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Na akua li'i

Kii: David Boynton



Martha Beckwith

Copyright © 1970

University of Hawaiʻi Press

pgs 81-95

THE great gods each had his own form of worship, his priests and heiaus, his own special symbols of ritual distinction. “Ku by fives” is the old saying. Conquering chiefs took pains to recognize in their worship the gods of the lands they took over. Nothing is more characteristic of Hawaiian religion than the constantly increasing multiplicity of gods and the diversity of forms which their worship took.1 Even of the heiau Thrum says there was “no one alike.” Besides the great gods there were an infinite number of subordinate gods descended upon the family line of one or another of the major deities and worshiped by particular families or those who pursued special occupations. Says Malo, “Each man worshiped the akua that presided over the occupation or profession he followed, because it was generally believed that the akua could prosper any man in his calling.” Says another: “Below the four great gods were fifty lesser gods [some say forty, others an indeterminate number], each named after some attribute of the god appropriate to the special department over which he presided; fifty Kane gods, fifty Lono gods, and also subordinate gods. Over these the great gods presided. These in turn ruled fifty lesser Kane, Ku, Lono [and Kanaloa] deities, and so on, the whole system comparable to a tree with trunks, branches, twigs.” Some worshiped their gods in the form of images. “There were many of them, about forty or twice forty of feather idols,” says one describing the ceremonial of a royal sacrifice. Others worshiped without any concrete form. Kepelino distinguishes between the way in which were regarded the gods who were worshiped by the forefathers, “the gods who made heaven and earth,” and the spirits (uhane), a numberless body, “millions upon millions,” whom he divides into the bodiless spirits of the air (uhane lewa) created by Kane to serve the gods, and the bodiless spirits of the dead who have become guardian spirits (aumakua) for their descendants on earth. In order not to omit any one of the host of lesser deities formed out of the spittle of the god when he was shaping the earth, it was customary to add to or open an invocation with the formula, “Invoke we now the 40,000 gods, the 400,000 gods, the 4,000 gods” (E hoʻoulu ana i kini o ke akua, Ka lehu o ke akua, Ka mano o ke akua), and to add to these ritual numbers expressive of an innumerable multitude such identifications as, “the ranging of the gods by rank, the circle of the gods, the coming together by twos, the coming together by threes, the murmur of the gods,” with reference to “that countless rout of little gods . . . whose shouts (ikuwa) were at times distinctly to be heard.”

All forms of nature were thus thought of as bodily manifestations of spirit forces. The hierarchies of the gods corresponded to the social system, which recognized a minute classification of society into ranks according to blood inheritance. National worship of the great gods, conducted by ruling chiefs, was an expression of descent from a common stock. The slave class who bore no such relationship were hence outcasts; they lived apart and were forbidden intermarriage or even association, except of a limited sort, with the freeborn. Worship of a god as special guardian or aumakua of a particular family was also an expression of kinship and commanded the service of whatever nature spirits belonged, either by descent or by adoption, to the family of the god. Even the great gods Ku, Kane, Lono, Kanaloa might be addressed in prayer as “aumakua.” Romances and hero tales are rich with implications of this relationship in which nature shares in the signs and acclamations which attend the footsteps of a divine offspring. Says a Fornander story:

At sight of Kila the crowd began to shout, admiring his beauty. Even the ants were heard to sing in his praise; the birds sang, the pebbles rumbled, the shells cried, the grass withered, the smoke hung low, the rainbow appeared, the thunder was heard, the dead came to life, the hairless dogs were seen and countless spirits of all kinds. . . . All these things mentioned were the people of Moikeha, who, upon the arrival of Kila his son, caused themselves to be seen in testimony of Kila’s high rank.

And again, at the appearance of another divine chief:

The woods rejoiced, the winds, the earth, the rocks; rainbows appeared, colored rain-clouds moved, dry thunder pealed, lightnings flashed.

