Sample Essay on Hawaiian Tribes

Hawaiian Tribes


The Hawaiian people, like all people who live close to nature, had always been spiritually oriented and mystically religious as it is evident from their history. They have multi-faceted characteristics which are not present in the now-Hawaiian population; certain stereotypes about the culture persist in the non-Hawaiian population because the people of Hawaii have a unique history which has resulted in a distinct ethnic geography. It is a state whose ethnic dynamics do not fit the rest of the American ethnic experiment, for instance,  the people of Hawaii express a culturally pluralistic “spirit of aloha” that welcomes everyone regardless of ethnic or racial background, while also negotiating a legacy of ethnically based social stratification resulting from the state’s historical economic geographies (Miyares, 2008). This essay critically analyzes Hawaiian tribes by looking at their history, origins, relationship with other tribes, economic transformation, political transformation, delimitation, traditions, tribal rules, intermarriage, and rule of the women in social, political, economic issues. The Hawaiians can be characterized by a strong background in regards to history, politics culture and other social activities; however since the coming of the western settlers the tribe is almost facing extinction making them to take action to restore their culture.

Origin and History of the Hawaiian people

Hawaiians are the descendants of Polynesians who settled in Hawaii in the third century and were followed by the people of Tahitians. Some thirteen hundred years later, when Captain Cook landed on Hawaii’s shores, he and his men brought new ideas, microorganisms, and metals crafted into tools and weapons which helped to transform the lives of the Hawaiians. This influx resulted in a decline of traditional Hawaiian culture, which was as a result of the decline in the native Hawaiian population due to the catastrophic biological diseases transmitted during this initial contact. Hawaiians are people who were the first occupants of the island, have a good relation with US and thus freedom to limited self-determination (Kauanui, 2005).

Hawaiians are the ancestors of Polynesians who migrated to the island in the 4th and 5th century before any other group of people had settled on the island. During the westernization of Hawaii, beginning with the arrival of European explorers in 1778, profound environmental, social, and religious changes were made (Hanashiro & Ceria-Ulep, 2011).

The people of Hawaii bore a cultural belief that land could be individually occupied and cared for but could never be possessed or owned by anyone. They looked at the land as a spiritual asset which could only be spiritually possessed and thus did not allow physical ownership of land. The lust for land transformed Hawaii from a Polynesian kingdom to a vassal outpost of Western colonialism whereby other immigrants came and influenced the Hawaiians with their ideologies on land. The islands that form Hawaii were united into one kingdom and were led by a king whom people revered and were subject to his authority. Traditional taboos that had governed the lives of Hawaii were done away with during the rule of Kamehameha III’s predecessor when businesspeople stage a coup because they were tired of paying taxes to the king. The Polynesian cultural landscape, dominated by an orderly system of agricultural fields  which were meant for the production of starchy plant foods and the kingdom was itself part of a well ordered cosmos.

The inhabitants of the island practiced many forms of agriculture and other economic activist so as to feed for themselves.  Royal families were the only ones that were allowed to produce rulers; this is a clear indication that they did not have a democratic form of government. The leadership was hereditary whereby leaders came from royal families only, others families were not allowed to produce leaders. Native Hawaiian Congregationalists embraced mission work as a means to divest themselves of some of their personal and collective anxiety, thus further aligning the lähui with the predominantly Euro/American community of Christian peoples. In doing so they also gained a significant rhetorical lever for negotiating a Native Hawaiian presence in the leadership of the Congregational Church in Hawaii.  In 1893, White Businessmen Advocating Hawaii’s Annexation to the US attempted to unlawful overthrow the Hawaiian kingdom and its queen (Imada, 2011).

