Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The first Polynesian settlers in Hawai'i subsisted largely on marine resources. In the ensuing centuries the Hawaiians developed extensive and highly productive agricultural systems. The staple food was taro, a starchy root that the Hawaiians pounded and mashed into a paste called poi. In wetland valleys taro was grown in irrigated pond fields resembling rice paddies. Intricate networks of ditches brought water into the taro patches, some of which doubled as fish ponds. In the late precontact period, concurrent with increasing political complexity, large walled fish ponds were constructed in offshore areas. These were reserved for chiefly use. The 1ee sides of the islands supported extensive field systems where Hawaiians grew dry-land taro, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, and bananas. The Polynesians brought pigs, dogs, and chickens to Hawai'i. Goats and cattle were introduced by Westerners before 1800. In the early 1800s, to avoid the chiefs' growing demands on the rural populace, some Hawaiians turned to seafaring, peddling, and various jobs in the ports. The shift from rural Subsistence to wage labor intensified in the latter half of the Century. Hawaiians—men and women—made up the bulk of the sugar plantation labor force until after 1875. According to 1980 state figures, about 23 percent of Hawaiians today are employed in agriculture. Some are independent small farmers who produce the traditional staple, taro, for sale to markets. But most Hawaiians are engaged in service jobs. Hawaiians are underrepresented in management and professional occupations and overrepresented as bus drivers, police officers, and fire fighters.
Industrial Arts. Indigenous Hawaiian crafts included mat and bark-cloth making, feather work, and woodworking.
Trade. Although the traditional Hawaiian local group was largely self-sufficient, there was specialization and internal trade in canoes, adzes, fish lines, salt, and fine mats. In the postcontact period Hawaiians have tended to leave store keeping and commerce to other ethnic groups.
Division of Labor. Most agricultural labor was performed by men in ancient Hawai'i, as was woodworking and adz manufacture. Women made bark cloth for clothing and mats for domestic furnishings, chiefly tribute, and exchange. Men did the deep-sea fishing while women gathered inshore marine foods. In most Hawaiian families today both spouses have salaried jobs outside the home.
Land Tenure. In the native Hawaiian conception land was not owned but "cared for." Use and access rights were allocated through the social hierarchy from the highest chiefs to their local land supervisors and thence to commoners. The most important administrative unit was a land section called the ahupua'a, which ideally ran from the mountain to the sea and contained a full range of productive zones. Typically a household had rights in a variety of microenvironments. The introduction of private land titles resulted in widespread dispossession in part because Hawaiians did not understand the implications of alienable property. The lands of the Kamehameha chiefly family descended to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, whose estate supports the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu for the education of Hawaiian children. The Hawaiian Home Lands, established by Congress in 1920, are leased to persons who can prove 50 percent Hawaiian ancestry. Originally conceived as a "back to the land" farming program, the Hawaiian Home Lands are now used primarily for house lots.