Ka-onohi-o-ka-la (Eyeball of the sun), who lives in the sun, when he puts off his divine nature and comes to earth in a human body thus announces his approach:

When the rain falls and floods the land, I am still here. When the ocean billows swell and the surf throws white sand on the shore, I am still here; when the wind whips the air and for ten days lies calm, when thunder peals without rain, then I am at [the border of the heavens]. When the thunder peals again, then ceases, I have left the taboo house at the borders of Kahiki . . . my divine body is laid aside, only the nature of a taboo chief remains and I am to become a human being like you.

Stones in general have a potential power. Kane-poha (ku) -kaʻa (Rolling stone Kane) is the subordinate Kane god who presides over stones. He was never represented by an image but came to his worshipers in dreams in human form with a head of stone. He was invoked by warriors to bless their weapons and make them “strong as rocks,” and by farmers to bless their fields. The saying is, “He ola ka pohaku a he make ka pohaku,” that is, “There is life in the stone and death in the stone,” because stones are used as missiles to kill and as ovens in cooking. Stone working was a chiefly art, and an elaborate differentiation of stones suitable for working was known to the adept. Malo lists fifty-eight varieties and believes “there are many other stones that have failed of mention.”

To secure a god to preside over games, large stones were selected and wrapped in tapa, and ceremonies were performed over such a stone in the heiau. If the owner of the god was unsuccessful more than once or twice, the stone god was thrown away. Rocks have sex: the solid rock, columnar in shape, is male; the porous rock, loaf-shaped or split by a hollow, is female. Chiefs and priests worshiped these rocks and poured awa over them as representatives of the god. If a stone of each sex was selected, a small pebble would be found beside them which increased in size and was finally taken to the heiau to be made a god. Iliili-hanau-o-Koloa (Birth pebble of Koloa) is the mother of rocks for Kau district, referring to the porous pebbles found especially at the beach of Koloa, Kau district, on Hawaii. Such stones were supposed to grow from a tiny pebble to a good-sized rock and to reproduce themselves if watered once a week. Care had to be taken lest they be stepped upon or otherwise treated with disrespect. Hence they were carefully wrapped in tapa and laid away on a high rafter of the house. At a child’s naming day or on other special occasions such as marriages, wars, and fishing expeditions they were taken down and arranged on ti leaves, together with awa root, upon a mat or table and their wisdom and blessing invoked. Afterwards some member of the family would have a dream favorable or unfavorable to the project in hand and this was regarded as sent from the god. A similar idea is found in Tonga, where black volcanic pebbles and white pebbles of coral, buried together, are believed to increase.

According to Fornander, a priest consulted by a person who wished to steal the property of another would divine the result of the undertaking by a process of “odd or even” with a pile of some fifty pebbles. If the would-be thief chose a pile containing an odd number of stones and the pile left over for the owner was even, the expedition would be lucky; if the reverse, unlucky. An odd number or an even number for both sides was “bad.” Pebbles used in the game of kimo (jack-stones) and in the game of konane (a kind of checkers) are regarded with that sanctity which surrounds the objects sacred to the use of chiefs.24

Special stones are regarded as sacred because of a traditional connection with old ancestors. They are gods (akua) and it is bad luck to disturb them. According to Mrs. Pukui, near the old Hawaiian hotel at Waikiki is a row of rocks called Pae-kiʻi to which it was the custom in old days to take strangers caught along the coast and suspected of a war trip or a search for a human victim for their gods, and hold their heads under water until they were drowned. This method of putting to death was called kai heʻe kai. An old Hawaiian who was asked to point them out refused lest “our lives should pay the forfeit.”

Petroglyphs abound about the islands, some as pictographs, a good many representing crude outlines of the human figure. The most interesting are in the form of cup-markings surrounded by one or two rings. Those which occur on the boundaries of Apuki land division in Puna are used by the old Puna people as depositories for the child’s navel cord.

Stones, as shown in the story of Kuula, are often worshiped as fish gods. Stories of fish gods and fish transformations are common, since, as a Fornander informant somewhat enigmatically remarks, “some of the beings who inhabited this world were gods and some were fishes, and this fact remains to this day.”29 Fish altars were built to a number of fishing gods besides Ku-ula, the great god of the fishing stations; to Kane-makua, Kini-lau (Multitude), Ka-moho-aliʻi (Shark god of the Pele family), Kane-koa, Kane-kokala, and others.

