top of page

Na Akua



Martha Beckwith

HAWAIIAN sorcery has never been studied in relation to its actual functioning in different localities or its influence upon mythology and the priesthood in particular aspects. A single center alone has been reported in any detail and this in too fragmentary a form to warrant a conclusive study. Besides this a few isolated examples are added and a few illustrative stories centering upon such practices, together with the somewhat extensive bibliography available upon the actual technique employed by such practisers of sorcery as the kahuna anaana (praying to death), the kahuna hoʻounauna (sending sickness or trouble), and the kahuna kuni (divination by burning). Enough has been reported to show that sorcery, although by no means universally practised, had become one of the strongest forces in shaping the life and character of the Hawaiian people and in determining the careers of their leaders. Kamehameha was extremely careful to secure for himself all the strong sorcery gods worshiped by the ruling chiefs of the islands over which he ruled and to set up god houses and keepers for their worship.

Sorcery was commonly practised through the use of fetchers made in the shape of an image (kiʻi), which was believed to be possessed by the spirit of a powerful ancestor, or perhaps by a nature spirit, who was worshiped for the purpose of bringing the mana of the god under control of its keeper. Or the bones of a dead member of the family might be preserved and worshiped in the same manner, called an unihipili. Or the body might be dedicated to some powerful god like that of the shark, ruled by Ka-moho-aliʻi; or of the moʻo ruled by the goddess Kalamainuʻu; or of thunder, ruled by Kanehekili; or of the owl, ruled by Kukauakahi. The body of the dead would then be changed into that of a shark, moʻo, owl, or other form, recognizable to the family by some mark upon its body, or to the kahuna who officiated at the dedication ceremony by some sign of identification, and into this body the spirit of the dead would enter. If it was then worshiped by the family, it would take that family under its protection, punishing their enemies and providing them with good things. Such protectors were called aumakua.

Valuable as such a god might be as a family protector, it had its dangers as well. If its worship was neglected and its tapus forgotten or disregarded, the aumakua visited vengeance with an incredible vindictiveness upon its own keeper and his family. Moreover, because of the strong sense of family descent, every such god became a link in the chain which bound succeeding generations to the tapus imposed by their ancestral guardians, the aumakua born into the family line. On the other hand, the mana of the family aumakua from ancestral times became the right of every member of the family as a kumu-paʻa should he at any time seek help from such a guardian. If, however, a family god proved ineffective, it might, it would seem, be disregarded for a stronger.

Spirits might also possess a living person, a keeper of the god, or a member of his family, and convey messages in this way. Such spirits were called akua noho (literally, sitting gods) and a person into whom a god entered was regarded as a god during the time of possession. Kamakau is careful to show that although Kamehameha seemed to treat the keeper of Kahoaliʻi himself as a god, it was because he really believed that the god Kahoaliʻi entered into the body of its keeper and it was this god, not the living man, whom he worshiped. Hawaiian antiquarians insist that the image, animal, or object which the god entered had no power in itself but only the spirit that possessed it. Sorcery began when these possessing spirits were sent abroad to do injury to another.

As bits of a keeper’s body were valued after the keeper’s death in securing the services of a spirit gifted with superior mana, although not themselves gods, so chips, even scrapings of an image, were charged with its mana, or objects associated with such an image could be also so charged and serve as fetchers, under the same deity. Thus dealings in sorcery were not confined to the chiefs and priests but spread among the people. Not that everyone who kept an aumakua made use of the god for sorcery. In practice, however, such persons were feared by their neighbors. The chiefs tried to put down sorcery and made laws against it, but the secrecy with which it was thereafter practised only increased the terror. Counter-practitioners arose who fought sorcery with sorcery and the system thus increased in complexity.

