Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
|Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (courtesy, NPS)|
Superb voyagers, Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands migrated to Hawaii over 1,600 years ago. Navigating by the sun and stars, reading the winds, currents, and the flight of seabirds, they sailed across 2,400 miles of open ocean in great double-hulled canoes. They brought along items essential to their survival: pua'a (pigs), 'ilio (dogs), and moa (chickens); the roots of kalo (taro) and 'uala (sweet potato); and the seeds and saplings of niu (coconut), mai'a (banana), ko (sugar cane), and other edible and medicinal plants. They were well-established on the islands when, about 800 years ago, Polynesians from the Society Islands arrived in Hawaii. Claiming descent from the greatest gods, they became the new rulers of Hawaii. After a time of voyaging back and forth, contact with southern Polynesia ceased. During the 400 years of isolation that followed, a unique Hawaiian culture developed.
Hawaii was a highly stratified society with strictly maintained castes. The ali'i (chiefs) headed the social pyramid and ruled over the land. Highly regarded and sometimes feared, the kahuna (professionals) were experts on religious ritual or specialists in canoe-building, herbal medicine, or healing. The maka'ainana (commoners) farmed and fished; built walls, houses, and fish ponds; and paid taxes to the king and his chiefs. Kauwa, the lowest class, were outcasts or slaves.
A system of laws known as kanawai enforced the social order. Certain people, places, things, and times were sacredthey were kapu, or forbidden. Women ate apart from men and were not allowed to eat pork, coconuts, bananas, or a variety of other foods. Kapu regulated fishing, planting, and the harvesting of other resources, thus ensuring their conservation. Any breaking of kapu disturbed the stability of society; the punishment often was death.
Village life was rich and varied: Hawaiians fished in coastal waters and collected shellfish, seaweed, and salt along the shore. They raised pigs, dogs, and chickens, and harvested sweet potatoes, taro, and other crops. Men pounded taro into poi, while women beat the inner bark of wauke (paper mulberry) into kapa. They worshipped akua (gods) and 'aumakua (guardian spirits) and chronicled their history through oli (chant), male (song), and hula (dance).
One Hawaiian tradition tells us that the islands were born as children to various creative forces of nature. Each island was inhabited by various spirits that took their form as parts of nature. When the first people arrived here, they were aware of the presence of a deity that lived at Kilauea. The god was called 'Aila'au (forest eater). His powers are said to have been limited to Kilauea, as the lands of Puna and Ka'u were forested and rivers flowed through them. The time of quiet eruptions did not last for long. Pele, a daughter of Sky and Earth, came to Hawai'i from her distant homeland in Kahiki. She first landed on Nihoa, a small island in the north of the group. She found it unsuitable for her family and fires, so she moved southward. Each of the following islands were unsuitable, but then Pele reached Hawaii Island. She landed at Keahialaka in the district of Puna. Parts of the east rift zone of Kilauea are said to have been formed as she moved along the land towards the summit of Kilauea. Here she was pleased and prepared a home for herself and her family. The following lines of an ancient chant, relate the activity of Pele at Kilauea:
WELA, A NOPU KE AHI 0 KA LUA. Al KAMUMU, NAKEKE KA PAHOEHOE; WELA, A ILUNA 0 HALEMA'UMA'U; MALU KA PALI 0 KA'AUEA.
FIRES THAT BOIL FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE PIT.
SHAKING THE STONE-PLATES TILL THEY RATTLE;
ITS FURNACE HOT IN THAT HOUSE-OF-FERN;
BUT THERE'S SHELTER AT KA'AUEA.
Aila'au eventually fled in fear of the powers of Pele, and she settled into her new home. The surrounding lands changed as Pele moved her molten body. The people of Hawaii learned to fear and respect the woman god. She was called ka wahine 'ai honua, the woman who devours earth. Over several hundred years the Hawaiian people have cultivated traditions that they passed on through generations. But the sounds of taro pounding and kapa beating, rhythmical signatures of Hawaiian village life, would fade away after Captain James Cook arrived in 1778 and introduced the rest of the world to Hawaii.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication