Practices of Native Hawaiian's Hawaiian religion
""indigenous religious beliefs and practices" "
By: From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Hawaiian religion originated among the
Tahitians and other Pacific islanders who landed in Hawaii between 500 and 1300 AD. Today, Hawaiian religious
practices are protected by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Traditional Hawaiian religion is unrelated
to the modern New Age practice known as "Huna."
A depiction of a royal heiau (Hawaiian temple) at Kealakekua Bay, c. 1816
Hawaiian religion encompasses the indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the
Native Hawaiians. It is polytheistic and animistic, with a belief in many deities and spirits, including the belief
that spirits are found in non-human beings and objects such as animals, the waves, and the sky.
Main articles: Kahuna and Kapu
The kahuna were well respected, educated individuals that made up a social hierarchy
class that served the King and the Courtiers and assisted the Maka'ainana (Common People). Selected to serve many
practical and governmental purposes, Kahuna often were healers, navigators, builders, prophets/temple work, and
King Kamehameha II, who abolished the kapu system through the symbolic act of ʻai noa
They also talked with the spirits. Kahuna Kūpaʻiulu of Maui in 1867 described a
counter-sorcery ritual to heal someone ill due to hoʻopiʻopiʻo, another’s evil thoughts. He said a kapa (cloth) was
shaken. Prayers were said. Then, "If the evil spirit suddenly appears (puoho) and possesses the patient, then he or
she can be immediately saved by the conversation between the practitioner and that spirit."
Pukui and others believed Kahuna did not have mystical transcendent experiences as
described in other religions. Although a person who was possessed (noho) would go into a trance-like state, it was
not an ecstatic experience but simply a communion with the known spirits.
Kapu refers to a system of taboos designed to separate the spiritually pure from the
potentially unclean. Thought to have arrived with Pāʻao, a priest or chief from Tahiti who arrived in Hawaiʻi
sometime around 1200 AD, the kapu imposed a series of restrictions on daily life. Prohibitions
Restrictions on over fishing
Hawaiian tradition shows that ʻAikapu was an idea led by the Kahuna in order for
Wākea, the sky father, to get alone with his daughter, Hoʻohokukalani without his wahine, or wife, Papa, the earth
mother, noticing. The spiritually pure or laʻa, meaning "sacred" and unclean or haumia were to be separated.
Hawaiian sacrifice, from Jacques Arago's account of Freycinet's travels around the
world from 1817 to 1820.
During times of war, the first two men to be killed were offered to the gods as
Other Kapus included Mālama ʻĀina, meaning "caring of the land" and Niʻaupiʻo.
Tradition says that mālama ʻāina originated from the first child of Wākea and Hoʻohokukalani being deformed so they
buried him in the ground and what sprouted became the first kalo, also known as taro. The Hawaiian islands are all
children of Papa, Wākea and Hoʻohokukalani so basically meaning that they are older siblings of the Hawaiian
chiefs. Second child of Wākea and Hoʻohokukalani became the first Aliʻi Nui, or "Grand Chief". This came to be
called Niʻaupiʻo, the chiefly incest to create the "godly child".
Punishments for breaking the kapu could include death, although if one could escape
to a puʻuhonua, a city of refuge, one could be saved. Kāhuna nui mandated long periods when the entire village
must have absolute silence. No baby could cry, dog howl, or rooster crow, on pain of death.
The kapu system remained in place until 1819 (see below).
Main article: Heiau
One side of Puʻukohola Heiau, a Hawaiian temple used as a place of worship and
Prayer was an essential part of Hawaiian life, employed when building a house, making
a canoe, and giving lomilomi massage. Hawaiians addressed prayers to various gods depending on the situation. When
healers picked herbs for medicine, they usually prayed to Kū and Hina, male and female, right and left, upright and
supine. The people worshiped Lono during Makahiki season and Kū during times of war.
Histories from the 19th century describe prayer throughout the day, with specific
prayers associated with mundane activities such as sleeping, eating, drinking, and traveling. However, it
has been suggested that the activity of prayer differed from the subservient styles of prayer often seen in the
...the usual posture for prayer - sitting upright, head high and eyes open - suggests
a relationship marked by respect and self-respect. The gods might be awesome, but the ʻaumākua bridged the gap
between gods and man. The gods possessed great mana; but man, too, has some mana. None of this may have been true
in the time of Pāʻao, but otherwise, the Hawaiian did not seem prostrate before his gods.
- Kawena Pukui
Heiau, served as focal points for prayer in Hawaiʻi. Offerings, sacrifices, and
prayers were offered at these temples, the thousands of koʻa (shrines), a multitude of wahi pana (sacred places),
and at small kuahu (altars) in individual homes.
See also: Ancient Hawaii
Although it is unclear when settlers first came to the Hawaiian Islands, there is
significant evidence that the islands were settled no later than 800 AD and immigration continued to about 1300 AD.
Settlers came from the Marquesas, Samoa, Easter Island, and greater Polynesia. At some point a significant influx
of Tahitian settlers landed in the Hawaiian islands, bringing with them their religious beliefs.