There is no reason for thinking that such sorcery practices originated in the Hawaiian group. Tahitian ‘oromatua are described by Henry as “disembodied spirits of famous rulers and warriors of the nation, whose skulls were used as fetchers.” Little images called tiʻi are used by Tahitian sorcerers, carved out of stone, coral, or wood, especially pua wood from the marae, and dressed in white tapa bound with sacred sennit. These are possessed by demons (varua-ino) or “disembodied spirits of evil” (‘oromatua-‘ai-aru) or “long-toothed aumakua” (‘oramatua-niho-roroa). They are kept in houses set up on stilts in a special marae under which sleep the “magicians” who are their adopted parents. Tiʻi, the malicious first man, is connected with sorcery. He has a white heron as fetcher, which he sends out to destroy men. The god invoked to cure those afflicted by sorcery is Roʻo (Lono) -te-roroʻo.

History has concerned itself with political struggles in Hawaii which finally ended in the consolidation of the group under the rule of the Kamehameha line, and has neglected the obscure and deadly warfare carried on between rival orders of sorcery on the different islands or in neighboring villages on the same island.

The source of one of the oldest schools of sorcery in Hawaii is said to have come from the goddess Pahulu and was thus described by a Hawaiian informant descended from the Molokai Lo family of kahuna chiefs who claim Pahulu as their ancestress and Molokai as the center of the “strongest” sorcery in the whole group of islands.

About the time of Liloa and Umi, perhaps long before, chiefs flocked to Molokai. That island became a center for sorcery of all kinds. Molokai sorcery had more mana (power) than any other. Sorcery was taught in dreams. All these Molokai aumakua were descendants of the goddess Pahulu.

Pahulu was a goddess who came in very old times to these islands and ruled Lanai, Molokai, and a part of Maui. That was before Pele, in the days when Kane and Kanaloa came to Hawaii. Through her that “old highway” (to Kahiki), starts from Lanai. As Ke-olo-ewa was the leading spirit on Maui who possessed people and talked through them, so Pahulu was the leading spirit on Lanai. Lani-kaula, a prophet (kaula) of Molokai, went and killed off all the akua on Lanai. Those were the Pahulu family. Some say there were about forty left who came over to Molokai. The fishpond of Ka-awa-nui was the first pond they built on Molokai. Some came to Oahu and landed on the beach opposite Mokuliʻi. The heiau of Pahulu is on the Kaneohe side of the Judd place about six hundred feet away from the old sugar mill at Hakipuʻu and out in the water toward Mokuliʻi. That is where they landed on Oahu. Near the old Judd place was a heiau for Kane-hoa-lani.

Three of the descendants of Pahulu entered trees on Molokai. These were Kane-i-kaulana-ula (Kane in the red sunset), Kane-i-ka-huila-o-ka-lani (Kane in the lightning), and Kapo. About four hundred trees sprang up in a place where no trees had been before, but only three of these trees were entered by the gods. The Lo family of Molokai, a family of chiefs and kahunas, are descended from Pahulu. Many of them are well-known persons today.

So far as can be discovered, with the exception of a few scattering references to Pahulu as the leading spirit (akua) of Lanai, nothing further is to be found in print about this goddess.

As for the Lo family, Andrews calls them “an order of priests who lived on the mountain Helemano [on Oahu?] and consecrated the bodies of the dead.” The practice of dedicating the dead to become guardian spirits of a family aumakua was not known in the earliest period of the settling of these islands and did not come in, Kamakau thinks, until after the time of Wakea and the establishing of the tapus of chiefs. But as precise references to gods worshiped by ruling chiefs in the heiau in the form of images are studied, it becomes certain that they were sought because of their power not only to care for the soul of their keeper but to discover and ensnare the souls of those who had prayed him to death.