Social structure

The natives of Hawaii share identical cultural traditions, arts, religion, and sciences, all Polynesians are related to a single proto-culture established in the South Pacific by migrant Malayo people. It is approximated that the Polynesians arrived in Hawai‘i in the seventh century and brought along with them clothing, plants, livestock and other necessities that were crucial for their well being. The native Hawaiians were endowed with a wide variety of skills which made them able to independently survive on the highland regardless of the unfavorable climate conditions. They had exceptional skills that helped them to cope up with the living conditions on the islands, for instance, they knew how to fish, weave baskets and make clothes that help their in covering their nakedness. The basis of the culture of Hawaii was farming and fishing, which were considered ’oihana’ike ‘intellectual professions’, because they required a lifelong study of the environment (Charlot, 2006). Fishing was one of the major activities in the kingdom because the place is an island that is bordered by waters. The natives of Hawaii lived in traditions villages which were quite unique as compared to the modern village, the structures which formed part of the Hawaiian village include;

Heiau– this was a revered structure which was a temple to the gods of the land which many people revered and used it as a place of offering sacrifices to the gods.  It was believed that they were a source of great divine power, it was a special place that was accorded respect and few people, for instance, the king and the priests were allowed in the place.

Hale Ali‘i– this was the dwelling of chiefs which was used as a house for the high chief and a place where the junior chiefs could meet and deliberate on issues that affected the society. It is at these place that’ those in authority could come up with solutions to the problems that bedeviled the kingdom.   The house was revered and commoners were not allowed near the house because of the authority that the house signified and represented. The structure was put on stone that was raised so as to represent might for the reason that it was a special place that showed the power and authority of the leaders of the land who were the chiefs. Women were barred from accessing the place for the reason that it was believed that they were not worth to move near the place of authority and power.

Hale Pahu– this was the house of instruments, sacred instruments included things like the pahu drums which were used for religious purposes were kept at this place. It was treated as a religious space and revered because of the fears and respect that the inhabitants of the kingdom had to the gods of the land.

Hale Papa‘a– this which was put up to store and other special instruments that were used in the society.  Royal things were stored in the house so as to prevent them from being tampered with by children and other creatures like animals.

Hale Ulana– the house of the weaver, craftsmen met in the house regularly to put together their skills and effort and thus come out with good baskets that served the society.

Hale Mua– it has which only men gathered to eat and was seen to be a special place for the reason that it was used to carve stone idols of aumakua.

Hale Wa‘a– this a housed used as a store for the vessels that were used for fishing.  The vessels were believed to be safe when they were kept in this place because both commoners and intruders could not be able to tamper with them when in the house.

Customs and treatment of women before birth

The natives of Hawaii had many customs, traditions, taboos and beliefs that were related to pregnancy, birth and other rites of passage. It was believed that if an expectant mother found out a thread kinking as she sews, she was supposed to smooth out the thread immediately lets the child be strangled with its own naval cord when she was giving birth. An expectant woman among the Hawaiian people was not also supposed to sit in the middle of the door because she risked being struck on the back of the head. An expectant woman was not also supposed to salt fish because if the fish was spoiled, the child she was expecting risked being cursed by Catarrh. If an expectant mother among the native people of Hawaii longed to see a friend then it was believed that such a friend was specially loved by the child that the mother was expecting. If it was impossible for the friend to appear so that the mother can see him/her, then a relative of the mother was tasked with taking a smooth stone, pacing it at the middle of the door and calling the name of the friend, the mother would automatically be comforted then the longing and desire to see the friend would disappear.

It was also believed that if a woman was affected by a disease during the pregnancy then her child would have a mean nature. Weakness of a human during the period of pregnancy means that the child was also going to be weak. Women were not also allowed to eat certain kinds of foods during pregnancy because it was thought that such foods would have an effect on the growth of the child. There was a diet which was prescribed for pregnant women so as to ensure the health growth of the child they were carrying. Whatever foods that an expectant mother desired at her last days of the pregnancy would be the favorite foods of the child after birth. Birthmarks were also determined in color and shape by the type of food the mother craved for before the birth of the child.

