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'Ao Kuewa

The Spirit after death of the

In the process of death, the uhane or soul may linger around its place of dwelling and not move on into Po or the after life. There are many reasons a spirit of the departed may decide to stay and linger, and theses reasons are the same as what they were struggling with in life with their physical form. They are now living on the earthly plane without a physical body. They have the same urges, temperment, and addictions they had in physical form. For example, if in physical form they struggled with greed and desire for wealth and physical items, this same struggle they had will bind them to the earth plane until they can understand that greed is the cord that is keeping them from moving into the next realm. This goes for addiction to drugs , alcohol, and any human desires they had known in their earthly bodies. For they still have the same addictions in the spiritual form as in their physical. They are not all knowing or enlightened in this form yet! These lapu or spirits become trapped in their own desires and must grow to understand that they have to release these wants as it binds them where they are. Once this binding of the kaula or cords are un tied by the spirit in this realm, there has to be a guiding path to po. This is where the kahuna cam into play. These specialized kahuna were aware of the spirits that came around seeking help to cross over into po. The uhane knew who was in tune to their vibrations and would make them selves known to those who had the ability to see and sense their presence so that help could be given to open up the path to po. These auwana or wandering souls that are talked about in moolelo are actual spirts who refused or were not ready to cross over at the time of their physical passing, so they work out their life' s lessons in this earthly realm without their kino. Those that have worked out their release of that which has bound them to the earth " ka poe i hoopaa ia ma ka pohaku pele" may find themselves in a long line at a certain leina ka uhana or a leaping place( where the spirit is allowed to be guided to). At this place they wait their turn in line to cross over to the next realm, where their kupuna await them and their spirits can be free of this earthly realm.



Martha Beckwith

with a new introduction by

Katharine Luomala

Copyright © 1970 by University of Hawaiʻi Press

Originally published in 1940 by Yale University Press for the

Folklore Foundation of Vassar College

First printing by University of Hawaiʻi Press 1970

Pgs. 144-164


HAWAIIAN stories of going to the underworld after the soul of the dead and restoring it to the body are based on the Hawaiian philosophy of life, whose tendency is to dissociate the spirit or soul (uhane) from the body (kino) and to think of it with a quite independent life of its own apart from the body, which is dead or inert without it. The spirit may wander away from the living body, leaving it asleep or merely listless and drowsy, and visit another in dream or as an apparition (hihiʻo) while the other is awake. Its exits from the living body are made through the inner angle of the eye, called lua-uhane. Since this habit of wandering is dangerous, lest the spirit be caught and prevented from returning to its body, the kahuna will perform a ceremony and place a special kind of wreath on the head of a person thus addicted.

Theoretically the kahuna alone can see the spirit (uhane) of the dead or dying, but practically everybody is afraid of the lapu or visible form of a dead person. It has human shape and speaks in the same voice as in life, but has the power of enlarging or contracting at will. It cannot change into another shape. The gods alone have this power, called “four-hundred-bodied” (kino-lau). But the dead may enter an object, especially a bone, and hence it is that Hawaiians fear to disturb human bones or to speak of sacred things lest they anger these spirits of the dead, who will then work them mischief. They fear to carry food, especially pork, at night lest they be followed. They will tie to the container a green ti leaf or bamboo or lele banana leaf as a command to the ghost to fly away (lele). This is called placing a law (kanawai) upon the food. But unless the leaves are fresh the law will not work.

To test whether a form is that of a spirit or of a living person, large leaves of the ape plant are laid down. A living person will tear the leaves in treading over them, a spirit will leave no trace. Or something is done to startle the supposed person, who will vanish instantly if a spirit. Another method is to look for the reflection of the person in a bowel of water. The reflection is the spirit of a living person; a mere spirit casts no reflection. Fox enumerates a number of ways employed by natives of San Cristoval to test a stranger who looks like a human being but may be a spirit. Most of these tests are such a would betray ignorance of local ways or clumsiness in applying them.

Restoration of the dead in Hawaiian story consists in bringing the body back to form if crushed, then in catching the released soul and restoring it to the body. Just as, in cases of fainting, manipulation begins at the feet and progresses upward, so in stories of bringing the dead to life the spirit is represented as pushed back into the body at the foot (in-step or toe) and making its way upward with resistance, because fearful of the dark passages within the body, until a feeble crow announces the final resuscitation. Fragrant plants are wrapped about the body to tempt reentrance by the reluctant spirit. Chants play a determining part in the process. A purifying bath is the final step, out of which the body emerges transfigured and full of renewed life. This process of resuscitation is called by Hawaiians kapuku or kupaku.

The soul is often represented in such operations as fluttering about the body or over land or sea, visible to the eyes of the kahuna, who catches it in a gourd. Or it may already have joined the spirits in the underworld of the dead and must be brought or lured thence for return to the body.