The god of Maui called Lo-lupe (Olo-pue, Ololupe) is the god invoked in the rite of deification of the dead or restoration of the dead to life. He is represented in the form of a kite (lupe) shaped like a sting ray. Some say his is an errand of benevolence and not of crime, and that he is sent into the heavens to ensnare the souls of those alone who have done evil. Malo calls him “the deity who took charge of [the souls of] those who spoke ill of the king, consigning them to death, while the souls of those who were not guilty of such defamation he conducted to a place of safety.” Warriors greatly feared this god. At the death of a ruling chief it was under the rule of Lo-lupe that the divining priesthood (kahuna kuni) worked to detect, by means of burning a part of the chief’s body used as a “bait” (maunu), the secret enemy who had prayed him to death. Another branch of the priests’ work was to dedicate the body and convert it into an aumakua. After Kamehameha’s conquest of Maui he sent a messenger to Kahekili to ask for the image of Lo-lupe, but as it was in the care of the kahuna Ka-opu-huluhulu who would not give it up, Kahekili sent instead a chip of the poison god Kalaipahoa and this became the Kane-mana-ia-Paiea (The mana power of Kane for Paiea, Paiea being a nickname for Kamehameha) which the chief kept to guard his life until the day of his death and for whom he built a god house and set up keepers.

Other gods besides Lo-lupe who are named as conductors of the souls of dead chiefs are Ka-onohi or Ka-onohi-o-ka-la (The eyeball of the sun) and Ku-waha-ilo (Ku of the maggot-dripping mouth). Kalakaua places the first in the skies to receive the souls brought to him by Ku-waha-ilo, but some say that Ka-onohi is the conductor and Ku-waha the receiver and devourer of souls.5 All the images of war gods named under the Ku group are in fact sorcery gods. Kamakau names Ku-keoloewa and Ku-hoʻoneʻenuʻu as forming with Ka-onohi and Lo-lupe the Papa-kahui, an order (papa) of gods kept by Kamehameha to act as guides for the souls of the dead. It is, finally, at least significant that the god Kahoaliʻi with his tapus of the white haupu bird and the eyeballs of men, who was impersonated at religious ceremonies by a naked man with a peculiar marking and was allowed free eating with the chiefesses, and whose keeper had so powerful an influence over Kamehameha, resembles so closely the description of the Tahitian Tiʻi, god of sorcery, with his white heron as a fetcher and his images of wood or stone or coral which were sent out on errands of mischief.

One more reference in the story of Pahulu must be explained before taking up the central theme of the Pahulu legend, the entering of the gods into the trees on Molokai. The story says that the Pahulu gods on Lanai were most of them killed and the rest banished from Lanai by the prophet Lanikaula. Popular legend attributes to Kaululaau the mischievous son of Kakaalaneo of Maui, the clearing of that island of the spirits who were its first inhabitants. Lanikaula’s grove of kukui trees and the place of his grave on the eastern point of the island of Molokai facing Maui and Lanai are still pointed out among the famous places on that island, and the rock islet shown where he buried his excrement.


Lani-kaula (Divine prophet), the famous prophet of Halawa on Molokai, is said to have lived in the time of Kamalalawalu of Maui. For fear of sorcery he used to carry his excrement out secretly to a rock islet off the coast in order that no rival kahuna could get at it and put him to death by burning it (ka lawe maunu). His friend Kawelo came to visit him, spied upon him, and took some of the excrement to his own sacred fire of Ke-ahi-aloa and burned it there. Lanikaula knew that he must die. He called his sons to devise some means of burying his body so that none could find it. Finally it was decided to dig a pit and cover the body over with stones.

The fire of Kawelo, Ke-ahi-aloa, is said to have been kept constantly burning in order to fulfil a prophecy that as long as this fire on Lanai and the fire of Waha across the channel on Maui were kept up, dogs and hogs would not fail on those islands. Kawelo left his daughter, Waha his son in charge of the fire. One night the young people were busy with love making and the fires went out. Kawelo threw himself over the cliff of Maunalei and killed himself.

Lani-kaula (Divine prophet), the famous prophet of Halawa on Molokai, is said to have lived in the time of Kamalalawalu of Maui. For fear of sorcery he used to carry his excrement out secretly to a rock islet off the coast in order that no rival kahuna could get at it and put him to death by burning it (kalawe maunu). His friend Kawelo came to visit him, spied upon him, and took some of the excrement to his own sacred fire of Ke-ahi-aloa and burned it there. Lanikaula knew that he must die. He called his sons to devise some means of burying his body so that none could find it. Finally it was decided to dig a pit and cover the body over with stones.

