Hawaii is a paradise, with lush green landscapes, beautiful beaches, and near-perfect weather. Ancient Hawaiian culture mirrored this notion of paradise in their expressions of sexuality, which was open, freely expressed, and highly nuanced. Sex in Hawaii's pre-colonized days bore no shameful connotation - it was just a part of everyday life.
Ancient Hawaiian sexual culture was very different from that of the intruding Westerners; plural relationships were considered normal, LGBTQ identities were accepted, and expressions of sexuality were intertwined with regularly used phrases for love, joy, and happiness.
The ancient Hawaiian time period ended around the time when King Kamehameha I unified the Hawaiian islands and when Captain James Cook "discovered" them in 1778. Sadly, explorers and early missionaries left a scar on Hawaiian culture that never managed to heal. Puritanical Christian values were forced onto the native people, and their openly loving way of life was marred forever.
In ancient Hawaii, sexual education was actually about the act of intercourse. Young Hawaiians were taught skills to make them the best lovers possible, and grandparents were often the teachers of children.
If a person was known as a selfish or lazy lover, they were ridiculed by their community; if they were skillful lovers, they were admired. Besides observing and practicing healthy sexual habits, children were taught interpersonal skills to prepare them for the day when they would start building their own intimate relationships.
Captain Cook, the famed British explorer, landed in Hawaii for the first time in 1778. He and his sailors were greeted warmly by the native Hawaiians, but in return for the natives' hospitality, the Englishmen brought disease.
The men introduced tuberculosis to the islands, which wiped out a significant portion of the population. To make matters worse, they also introduced sexually transmitted infections like syphilis and gonorrhea. While syphilis often proved fatal, both STIs led to a severe decrease in fertility, meaning that the next few generations couldn't raise the population to its former level.
There were many strict traditions and customs regarding food and eating in ancient Hawaii. Many of them applied specifically to women; there were certain foods that were punishable by execution for a female to eat, including pork, some types of bananas and coconuts, and certain types of fish. Men and women also couldn't eat Hawaiian staples like poi and taro from the same bowl.
Although they were free to be intimate with one another whenever they pleased, men and women couldn't eat together. But Hawaiian royals eventually succumbed to Western influence and deliberately broke the tradition - after King Kamehameha passed away, his son and two of his wives sat down and ate a meal together.
Incest among Hawaii's royals was very similar to the inter-familial relationships common in ancient European royal families - those in both cultures sought to preserve and extend the family lineage. However, Hawaiian chiefs were often more direct in their inter-family ties. Siblings married frequently, all for the purpose of producing offspring with the most mana, or divine life force. For commoners, however, this practice was considered unacceptable.
King Kamehameha I had 27 partners, including his niece, Keopuolani. She outranked him in terms of mana, and thus could never be physically lower than him; researchers suggest she must have always been on top when they slept together. They had three high-ranking children; two of them fell in love with one another and were set to be married. The pair defied the Christian colonizers and had a child together, but the baby did not survive. If it had lived, it would have been granted the highest possible rank.