There were also many customs that were concerned with sickness, death and preparation of the corpse after death among the people of Hawaii.  Death in the society was taken as a sacred thing and the dead were respected and accorded a decent sent off just as it is common in other communities. Those who were exempted from a decent send off were evil people who had broken the kapus and thus were punished by death. Their bodies did not receive the special treatment that was given to those who died a normal death. If a member of the community died in a house, no sound of wailing was made until the body was cleaned and dressed, for the spirit of the person was believed to be still lingering in the house and might be startled by the noise of lamentation and flees. Relatives washed and dressed the body where Salt water was used for washing, for besides its power of purification and preservation, salt water was the “wai kda” or “water of forgiveness,” the body was preserved for three days before it was buried. A cloth referred to as kihei, was be wrapped about the shoulders of the body.

A feast was prepared by the family at the time of death which allowed the mourners to eat to their satisfaction and ensure that no one complained of hunger. The mourners were allowed to leave as they desired before the burial, but there was no ritual connected with the feast. When the time came to carry the body out of the house for burial, it was disposed for carnage in one of  the three ways:  First, it was wrapped in a fine bark cloth, rolled in a mat and bound with cords;  second it could be deposited, wrapped in bark cloth, in a canoe with the knees bent to fit into the body of the canoe, or with the ends of the canoe knocked out to receive the body at full length, a flat board being added to fill out the length; or the knees might be drawn up to the chest with the hands doubled into fists against the cheeks and the body placed in a large covered umeke or calabash hollowed out of some native hard wood like the koa tree.

The burial was held at night and was attended by men alone whereas a number of relatives acted as bearers depending on the size of the corpse. Women and children were not allowed to attend the burial ceremony because they were seen to be weak and vulnerable and were likely to be affected by the spirits if anything strange happened.  Those who lifted the body would “intercede” with it in some such words as “Ked hele ala oe, e hoomaha oe!”  Which meant that you are departing, rest yourself, do not make yourself a burden!” Should they find the body very heavy to lift, they would inquire of the dead who were holding him back, by naming each relative in turn until at some name the body grew lighter when the name of the relative holding him/her back was mentioned.

A purification ceremony was also performed in about all the house and yard in order “to drive out bad spirits from the house after a death and keep the good.” A calabash of water containing salt and a bit of olena root was used for this purpose. This sprinkling of the house ensured that the return of the spirit was in a clean state and without such a purifying rite it might return in anger and cause trouble in the house. Anyone attending a burial was also sprinkled with salt water lest the spirit of the dead follows him home and do him harm. The evil spirits of those who passed away after committing evil were thought to be able to hound the people. Spirits which came back to disturb the living were thought to be bad omen and cleansing was carried out to rid the society of such evil spirits.

The people of Hawaii also believed that the soul after death had “three abiding places, which are namely: in the volcano, in the water, and on dry plains like the plains and the spirits of those who worshipped the sun followed the sun-god. Others went in the direction of the moon, or followed the course of the wind, all depending upon the god whom they worshipped during their time on earth.

Marriage and intermarriage

History shows that Hawaiians have a high rate of out-marriage, and only one Keanae family is reputed to be “pure” Hawaiian. During the 19th century, many Chinese families married into Keanae families when they completed their terms of plantation labor and thus leading to the erosion of Hawaiian cultures and values. The arrival of immigrants from other places around the world led to a high level of intermarriage between the native people of Hawaii and people from other places around the world. Intermarriages that happened between the native Hawaiians and other people who came to the kingdom as workers, for instance, the Chinese led to the erosion of the cultural values.

          Before the arrival of the missionaries on the islands, women of the kingdom still used beautifully textured bark cloth (tapa) for clothing and other utilitarian and ceremonial purposes. This shows that the natives of Hawaii knew how to make clothes and cover their nakedness even before the arrival of the missionaries unlike in other islands. The inhabitants of the kingdom had diverse skills which were exceptional an thus made them to stand out among other people in the world at that time. The making of tapa was consumed a lot of time and because it is a process which had to be given much effort and concentration.  The inhabitants of the island were endowed with special skills that helped them to make clothing’s even before the arrival of the missionaries and other visitors.


