The native Hawaiians probably came originally from islands in the eastern part of Polynesia, from the Society Islands, which include Tahiti, and from the Marquesas Islands. In all likelihood these tall, tawny-skinned people migrated to the Hawaiian Islands sometime between the 7th century ad and the 13th century. They made the voyage of more than 3,200 km (2,000 mi) in long catamaran-like canoes.
At the time of the arrival of the first Westerners late in the 18th century, there were an estimated 300,000 native inhabitants. The Hawaiians lived in villages that were located along the coast or in the larger valleys a short distance inland. The island of Hawaii was the most heavily populated in the chain. The Hawaiians relied for their food primarily on fishing, farming, and gathering of wild plants. Their staple diet was fish and poi, a pastelike food made from the tuber, or underground stem, of the taro plant. The Hawaiians had neither metals nor metalworking skills. Weapons, household utensils, and other implements were fashioned from wood, stone, shell, and bone.
By the late 18th century the Hawaiians had developed an elaborate system of social organization. At this time the islands were divided among several kingdoms, which were often at war. Within each kingdom there was a basically feudal system of social organization. The people were divided into several distinct social classes. The noble class, or aristocracy, consisted of the king, a number of chiefs, and their families. As king, the ruler owned all the land of the kingdom. He parceled out land among chiefs loyal to him, but he could revoke the grants at any time. The chiefs in turn gave the common people small plots to farm, but the commoners were also obligated to farm the land of the ruling class and to serve in the royal army.
There were also a small class of slaves and a highly respected class of navigators, priests, and other professionals. Priests often attained great power, in some cases second only to that of the king.
The religion of the native Hawaiians was basically a form of nature worship, in which the forces of nature were personified as gods. Of the many gods worshiped the most important were Ku, the god of war; Kane, the god of light and life; and Lono, the god of the harvest. The Hawaiians worshiped in heiaus, stone terraces enclosed by stone walls.
Religion substantially affected the everyday life and habits of the Hawaiians. The king and high-ranking chiefs derived their power and prestige from the gods. An elaborate ritual accompanied almost every important individual or community activity. Daily life, including politics, worship, eating, and sexual intimacy, was governed by a complex system of kapus, or taboos. Punishment for violating the kapus, even accidentally, was often severe, including death. "Hawaii" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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