Early Hawaiian religion resembled other Polynesian religions in that it was largely
focused on natural forces such as the tides, the sky, and volcanic activity as well as man's dependence on nature
for subsistence. The major early gods reflected these characteristics, as the early Hawaiians worshiped Kāne (the
god of the sky and creation), Kū (the god of war and male pursuits), Lono (the god of peace, rain, and fertility)
and Kanaloa (the god of the ocean).
Early Hawaiian religion
As an indigenous culture, spread among eight islands, with waves of immigration over
hundreds of years from various parts of the South Pacific, religious practices evolved over time and from place to
place in different ways.
Hawaiian scholar Mary Kawena Pukui, who was raised in Ka‘ū, Hawaii, maintained that
the early Hawaiian gods were benign. One Molokaʻi tradition follows this line of thought. Author and researcher
Pali Jae Lee writes: "During these ancient times, the only 'religion' was one of family and oneness with all
things. The people were in tune with nature, plants, trees, animals, the ‘āina, and each other. They respected all
things and took care of all things. All was pono."
"In the dominant current of Western thought there is a fundamental separation between
humanity and divinity. ... In many other cultures, however, such differences between human and divine do not exist.
Some peoples have no concept of a ‘Supreme Being’ or ‘Creator God’ who is by nature ‘other than’ his creation. They
do, however, claim to experience a spirit world in which beings more powerful than they are concerned for them and
can be called upon for help."
"Along with ancestors and gods, spirits are part of the family of Hawaiians. "There
are many kinds of spirits that help for good and many that aid in evil. Some lie and deceive, and some are truthful
... It is a wonderful thing how the spirits (‘uhane) of the dead and the ‘angels’ (anela) of the ‘aumākua can
possess living persons. Nothing is impossible to god-spirits, akua."
Hula being performed during a ceremony at ʻIolani Palace where the Navy returned
control of Kaho'olawe to the State of Hawaiʻi.
Kamehameha the Great died in 1819. In the aftermath, two of his wives, Kaʻahumanu and
Keōpūolani, then the two most powerful people in the kingdom, conferred with the kahuna nui, Hewahewa. They
convinced young Liholiho, Kamehameha II, to overthrow the kapu system. They ordered the people to burn the wooden
statues and tear down the rock temples.
Without the hierarchical system of religion in place, some abandoned the old gods,
and others continued with cultural traditions of worshiping, them, especially their family ‘aumākua.
Missionaries arrived in 1820, and most of the aliʻi converted to Christianity,
including Kaʻahumanu and Keōpūolani, but it took 11 years for Kaʻahumanu to proclaim laws against ancient religious
practices. “Worshipping of idols such as sticks, stones, sharks, dead bones, ancient gods and all untrue gods is
prohibited. There is one God alone, Jehovah. He is the God to worship. The hula is forbidden, the chant (olioli),
the song of pleasure (mele), foul speech, and bathing by women in public places. The planting of ‘awa is
prohibited. Neither chiefs nor commoners are to drink ‘awa.” (Kamakau, 1992, p. 298-301)
Offerings presented by Hawaiʻian religious practitioners at Ulupo Heiau, 2009
Although traditional Hawaiian religion was outlawed, a number of traditions typically associated with it survived
by integration, practicing in hiding, or practicing in rural communities in the islands. Surviving traditions
include the worship of family ancestral gods or ʻaumākua, veneration of iwi or bones, and preservation of sacred
places or wahi pana. Hula was outlawed at one time as a religious practice but today is performed in both spiritual
and secular contexts.
Traditional beliefs have also played a role in the politics of post-Contact Hawaiʻi. In the 1970s the Hawaiian
religion experienced a resurgence during the Hawaiian Renaissance. In 1976, the members of a group "Protect
Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana" filed suit in federal court over the use of Kahoʻolawe by the United States Navy for target
practice. Charging that the practice disturbed important cultural and religious sites Aluli et al. V. Brown forced
the Navy to survey and protect important sites, perform conservation activities, and allow limited access to the
island for religious purposes. Similarly, outrage over the unearthing of 1,000 graves dating back to 850 AD during
the construction of a Ritz-Carlton hotel on Mauʻi in 1988 resulted in the redesign and relocation of the hotel
inland as well as the appointment of the site as a state historic place.
Along with the surviving traditions, some Hawaiians practice Christianized versions of old traditions. Others
practice it as a co-religion.
In the 1930s, non-Hawaiian author Max Freedom Long created a philosophy and practice he called "Huna."While Long
and his successors have misrepresented this invention as a type of ancient, Hawaiian occultism, it is actually a
New Age product of cultural misappropriation and fantasy, and not representative of traditional Hawaiian
Further reading and resources
Beckwith, Martha Warren (1981) . The Kumulipo: A Hawaiian Creation Chant. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN
Malo, David (2005) . Hawaiian Antiquities. Bishop Museum Press. ISBN 0-910240-15-9.
"Figure Marae 12, Mokumanamana (Necker Island), Hawai'i (1976.194)". In Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan
Museum of Art. April 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-29.
"Stick God (Akua Ka'ai) Hawai'i (1979.206.1625)". In Timeline of Art History. Metropolitan Museum of Art. April
2008. Retrieved 2008-06-29.