponds

                    i) Origin

Anthropologist William Kikuchi has broadly defined Hawaiian aquaculture as "the indigenous, economic, technological and political control of natural pools, ponds, and lakes, and of man-made ponds, enclosures, traps, and dams for the culture and harvest" of various marine resources to ensure year-round food availability. [72] The Hawaiian fishponds comprised an early attempt to prudently manage and control the sea's resources for use by man. Fishponds held and fattened fish captured in the sea and served as a source of fish under kapu during their spawning season. The growing of fish in ponds and their conservation for future needs was an advancement on simply capturing food to fill immediate demands and denotes an increasing awareness of the need to manage food systems as the population expanded. Fish did not spawn in the ponds, however, and the level of stock management in them was very limited. The productivity of these historic Hawaiian fishponds was not great because of limited food availability, inter-species competition, and uncontrollable predation. [73] Fishponds did, however, help provide chiefs and their retinue with much of the large quantity of fish they required.

Nowhere else in Polynesia was true aquaculture developed and nowhere else in the Pacific did fishponds exist in the types and numbers found in prehistoric Hawai'i. Where the concept of aquaculture came from and when it was introduced into the Hawaiian Islands is unknown, but it is thought that the idea of fishtraps, probably coming with migrants from the Society Islands, preceded that of fishponds. Probably the earliest aquacultural system in ancient Hawai'i consisted of simple fishtraps, dams, weirs, and natural pools, which were in the hands of the commoners. The Hawaiians ultimately developed the more dependable and efficient ponds. Prehistoric Hawaiian aquaculture encompassed the seven major islands of the group — Ni'ihau, Lana'i, Maui, Kaua'i, O'ahu, Moloka'i, and Hawai'i — but fishponds were particularly extensive on the latter four. Kikuchi states that at least 449 ponds are known to have been constructed prior to A.D. 1830, mostly during prehistoric times in periods of intensification of production to feed large populations. Only on Hawai'i was there an intensive effort to utilize practically every form and body of water for agricultural and aquacultural use. [74]

Ancient Hawai'i's broad aquatic food production system, then, included structures built to catch mature fish as well as structures and practices related to true aquaculture. These latter structures existed throughout the islands and included numerous manmade and natural enclosures of water in which fish and other products were raised. Hawaiian tradition associates a large number of ponds with particular chiefs who directed their construction. Based on genealogies, the first true fishponds may have been built as early as the fourteenth century; there are many definite references to their construction throughout the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. By the end of the eighteenth century, high chiefs are known to have owned more than 300 fishponds. Ownership of one or more fishponds was a symbol of chiefly status and power. According to Apple and Kikuchi, accessibility to some prehistoric fishponds and their products was limited to the elite minority — the chiefs and priests. Because these ponds were kapu to the common majority, they yielded them no direct benefit. Indirectly, however, royal fishponds insured less demand on the commoners' food resources. [75]

                    ii) Types and Construction

The extent and distribution of fishponds depended on the local topography. In areas where broad, shallow fringe reefs existed close to shore, numerous ponds could easily be formed by constructing semicircular stone walls arcing from the shoreline. Although Hawai'i Island does not have this type of coastline, it does have many natural ponds in lava basins along the shore; the addition of walls and gates made these operational as fishponds. [76]

Loko is the general Hawaiian term for any type of pond or enclosed body of water. The two major categories of loko were shore ponds and inland ponds. Hawaiians recognized five main types of fishponds and fishtraps: loko kuapa, loko pu'uone, loko wai, loko i'a kalo, and loko 'ume'iki (Illustration 6). Ruling chiefs owned the first three types, and perhaps some of the larger and more productive of the other types, because they produced consistently and in sufficient quantity throughout the year to be highly prized. Common people and the konohiki mostly constructed and utilized the inland types, which primarily comprised natural freshwater holding ponds (loko wai) in which fish were placed and allowed to fatten, smaller fishtraps, and small irrigated taro plot ponds (loko i'a kalo), which provided only small and erratic yields. Other inland ponds were much larger, requiring collective labor forces for construction, and were almost exclusively for use by the chiefs. [77]

sketch of Hawaiian fishponds, fishtraps
Illustration 6. Hawaiian fishponds, fishtraps, and other types of holding devices. From Kikuchi, "Hawaiian Aquacultural System," pp. 227-32.
(click on image for an enlargement)