The fire of Kawelo, Ke-ahi-aloa, is said to have been kept constantly burning in order to fulfil a prophecy that as long as this fire on Lanai and the fire of Waha across the channel on Maui were kept up, dogs and hogs would not fail on those islands. Kawelo left his daughter, Waha his son in charge of the fire. One night the young people were busy with love making and the fires went out. Kawelo threw himself over the cliff of Maunalei and killed himself.


(a) Kamakau version. A man of Molokai named Kane-ia-kama (Kane-a-Kama) joins a gambling game at Hale-lono, the gambling place at Ka-lua-koi, and wins the stakes. On his way home he gambles again at the famous gambling place on Maunaloa and loses everything he has except his bones, which he is afraid to stake. That night the god Kane-i-kaulana-ula (Kane in the red flush of victory) comes to him in dream and bids him stake his life the next day, promising him victory if he will take him as his god. In vision he sees this god lead a procession of gods, three of whom enter trees in a grove which springs up where no grove had been before. The next day he stakes and wins and gains back all that he has lost. From the nioi tree entered by the god he carves an image of his god. This is the Kalai-pahoa (Cut with a pahoa axe). Two other gods enter trees: Ka-huila-o-ka-lani (The lightning in the heavens) enters an ae tree, Kapo enters an ohe (bamboo). The wood of the Kalaipahoa tree is so poisonous that anyone upon whom a chip falls is killed by it. Every waste piece, after the image has been carved with proper prayers and offerings, is sunk in the sea.

The Kalaipahoa god belongs to the ruling chief of Molokai and Kane-ia-kama is its keeper. It is not used at this time for sorcery. Later, in the time of Peleioholani (son of Kualiʻi) on Oahu, Kamehamehanui on Maui, and Kalani-opuʻu on Hawaii, an influential man of Kalae on Molokai named Kai-a-kea sets up a god house to Pua and Kapo under the name of “The grove of Maunaloa” (Ka-ulu-o-Maunaloa). He too has a vision and in this waking vision there comes to him a procession of beautiful women led by the god Pua and the goddess Kapo, who bid him take them as his gods and tell him to go to a spring, where he will find a flock of mud hens (alae) and a calabash containing mana. He then begins to worship Kalaipahoa in the form of these spirits. Not until these gods have passed to his daughter are they used for sorcery. She prophesies that Oahu will pass to Kahekili. When this happens her claim to be inspired by Pua and Kapo is believed and she and her husband Puhene at Kapulei are sought for purposes of protection and vengeance. Kamehameha has god houses built for both these gods when he becomes ruler over the islands.

Such is Kamakau’s account of the poison god called Kalaipahoa. Other versions say that the tree sprang up in a single night during the time of the chief Kamauaua, father of Kapeʻepeʻe and Keoloewa of Molokai. Three sisters came from an unknown land and one of them entered into the tree and poisoned it. Others say that Kane-kulana-ula entered the tree in a flash of light just before it was felled and was unable to escape. The grove is said to have been so poisonous that birds fell dead as they flew over it.

The flash of light which marks the entrance into the tree of the god of lightning is a very old conception, preserved in two South Sea areas in connection with gods of war and perpetuated in Hawaii in folk beliefs about Kalaipahoa sorcery. The first Kalaipahoa image is said to have been cut into bits and distributed among the chiefs after Kamehameha’s death. Bundles of blocks made out of nioi wood and graded in size, if they had been brought into contact with the Kalaipahoa were supposed to partake of its mana. They might be then used as fetchers and sent out at night in the form of a streak of light, large at the head and tapering into a tail. In Puna district twenty years ago obscure diseases like tuberculosis were invariably laid to sorcery and many reported seeing the Kalaipahoa poison fly from the house of the sorcerer to that of his victim. The fetcher as a streak of light may have a long history in Hawaii, since Ka-ili (The snatcher), described by Ellis in 1823 as a god seen at evening “flying about in the form of a comet,” is the name of Liloa’s war god bequeathed to his favorite son Umi, who eventually seized the rule from his less able and less devout brother. In New Zealand, the god Rongo-mai came to earth and led the attack of the Nga-ti-hau against the Nga-ti-awa in form “like a shooting star or comet, or flame of fire.” In Tahiti, Ave-aitu (Tailed god) is a god with a long tail who guides the hosts of Tane (Kane) in time of war. Taylor says, probably in reference to the same figure, “The ancient image of Tane in Tahiti was represented as a meteor, cone-shaped with a large head, the body terminating in a point, with a long tail.”