Political structure

There was a clear hierarchal structure with several kings and chiefs. Marriages among tribes for the sake of political gain were also evident at the time when immigrants from other communities arrived on the island. The transformation of the kingdom from to its present state remains a controversial political phenomenon. Following statehood, the Hawaiian Renaissance Movement was formed to challenge the dominant sociopolitical environment which led to conflicts and the emergence of the kingdom as a state of the US. Components of the Movement acted as a contributory factor to changes in language, laws, land entitlements, and obtaining federal recognition.

David Kalakaua, also known as the Merrie was the last king of the kingdom of Hawaii who  was elected as king, and during his reign, he tried to reclaim Hawaii from foreign control, along with travelling the world, raising awareness and knowledge of Hawaii, before dying in 1891. Before Kalakaua, the king was King Kamehameha who died in 1872, and left no successor because the Hawaiian Kingdom’s constitution declared that, in this case, the legislature would appoint a new one. In this vote, the two main candidates were Kalakaua and a man named William Lunalilo. Lunalilo was more popular and closer related to Kamehameha and his goal was to give the Hawaiians more say in the government whereas Kalakaua, on the other hand, wished for Hawaiians to be in power, not foreigners, and for independence. The annexation of Hawaii was an important event in the history, in 1843, the Kingdom of Hawaii became a sovereign state with recognition from 17countries, including the US (NeSmith, 2002).

In 1893 a coup occurred in which the Hawaiian Kingdom government was deposed  by people who were backed by U.S. marines with no treaty of cession having been created between the two governments legally merging the two sovereign nations into one, the U.S. began its military occupation of the Kingdom, a situation which continues today. Since 1893, Hawai‘i’s political environment has been hostile and thus in 1917 Hawaii was considered the 50th state supported by the islanders after a plebiscite. Queen Lydia Kamakaeha was overthrown for the reason that those who opposed her were supported by the US army and featured the taxes that were imposed by the kingdom. Forces of the US were directed to provide support on the directives of the minister and in reality they were seen as and thus the Hawaiians who did not see the annexation in advance. They wanted Hawaii to become a part of the U.S. so that they did not have to face the dilemma of paying the tax to the kingdom which they felt that had become a burden to them.


Religion brought the community together because it affected every aspect of life and most of the traditions, beliefs and values were premised on religion. The legal system of the kingdom was premised on religious taboos, known as kapu which spelled out the correct way to live and how to carry out you in the community. The kapus were instrumental for the well being of the community because they regulated the relationship amongst people. Those who violated the   kapus were punished by death because kapu was derived from the gods who were revered and worshiped by the people.. The gods of the land were believed to be powerful and could get angry and unleash their wrath on the people if the kapus were violated.

Caste System

The natives of Hawaii lived in a caste whereby People belonged into certain social classes whereby each class was assigned specific duties which they needed to accomplish. A person was not allowed to move from one social class to another because the status of the personal was believed and considered to be permanent

Ali‘I– this was the royal class that consisted of the chiefs who governed with divine power and had power and authority that ordinary people did not have.

Kahuna– this was a class that was made up of priests, the class was comprised of priests that looked after the temples and carried out other religious duties in the kingdom.  Also, scientists and navigators who had exceptional skills were deemed to have kahuna status for the reason that of their exceptional knowledge that other people lacked.

Maka‘ainana– this was a class which was made up of commoners class which was comprised of farmers, fishermen, craftsmen and their families.  Commoners were the people who were just ordinary and did not have authority or and power in the society.

Outcast- the slave class– This people were considered outcasts and were rejected by the society because of their evil behavior, the class was made up of prisoners and other people who were caught during the times of conflict, for instance, war.


F or many years the Hawaüan language had served as the vehicle by which history, genealogy, and mythology had been preserved and passed on to younger generations (Wyels, 2012. When missionaries from the US came to the island and introduced reading and, King Liholiho sent out emissaries to teach Hawaüans the new literacy skills. The influx of foreigners in the kingdom misguided educational policies, and the ascendancy of English took their native language. Later a form of “Pidgin,” or Creole, arose between Hawaiians and the contract workers imported from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines. By the mid-1900s, Hawaiian seemed poised to follow the many indigenous languages that have ceased to function as living languages.

