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Living in a landscape and climate that supplied abundant food and materials for comfortable living without excessive labor, Hawaiians had ample leisure time. They were great sportsmen, inventing games and contests to entertain both players and spectators. Hawaiian athletes were especially skilled in all types of water sports; Cook and his crew members commented they'd never seen men and women so comfortable and agile in the water. Hawaiians surfed, swam, raced canoes, wrestled, sped down hills on narrow sleds called holua, sharpened their battlefield skills with war games, and competed in more pedestrian games like konane (checkers) and `ulu maika (bowling). Makahiki season, celebrating the harvest and the gifts of the god Lono, was traditionally a time of many athletic contests and performances.

Hula, a highly-evolved art form, combined dance, religious observance, celebration and poetic literary composition. Always accompanied by story and chant, hula was not only an expression of the words but an athletic dance of grace and strength as well. Hawaiian oral literary traditions, many of them surviving today as hula chants, were a record of historical and legendary events, a repository of cultural values and knowledge, and artful expressions about the mysteries of life in highly metaphorical language.

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