Hawaiian Fisher Women and Divers

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In ancient Hawai’i, the Hawaiian men usually were the ones that hunted, planted, harvested, cooked and fished. There were, however, roles in each of the above too for women. For example, when it was time to plant, women were present and handed over the seed or taro corn to men. The belief was that things grew better when there the presence of both males and females and is linked to mo’olelo about Kū and Hina as well as Papa and Wākea. This was also symbolic of the way Hawaiians reared children–women giving birth and men caring for the child. When it was time to harvest, women helped with the peeling or cleaning–again this is linked to Kū and Hina and to burial rituals of the makaʻāinana. The last face a person saw before passing was usually their mother, their wāhine (spouse) or some other beloved female figure.

Between those times women often would wait, weave their lau hala or feather works, or sing on the side of the taro paddy or agricultural development. This continued well into the 19th century. The famed “taro patch” slack key tuning style is said to have been developed by women in the early 19th century entertaining their kāne in the taro patch with their guitars. Women by the way learned the play the guitar from paniolo or cowboys but developed their own tuning and styles.

With fishing, men normally did most of the fishing. In smaller communities, women also fished. One area, however, that was almost exclusive to females was diving. The thought was that a woman who had children was a better diver than men because they had developed a stronger set of lungs. Men also could dive, but women were thought to be better. Some of the things that women would dive for was pearl clams, mussels, and certain sea urchins. Pearls were sought after luxury items particularly black pearls. But clams, mussels and sea urchins were considered to be fatty foods. Fatty foods were usually given to pregnant women in the belief that it made child birthing easier. So in other words, women helped out other pregnant women in diving for clams and mussels. Clams and mussels were also sought after by the aliʻi particularly if they were pregnant or wanted to be more virile (especially true of the men).

(Photo: Hawaiian fisher woman from the 1890s)

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