Hawaiian values

The native people of the kingdom of Hawaii viewed the body mind and spirit as one thing; for instance, they believed that the body cannot be healed without healing the spirit and considered nature and the health of people to be intertwined. The people of the kingdom believed that when a person was affected by a disease then it was punishment of some evil deeds or participating in some form of evil acts. They believed that the environment played a crucial role in the well being of people because when it was affected in any way then everything will automatically be affected. Traditional healing of the people of Hawaii had an environmental philosophy which was referred to as Locahi locahi.

The inhabitants of the kingdom believed that it was significant to keep peace with the self, the family and the gods of the land so as to live a prosperous and successful life. The healers of the kingdom were known as Kahumas, who were very secretive of the treatment and the cure of those who had been affected by certain diseases. Most of the healers were family based because they only treated members of their respective families. The kahumas were chosen between self converts, the high self was the person’s divine connections with the gods. Communication between the kahunas and the gods of the land were important because it was believed that the gods played a role in the healing process. It was also believed that blockages in communication between the gods and kahunas were caused by a number of factors, for instance, fear, anger, or negative programming.

Socio-economic background

The native Hawaiians engaged in different socio-economic activities such as farming, fishing, and tourism. Inhabitants of the entire islands started to specialize in actives which needed special skills, for instance, skilled trades which gave them special skills that they used in transforming the kingdom. Economically, the globalization process in Hawaii mirrored the catastrophe of the biological scourge. Industry by industry, through sandalwood, whaling, and eventually sugar, the natural resources of the archipelago were divided, privatized, and commoditized by entrepreneurs working together with the Hawaiian to enter the global market. The overexploitation of the Islands’ limited resources left a political and economic scar because the inhabitants became fiscally indebted to the foreigners.



Effect of the western migration on the Hawaiian tribes

The coming of foreigners changed many aspects of the culture of the natives of Hawaii and led to the erosion of traditions because foreigners carried their own traditions and values to the island which they felt that they were more appropriate than that of the Hawaiians. When the settlers from western arrived in the kingdom they imposed some of their values and traditions to the people of Hawaii. Intermarriage between the natives of the island and people from the western culture led to the erosion of the values, for example some aspects of the Hawaiians began to disappear when the marriages between the two groups intensified. Some aspects of western culture like capitalism were brought to the kingdom leading to the disappearance of some practices. The western merchants that began doing business in the kingdom planned a rebellion which led to the overthrowing of the king which marked the end of hereditary leadership of the kingdom and marked the beginning of the western style of leadership.

Current situations of the Hawaiian tribes

Currently, the Hawaiians tribes are facing extinction because of the dominance of the western values on the island and thus they have decided to take the necessary steps to restore their culture. The current leadership style that is used on the island is the western form of leadership unlike it was before the coming of the western settlers. Many traditions that were practiced by the native people of the kingdom are no longer practiced because the current inhabitants of the island have embraced western values. Cultures and traditions that are related to death, sickness, burial, naming and many other rites of passage are no longer practiced on the island. The delimitation of the kingdom has led to the erosion of the culture and traditions of the native Hawaiians whereby they have been influenced by the culture and traditions of those who have colonized them.




The cultural, political and economical stability of Hawaiian tribes have been threatened by the westerners. The native people of Hawaii explored and settled the archipelago, inhabiting the main Hawaiian Islands form many years before the coming of migrants from other races and ethnicities. This people had customs, traditions and believe that are still evident in the remaining populations of the Hawaiians. Less than one percent of the population of Hawaii is pure-blooded Hawaiian because intermarriages as a result of the coming of the migrants have led to the emergence of half cats.  The leadership of the kingdom was hereditary whereby the inhabitants of the highlands were rule by royal families whereas the legal system of the island was based on kapus which formed the legal system of the kingdom.  The native people of Hawaii had many traditions and customs that were related to birth, death and other rites of passage in the society. The Hawaiians have been forced to take necessary steps to restore their culture which is facing extinction because of the dynamics of the modern society.




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