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08.04.2005—Pu‘u Makua

Hawaiian Culture

In her now famous book The Polynesian Family System in Ka‘u, Hawai‘i, noted Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui illustrated the original Hawaiian concept of forest types that scalloped the mountain slope from the coast, where most people had their habitations, to the high mountain summit above tree line. As we do, early Polynesian settlers utilized mountain areas as a source for their water, both for human use and agriculture. They harvested mountain plants and animals for food; utilitarian items such as cordage and barkcloth for ornamental, medicinal and ceremonial uses; and spiritual items such as bird feathers for featherwork which is among the finest ever produced.

Mountains were also the source of valuable hardwoods, such as koa. Koa trees are a Hawaiian endemic species without near relatives in the central and eastern Pacific. Amazingly, the nearest relatives of koa occur in Australia and the Mascarene Islands (A. heterophylla) in the Indian Ocean. To settling Hawaiians, the high islands of the Hawaiian archipelago must have appeared as the ultimate gift from their ‘akua (Gods). Of all the gifts that awaited them, fresh water, large flightless birds for immediate food, brightly colored red, yellow, and green birds, and thick, verdant forests with massive koa trees up to 35 m (115 feet) tall were among the most significant. From these koa, Hawaiians continued the ocean navigating tradition of their ancestors, hewing massive wa‘a (canoe) from koa logs dragged off high mountain slopes. Once largely abandoned, the sport of outrigger canoe racing has resurged and occupies an important and characteristic part of Hawaiian culture now practiced throughout the world. Though modern canoes are predominantly made of fiberglass, fittingly, the State Championship rules of the Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association (HCRA) dictate that all participating canoes must be constructed of koa.

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08.04.2005—Pu‘u Makua