A traditional hale (thatched house) would seem sparsely furnished. The best thatch used by the Hawaiians was pili grass; next came the leaf of the pandanus, lauhala; then the leaf of the sugar-cane, and lastly the ti leaf, and a number of inferior grasses. (Malo)
Over the floor of smooth pebbles lay many layers of mats, both coarse floor mats and fine sleeping mats; their number was dependent upon the rank of the residents.
There were kapa bedding and pillows of several kinds but no chairs, tables, cabinets, or other furniture per se. Nor would many personal items be in evidence. Makaʻāinana had few belongings, and aliʻi had storehouses for those that they accumulated. (Abbott)
In the living quarters, small articles customarily were stored in baskets, calabashes, and gourds, and many of these were suspended from the rafters by cord or netting, leaving the floor space open.
Many household furnishings were made from leaves of the hala tree (Pandanus species). Most hala species grow in groves (pū hala). The trees appear to be propped up on their thick roots, and their trunks put forth branches at sharp angles in the upper half of the plant. (Abbott)
Hala is a choice tree for the essential native Hawaiian landscape. Female trees, with the characteristic pineapple-shaped fruit, appear to be more in demand than the males.
But the uncommon male hala produce highly fragrant and attractive floral displays and should be grown more as well. (hawaii-edu) “Old stories tell of lost fishermen in canoes adrift at sea finding their way home via the fragrances of hala.” (Bornhorst)
Hala is a small tree growing 20 to 30 feet in height and from 15 to 35 feet in diameter. Lauhala, the leaves of the hala, are distinctive long blade-like, about 2 inches wide and over 2 feet long. The leaves are spirally arranged towards the ends of the branches and leave a spiral pattern on the trunk when they fall.
Plaited (or braided) lauhala are made into mats, hats, sails, and other useful items. Plaiting entails interlacing the strips at right angles to each other with the aim of obtaining a tight and regular fit. (Since no loom is used, it is incorrect to call this method ‘weaving.’) (Abbott)
“These things were articles of the greatest utility, being used to cover the floor, as clothing, and as robes. This work was done by the women. (Malo)
For use, lauhala was washed, soaked for several days, then softened by being passed through the smoke of a fire. The thorns on the midrib and margins of leaves were stripped out by pulling each leaf through a slit cut for this purpose in a leaf butt. (Abbott)
“The women beat down the leaves with sticks, wilted them over the fire, and then dried them in the sun. After the young leaves (muo) had been separated from the old ones (laele) the leaves were made up into rolls.”
“This done (and the leaves having been split up into strips of the requisite width) they were plaited into mats. The young leaves (mu-o) made the best mats, and from them were made the sails for the canoes.” (Malo)
All Hawaiian floor mats were made either of lauhala or of sedges. In a chief’s hale, over the coarsest floor mats were layered lauhala mats whose plaiting was in widths ranging from 0.5 to 1 inch. (Abbott)
Over the coarse floor mats, finely plaited mats were placed to serve as moena, sleeping mats. At least a few mats (and often many) were piled one atop the next, forming a mattress.
A well-cushioned bed was five to eight centimeters (two to three inches) thick, and the mats were often stitched together along one edge to prevent them from slipping. Beds of the ali’i were composed of numerous layers of mats, the topmost being moena makali‘i or fine sleeping mats, plaited from strips of material as narrow as 0.2 inch. (Abbott)
(It is said that when Kaʻahumanu visited the missionaries and spent the night in the visitors’ room in the frame house at Mission Houses she preferred 30-mats to sleep on.)
For bed coverings, the Hawaiians had kapa moe – single sheets of kapa, often used several at a time – or kapa ku‘ina, which consisted of several layers of kapa stitched along one edge with wauke cordage.
In either case, the covers were about the size of a modern double-bed sheet, and layers could be thrown off or added as the temperature changed during the night. Uluna, plaited lauhala pillows, traditionally were cubical or brick-shaped and stuffed with lauhala. (Abbott)
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