The idea of fetchers in the form of a streak of light may derive from a primitive idea like that reported from Dobu, where people believe that fire from the pubes of flying witches is seen at night. This would explain such incidents in Hawaiian story as the display of her person by a supernatural woman to frighten off a malicious ghost, or the use of her skirt to raise a thunderstorm. Kapo with her flying vagina is worshiped as an akua noho. She is one of the daughters of the sorceress Haumea, who entered a growing tree to save her human husband, thereby so infecting it with deity as to be poisonous to all who cut it. From Haumea also came the mysterious tree out of which were cut the sorcery gods Kuhoʻoneʻenuʻu worshiped by Oahu chiefs as god of war, and Kukeoloewa, god of war for Maui and Molokai. All the Pele family are linked with sorcery.

Another sorcery figure in the story is that of Pua, whom Malo names with Kapo as an akua noho feared, the one on Molokai, the other on Maui, because believed to take posses-sion of people and cause swelling of the abdomen. In Tahiti pua wood is said to be a favorite for the carving of fetchers. Puaraʻi names “a famous Tahitian warrior of old” worshiped as one of three ‘oromatua set up in the image house of the national marae of Tane at Maeva in Huahine. The pua (bua) tree is found in many South Sea stories at the entrance to the land of the dead. Here then is another link with Tahitian sorcery.

Some confusion in sex is perhaps to be explained by the dual character of these sorcery gods. Male sorcerers seem to work through a female companion as akua noho. A wooden image of the Kalaipahoa poison god in the Bishop Museum is realistically carved in the form of a female human figure with knees slightly flexed, arms hanging away from the body, fingers apart, and mouth open. A female figure of Keoloewa in the same stylized position carries a small human figure on its back. Keoloewa holds the same position in ancient tradition as the leading spirit of Maui that Pahulu is said to have held on Molokai. Ellis describes a Keoloewa image as of wood dressed in native tapa with head and neck of wickerwork covered with red feathers to look like a birdskin, and wearing a native helmet hung with human hair, the mouth large and distended. It was placed in the inner room of the temple at the left of the door, with an altar before it.

Keoloewa is said to have been worshiped as an akua noho up to the time of Kamehameha.

Among other names connected with sorcery in Hawaii that of Uli is the one most commonly invoked. Rice calls her the sister of Manua, god of the underworld whose place Milu has usurped in popular tradition, and of Wakea, god of the upper world

and an equivalent on the genealogical line to the god Kane as spiritual procreator. The name Uli may hence possibly be derived from that of Milu, goddess of the underworld in many South Sea mythologies. In Rice’s account she is to be found grouped with two brothers, like Kapo in the Kalaipahoa story. On Molokai, Uli-laʻa (laau?) is the god of medicine, “a god of invincible laws.”

Kamakau cites two Uli goddesses, sisters to the chief Kuheilani son of Hua-nui-ka-laʻilaʻi: Uli of the uplands, sorceress grandmother of Kana and Niheu19 and Uli of the seashore who marries a fisherman at Kualakoi, teaches the art of praying to death, and becomes the aumakua of the kahuna anaana who pray people to death.

