Information about the Hawaii

The aboriginal culture of Hawai‘i is Polynesian. Hawai‘i represents the northernmost extension of the vast Polynesian triangle of the south and central Pacific Ocean. While traditional Hawaiian culture remains only as vestiges influencing modern Hawaiian society, there are reënactments of ancient ceremonies and traditions throughout the islands. Some of these cultural influences are strong enough to have impacted the culture of the United States at large, including the popularity (in greatly modified form) of luaus and hula.

Because of its unique location, history, and ethnically diverse population, Hawai‘i residents observe a variety of different customs from the various ethnic groups that make up the Islands' population. Most of these customs come from its large percentage of people of Asian ancestry. Nevertheless, these customs are widely observed by the people in Hawai‘i, regardless of individual ethnicity. What is considered proper etiquette there is often different from that observed on U.S. mainland. People who move to Hawai‘i from elsewhere sometimes run into difficulties when dealing with local people due to cultural differences.

Below is a partial list of general and ethnically specific customs and etiquette that are widely observed in the Islands.

General customs
  • The customary way to welcome or congratulate someone is to present him or her with a lei, a garland of flowers strung together and worn around the neck.
  • It is customary for Hawai‘i families, regardless of ethnicity, to hold a lu‘au to celebrate a child's first birthday. In Hawaiian culture (and also in Korean culture), the first birthday is considered a major milestone.
  • It is customary for a Japanese-American bride to fold 1,001 paper cranes prior to her wedding for good luck and long life. (The traditional Japanese custom calls for 1,000; people in Hawaii add one more for good luck.)
  • At Japanese weddings, it is customary for friends and relatives to offer "banzai" toasts to the bride and groom, wishing them long life.
  • It is customary at Hawaii weddings, especially at Filipino weddings, for the bride and groom to do a "money dance" (also called the pandango). As the bride and groom dance, the guests express their best wishes to the newlyweds with a monetary gift.
General etiquette
  • Everyone is expected to remove their footwear before entering a home or other place of residence.
  • When visiting a home, it is considered good manners for one to bring a small gift (for example, a dessert) for his or her host.
  • It is considered very impolite to refer to the U.S. Mainland as "the States" or to otherwise imply that Hawaii is not part of the U.S. (e.g. asking, "Do you accept American money?" or "How do you like the United States?" would be considered rude and not very intelligent)
  • It is also considered very impolite to visit Hawaii with the idea that everyone lives in huts and still wears grass skirts and coconuts. Although there are different standards of dress between Hawaii and the U.S. Mainland, people in Hawaii generally wear Western clothing and live in standard American-style houses.
  • Drivers in Hawaii are generally very easy-going and courteous, almost to a fault. In general, one should avoid using his or her car horn except to warn of an imminent accident
Ancient Hawaii

Ancient Hawai‘i refers to the period of Hawaiian history preceding the unification of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i by Kamehameha the Great in 1810.

Polynesian Triangle

To understand Hawaiian native history and culture, one must understand the greater Polynesian phenomenon. Hawai‘i is the apex of the Polynesian Triangle, a region of the Pacific Ocean anchored by three island groups: Hawai‘i, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The many island cultures within the Polynesian Triangle share a similar proto-Malayo-Polynesian language used in Southeast Asia 5000 years ago. Polynesians also share identical cultural traditions, arts, religion, sciences. Anthropologists believe that all Polynesians are related to a single proto-culture established in the South Pacific by migrant Malayo people.

The eight main Polynesian cultures are from:
  • Aotearoa
  • Fiji
  • Hawai‘i
  • Rapa Nui
  • Marquesas
  • Samoa
  • Tahiti
  • Tonga
Voyage to Hawai‘i nei

Polynesian seafarers were skilled ocean navigators and astronomers. At a time when Western boats rarely went out of sight of land, they often traveled long distances on fleets of carefully crafted canoes that could withstand the harsh Pacific weather.