The three royal types of fishponds comprised: loko kuapa, the most important type of shore pond, artificially enclosed by an arc-shaped seawall and containing at least one sluice gate (makaha); loko pu'uone, an isolated shore fishpond containing either brackish or a mixture of brackish and fresh water, formed by development of a barrier beach paralleling the coast, and connected to the ocean by a channel or ditch; and a loko wai, a natural freshwater inland pond. The loko kuapa pond type is unique in Polynesia to the Hawaiian Islands. It was constructed either by building walls in relatively shallow water from two points along the shore into a semi-circular seawall or by constructing a seawall (kuapa) across the opening of a natural embayment. Ponds of this type, built within embayments, occur at several sites along the west coast of the island of Hawai'i. [78] (The loko 'ume'iki [fishtrap] will be discussed later.)

Although many different kinds of fish filled these large ponds, the main inhabitants were mullet ('ama'ama) and milkfish (awa). The algae they fed on grew best when sunlight, salt, and fresh water combined in just the right proportions. Therefore, these walled fishponds needed to be shallow, from two to five feet in depth, so that sunlight could penetrate. Some ponds had fresh water springs in them or were located at the mouths of streams so that fresh water could combine with ocean water within its walls. The larger a pond's acreage, the greater the rate of evaporation, and the greater the need for an adequate supply of fresh water that could be diverted into the pond when necessary. Balancing the salinity, the food supply for the fish, the temperature, and other environmental needs was important to the success of the loko kuapa. [79]

Materials used in the construction of prehistoric fishponds came from local sources and included stone and coral for the walls; lithified sand, alluvium, and vegetable materials for filling, surfacing, and cordage; and timber for sluice grates. The main seawall of one of these ponds comprised coral boulders or rocks or unworked basalt and ranged in width from three to nineteen feet, five feet being average. They were usually three to five feet high and faced on both sides with block construction. They were always massive and well built compared to secondary and tertiary walls within the confines of some ponds, which probably served to segregate fry from predators. The construction of fishponds involved men standing in a line from the source of the building material to the construction site and passing rocks of huge size along the human chain. Some of the fishponds were massive, their assembly being intensive, lengthy, and costly in terms of material, manpower, and the expense of feeding or housing workers. [80]

Grills or grates (makaha) composed of straight sticks tied to one or more crossbeams obstructed the openings through the seawall (Illustration 7). The upright sticks stood close enough together that the sea water and young fry could pass in and out but larger fish could not. The makaha were stationary, with no movable parts, and were sometimes placed across a sluice or ditch, channels formed by two parallel rows of stone walls running into the pond from the grill opening. These sluices carried water into the pond from an agricultural irrigation system or from a river, spring, or the sea, creating a brackish water environment. There are no traditional standard locations for these grates, which were probably placed to provide flow into and out of the pond to reduce silting and inhibit stagnation. This sluice gate, the most distinctive and unique feature of the Hawaiian aquacultural system, was probably the technological innovation that allowed prehistoric Hawaiians to move from high tide-dependent fishtraps and from enclosed ponds with no sea access to artificial estuaries that could be controlled at all times of the tide. [81]

sketch of Hawaiian fishpond features
Illustration 7. Hawaiian fishpond features. From Apple and Kikuchi, Ancient Hawaii Shore Zone Fishponds, p. 21.