Streaks of light, trees informed with deity — to these two phenomena as part of the machinery of the poison-god legend is joined a third element, that of the bird form as a transformation body of the flying god. A white hen and a flock of white chickens Kamakau describes as part of the Kalaipahoa keeper’s outfit, reminiscent of the white haupu bird of Kahoaliʻi, the white albatross of Kane, and in Tahiti the white heron of Tiʻi. The feathered head of the image of Keoloewa and the feathers from the mythical seabirds which wave from the heads of sorcery gods of war may be emblems of the same shape-shifting power. Uli is named with Maka-ku-koae and Alae-a-Hina as gods invoked by sorcerers for the purpose of bringing death to an enemy. Maka-ku-koae is the god who brings madness (pupule) or raving insanity (hehena) or imbecility (lolo). Alae-a-Hina (Mud hen of Hina) is the sorceress from whom Maui wrested the secret of fire. Mud hen, tropic bird, plover are all birds implicated in the sorcery pattern, perhaps because they are thought of as strangers, birds from Kahiki, as also because of a certain eeriness in their cry. Uli may be the Ulili, the wandering tattler which migrates with the plover from Alaska for nesting.

A fourth element which these stories of the origin of orders of sorcery have in common is the likeness to be observed in the make-up of the group who initiate poison or healing. Uli is associated with two brothers in one version of her story; Haumea comes with Kane and Kanaloa “moving across the sea”; two brothers accompany Pele, one of them called the chief aumakua of those to whom bodies are dedicated to become sharks. The sorceress Kamaunu, grandmother of the hog-man Kamapuaʻa, comes to Maui with two men both of whom at different times claim her as wife. Stories of the introduction of medicine to cure disease caused by sorcery show a similar grouping. Two men and a woman are named among the “strangers” who scatter disease over the islands, and two brothers land with a sister on the eastern point of Hawaii and become aumakua respectively of plover and fowl. A formal element of this kind repeated in so many similar instances must derive from some common idea about which each school of sorcery practice has built up its legend. The two men perhaps represent the two keepers (kahu) whose business it is to care for the god and order its activities; the woman is the akua noho, the goddess who acts as their servant and goes forth on errands of sorcery; the bird body or the flash of light is the form she takes in her flight.

The object of Kamehameha in setting up god houses for the gods of the various island districts under his rule was to insure to his own service not only his own war god (and probably also god of sorcery) Kukailimoku, but also the gods of the chiefs subject to him. The Kalaipahoa sorcery on Molokai is only a single instance of the way in which rival schools of sorcery arose to terrorize the land, and their method was to draw into their own service such names as had already gained prestige as gods of possession (akua noho). One school borrowed its pattern from another.

Closely related to these schools of sorcery was the art of the healer. The herb doctor (kahuna-lapaau-laau) studied the properties of healing herbs to combat sickness. Tradition preserves the names of a number of these herb doctors who combined practical knowledge of the medicinal effect of herbs with the priestly office. Many of these doctors worked under the supposition that disease, especially when accompanied by swelling of the abdomen, was caused by the arts of sorcery. Lono-puha (Lono of the ulcer) is said to be the first to practise the art of healing through medicinal herbs in Hawaii, and to found a school upon this system. The Lono-puha order of kahunas diagnose by means of pebbles arranged to outline the body of a man and to show the parts of the body known to be attacked by a disease whose symptoms they understand. By feeling the body with the tips of the fingers and referring to the chart of pebbles to verify the part afflicted, they are able to name the disease and apply the proper remedies. Every step of the treatment must be accompanied by prayer to the aumakua of healing. The old order was revived in the time of Kamehameha under the famous kahuna Palaka, son of the herb doctor Puheke and direct descendant from Lonopuha. He is said to have cut open his father when he died to see the course the disease had taken and to have “thought out the enema to relieve pain,” trying it first on a dog with the use of a polished bamboo as tube.


(a) Emerson version. Lono takes human form and becomes a farmer. One day he strikes his foot with his digging stick and a wound results which bleeds profusely. Kane comes to him and teaches him how to lay on a poultice of popolo leaves [still used effectively by Hawaiians for any open wound] and teaches him the properties of medicinal herbs. He is thus worshiped after his death as Lono-puha (Lono of the swelling), patron of the kahuna lapaau laau (herb doctor). At this same time too the stones of Kane were set up as altars for families to repair to for protection against trouble and sickness.