Maluae raises bananas for his gods in the uplands of Manoa at a place called Kanaloa-hoʻokau. For his family he raises other food. His son Kaaliʻi eats one of the tapu bananas and the gods cause the boy to choke to death over it. His spirit goes to the underworld while his body lies lifeless. The father thereupon ceases to feed the gods and refuses all food himself, wishing only to die with his son. The gods miss their daily offering and repent having punished the boy so severely. After forty days they promise to aid Maluae in bringing back his son’s soul from Manua. They restore his strength and give him the canoe Makuʻ-ukoʻo which contains food, weapons, fire, and fresh water. He enters the roadway at Leilono in Moanalua and breaks through the cleft below the foundations of the earth where his son is being punished for his sin, but not in the place set apart for the worst sinners, and he restores the spirit to its lifeless body.


The Eleio family are independent chiefs living at Kauiki at the time when Kakaalaneo rules over the whole island of Maui. The “awa roots of Eleio” are among the famous things of Maui. Eleio is a swift runner who can make the circuit of Maui three times in a day. It is his business to provide fish (or awa) from Hana at the east side of the island to the chief at Lahaina on the west side. He makes the run while the feast is preparing and by the time it is ready he is back with the fish (or with awa, prepared by chewing as he runs). Three times he is pursued on his way by a spirit named Ka-ahu-ula (The red cape) and once he is saved only by the prompt action of his sister Pohaku-loa, who lives at Kamaalea, in exposing herself and shaming the spirit away. He therefore changes his route from the north to the south side of the island. Here he encounters the spirit of the high chiefess Kanikaniaula who has come from Hawaii in disguise and married a low chief of Maui and her body now lies lifeless. He pauses to perform the ceremony of restoration to life, which involves building a bower of sweet-smelling plants, offering the proper prayers and sacrifices, and when the spirit approaches at the offering of awa, catching it and pushing it into the body from the instep up. Kakaalaneo, impatient at his messenger’s delay, has an oven prepared to put him to death as a punishment for his tardiness. Eleio appears with the rare feather cape wrapped about his neck and leaps directly into the oven, but is dragged from it to tell his story, and to offer the restored chiefess as wife to Kakaalaneo.

Pamano is born in Kahiki-nui on the island of Maui in the days of Kai-uli the chief belonging to a famous Kaupo family. Pamano is son of Lono and Kanaio. He studies the art of the hula, becomes a proficient chanter, and is adopted by Kai-uli, at whose court his mother’s brother Waipu is also residing. Kaiuli’s pretty daughter Keaka is kept under strict tapu. Both Pamano and his intimate friend Koolau are in love with her, but they agree to have nothing to do with her without the other’s consent. She, however, prefers Pamano and entices him into the house. When Koolau chants a song of reproach from without Pamano answers from within. The chief, seconded by Pamano’s treacherous uncle and his jealous friend, decides that he must die by poison. Although warned by his unihipili sisters Na-kino-wailua and Hokiolele, he allows himself to be enticed in from surf riding, made drowsy with awa, poisoned, and chopped to pieces. The sisters find and restore him to life. A kaula (seer) tests him with ape leaves to see if he has a human or a ghost body. At a kilu dance given by Keaka and Koolau he reveals himself by chanting songs known only to himself and Keaka. He refuses to have anything to do with her while his enemies live, and Kaiuli, Waipu, and Koolau are ordered slain.

In Anaa of the Tuamotus:

Mehara, ruling chiefess of Raʻiatea, is courted by Pofatu of Moʻorea. She gives a formal dance. Fago, a young chief of the upper valley, dances so well that Mehara falls in love with him. Pofatu is angry and has Fago cut into bits and sunk in the sea in a basket. Fago’s sister Pua recovers the body through her guardian gods and by magic brings him to life. After avenging himself on Pofatu he becomes Mehara’s husband and rules her people.

The Hawaiian teaching illustrated in these stories is that death to the body (kino) does not entail death to the spirit (uhane) but follows separation between the two. The experiences of the soul after it leaves the body at death, according to the teachings of the kahunas, follow a traditional pattern based on very early traditional ideas but probably influenced by later development of the aumakua belief. There is a place of the dead, reached at some leaping place, with which is connected a branching tree as roadway of the soul. Elaborations enter into these basic ideas as a result of the part conceived to be played by the aumakua in protecting and sheltering the soul and leading it to its aumakua world.

The worst fate that can befall a soul is to be abandoned by its aumakua and left to stray, a wandering spirit (kuewa) in some barren and desolate place, feeding upon spiders and night moths. Such spirits are believed to be malicious and to take delight in leading travelers astray; hence the wild places which they haunt on each island are feared and avoided. Such are the plains of Kamaʻomaʻo on the island of Maui, the rough country of Kaupea at Puʻuloa on Oahu, Uhana on Lanai, Maohelaia on Molokai, Mana on Kauai, Halaliʻi on Niʻihau. In these desolate places lost spirits wander until some friendly aumakua takes pity upon them.