The sieve-like nature of the sluice grates and the permeable seawalls allowed a wide range of sealife to enter the fishponds. To insure a supply of preferred fish, fingerlings of the desired kinds were captured and transported over the walls into the ponds. Stocking occurred on a seasonal basis because kapu prohibited the catching of fish during spawning. Mature fish ready for harvesting congregated on the pond side of the grate during incoming tide and on the sea side during outgoing tide. Fishing in the ponds usually involved hand nets, dip nets, seines, or surround nets. The most common method of harvesting fish utilized scoop nets on the pond side of the gate on the incoming tide. [82]

                    iii) Products and Maintenance

As mentioned earlier, the fish most frequently raised in loko kuapa ponds were mullet ('ama'ama) and milkfish (awa). In early times, both species were kapu for all but the chiefs. Both thrive in slightly brackish water and are vegetarians, feeding on algae at the bottom of the ponds and on the roots of plants growing along the water's edge. Often stones with seaweed attached were set in the ponds to increase their food supply. Because neither of these fish reproduced in ponds, fingerlings captured in the ocean were deposited in the pond to augment supplies. In addition, excess ocean catches were allowed to grow in the ponds and then recaptured for consumption. [83]

Each royal fishpond had a resident male keeper (kia'i loko) who stayed in a small guardhouse near the makaha when the tide was high and the fish more accessible to guard against poaching or destruction by pigs and dogs. Balancing all elements of the pond environment to ensure healthy growth was a practiced art in early Hawai'i. Maintenance of fishponds required repairing the seawall, cleaning the pond of silt and overgrowth, repairing the makaha, and eliminating predators such as barracudas and eels. Probably the kia'i loko and his staff handled routine maintenance operations but coordinated with the konohiki, who controlled the laborers, for the large-scale construction, repair, and cleaning of the ponds. The kia'i loko also fertilized the ponds artificially with sweet potatoes, taro, breadfruit, mussels, and seaweed. [84]

                    iv) Religious Aspects

Strict kapu against poaching or pollution helped insure fishpond production. In addition, guardian spirits were believed to inhabit fishponds, and regular offerings to them were made at shrines near the walls. Usually these guardians were 'aumakua mo'o, female marine creatures who appeared as lizards, turtles, or as a woman sitting alongside the pond combing her long black hair. They are considered the feminine equivalents of shark 'aumakua. Mo'o were reportedly seen on rare occasions. A mo'o is associated with the fishpond at Kaloko, in the Kona District of Hawai'i Island. Major shrines for royal fishponds, called 'aoa, often contained two stones representing Ku'ula and his wife Hina. [85]

                    v) Role in Hawaiian Society

Royal courts were very mobile before European contact, none of the chiefs establishing a permanent capital. During the absence of the ali'i, royal fishpond managers administered these food resources. When a mobile court took up temporary residence near a royal fishpond, a fresh supply of fish and other pond products was available whenever needed. Fishponds in conquered chiefdoms became the personal property of the conquering high chief and their harvest helped support him and his court. As the Hawaiian kingdom took form, royal fishponds in different parts of the islands supplied Kamehameha's appointed governors and district chiefs by his order as owner of all fishponds by right of conquest. [86]

The coastal fishponds and their resources were the exclusive property of the district chief and were not a major economic resource to the general population, who were prohibited by kapu from fishing, collecting seaweed, or polluting the pond. Commoners, especially women, were seldom in the vicinity of royal fishponds. There was little advantage for commoners to live near a pond for fear of breaking the kapu. Possibly after abandonment of the kapu system in the early nineteenth century, the population concentrated more around these ponds because the resources became available to them. Coastal fishponds probably played a more important role in early Hawaiian social and political systems than in the economy. Coastal fishponds owned by the district chief increased his wealth, giving him greater political power. They were an important factor in interahupua'a and interdistrict politics and social structure, giving wealth and status to the ali'i while at the same time demanding labor from the commoners to maintain them. [87] Conspicuous ownership of food sources in Hawai'i was the sign of a powerful chief. The value of fishponds as symbols of power continued through the mid-nineteenth century. In the Great Mahele of 1848, which imposed Western-type land registration on the traditional Hawaiian land ownership pattern, fishpond ownership and high status remained linked, and larger fishponds remained with the nobility. [88]

