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Pua Ma

Martha Beckwith

Kii: British Museum

Religious practices of Hawaii have is sources in many parts of the Pacific. Many of these gods were arrivals from distant lands during the migrations from other islands and even before the migrations of what we know as Polynesian settlers. Some came from old Tahiti, Te Henua Enata, and some were created here in ancient times by individuals who saw these beings come in dreams and visions.

Sorcery was commonly practiced through the use of various items 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. Items like canes made of Kauila wood, stones of various shapes and items of bone or wood can also be used to house and entrap the spirit. 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.

Diety of Oro

Kii: Metropolitan Museum

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.

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