Ka Wai Ola

Imagine the joy when, in about 200 A.D., our Hawaiian ancestors arrived in Hawai‘i. They had traveled hundreds and hundreds of miles, over scores of years, crossing the Pacific from Southeast Asia. To refresh themselves, they had settled awhile on Pacific islands en route to Hawai‘i.

Upon arrival, these experienced settlers would have quickly explored for water, food and safe areas for living, farming and fishing. The food plants carried on the canoes needed immediate watering and planting.

As needs for settling were found, initial shelters were built. These ancestors were skilled in developing communities, building homes, farms and watering systems, as well as locating fishing grounds – and surviving.

Soon, settlements and farms were created by the ancestors. In fact, selection for the voyage was based on their abilities, knowledge and temperament for settling. They performed exactly as their fathers and elders had done along their path to Hawai‘i.

Our Hawaiian ancestors knew hard work lay ahead and that success required working collectively. Hawai‘i, their new home, provided basic needs of fresh water, fertile soil, bountiful oceans and an excellent climate. Survival required constant collaboration with neighbors on building, farming and community projects. Their cultural practices were strengthened: sharing, trading, helping, collaborating, building, giving, receiving, worshiping, increasing their numbers – and aloha.

These strong, industrious farmers, fishermen and builders needed temperaments that were quiet, observant, contemplative, thoughtful and prayerful. Farmers had to anticipate planting, maintaining and harvesting gardens and lo‘i kalo (irrigated taro fields). Watchful eyes and skills of fisherman identified best fishing grounds, times and methods. Builders used strength and skill to build structures to protect families from the elements and to bring water to the lo‘i. Long hours dedicated to daily endeavors provided peaceful solitude for thoughts and prayers. The ancestors relied on and grew closer to their gods. The Hawaiian farmers dedicated themselves and their sons to Lono, the god of harvest and rain. Their collective behavior of being industrious, thoughtful, quiet, generous, and sharing are the foundations of aloha – and kuleana.

The population survived, increased and spread. Groups of kanaka maoli (Hawaiians) began moving and settling in the drier climates on leeward sides of islands. Mo‘olelo (story, history) emerged of community leaders and competing policies developing between communities, followed by the strengthening of area leaders and their communities. Historians say mo‘olelo also recorded periodic arrivals of new canoes from Kahiki (any foreign land). Most notable was arrival in the 1300s-1400s of a Polynesian chief, Pa‘ao, who brought a new form of governing, a new religion and heiau system. Kānaka learned perseverance.

From origins in 200 A.D. to arrival of Europeans in 1778, the dozen or so plants they brought to Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i’s fish, birds, seaweed and greens provided kānaka with all major nutrients for good health. Fish and large birds of Hawai‘i were protein sources for their diet. Kalo (taro), ‘uala (sweet potato) and uhi (yams) were major carbohydrate sources, and their leaves enriched the diet with important vitamins and minerals. A few seasonal fruits: berries (hua li‘ili‘i), mountain apples (‘ōhia‘ai), and banana (mai‘a) added variety in flavors and nutrients.

The importance of these foods to our ancestors is shown by the cultural importance given to foods as kinolau (plant forms) of the gods. The power of their diet and lifestyle was demonstrated by their fine physical development, energy and aloha noted by the European explorers.

“The Natives of these islands [Hawaii] are, in general, above the middle size (taller), and well made; they walk very gracefully, run nimbly and are capable of bearing great fatigue….” Excerpt, written by Captain James King on Cook’s third voyage to Hawai‘i, March 1779.

Hawaiians have inherited Hawai‘i’s beautiful islands and oceans, health, intellect, industry and aloha from our ancestors. We are fortunate. We must work diligently to maintain and regain any that have been lost.