This is not to say that fishponds were not of some economic and social value to the early Hawaiians. During certain periods of the year when particular fish were kapu and could not be harvested in the open ocean, fishponds provided a source for those species. A stocked fishpond could also sustain a population through periods of poor fishing. Robert Renger believes that social restrictions on these pond resources, however, would have been a limiting factor before the abandonment of the kapu system in 1819. [89] The actual yield of prehistoric Hawaiian fishponds is not known, but estimates of from 300 to 500 pounds of fish per acre per year have been made. [90]

After 1800 there was a steady decline of aquaculture throughout the islands due to movement of people from rural to urban areas, decrease in population within the transportation range of fishponds, changes in eating habits, and a more Western orientation in terms of material culture and monetary value. The diversion of streams for agricultural purposes, changing shoreline use, and commercial/resort development along the ocean also impacted aquaculture practices. [91]

The differences between aquacultural sites in the Hawaiian Islands and fish devices elsewhere in the Pacific were many: the emphasis in Hawai'i lay in stocking and raising fish rather than trapping them; Hawai'i had a much more extensive number of aquacultural sites; Hawaiian aquacultural practices were more technically advanced, including sluice grates, channels, and canals; and finally, in Hawai'i fishponds were primarily owned by the ali'i, whereas in other societies, families or villages owned fish trapping and holding facilities. [92]

Only a small number of Hawaiian fishponds remain in existence, and they have undergone vast physical changes since prehistoric times. Factors threatening their existence through the years have included warring chiefs, siltation from upland runoff, overgrowth, introduced marsh plants and grasses, general disrepair, and pollution. Lava flows from Mauna Loa and Kilauea volcanoes on Hawai'i Island in 1801 and 1859 and from Haleakala on Maui in historic times have adversely impacted several known fishponds. Other natural disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, faulting, storms, and tsunami (tidal waves), have also affected ponds. [93]

               (b) Fishtraps

Prehistoric fishtraps were not as economically important as fishponds. Because their harvest was dependent on the tides, they were a much less reliable source of food. And because they were accessible to commoners as well as to women, they were also of less religious and political significance. They are, however, representative of overall aquacultural practices of the early Hawaiians. [94]

A loko 'ume'iki, a shore pond with numerous lanes leading in and out, was actually a very large fishtrap, whose walls were submerged at high tide, enabling fish to enter, and slightly above sea level at low tide. Fish were not continually raised or stored inside these structures, but were trapped and used immediately after capture. These ponds were fished by netting during the ebb and flow periods through the entrance lanes. [95]

     b) Agricultural Activities

          (1) Crops

The early Hawaiians were primarily fishermen and cultivators. On their colonizing trips from their homeland they brought in their canoes planting stocks of their primary staple food crops as well as of plants yielding materials for housing, clothing, and utensils and of ornamental and medicinal value. Establishing and nurturing these plants in the fertile and well-watered soil of their new home, they eventually formed the basis of a well-developed agricultural economy. [96] Kirch divides agricultural development in Hawai'i into three major processes. The first is adaptation, adjusting cultivation practices to local conditions. Second is expansion, turning a natural landscape into an agricultural one as populations grew. This involved clearing forests and terracing slopes. The final phase is intensification, with greater labor efforts to achieve greater yield to support a denser population and a complex hierarchy of nobility. [97]

A few edible food plants were indigenous to the Hawaiian Islands. Those used and carefully tended were pandanus and some ferns and probably 'ohelo and 'akala. [98] The main native farming implement consisted of the o'o, a digging stick of hard wood of variable length, from six to nine feet long, with either a flat point or a flat blade. [99] With the additional use of adzes, fire, and cutting implements, the early Hawaiians were able to clear vegetation; control streams by constructing dams, irrigation ditches, canals, and terraces; cultivate the soil of mountain slopes and valley bottoms; and build stone walls to arrest erosion. [100]

Sometime during the settlement period, probably after crops were growing well and domesticated animals were reproducing, an economic shift from the sea to the land took place. As the population grew, this would have provided a more efficient means of subsistence than total reliance on fishing. Some farming was done in open grassland and forests, where irrigation was not necessary because of sufficient rainfall. Other crops grew in the lowlands or alluvial valley bottoms, where flowing water provided irrigation.

