Where We Live – in a Grass Hut, pg 2

Honokohau :continued (see previous post)

There were dramatic changes underway in Hawaii during the early 1800s,. Davida Malo a native Hawaiian, educated in one of the early missionary schools realized the importance of recording the customs and practices of ancient Hawaii for posterity lest they be lost and forgotten. The Chronicles of Davida Malo were published in 1838 and are a primary reference to this day for historians. In this excerpt  he writes about the native house.

“The house was an important thing for a man’s residence and health with his wife and children, his friends and those who enjoyed his hospitality. A good thing was the house for warmth and shelter from the rain and cold, daylight and heat. Many were the people who lived in wretched houses but thought them good enough. A cave was the house of some folk, a sheltering cliff, a hollow tree of some, of others a shanty. Some attached themselves to those that had houses, such were called “o kea ili mai” or “pehi iole” These were disreputable terms. Not so did those who were not disreputable live, they built themselves houses in the following manner.”

“The man must go up to the mountain forest with his adz and cut down such timber as he needs; then he must carry it down on his back. The posts were short timbers, the rafters long sticks and the pou hana were long posts that when set up determined the height of the house the man had planned. The kukuna on the sides of the pou hana are shorter as they approach the corner. The ridge-pole is a long stick as long as the builder plans the house; the upper ridge pole (kua iole) is as long as the ridge pole and lashed above it; the halakea are the posts inside the house; the aho are small sticks; this is all the house timber.”

Ancient Hawaiian homes were no more than a simple roof of matching rafters and a ridge pole. Better built  and larger homes would have a low stone foundation on which the rafter bottoms were secured and protected rather than being directly on the ground. Once the rafters were cut, raised in place and bound to the ridge pole a secondary ridge pole was fastened above the first and nested in the crossing V of rafters. This resulted in a stronger ridge as all parts were firmly lashed to each other.  The aho are then attached at intervals of 5 to 7 inches apart and continued all over the roof. The aho provide a sufficiently stiff bracing but in large houses it was sometimes  required to place vertical aho between each rafter pole. There was a proscribed method and uniformity of all lashing (click image) that was a thing of beauty.

While the men were 6 or 10 miles away in the mountains cutting and gathering wood for the house the woman and children would be gathering pili grass for the thatch. The resulting pile might be as large as the house itself. Others, usually elderly men would be twisting and braiding the material needed for twine and rope (aha) that would be used for lashing. The thickest aha of coconut fiber was for cables then came the size used for attaching the principle framework of the house together. Smaller cord attached the aho to the rafters and still smaller fastened the tufts of grass together. With many small bundles of grass prepared the thatching began. Starting at the bottom, grass bundles are tied to the lowest row of aho with the roots to the top and inclining inward. This process is repeated on each successive row and at the ridge a specialized cap is formed.

Davida Malo continues: ” Then was called in the priest to make a prayer at the cutting of the bunch of grass left hanging over the door way of the house (kuwa was the name of that prayer), and when the prayer was ended the owner of the house entered and settled in comfort. This business of the prayer by the kahuna for the house was in use by the good citizens, the chiefs, respectable men, people of substance and those well to do. But the foolish people did not do so, but entered  their houses without ceremony; they only wanted a small house in which to sleep with a fireplace near their head, and a calabash near at hand; only one house had such people, and so they lived”

Honokohau/Kaloko archeological site is now a National Park that preserves numerous artifacts and structures. One of the most intact examples of how life was before the migration. The place that people left behind to explore the benefits of Western Civilization. They soon learned there where many new conveniences to life and others  could build the houses and there where new types of goods to purchase. Can’t hardly blame the people for leaving. Theirs was a tough life. Living on  an barren patch of sand on an isolated coast , farming the ponds for fish, only a few  fruits and vegetables available and Living in a Grass Hut. Who wants that?

About earthstonestation

promoting environmental education, protecting all species and preserving the wild places with art, music and storytelling.
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5 Responses to Where We Live – in a Grass Hut, pg 2

  1. Malou says:

    This method of roofing is also common in the Philippines where I am from. I love being in a house with such a roof, very cool even in summer. Unfortunately, typhoons are its greatest enemy. 😉

  2. jpgreenword says:

    Hey! That looks like nylon rope. Cheaters 🙂

    Although my wife and I do our best to simplify our life, there is a certain level of comfort that I hope I never have to go without – including having a home with doors and windows. Seeing how people lived in times past helps me appreciate what I have. Thanks.

  3. Mighty interesting. Always nice to know about other parts of the world. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Good post – I enjoyed reading it!

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