Voyagers introduce possibly 30 or more plants to the islands
When Polynesian eafarers arrived on the Hawaiian Islands in 300–500 AD, a few edible plants existed in the new land, aside from a few ferns and fruits that grew at higher elevations. Botanists and archaeologists believe that these voyagers introduced anywhere between 27 and possibly more than 30 plants to the islands, mainly for food.The most important of them was taro. For centuries taro, and the poi made from it, was the main staple of their diet, and it is still much loved today. In addition to taro, sweet potatoes and yams were planted. The Marquesans, the first settlers from Polynesia, brought breadfruit (ulu) and the Tahitians later introduced the baking banana. These settlers from Polynesia also brought coconuts and sugarcane. They found plenty of fish, shellfish, and limu in the new land. Flightless birds were easy to catch and nests were full of eggs for the taking. Most Pacific Islands had no meat animals except bats and lizards, so ancient Polynesians sailed the Pacific with pigs, chickens and dogs as cargo. Pigs were raised for religious sacrifice, and the meat was offered at altars, some of which was consumed by priests and the rest eaten in a mass celebration. The early Hawaiian diet was diverse, and may have included as many as 130 different types of seafood and 230 types of sweet potatoes. Some species of land and sea birds were consumed into extinction.
Feasts were celebrations and happened often
Sea Salt was a common condiment in ancient Hawaii,and Inamona, a relish made of roasted, mashed kukui nutmeats, sea salt and sometimes mixed with seaweeds, often accompanied the meals. At important occasions, a traditional feast, ‘aha‘aina, was held. When a woman was to have her first child, her husband started raising a pig for the ‘Aha‘aina Mawaewae feast that was celebrated for the birth of a child. Besides the pig, mullet, shrimp, crab, seaweeds and taro leaves were required for the feast. The modern name for such feasts, lu’au was not used until 1856, replacing the Hawaiian words ‘aha‘aina and pā‘ina. The name lū‘au came from the name of a food always served at a ‘aha‘aina — young taro tops baked with coconut milk and chicken or octopus.
Underground served as the primary cooking vessel
Prior to cooking, pigs and dogs were killed by strangulation or by holding their nostrils shut, in order to conserve the animal’s blood. Meat was prepared by flattening out the whole eviscerated animal and broiling it over hot coals, or it was spitted on sticks. Large pieces of meat, such as fowl, pigs and dogs, would be typically cooked in earth ovens, or spitted over a fire during ceremonial feasts. Hawaiian earth ovens, known as an imu, combine roasting and steaming in a method called kalua. A pit is dug into earth and lined with volcanic rocks and other rocks that do not split when heated to a high temperature, such as granite.
A fire is built with embers, and when the rocks are glowing hot, the embers are removed and the foods wrapped in ti, ginger or banana leaves are put into the pit, covered with wet leaves, mats and a layer of earth. Water may be added through a bamboo tube to create steam. The intense heat from the hot rocks cooked food thoroughly — the quantity of food for several days could be cooked at once, taken out and eaten as needed, and the cover replaced to keep the remainder warm. Sweet potatoes, taro, breadfruit and other vegetables were cooked in the imu, as well as fish. Saltwater eel was salted and dried before being put into the imu. Chickens, pigs and dogs were put into the imu with hot rocks inserted in the abdominal cavities. Men did all of the cooking, and food for women was cooked in a separate imu; afterwards men and women ate meals separately. The ancient practice of cooking with the imu continues to this day, for special occasions.
The legend of the Menehune describes an ancient race of Kauaians who were very small, but very skilled, and with a supernatural strength.The Menehune were said to have built many structures, including roads, dams, ‘auwai (irrigation canals), and heiau (sacred places of worship)—and everything they built was constructed in a single night. The huge aquaculture facility is said to have been built in a single
moonlit night by a 25-mile-long, double row of Menehune who passed rocks to each other all the way from the Makaweli Quarry in Waimea.
There was a time when Hawaii supplied California with flour, also potatoes and other vegetables. Now California produces her own and sends part of the surplus here. As adventurers and traders began to frequent the Islands, the native subsistence economy changed to accommodate foreigners and foreign goods. New animals and plants arrived as well. Grazing animals like cattle, goats and sheep and invasive plant species made a major impact on the environment, drastically altering forests and overrunning defenseless native species. Men did all of the cooking, and food for women was cooked in a separate imu; afterwards men and women ate meals separately. The ancient practice of cooking with the imu continues to this day, for special occasions.
Modern homes and high-rises are crowding out what was once open grass and field. Prior to European settlement, native Hawaiians viewed land as the common property of everyone. The economic interests of the common people, the king, and the chiefs were collaborative, mutually beneficial, and intertwined. Writing in 1916, W. Somerset Maugham described Honolulu, in a story of the same name: “It
is the meeting of East and West. The very new rubs shoulders with the immeasurably old.” The ethnic variety of immigrants since the arrival of Captain Cook has created many opportunities for cultural exchange and hybridization.
Hawai’i imports 85–90% of its food and has less than a seven-day supply in stores at any given time, making it vulnerable to economic disruptions and natural disasters. Over 9% of residents are “food insecure,” which means they lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy, productive life. There is heightened demand to feed the state’s 1.3 million residents and 7 million-plus annual tourists. Like the rest of the country, Hawai’i is faced with rising rates of diabetes (up 15% from 2005 to 2009) and childhood obesity (28.5% of youth ages 10–17 are overweight or obese, and a 2003 study found that 30–40% of kindergarteners in rural communities were already overweight or obese).