Birds are notably potential gods or spirit beings. In the machinery of romance migratory birds or those which nest in high cliffs are messengers for the high chiefs in the story. Thus plover (kolea), wandering tattler (ulili), tropic bird (koae), turnstone (akekeke, akikeehiale) are sent by the divine chiefs of the story, generally in pairs, to act as scouts or to carry messages from island to island. The plover, accompanied by the tattler, remains in Hawaii or flies on south from August until the following May or June, when it migrates to Alaska for nesting, leaving behind immature birds and cripples. Cartwright reports watching flights of these birds for two or three days at a time from the deck of an ocean steamer going south to Samoa.

According to a Tongan story, Hama followed the tropic bird to sea to find out where it got its food and discovered the island of Ata. In New Zealand thousands of birds assemble on Spirits Bay, where the spirits of the dead take their departure for their reinga (heavens), and leave New Zealand for northern Siberia. A Maori song runs,

Whilst the fleet of canoes o’er the ocean are paddled

The flocks of gods are above in the heavens flying.

The godwit (kuaka) arrives in October and leaves in March by way of Norfolk, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Timor, Celebes, Japan, China, to Siberia. “Who can tell of the nests of the kuaka?” is a Maori proverb. On Ellis Island frigate birds are used by native pastors to send messages. Formerly natives sent pearl fishhooks in this way from island to island. The birds are kept on perches and fed fish. When they see another similar perch they alight upon it. In Samoa the plover (Tuli) is the messenger of Tangaloa-a-lagi. In a Marquesan legend the tropic bird (Kotae) and the swallow (Kopea) are sent to secure songs.

In Hawaiian story subordinate deities and even the great gods appear in bird bodies. The spirits of relatives serve their descendants in this form. In Haleole’s romance the chiefess of Paliuli is served by birds and rests upon their wings. Her house is thatched with royal yellow feathers. The notes of birds mark her progress. The story reads: “When rings the note of the oo bird I am not in that sound, or the alala, I am not in that sound; when rings the note of the elepaio then am I making ready to descend; when the note of the apapane sounds, then I am without the door of my house; if you hear the note of the iiwipolena, then I am without your ward’s house; seek me, you two, and find me without.”

The elepaio bird (Chasiempis sandwichensis) or flycatcher is a goddess worshiped by canoe makers. When a canoe was to be built, a priest would go to the forest, select a tree, and pray to the gods of the woods to bless it, then wait for an elepaio bird to alight on the trunk. If it merely ran up and down, the trunk was sound; but where it stopped to pick at the bark, that spot was sure to be found rotten and the builder would run a risk in making use of the trunk.

Mythical birds called Halulu, Kiwaʻa, Iwa appear in the stories as bearers overseas or to the heavens. The kiwaʻa is said to be the pilot bird which conducts the navigator in to the canoe shed at the landing place. Halulu in the Aukelenui legend is the man-eating bird from Kahiki who can also take human form. The heiau of Halulu at Kaunolu on Lanai was the most important on that island. Of the reference in the Kumulipo, “This is the landing-place of the bird Halulu,” Hawaiians say that the name was given to a chief, also called Hoolulu, brought here from foreign lands, who landed at Kona on Hawaii and from whose line Beckley’s grandmother stems. The feathers that rise and fall on the heads of images in answer to a kahuna’s petition are said to come from the mythical birds Halulu and Kiwaʻs― “Wonderful feathers,” says Kamakau, “made out of particles of water from the dazzling orb of the sun.” By Malo they are said, more prosaically, to come from the iwa or man-of-war bird (Fregata aquila) found on the small islands off Kauai, Kaula, and Nihoa. Individuals of this species are worshiped under particular names. The bird Ka-iwa-kalameha is a great bird ancestress with dwelling places in all the islands and in Kahiki. Kiha-haka-iwa-i-na-pali is a great bird sent by Lonopele to vomit over the canoe of Paao and sink it in the waves.

A fourth seabird known in myth as the Aaia-nukea-nui-a-Kane (Great white albatross of Kane), also written with the termination a-ku-lawaia (standing fishing), is the white albatross (Diomedea immutabilis) which used to be seen commonly along the island coasts and was called “Kane’s bird.” So in Tahiti the common albatross is spoken of as the “shadow” of Taʻaroa.