It is believed that the first Polynesians arrived in Hawai‘i in the 7th century from Tahiti and the Marquesas. (Some experts place their arrival as early as 500 or even 400 AD.) They brought along with them clothing, plants and livestock and established settlements along the coasts and larger valleys. They grew kalo (taro), mai‘a (banana), niu (coconut), ulu (breadfruit) as soon as they arrived, and built hale (homes) and heiau (temples).


A traditional village of ancient Hawai‘i included several structures. Listed in order of importance:
  • Heiau, temple to the gods. They were built on high-rising stone terraces and adorned with wood and stone carved idols. A source of great mana or divine power, the heiau was restricted to ali‘i, the king and kahuna, or priests.
  • Hale Ali‘i, the house of the chief. It was used as a residence for the high chief and meeting house of the lesser chiefs. It was always built on a raised stone foundation to represent high social standing. Kahili, or feather standards, were placed outside to signify royalty. Women and children were banned from entering.
  • Hale Pahu, the house of the sacred hula instruments. It held the pahu drums. It was treated as a religious space as hula was a religious activity in honor of the goddess Laka.
  • Hale Papa‘a, the house of royal storage. It was built to store royal implements including fabrics, prized nets and lines, clubs, spears and other weapons.
  • Hale Ulana, the house of the weaver. It was the house where craftswomen would gather each day to manufacture the village baskets, fans, mats and other implements from dried pandanus leaves called lauhala.
  • Hale Mua, the men's eating house. It was considered a sacred place because it was used to carve stone idols of aumakua or ancestral gods. Men and women could not eat with each other for fear that men were vulnerable while eating to have their mana, or divine spirit, stolen by women. Women ate at their own separate eating house called the hale aina.
  • Hale Wa‘a, the house of the canoe. It was built along the beaches as a shelter for their fishing vessels. Hawaiians also stored koa or mahogany logs used to craft the canoes.
  • Hale Lawai‘a, the house of fishing. It was built along the beaches as a shelter for their fishing nets and lines. Nets and lines were made by a tough rope fashioned from woven coconut husks. Fish hooks were made of human, pig or dog bone. Implements found in the hale lawai‘a were some of the most prized possessions of the entire village.
  • Hale Noho, the living house. It was built as sleeping and living quarters for the Hawaiian family unit.
  • Imu, the communal stone pit. Dug in the ground, it was used to cook the entire village's food including pua‘a or pork. Only men cooked using the imu.
Caste system

Ancient Hawai‘i was a caste society. People were born into specific social classes and did not have the ability to move into another, except in the case of falling into outcast status. Each class had assigned duties and responsibilities to the greater society. The classes in order of social status were:
  • Ali‘i, the royal class. This class consisted of the high and lesser chiefs of the realms. They governed with divine power called mana.
  • Kahuna, the priestly class. This class consisted of the priesthood that tended the temples and conducted religious activities in the villages. Scientists and exceptional navigators also were deemed to have kahuna status.
  • Maka‘ainana, the commoner class. This class consisted of the farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and their families. In a feudal society, they were charged with laboring for the overall economy.
  • Kauwa, the outcast or slave class. This class consisted primarily of people who were considered to be of low birth and thus born without mana. They were not allowed to move up in the caste system or improve their conditions. The mingling of members from other caste groups with the Kauwa was strictly prohibited by kapu. This caste also included prisoners captured in times of war. These prisoners forced to serve the ali‘i or were more often used for sacrifice at the luakini heiau.
The caste fueled a feudal system relative to feudal systems found in Europe circa A.D. 1000. Ali‘i gave lesser ali‘i parcels of land who would in turn govern over them. The lesser ali‘i divided the land into plots to be farmed and cultivated by maka‘ainana families. Harvests were returned to the lesser ali‘i, each taking a portion before being sent to the supreme ali‘i.

Kapu system

Religion held ancient Hawaiian society together, affecting habits, lifestyles, work methods, social policy and law. The legal system was based on religious kapu, or taboos. There was a correct way to live, to worship, to eat, even to have sex. Examples of kapu included the provision that men and women could not eat together. Fishing was limited to specified seasons of the year. The shadow of the ali‘i must not be touched as it was stealing his mana. Violating kapu even by accident was punishable by death.

