In pre-contact Hawaiian culture, cooking was done by men, men and women ate in separate hale, and certain “male” foods were forbidden to women. Everything was based upon the ‘ai kapu (eating or food kapu). The ‘ai kapu ended in November of 1819 when King Kamehameha II ate with Ka‘ahumanu and Keōpūolani and let them eat forbidden foods ‘ai noa, free eating, and the kapu came to an end.
Like New England though, there was a gendered division of labor in pre-contact Hawai‘i. The labor of clearing fields and digging up the land was done by men, while the actual planting of plants was usually done by women.
Hawaiian food crops included: sweet potato, kalo, bananas, sugar cane, ‘awa, yam (uhi), arrowroot (pia) coconut, breadfruit (ulu), mountain apple, and bitter gourds. Other plants that Hawaiians cultivated were ‘ie and olona for fiber and cordage, wauke for making kapa, and many other plants and vegetables. The staple food was kalo. Kalo was made into poi and pa‘i ‘ai. It was also baked, roasted, and fried. Other foods included luau leaf, chicken, pig, and dog. (Smola)
The missionaries had to adapt to a new diet; for the most part, the missionaries had a very Hawaiian diet. Fish (i‘a), taro (kalo), poi, pigs (pua‘a), chickens (moa), bananas (mai‘a), sweet potatoes (‘uala) were regular parts of the missionary diet. (HMCS)
In addition, the missionary diet included: melons, squashes, cabbages, cucumbers, green corn, beans, fresh pork, goat, goat’s milk, bread, rice, mountain apples, bananas, pineapples, butter, wine, plus spices such as cinnamon and allspice, beef, and fish. Also, the missionaries ate New England foods shipped to them: dried apple rings, sea biscuits, salted beef and pork, and things made from wheat flour. (Smola)
Some food came from the missionaries buying food with money, from trading or bartering items like cloth and books, and from agricultural land given to the mission. The items of New England food that they got came by supply shipments from the ABCFM usually brought out in whale ships or merchant ships that were already headed to Hawai‘i or were brought here to be planted once the missionaries landed. (HMCS)
Much of the food came in the form of gifts from the ali‘i. According to the account books, these gifts of food from the ali‘i occurred virtually daily for over 10 years. (HMCS)
This meticulous listing of ‘Donations’ (as Chamberlain labeled his list in his account book), shows the regular interactions between the ali‘i and the missionaries – as well as the constant conveyance of gifts. Click to see the attachment that shows a later listing of food and other donations to the mission.
Notable names on the prior and following listing include, Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III), Ka‘ahumanu and Kalanimōku (noted as Karaimoku in the account books). You can also see here that others contributed, as did Captain Osborne (10-gallons of cider on November 24, 1825).
“(T)he missionaries described a seemingly endless bounty of provisions. The gifts were undeniably generous; their quantity and abundance attested to this.”
“In the first weeks and months after their arrival, missionaries received a host of gifts, ranging from fruit to potatoes and sugar cane to an ‘elegant’ fly brush. The gifts that ali‘i provided to American missionaries during the initial stages of contact suggest the political and diplomatic savvy developed in the decades leading up to the missionaries’ arrival.”
“(G)ift giving and generosity appeared as a means by which ali‘i might engage in a display of mana – that is, divine power. In the extension of gifts, Hawaiian royalty provided not just for the needs of their guests but, in the process, simultaneously created a debt between themselves and the missionaries while enhancing their own status.” The missionaries developed a reciprocal gift-giving relationship.
“(M)issionaries were well aware of the ways in which the gift of clothing might allow them to begin in earnest the process of transforming and converting the Hawaiian people. Additionally, they hoped to win the favor of the Hawaiian people through the strategic placement of things”.
“(A)s the mission period progressed (the) missionaries developed a close association with ali‘i …“The relationships constituted around gift giving and exchange created a necessary favorable link between American missionaries and ali‘i in this period.” (Thigpen)