(b) Westervelt and Thrum version. Lono is a handsome chief with red skin who lives on the western side of Hawaii and engages in farming. Ka-maka (-nui-ai-lono) passes by and predicts illness. Lono repudiates the idea, but at that moment strikes his foot with his digging stick and faints from loss of blood. A messenger follows the stranger with a pig and Kamaka returns and binds up the wound with a poultice of salt, leaves, and fruit. Lono, finding himself healed, follows the stranger and begs to become his disciple. Kamaka spits into his mouth, thus imparting his mana to Lono, then teaches him the use of healing herbs. He sends Lono to practise in Waimanu while he goes to live at Kukui-haele.


Thrum and Westervelt version. While Milu is chief in Waipio, some strangers arrive from Kahiki, landing first at Niʻihau, then traveling through all the islands and settling at Kukuihaele above Waipio. Their names are Ke-alae-nui-a-Hina (a woman), Ka-huila-o-ka-lani, and Kane-i-kaulana-ula. Disease follows them wherever they go and many would have died had not Ka-maka-nui-a-hailono followed and healed those whom the strangers had made ill. This company seek the death of Milu, chief of Waipio. Milu appeals to Lono-puha and he assures him of immunity if he will remain within his house during a certain period, whatever the provocation. When a great bird flies over the village, Milu cannot resist coming out to see what the shouting is all about and the bird snatches away his liver, leaving him lying lifeless. Lono pursues the bird, sees where it disappears into a rock, and heals Milu by laying upon the wound a cloth soaked in the blood the bird has left scattered and by then applying healing medicines. A second tapu is laid not to go surfing. Milu one day disobeys and is swept under and his body never recovered.

Lonopuha here seems to stand apart from the sorcery gods in the story as a practical practitioner. Other characters bear names directly connected with sorcery. Ka-huila-o-ka-lani and Kane-i-kaulana-ula are the gods who enter trees in the Kalaipahoa story. Here they are represented as strangers who settle in the upland above Waipio valley, accompanied, as in the Kalaipahoa story, by a woman sorceress of the Pele family, and seek the life of the chief Milu. Tradition gives the name of Milu to a chief of Waipio who is swept down into the underworld because of disobedience to Kane and becomes ruler of the land of the dead in place of the old god Manua. Sorcery practitioners who work by sending out “spirits of evil” to possess people are called priests of Milu (kahuna o Milu). Obviously we have here to do with a contest of sorcerers. Ka-maka-nui-a (ha) ilono (Kamaka) who imparts his healing knowledge to Lono is manifestly a sorcery kahuna who first possesses Lono and causes his foot to swell, then teaches him how to cure such wounds. He heals a number of persons who have fallen ill through the sorcery of the strangers from Kahiki, and would have cured Milu had he obeyed the imposed tapu. Kalakaua makes both these practitioners pupils of a third whom he calls Kolea-moku (Land plover?). He was a man of ancient days who was taught the medicinal arts by the gods and was himself deified after death and worshiped in the heiau at Kailua. His two disciples practised his arts after his death and were often able to drive away the evil spirits that caused sickness. They too were deified after death. According to Malo, the heiau erected after recovery from illness was called either a Lono-puha or a Kolea-muku.

Kolea-moku (muku) is probably another name for the aumakua of the kolea birds elsewhere called Kumukahi, who comes with Moikeha’s company but stops off at the eastern end of the island of Hawaii and settles at the point of land that bears his name, where he is represented by a red stone at the extreme end of the point. Two of his wives, also in the form of stones, manipulate the seasons by pushing the sun back and forth between them at the two solstices. The place is called “Ladder of the sun” and “Source of the sun” and here at the extreme eastern point of land of the whole group, where the sun rises up out of the sea, sun worshipers bring their sick to be healed. The legend says that Kumukahi can take the form of a plover, enter a medium, and cause him to do marvelous things.