Kapu was derived from traditions and beliefs from Hawaiian worship of gods, demigods and ancestral mana. The forces of nature were personified as the main gods of Ku (God of War), Kane (God of Light and Life), Lono (God of Harvest and Rebirth). Famous lesser gods include Pele (Goddess of Fire) and her sister Hi‘iaka (Goddess of Water). In a famous creation story, the demigod Maui fished the islands of Hawai‘i from the sea after a little mistake he made on a fishing trip. From Haleakala, Maui ensnared the sun in another story, forcing him to slow down so there was equal periods of darkness and light each day.

Subsistence economy

Ancient Hawaiian economy became complex over time. People began to specialize in specific skills. Generations of families became committed to certain careers: roof thatchers, house builders, stone grinders, bird catchers who would make the feather cloaks of the ali‘i, canoe builders. Soon, entire islands began to specialize in certain skilled trades. Oahu became the chief kapa (tapa bark cloth) manufacturer. Maui became the chief canoe manufacturer. The island of Hawai‘i exchanged bales of dried fish.

European discovery

Discovery of the Hawaiian islands marked the official end of the ancient Hawai'i period and beginning of Hawai‘i's modern era. In 1778, British Captain James Cook landed on Kaua‘i and explored the other islands in time. When he first arrived, the natives believed Cook was their god Lono. Cook's mast and sails coincidentally formed the cross that symbolized Lono in their religious rituals. Lono was God of Light which explained Cook's white skin. Captain Cook was eventually killed during a violent confrontation between natives and Cook's sailors. The sailors accused the natives of stealing a boat. Cook's body was ceremonially cremated and his bones buried in a sacred place. The natives still believed Cook was a deity and his bones had great mana.

Kingdom of Hawai‘i

The Kingdom of Hawai‘i was established in 1810 upon the unification of the smaller independent chiefdoms of O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i and the Big Island of Hawai‘i through swift and bloody battles, led by a warrior chief who later would be immortalized as Kamehameha the Great. Kamehameha failed to secure a victory in Kaua‘i, his effort hampered by a storm. Eventually, Kaua‘i's chief swore allegiance to Kamehameha's rule. The unification ended the feudal society of the Hawaiian islands transforming it into a "modern", independent constitutional monarchy crafted in the tradition of European empires.


‘Iolani Palace, one of many royal palaces in Hawai‘i, was built by Kalakaua who shared Kamehameha V's vision of constructing a palace to rival the residences of European monarchsGovernment in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was transformed in phases, each phase created by the promulgation of the constitutions of 1840, 1852, 1864 and 1887. Each successive constitution can be seen as a decline in the power of the monarch in favor of popularly elected representative government. The head of state and head of government in the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was the monarch. He or she oversaw the Privy Council which was charged with administration. A royal cabinet, the Privy Council consisted of ministers in charge of departments much like that of the American system. These ministers also acted as the monarch's primary advisors.

The 1840 Constitution created a bicameral parliament in charge of legislation. The two houses of the legislature were the House of Representatives (directly elected by popular vote) and the House of Nobles (appointed by the monarch with the advice of the Cabinet). The same constitution created a judiciary, charged with overseeing the courts and interpretation of laws. The Supreme Court was led by the Chief Justice, appointed by the monarch with the advice of the Cabinet.

The islands of Hawai‘i were divided into smaller administrative divisions: Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Maui, and Hawai‘i. Kaua‘i region included Ni‘ihau, while Maui region included Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i and Moloka‘i. Each administrative region was governed by a governor appointed by the monarch.

Kamehameha Dynasty

From 1810 to 1893, the Kingdom of Hawai‘i would be ruled by two major dynastic families, the Kamehameha Dynasty and the Kalakaua Dynasty. Five members of the Kamehameha family would lead the government as its king. Two of them were direct sons of Kamehameha the Great himself. They were Liholiho (Kamehameha II) and Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III). For a period between Liholiho and Kauikeaouli's reigns, Kamehameha the Great's primary wife, Queen Ka‘ahumanu, would rule as Queen Regent and Kuhina Nui, or Prime Minister.

