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Learn About Hawaiian Culture

Updated on April 29, 2019
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FTank lives on the Big Island of Hawaii and loves to explore the island wonders.

Hawaiian Traditions and Customes

Hawaii was settled primarily by Polynesian peoples who brought with them their ancient system of tribal governance. This system was know as the "kapu" system which means "forbidden." To keep the peasants under control, Hawaiian kings established many laws and regulations under the "kapu" system that kept the peasants in line. Many of these ancient "kapu" laws involved how to properly show respect to their tribal royalty but some dealt with the fact that Hawaiian culture considered females subservient in this male dominated society.

Women were not deemed worthy of eating with their male counterparts so this was kapu in Hawaiian culture. Women were also not allowed to eat certain foods such as pork since this too, was reserved only for males. With respect to royalty, there were many kapu laws. For example, it was forbidden to let your shadow fall across the physical body of a king. You could not look directly at the king nor could commoners be in a higher position than the king at any time since this was disrespectful. There were also many kapu laws surrounding fishing in the islands to keep islanders healthy and able to provide food for themselves.

The Kapu system was not an easy system to follow. These laws and regulations were sometimes harsh and the punishments often immediate and severe. Hawaiians believed that if violators were not punished for their transgressions, it would anger the gods who brought drought, famine, tidal waves, and volcanic eruptions to their islands. Therefore, the penalty for violating the kapu system was often corporal punishment or even death. If the violation was severe enough, the entire family might also be put to death for the transgression of their family member.

Since the system was so harsh, the Hawaiians did have one way to redeem oneself and this was by physically getting to a place of refuge. If the violator could make it to this scared place, the priests there could perform certain rituals that absolved the violator from his or her sins. Once these rituals were performed and the individual had completed his or her penance, they s/he was then free to return home. This ability to receive absolution also made sure that the natives accepted the rules under which they lived and did not revolt against their royalty.

Big Island Place of Refuge - Honaunau

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Hale o Keawe heinau.One of the many idols on the grounds.The bones of royalty were interred here. Overlooking the beautiful bay.You can also learn about other Hawaiian customs such as canoe carving.
Hale o Keawe heinau.
Hale o Keawe heinau.
One of the many idols on the grounds.
One of the many idols on the grounds.
The bones of royalty were interred here.
The bones of royalty were interred here.
Overlooking the beautiful bay.
Overlooking the beautiful bay.
You can also learn about other Hawaiian customs such as canoe carving.
You can also learn about other Hawaiian customs such as canoe carving.

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau

This ancient and well-preserved place of refuge, called Pu'uhonau o Hanaunau, is located on the southwestern side of the Big Island. Dedicated as a national park in 1961, this location is one of the best examples of a Hawaiian Place of Refuge in the state. Built in the 1500's, it was the site of not only a place of refuge and royal burial ground but also housed the Ali'i palace grounds. You can see examples of Hawaiian houses, temples and also petroglyphs on the grounds. Wood carvings of the gods also grace the area. A reconstructed thatched structure called Hale-o-keawe was originally a mausoleum for the bones of Hawaiian chiefs thus giving the area supernatural powers. At times, local Hawaiians are on hand to explain Hawaiian crafts and cultural aspects as well. In addition to the cultural values of the park, the bay is home to many Hawaiian sea turtles so you are more than likely to also see a few of these magnificent creatures basking on the rocks or the shore as you walk along the shoreline of the bay. Cost is $5.00 per carload and it is definitely worth a stop. If you have a Hawaii Tri-Park pass, it is valid for entry here with no additional fee.

© 2009 ftank


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