The most widely cultivated food plant of the early Hawaiians was the taro, whose tubers were baked, pounded, and mixed with water to make poi, staff of life of the Hawaiian culture, Wet taro, requiring abundant fresh water, was planted in pond fields near springs and freshwater marshes and on the flood plains of perennial streams, arranged in terraces so that diverted water could flow from the higher to the lower patches. Canals, constructed of earth and stone embankments, channeled water from streams or springs to irrigate these fields. Dry or non-irrigated taro required less water and was cultivated in upland grasslands, rain-soaked forest areas, and under mulch. [101]

Several other dry land crops were also important food items. They were cultivated by means of swiddening — clearing vegetation by cutting and burning, followed by alternate periods of planting and leaving the land fallow. [102] Sweet potatoes comprised the main crop where insufficient water occurred to grow taro. Breadfruit trees were planted in groves in sheltered areas with fertile soil and little wind. Numerous varieties of bananas grew in clumps around taro patches and in gulches. Yams were raised to some extent in the early days, but because of their mealy texture were not a favorite food. Later they were grown to sell to sea captains because they spoiled less quickly than taro or sweet potatoes. Other vegetables in the Hawaiian diet included coconuts, sugarcane, arrowroot, and seaweeds. [103] Other plants extensively cultivated were the paper mulberry for manufacturing barkcloth (kapa), the 'awa for use as a narcotic, bottle gourds used for containers and musical instruments, screwpine (pandanus) used in making mats, and a variety of other useful plants. [104]

In summary, the earliest agricultural period in ancient Hawai'i involved both taro cultivation in irrigated pond fields and dryland cultivation of crops such as taro and sweet potatoes. The extent of wet taro pond systems was small at first because of the restricted needs of a small population. As agricultural productivity became a more efficient and reliable means of subsistence, however, a rapid population growth occurred. Settlements probably remained scattered and small as a rule, although in alluvial valleys pond fields had been developed to the extent of supporting larger, more concentrated settlements. Concurrently, changes began to occur in the technology of farming relative to engineering techniques, in plant adaptations, and in environmental factors affecting crop yields. Increasing population pressures encouraged a greater emphasis on more elaborate, high-yield wet taro systems. In addition, changes occurred in gently sloping leeward areas, where vast dry field systems began to be constructed. The intensification of agriculture resulted in even more densely populated settlements whose larger populations could provide the labor needed for vast public works projects such as the creation of more dry land field systems. Aspects of Hawaiian culture related to ensuring maximum productivity of the land probably flowered during this period, including the elaborate land tenure system that will be discussed later. [105]

As with all other aspects of Hawaiian culture, agricultural practices closely interfaced with religion, traditions, and customs. Because this endeavor was so dependent on the powers of nature, every step of the agricultural cycle — preparing the land, planting crops, caring for plants, and harvesting — was accompanied by appropriate ceremonies. [106]

          (2) Animal Husbandry

As mentioned earlier in this report, the Hawaiian Islands supported some edible land animals, such as birds and bats, when first colonized. The settlers brought with them, however, domesticated land animals — pigs, dogs, and chickens — that they carefully bred and raised as a supplementary food source. [107] Chickens were the least popular food item. Although the dog was considered superior to the pig in taste, both were favorites of the commoners and the chiefs and both were bred and nurtured in large numbers. More chiefs than commoners consumed pork and dog meat, the right to the fattest and largest number of pigs and dogs being a privilege of rank. Both animals were tendered as tribute and as ritual offerings at ceremonial feasts of the chief on demand. Chickens and dogs lived near dwellings, the latter feeding on poi, breadfruit, and sweet potatoes. Pigs ranged more widely, rooting for food, but also living off sweet potato vine cuttings, taro leaves, sugarcane, and garbage. [108] Captain Cook and other European navigators later introduced goats, cattle, sheep, and horses.

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Last Updated: 15-Nov-2001