Dynastic rule by the Kamehameha family tragically ended in 1872 with the death of Lot (Kamehameha V). Upon his deathbed, he summoned Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to declare his intentions of making her heir to the throne. She was the last direct Kamehameha family member surviving. She refused the crown and throne in favor of a private life with her husband, Charles Reed Bishop. Lot died before naming an alternative heir.
  • Kamehameha I, (1795-1819)
  • Kamehameha II, Liholiho, (1819-1824)
  • Kamehameha III, Kauikeaouli, (1825-1854)
  • Kamehameha IV, Alexander Liholiho, (1854-1863)
  • Kamehameha V, Lot Kapuaiwa, (1863-1872)
Elected monarchy

The refusal of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop to take the crown and throne as Queen of Hawai‘i forced the legislature of the Kingdom to declare an election to fill the royal vacancy. From 1872 to 1873, several distant relatives of the Kamehameha line were nominated. In a popular vote, William C. Lunalilo became Hawai‘i's first of two elected monarchs.
  • William C. Lunalilo, (1873-1874)
Kalakaua Dynasty

Like his predecessor, Lunalilo failed to name an heir to the throne. He died unexpectedly after less than a year as King of Hawai‘i. Once again, the legislature of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i was forced to declare an election to fill the royal vacancy. Queen Emma, widow of Kamehameha IV, was nominated along with David Kalakaua. The 1874 election was opined to be one of the nastiest political campaign seasons ever in Hawai‘i history. Both candidates resorted to mudslinging and rumors. David Kalakaua was elected the second elected King of Hawai‘i.

Hoping to avoid uncertainty in the monarchy's future, Kalakaua proclaimed several heirs to the throne and defined a royal line of succession. His sister Lili‘uokalani would succeed the throne upon Kalakaua's death. It was indicated that Princess Victoria Ka‘iulani would follow. If she could not produce an heir by birth, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana‘ole would rule after her.
  • David Kalakaua, (1874-1891)
  • Lili‘uokalani, (1891-1893)
Overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai'i

United States Marines aboard the USS Boston land in Honolulu in 1893 to forcibly remove Queen Lili‘uokalani from her position as head of state and government of Hawai‘i. On November 23, 1993, President Bill Clinton signed United States Public Law 103-150 apologizing for the illegal action.Queen Lili‘uokalani inherited a monarchy that was left impotent by her brother's Bayonet Constitution of 1887. David Kalakaua's Royal Cabinet forced him at gunpoint to sign the constitution stripping the monarchy of much of its power in favor of an administration controlled by Hawaiian citizens of Europeans descent. Some claims this constitution was the opening salvo to the end of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.

In 1893, American businessmen seeking to protect their industrial profits in the exportation of goods like sugar to the United States of America organized the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i. American troops aboard the USS Boston landed in Honolulu to help Sanford B. Dole and Lorrin A. Thurston's Committee of Safety, a 13 member council of businessmen plotting to depose Queen Lili‘uokalani. At the gunpoint of American soldiers, Queen Lili‘uokalani was removed from ‘Iolani Palace under arrest, tried by the American Judge Advocate General's Corps and then imprisoned in her own home.

Dole and his committee declared itself the provisional government and in 1894 proclaimed the creation of the Republic of Hawai‘i. Dole became its president. As a republic, it was the intention of the provisional government to campaign for annexation with the United States of America. With annexation, their goods and services exported to the mainland would not be subject to American tariffs. The provisional government succeeded when in 1898, Congress approved a joint resolution of annexation creating the U.S. Territory of Hawai‘i. This followed the precendence of Texas which was also annexed by a joint resolution of Congress. Dole was appointed its first governor.


In Hawaii, at least 30 varieties of kava were used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes by all social classes, men and women. Kava is the original pau hana drink of working people to relax and ease achy muscles. Kava was also given to fussy babies and children to calm them and help them sleep.

The above includes excerpts from Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia:

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