Hawaiians lived surrounded by ocean and voyaging played a pivotal role in their history and everyday life, but the bedrock of Hawaiian society was the traditions and work of farmers. Throughout ancient times, planters and farmers remained a stable element of society while ruling ali`i bloodlines rose and fell in positions of power. At the core of the island political economy, control of arable land identified status and political power. Resource-rich ahupua`a - mauka/makai divisions fed by the upland watershed - formed the more influential chiefdoms.
The Hawaiians' Polynesian cousins in the Society Islands took the canoe as their societal metaphor, likening their community to a boat with its mast, outriggers and paddlers all working toward a common goal. Hawaiians identified instead with taro, the staple crop that symbolized the Hawaiian family unit with its main root, or corm, surrounded by offspring shoots and topped by spreading green leaves. The produce of the land complemented the rich sources of protein found in the sea. As a result, over the span of many generations, Hawaiians developed their agricultural methods and traditions to a highly sophisticated level.
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