Species of birds which are habitants of the islands hence appear in myth as kindred and servants of gods who are worshiped as family guardians, or the god himself may manifest himself on earth in bird form and be worshiped under the name of his particular manifestation.

Vegetable growth is regarded by Hawaiians with more religious awe than animal life because it is not so intimately associated with man. All life other than human springs from the gods since it is out of control of man. It is therefore alive with spirit force. Plants are thought of as transformation bodies of gods and as such take their place in myth.

In folk belief the wind god Makani-keoe (Makani-kau), one of the many gods of love named in Hawaiian lore, has control over plants and can himself take the form of a tree or cause plants to grow. A branch from his transformation form will serve as a love charm, but only a brave person can secure such an amulet because of the voices and visions which will pursue him. The sisters of Makani-keoe are Lau-ka-ieie, who owns the cowry shell Leho-ula, and Lau-kiele-ula, who becomes wife of Moanaliha-i-ka-waokele, one of the remote ancestors of the Kane line and father of the Maile sisters in the romance of Laieikawai. One turns into the sacred pandanus vine called ieie, the other into the sacred sweet-scented kiele blossom of the uplands. A folktale from Kau district on Hawaii tells how Makani-kau takes pity on a young husband turned out of the house by his wife’s family because of his indolence, and reconciles the couple by conjuring up food for his protégé when all the land suffers from famine. Today in Kau when there is a family quarrel folk say, “Makani-keoe is gone from home,” or “has come back” when the quarrel is patched up.

Hawaiians are extravagantly fond of perfume, and fragrant plants are invariably associated with deity. Color is also indicative of divine rank, yellow and red being the colors sacred to chiefs. Yellow seems to be primarily the Kane color. The use of flower wreaths and decorations of woodland plants for a dance hall carries with it a sense of divinity which strengthens the emotional satisfaction with which such things are regarded. Certain red flowers are sacred to the gods and those whom they love. Like the red iiwi bird, so is the red iiwi blossom of the vine sacred. No one not beloved of the gods will dare to pick and wear it lest he be haunted by a headless woman carrying her head under one arm.

Awa drink from the shrub of the pepper family (Piper methysticum) is invariably used in sacrifice to Kane gods. Different varieties are distinguished by their color and markings and by the size of the root sections. Babies were given the juice of the nene variety as a soothing syrup. “This is a fretful (onene) child and must be given the awa nene,” is the saying. Only the most common variety could be used by the commoner; the rarer kinds were reserved for the chiefs. For the gods and on ceremonial occasions the moi (royal), hiwa (black), and papa (recumbent) were used, the papa, from which the moi was often an offshoot, being specially offered to female deities. The most highly prized was that which sprouted upon trees so that the roots to be gathered grew exposed on the tree. It was called awa “resting on trees” (kau laau) or “planted by the birds” (a ka manu).

Awa offered to a god was either poured or sprinkled over the image, or, if there was no image, the kahuna sprinkled it in the air and drank the remainder in the cup. The cups used were always made of polished coconut shells cut lengthwise in the shape called kanoa. The cups were never placed on the floor itself but on a piece of bark cloth spread before the priest or server, and never where they might be stepped over or otherwise desecrated. As soon as the ceremony was over, they were washed, placed in a net (koko), and hung from the rafters. The strainer was also carefully washed and hung in a tree to dry. The order of serving also was important. At the entertainment of a guest, it was considered an insult to the host if the guest refused the cup or passed the cup handed to him, as guest of honor, to an inferior chief. Before a war especially all chiefs drank together a cup of awa, which passed from hand to hand in order of rank. In passing the cup to a chief it was customary to utter some appropriate remark or sing a chant, but no particular form was fixed by tradition.

The preparation of the awa did not differ from the methods described for other groups. The young boys and girls who chewed the chiefs’ awa were especially selected from the chief class for their perfect teeth. The peculiar sense of sacredness which associated the awa with the body of a god because of its narcotic effect was still further strengthened by this ceremonial restraint and the exclusiveness put upon its use.

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