This chapter from a book gives an eyebrow raising account of societal sex arrangements, and there are too many matters of explicit detail to mention here; but in terms of general description of a relaxed attitude to sex and relationships, this section is worth reading:
Until fairly recently, the birth of an infant to an unmarried female in Hawai‘i, as elsewhere in Polynesia, was not a problem for her or society. Her fertility was proven, and the infant was wanted and taken care of by the extended ‘ohana (family). illegitimacy, in the Western sense, is inapplicable in regard to traditional Hawai‘i (Pukui, Haertig, and Lee, 1972, p. 96).The Christian missionaries really had their work cut out for them!
While betrothals occurred, occasionally arranged by parents of chiefs or by other prominent persons, such formalized relationships were uncommon (Kamakau, 1964, pp. 25-26). Specific words for “husband” and “wife” did not exist; he was simply called kane (man) and she wahine (woman) (Handy and Pukui, 1958. p. 51; Sahlins, 1985, p. 23).
Individuals stayed together or not by choice rather than by commitment or obligation. One member of a pair could be monogamous while the other was polygamous. While public announcements of intentions to stay together among ali‘i were noteworthy and often elaborate affairs, they were uncommon. David Malo, an advisor to King Kalakaua III and an Hawai‘ian convert to Christianity, wrote in 1839: “Of the people about court there were few who lived in marriage. The number of those who had no legitimate relations with women was greatly in the majority. Sodomy and other unnatural vices in which men were the correspondents, fornication and hired prostitution were practiced about court” (Malo, 1951, p. 65) 9.
A “pairing” ceremony among commoners was even more rare (Sahlins, 1985, P. 23). Couples that wanted to sleep and live together just did so (Sahlins, 1985, p. 23). Typically, no contract was expressed openly, although there probably was a vague set of expectations that linked the couple. Sahlins (1985, p. 23) expressed the situation thus: “For the people as for the chiefs, the effect of sex was society: a shifting set of liaisons that gradually became sorted out and weighted down by the practical considerations attached to them.”
Monogamy, polygyny, and polyandry coexisted among ali‘i and among commoners. Often, polygamy involved siblings (Morgan, 1964, p. 361).10 Taking another sexual partner usually was acceptable if the first mate knew about the relationship and sanctioned it. Secret relationships were not approved of, however, although the discovery of such a relationship usually was disruptive only temporarily. Such sexual license greatly disturbed the early Christian missionaries. The “crimes” most commonly reported by the haole (foreigner, now refers to Caucasians) to occur among the Hawai‘ians, recorded as being 4-5times more common than theft or property crimes, were fornication and adultery (Sahlins, 1985, p. 24); these terms, of course, had no meaning to the Hawai‘ians.
“Adultery” came to be defined by the Hawai‘ians as “sexual activity with a nonregular partner within the hale. If the coitus occurred outside the house in private, it was not a problem to the Hawai‘ian, since it did not disrupt the status quo.
Sexual exclusivity was not associated with “marriage.” Such an idea would have been unusual to Polynesian society (Danielsson, 1986, p. 115). Gregersen (1982, p. 250) reported monogamy in only 30 of 127 Pacific island cultures studied, the rest of the cultures being polygamous. Worldwide, Ford and Beach (1951, P. 108) found multiple mateships permitted in 84% of the 185 societies in their Human Area Files sample.
Relationships were dissolved at the desire of one or both partners. Sex with others was not seen as a cause for separation. Jealousy was considered unwarranted. Handy and Pukui (1958, pp. 57-58) wrote: “… where love of one man by two women were involved [and vice versa], it was considered bad manners (maika‘i ‘ole, “not good”) for apunalua (lover) to hold spite or malice in their hearts towards each other. The very existence of the formal [punalua] relationship. . . worked against ill feeling...
But it's funny: no matter how libertine a society can organise itself in some respects, it seems that it can't resist having silly rules about something:
Under the kapu system, there were forms of bondage and slavery, human sacrifice (Valeri, 1985), and infanticide (Malo, 1951, p. 70; Kamakau, 1961, p. 234). While adult females were afforded many rights and some had great status, it was kapu for them to eat certain foods; they could be put to death for eating pork, certain kinds of bananas or coconuts, and certain fish (Malo, 1951, p. 29). Poi and taro4 (basic staples of the Hawai‘ian diet) were not to be eaten from the same dish by males and females. Furthermore, in certain circumstances upon threat of death, adult males and adult females were not allowed to eat together, although they could have sex together. Religious laws controlled eating more than they controlled sex.(Yet another instalment to come...)