Kumukahi came from Kahiki at the time of Pele, whose relative he was, together with a brother Pala-moa born in the shape of a cock (moa) and a sister named Sun-rise (Ka-hikina-a-ka-la). He was able to take the form of a man or of a kolea bird at will. Today his spirit is able to possess a medium (haka) so that the person can hold out his hand and an awa plant will grow right out of it, or, if a pig is brought in, the medium can speak and the pig will drop dead at his feet. A medium possessed by Palamoa has similar powers but not so strong. Palamoa is god of fowls. His grandchild Lepe-a-moa (whose legend is told in detail on Oahu) was born in the shape of an egg.

A native of North Kona relates how he witnessed with his own eyes similar powers exhibited by a kahuna who had the mana of a god.

One of the deputy sheriffs of North Kona named Joseph K. Nahale was being done to death by sorcery. An eel of the kauila (red) variety was caught, salted, and put in the sun to dry. The kahuna called the people to build up a fire and heat hard stones (ala). When the stones were heated he prayed and threw the eel into the fire. The eel “closed up and ran outside the fire.” Had the eel died in the fire, Nahale would have died, but in this way the kahuna cured Nahale. At another time the same kahuna made a sign to cure a man who was ill. He sent the family to get a small banana plant. He prayed over the plant and it grew and a leaf appeared and a bunch of bananas. Everybody in the house ate from it. In half an hour it sprang up and ripened. This kahuna had power, but he never used it to kill people.

In all the stories here quoted sorcery is represented as brought in from abroad by parties of immigrants and as containing all the elements described in Tahiti in the Tane worship in connection with the figure of Tiʻi, first man and magician, as practised in the heiaus to protect the lives of ruling chiefs and detect and punish their enemies. The connection of the name of Lono with this system will thus become clear if the Lono of the medical kahunas is thought of as the god Roʻo-te-roroʻo who was worshiped in Tahiti by the prayerhealing kahunas in special marae (temples).

In Hawaii the Ku ritual was practised in heiaus of a special class, belonged to the stricter order of priesthood, and could be employed by the ruling chief alone. It included hu-man sacrifice and was set up by a war chief to protect him from enemy sorcery and insure his own success. The milder Lono ritual was practised in a heiau of an inferior class and without human sacrifice. It might be used, but not solely, by a ruling chief. Although no precise account has been given of the form which the worship took, it is likely that one of its objects was to invoke Lono as the god of healing to ward off evil influences.

Long journeys of Polynesian mythical heroes to the sun, to the underworld after fire, or to the upper heavens are, I venture to assert, more often than has been heretofore recognized built upon the idea of a sorcerer’s quest after just such a system of control over the spirits who determine sickness and health, life and death. Folk versions have obscured this interpretation. The figure of Maui-tikitiki, son of Kalana and Hina, is generally conceded to represent the arch mischief maker of Polynesian mythology. Mischief making is sorcery, euphemistically phrased. In this art of sorcery all the Maui stories show him an adept. In Hawaii, where the kite-shaped god of the wind, Lo-lupe, is sent out to entangle the souls of enemies to the chief, we have a story of Maui as a kite flyer in control of the winds. The Polynesian story of Maui’s visit to the underworld to obtain fire is a euphemistic folk version of the way in which he wrested from his sorceress grandmother her control of sorcery and threw it, as poison or healing, into the trees. The Hawaiian version in which he wins the secret from the little mud hen, the bird form taken by Pele sorceresses, is even more suggestive of a similar theme. When Kana goes to the underworld to restore the sun and moon to his people, when Aukele goes down into the pit of the sun in the east after the water of life, each of these heroes is defying the lord over death by sorcery. The water which restores to life is a literal rendering of the practice by which the healing kahuna brings back a patient to life at eastern points of the islands. Maui’s journey through the body of his ancestress to secure everlasting life for man, an episode absent in Hawaii from the Maui cycle, is a story founded upon the common belief in a sorcerer’s power to journey in the spirit to the land of the dead to pluck souls back into life.

15 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All



Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page