Gods like Ka-onohi-o-ka-la and Ku-waha-ilo bore to the heavens the souls of chiefs “where it was supposed the spirits of kings and chiefs sometimes dwelt, and afterwards returned

them to earth, where they accompanied the movements and watched over the destinies of their survivors,” writes Ellis. In every case, the reception the soul met after separation from the body depended upon his relations with his aumakua. A person who has committed a sin against his aumakua, says Malo, is exhorted to obtain pardon while he still lingers at Puʻu-ku-akahi (First stopping place) before being conducted to Ku-akeahu (Heaping up place) where he must make the final leap into the underworld called Ka-paʻa-heo (The final parting). At the first point his aumakua may succeed in bringing him back to life.

Milu is said to have been a chief on earth who, on account of disobedience to the gods, was swept down into the underworld at death and became its ruler. Both Kahakaloa on Maui and Waipio on Hawaii claim him as chief; Kupihea says that the Kahakaloa story is the older and the Waipio Milu story is patterned after it. According to the Waipio story, Wakea in his old age retired to Hawaii and lived at Waipio, and at his death he descended to the “Island-bearing land” (Papa-hanau-moku) beneath the earth and founded a kingdom there. Milu succeeded him as chief in Waipio and after Milu’s death, due to disregard of the tapu set upon him by the god, Milu became associated with Wakea in the rule of the underworld. In the Kumu-honua legend Milu sets himself up against Kane and is thrust down with his followers “to the uttermost depths of night” (i lalo lilo loa i ka po). The name of Kanaloa is sometimes associated with this opposition to Kane and the quarrel said to be because awa was refused to Kanaloa and his followers. Others call Manua the original lord of the underworld of the dead. Manua is said to be brother to Wakea and Uli and is spoken of in the chant of Nuʻu as “the mischief maker.”

Entrance into the pit of Milu (Lua-o-Milu) is at a cleft on some high bluff overlooking the sea or in the edge of a valley wall, and a tree serves as the roadway by which the soul takes its departure. One such entrance is at Kahakaloa on the The tree myth is given in considerable detail by both Kepelino and Kamakau. Malo makes no allusion to it.

(a) Kepelino version. The soul when it comes to the leaping place encounters a tree called Ulu-laʻi-o-walu which forms the roadway into the other world. Little children are gathered about it and direct the soul. One side of the tree looks green and fresh, the other dry and brittle, but this is an illusion, for the dry branch is the one which the soul should grasp to save itself from being cast down into the world of the dead. It must climb on to the top, being careful to lay hold of a dry twig which will grow under its hand, and then descend the main trunk to the “third level,” where little children will again direct it how to escape being cast down to Po.

(b) Kamakau version. When the spirit comes to Leilono (perhaps Leina-o-Lono, “Leaping place of Lono”) where grows the tree Ulu-o-Leiwalo, if no aumakua is there to help it will catch at a decayed branch and fall down to endless night, but if an aumakua is at hand the soul may be brought back to revive the body or it may be led into the aumakua world. At the leaping place at Kaena point on Oahu is a circular clearing about two feet in circumference which is the doorway to the aumakua world. Nearby is the tree with the “misleading” branches. A huge caterpillar guards the eastern boundary of this roadway, a moʻo the western, and if the soul is afraid of these guardians and strays away from the entrance, he will again need his aumakua to help him. The place is at the right side of the bluff toward Waialua and near the road to Keaokuʻukuʻu.

(c) Pukui version. In Ka-u district on Hawaii the “casting-off” place of the soul is marked by an old kukui tree to which the soul must cling, laying hold of a green branch, which has the attributes of the dry, in order to be hurled more quickly with its companions into the “labyrinth that leads to the underworld” lest it lose its way and be left to wander as a stray soul over waste lands of earth.

(d) Emerson note. Kane(lau)-apua in pursuit of Kane-leleiaka (a spirit whose “real body” is in the heavens while its “shadow” flits upon the water) is advised to “start from the breadfruit tree of Leiwalo” and take a flying leap in order to reach his objective.

