There are many good things of the Hawaiʻi of old.
In Hawaiian culture, natural and cultural resources are one and the same. Traditions describe the formation (literally the birth) of the Hawaiian Islands and the presence of life on, and around them, in the context of genealogical accounts.
All forms of the natural environment, from the skies and mountain peaks, to the watered valleys and lava plains, and to the shore line and ocean depths are believed to be embodiments of Hawaiian gods and deities. (Maly)
“Cultural Attachment” embodies the tangible and intangible values of a culture – how a people identify with, and personify the environment around them.
It is the intimate relationship (developed over generations of experiences) that people of a particular culture feel for the sites, features, phenomena and natural resources etc, that surround them – their sense of place. This attachment is deeply rooted in the beliefs, practices, cultural evolution and identity of a people. (Kent)
In ancient Hawai‘i, most of the makaʻāinana were farmers, a few were fishermen. Access to resources was tied to residency and earned as a result of taking responsibility to steward the environment and supply the needs of aliʻi. Tenants cultivated smaller crops for family consumption, to supply the needs of chiefs and provide tributes.
In this 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.
A lot of good things can be learned from this; a lot. However, sometimes it seems people romanticize the way of life solely as some kind of idyllic paradise.
Hawaiians were an isolated, complex society, often glamorized as simply a self-sufficient, environmentally-friendly, sustainable paradise that folks would yearn to return to.
Often looked-the-other-way and/or ignored were some significant societal actions and attitudes that shed a different light – a dark side – that was part of the overall life of the ancient Hawaiians; activities that are not now considered acceptable behavior.
“Paradoxically, the dead were used to give more life to the living…. Many occasions or events would have required human sacrifice. Most of them seem to be connected with the lives of the aliʻi … While most rites required only one victim at any one time, for certain occasions many people were sacrificed.” (George Kanahele)
“(A) heiau would minimally consist of any place where sacrifices and offerings were made, and indeed, the notion of sacrifice is fundamental in Hawaiian religious practice.” (Handy; Kirch)
“…when a human sacrifice was required for the heiau, women could not be killed, because they were a defiling influence; only men were sacrificed to the male Akua Ku.” (Lilikala Kameʻeleihiwa)
“On the most elementary level, ʻAikapu is that which prevents the ‘unclean’ nature of women from defiling male sanctity when they offer sacrifice to the male Akua, and which is further observed on the kapu nights of the four major male Akua.” (Lilikala Kameʻeleihiwa)
“Human sacrifice is so alien to modern values, not to mention laws, that it nearly defies any attempt to understand it.” (George Kanahele)
“… incest is acceptable, even desireable. … brother-sister … father-daughter …. Hence, incest is not only for producing divinity, but the very act of incest is proof of divinity. No wonder the Aliʻi Nui guarded incest so jealously and refused to allow the kaukau aliʻi (lower chiefs) and makaʻāinana that privilege.” (Lilikala Kame‘eleihiwa)
“A suitable partner for a chief of the highest rank was his own sister, begotten by the same father and mother as himself. Such a pairing was called a piʻo (a bow, a loop, a thing bent on itself;) and …”
“… if the union bore fruit, the child would be a chief of the highest rank, a ninau piʻo, so sacred that all who came into his presence must prostrate themselves. He was called divine, akua.” (Malo)
“Individuals stayed together or not by choice rather than by commitment or obligation. … Monogamy, polygyny and polyandry coexisted among ali‘i and among commoners. Often, polygamy involved siblings.” (Diamond)
Polygamy was often practiced, especially by chiefs. Kamehameha had 30 wives; from them, he had 35-children from 18 of the wives (12 did not bear any children.) (Ahlo & Walker)
“There can be no doubt but that infanticide was prevalent among them and that a very large percent of the children born were disposed of in various ways by their parents, soon after their birth.”
“Generally speaking, it appears that in Hawaiʻi, as throughout Polynesia, the struggle for existence and life’s necessities, was largely evaded by restricting the natural increase in population in this way.” (Bryan, 1915)
Discrimination Against Women
The Hawaiian kapu can be grouped into three categories. The first evolved from the basic precepts of the Hawaiian religion and affected all individuals, but were considered by foreign observers to be especially oppressive and burdensome to women.
One of the most fundamental of this type of prohibition forbade men and women from eating together and also prohibited women from eating pork, coconuts, bananas and, ulua and the red fish (kumu.)
If a woman was clearly detected in the act of eating any of these things, as well as a number of other articles that were tabu, which I have not enumerated, she was put to death. (Malo)
Certain places were set apart for the husband’s sole and exclusive use; such were the sanctuary in which he worshipped and the eating-house in which he took his food.
The wife might not enter these places while her husband was worshipping or while he was eating; nor might she enter the sanctuary or eating-house of another man; and if she did so she must suffer the penalty of death, if her action was discovered. (Malo)
Wars and battles were often conflicts fought between family members – brother against brother, cousin or in-laws. At the period of Captain Cook’s arrival (1778-1779), the Hawaiian Islands were divided into four kingdoms …
(1) the island of Hawaiʻi under the rule of Kalaniʻōpuʻu, who also had possession of the Hāna district of east Maui; (2) Maui (except the Hāna district,) Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi and Kahoʻolawe, ruled by Kahekili; (3) Oʻahu, under the rule of Kahahana; and (4) Kauaʻi and Niʻihau, Kamakahelei was ruler.
“At that time Kahekili was plotting for the downfall of Kahahana and the seizure of Oahu and Molokai, and the queen of Kauai was disposed to assist him in these enterprises. The occupation of the Hana district of Maui by the kings of Hawaii had been the cause of many stubborn conflicts between the chivalry of the two islands”. (Kalākaua)
At a battle at ʻIao, “They speak of the carnage as frightful, the din and uproar, the shouts of defiance among the fighters, the wailing of the women on the crests of the valley, as something to curdle the blood or madden the brain of the beholder.” (Fornander)
The Maui troops were completely annihilated and it is said that the corpses of the slain were so many as to choke up the waters of the stream of ʻIao, and that hence one of the names of this battle was “Kepaniwai” (the damming of the waters). (Fornander)
Then, a final battle of conquest took place on Oʻahu. Kamehameha landed his fleet and disembarked his army on Oʻahu, extending from Waiʻalae to Waikiki. … he marched up the Nuʻuanu valley, where Kalanikūpule had posted his forces. (Fornander)
“The superiority of Kamehameha’s artillery, the number of his guns, and the better practice of his soldiers, soon turned the day in his favour, and the defeat of the Oʻahu forces became an accelerated rout and a promiscuous slaughter.” (Fornander) Estimates for losses in the battle of Nuʻuanu (1795) ranged up to 10,000-Hawaiians, by Hawaiians. (Schmitt)
There are many good things of the Hawaiʻi of old.
However, when we speak of the lives and lifestyle of the ancient Hawaiians and hint at romanticizing it strictly as an idyllic paradise way of life, we should not overlook Human Sacrifice, Incest, Polygamy, Discrimination Against Women, Infanticide, War and other dark sides of this life and lifestyle.