ʻĀina is compounded from the verb “ʻai” (to eat,) referring specifically to vegetable foods, with the substantive suffix “na,” which makes it a noun. The word ʻāina (land,) then, means “that which feeds.”
In old Hawaiʻi’s subsistence society, the family farming scale was far different from commercial-purpose agriculture. In ancient time, when families farmed for themselves, they adapted; products were produced based on need. The families were disbursed around the Islands, as well as across regions on each island.
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.
Where homesteads were assembled near each other, they were not communities held together either by bonds of kinship or economic interdependence.
“Go into any of these valleys, and you will see a surprising sight: along the whole narrow bottom, and climbing often in terraces the steep hillsides, you will see the little taro patches, skillfully laid so as to catch the water, either directly from the main stream, or from canals taking water out above.”
“Nearby or among these small holdings stand the grass houses of the proprietors, and you may see them and their wives, their clothing tucked up, standing over their knees in water, planting or cultivating their crop.” (Nordhoff, 1875)
Fishermen and their families living around the bays and beaches, or at isolated localities along the coast where fishing was practicable, led a life that was materially simpler than that of planters who dwelt on the plains.
Placement and occasional collection of kauhale was more of a functional pattern.
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.
Small bays and beaches generally had a cluster of houses where the families of fishermen lived – it was primarily because of the proximity to access to the ocean.
Kamakau noted, in early Hawaiʻi “The parents were masters over their own family group … No man was made chief over another.” Essentially, the extended family was the socio, biological, economic and political unit.
Because each ʻohana (family) was served by a parental haku (master, overseer) and each family was self-sufficient and capable of satisfying its own needs, there was no need for a hierarchal structure.
The Hawaiian concept of family, ‘ʻohana, is derived from the word ʻohā (fig., offspring, youngsters,) the axillary shoots of kalo that sprout from the main corm, the makua (parent.) Huli, cut from the tops of mauka, and ‘ohā are then used for replanting to regenerate the cycle of kalo production.
The true ‘community’ in which homesteads were integrated by socio-religious and economic ties was the dispersed community of the family (ʻohana,) relatives by blood, marriage and adoption.
Neighborly interdependence, the sharing of goods and services, resulted in the settling of contiguous lands by a given ʻohana within an ahupuaʻa (rather than in a scattering over an entire district.)
Kamakau states that there were no chiefs in the earliest period of settlement but that they came “several hundred years afterward … when men became numerous.”
As the population increased and wants and needs increased in variety and complexity (and it became too difficult to satisfy them with finite resources,) the need for chiefly rule became apparent.
As chiefdoms developed, the simple pecking order of titles and status likely evolved into a more complex and stratified structure.
While conquest and war resulted in periodic changes in leadership, there was a relative stability and permanence for the families and their kauhale. As a practical matter it was to the benefit of the chiefs to keep the farmers and fishers on the land they knew and cultivated.
Thus, the kauhale, the homesites of established ʻohana, were permanent features of the landscape, and the vested interest of any given family was equivalent to a title of ownership, so long as the landsman labored diligently to sustain his claim and was loyal to his chief. (Lots of information here from Handy and Pukui.)
The image shows a drawing of a kauhale – homestead. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.