The aumakua world is a wide level world containing many dwelling places. . . . Many were the dwelling places but the world was one . . . many overseers ruled over by one great Lord. . . . In the aumakua world were a rolling heaven, a multiple heaven, a multitudinous heaven, a floating cloudland, a lower cloudland, the immovable standing walls of Kane, the horizon line enclosing the flat surface of the earth, the depths of ocean, the beauty of the sun, the brightness of the moon, the glories of the stars, and other places too numerous to mention which were called the aumakua world. . . . Many were the gates by which to enter the aumakua world. If a man or one of his descendants was related to the heavenly beings and was not a stranger to those who had rights in the heavens, then it was understood that he had a right to go to the heavens. If the aumakua of a man and his family belonged to the floating cloudland (just below the heavens), then he was prepared for the floating cloudland. If the aumakua of a man and his family belonged to the ocean depths then it was understood that there he had a right to go, and if the man and his family had an aumakua in the volcanic fire, there he had an irrevocable right to go, or if at Ulu-kaʻa and the upright walls of Kane, then it was understood that he would be taken there. . . . And it was said that those who were taken to the floating cloudland and to the multiple heaven and to the other heavens had wings and had rainbows at their feet. These were not wandering spirits . . . these were the beloved of the heavens. . . . Those of heaven are seen on the wings of the wind and their bounds are above the regions of earth and those of the ocean are gathered in the deep purplish blue sea of Kane, and so are all those of the whole earth belonging to the aumakua world; all are united in harmony. The world of endless darkness, the darkness of Milu, the deep darkness, the strata with a deep cleft, the strata of bitterness, the strata of misery, the strata of harshness, has many names given it in Hawaiian stories. That world was said to be an evil world, a friendless world, without family, a fearful world, a world of dread, a world of pain, a world to be patiently endured, a world of trouble, a cruel world. . .

Certainly this Papa-o-Laka, this aumakua world of Kane, must be considered a very considerable achievement by the priests of the Kane worship in thus spiritualizing the aumakua conception. It must never be forgotten that these aumakua changes of body had in them nothing symbolic. The transmutations were looked upon as absolutely literal. When Kamehameha went down to appease Pele and save his fishponds from an approaching lava flow, a certain chiefess accompanied the party whose child, lately dead, had been dedicated to the fire goddess, and the kahuna was able to point out to her the particular flame in the advancing flow which was her child’s transformed body as a minister of Pele; where-upon the mother poured out a chant of love and always reluctance on the part of the spirit, an idea easily derived from observation of the actual process of resuscitation. Ellis calls it “a land of darkness” where the dead lie beside streams under spreading kou trees surrounded by the emblems of chiefs. The idea is of a shadowy world where people live much as in this world, but an unsubstantial world, a return to the Po, a spirit world.

One Hawaiian informant explains Po as a vast sea where forms live in the lower stages of life. It is out of this sea that land is born and the higher forms of life and man, who make up the world of light (Ao). “So each human being is formed in the spring of water within the uterus of the mother and emerges from it into human life. At death he returns to the Po again.” Upon this general sense of the continuity of life is superimposed the idea of a kingdom of the dead where life appears much as in this world, an idea derived from experiences in trance or dream and found particularly useful in story-telling. The thought that man might have lived forever had not someone disobeyed the prohibition imposed is so widespread throughout the South Seas, and the stories told about this disobedience so various, as to preclude Christian teaching as its origin. The idea is of a cycle of life, the human rising out of the spirit world and at old age returning into the safe waters of that world again, to be guarded and reborn into the world of form, either as a human being or as some one of the many bodies which we see in nature, whose god has revealed itself as aumakua to the man during life and whose tapus he has punctually observed. The period of a man’s life from birth to old age, “withered and dried like a mat of pandanus,” may never be broken save by some sin against the aumakua which has aroused its anger. Even the dark arts of sorcery seem to depend upon an enemy’s skill in catching the man at some point of vulnerability, some carelessness in observing the tapus of his god. Contests between aumakua are certainly pictured in story, one seeking the man’s life, the other protecting it, but the broken law is the fundamental idea in all Hawaiian thought about accident or early death.Family ties in the afterworld remain unbroken, and all Hawaiians believe in the power of spirits to return to the scenes they knew on earth in the form in which they appeared while they were alive. Especially is this true of the processions of gods and spirits who come on certain sacred nights to visit the sacred places, or to welcome a dying relative and conduct him to the aumakua world. “Marchers of the night” (Huakaʻi-po) or “Spirit ranks” (Oiʻo) they are called. Many Hawaiians and even some persons of foreign blood have seen this spirit march or heard the “chanting voices, the high notes of the flute, and drumming so loud as to seem beaten upon the side of the house.” Always, if seen, the marchers are dressed according to ancient usage in the costume of chiefs or of gods. If the procession is one of gods, the marchers move five abreast with five torches burning red between the ranks, and without music save that of the voice raised in chant. Processions of chiefs are accompanied by aumakua and march in silence, or to the accompaniment of drum, nose-flute, and chanting. They are seen on the sacred nights of Ku, Lono, Kane, or Kanaloa, or they may be seen by day if it is a procession to welcome the soul of a dying relative. To meet such a procession is very dangerous. “O-ia” (Let him be pierced) is the cry of the leader and if no relative among the dead or none of his aumakua is present to protect him, a ghostly spearsman will strike him dead. The wise thing to do is to “remove all clothing and turn face up and feign sleep

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