Fishing, the making of fishing gear and canoes, the care and housing of canoes and fishing gear, fighting, and the making of weapons were essentially men’s activities (although there are accounts of famous women warriors).
Every aspect of taro economy and culture was man’s work; the making and tending of fields and irrigated terraces and irrigation ditches, planting, cultivating and harvesting taro, steaming it in the ground oven, peeling it, and pounding the steamed corms to make poi for the womenfolk, as well as for men and boys.
The erection of every kind of house and shed was man’s work. For most family rituals the male head of the family functioned as family priest, just as in the greater rituals of community and state the professional priests were men. (Handy & Pukui)
Kauhale means homestead, and when there were a number of kauhale close together the same term was used. The old Hawaiians had no conception of village or town as a corporate social entity; there was no term for village.
The kauhale were scattered near streams in valley bottoms; each family kauhale was right beside its lo’i. A spring (or springs) was sometimes the reason for a village-like conglomeration of homesteads – again, families focused on the water source.
Traditional hale (‘house’, ‘building’) were constructed of native woods lashed together with cordage most often made from olonā. Pili grass was a preferred thatching that added a pleasant odor to a new hale. Lauhala (pandanus leaves) or ti leaf bundles called peʻa were other covering materials used.
Unlike our housing today, the single ‘hale’ was not necessarily the ‘home.’ The traditional Hawaiian home was the kauhale (Lit., plural house;) this was a group of structures forming the living compound – homestead – with each building serving a specific purpose.
The main structure within the kauhale household complex was the common house, or hale noa, in which all the family members slept at night. It was the largest building within a family compound and the most weatherproof. (Loubser)
Other structures included hale mua (men’s meeting/eating house,) hale ʻāina (women’s eating house,) hale peʻa (menstruation house) and other needed structures (those for canoe makers, others used to house fishing gear, etc.)
The terrain and the subsistence lifestyle and economy created the dispersed community of scattered homesteads. Typically, a Hawaiian family’s homestead stood in relative isolation.
‘At the age of 3 or 4, (a high ranking male child) was placed in the mua and his eating made kapu (or taboo) …’ Non-elite male children were also consecrated in hale mua after birth. (Dixon)
Archaeological investigations conducted on hale mua have identified evidence of presumed male food consumption (bones from pig and some large pelagic fish, species taboo to women) and male domestic activities (stone tool making).
The daily implementation of the kapu in non-elite Hawaiian family life was presumably more complex, as were gender specific activities such as tool making. (Dixon) Near it was the imu or oven in which the men cooked their food.
The mua or menʻs eating house was a sacred place from which women were excluded. It was the place where the men and older boys ate their meals and where the head of the family offered the daily offerings of ʻawa to the family ʻaumakua. Here men and family gods ate together; women, were not allowed to enter here.
The daily offering was never omitted and if the head of the family was unable to perform his duty, he appointed some one to do it. The prayers were for the welfare of the ruling chief and for the family itself.
When a serious problem arose, such as a new venture to be attempted or sickness in the family, the head of the family slept in the Mua, where the family gods would give him directions as to what to do.
Thus the Mua served both as a place for the men to eat and a meeting place with the family gods. At one end of the mua was an altar (kuahu) dedicated to the family ʻaumakua whose effigies stood there.
Here the head of the household prayed and performed necessary rites sometimes without, sometimes with the aid of a kahuna pule, when came the time for the rites of the life cycle such as birth, cutting the foreskin, sickness and death. (Handy & Pukui)