There were four months devoted to the observances of the Makahiki, during which time the ordinary religious ceremonies were omitted, the only ones that were observed being those connected with the Makahiki festival. The keepers of the idols, however, kept up their prayers and ceremonies throughout the year. (Malo)
Traditionally, the rising of Makaliʻi (Pleiades) at sunset following the new moon (beginning in late-October or early-November) in noted the change of the season to winter.
The Makahiki is a form of the “first fruits” festivals common to many cultures throughout the world. It is similar in timing and purpose to Thanksgiving, Oktoberfest and other harvest celebrations – it celebrated Lono, god of plenty.
Something similar was observed throughout Polynesia, but it was in pre-contact Hawaiʻi that the Makahiki festival was celebrated during a designated period of time following the harvesting season.
The first period of the Makahiki was the kapu time when the people, although they had stopped working, were not yet allowed to play. Before they could play, the taxes for the King – the pig, the taro, the sweet potatoes, the feathers, the kapa, the mats, all things that were made – had to be brought together and offered on the alters of Lono. (Handy)
Then an image of Lono was carried around the island by the priests. At each of the ahupua‘a, the chief of that district presented the gifts. (Handy)
The Makahiki circuit conducted by the Lono priests carrying the akua loa representation of Lono was marked not only by the collection of tribute within each territorial unit (ahupua‘a), but also by large gatherings of people from each community as the procession of priests and warriors passed through. (Kirch)
Once the ʻAuhau (taxes) and hoʻokupu (offering) were collected, the Makahiki festival, including sports, feasting and dancing, could begin.
While the lands rested and are softened by the rains, in preparation of the new planting season, all wars were prohibited and goodwill prevailed. The chiefs joined with the makaʻāinana in feasting, testing or argumentative skills and athletic competition. (PKO)
At the end of the Makahiki festival, the king went off shore in a canoe. When he came in, a group of men with spears rushed at him (he was protected by his own warriors.) It was believed that unless the king was sacred enough to be superior to death, he no longer was worthy of representing Lono. (Handy)
Various rites of purification and celebration closed the observance of the Makahiki season. During the special holiday the success of the harvest was commemorated with prayers of praise made to the Creator, ancestral guardians, caretakers of the elements and various deities – particularly Lono.
The Kukui tree is considered to be the kinolau, or form, of Kamapuaʻa, the pig god, the lover of fire goddess Pele (perhaps due to light’s affinity with fire) and so a pig’s head carved from kukui wood is placed on the altar to Lono at the annual Makahiki festival.
Kapa was closely linked to Lono. White kapa streamers adorned the akua loa, or ‘long god’ during the Makahiki. The hale o Lono temples were located immediately inside the eastern boundary of each ahupua‘a. They served in the annual tribute collection by the ali‘i during the Makahiki. (Kirch)
Captain Cook sailed past Hāmākua, Hilo, Puna, and Kaʻū and put in at Kealakekua Bay, and on January 17, 1779, he put in at Kaʻawaloa Bay – the sails and masts of the ships of Captain James Cook resembled Lono’s akua loa.
When Captain Cook appeared they declared that his name must be Lono, for Kealakekua was the home of that deity as a man, and it was a belief of the ancients that he had gone to Kahiki and would return. (Kamakau)
“During the Makahiki season … the people of different districts gathered at one place”. (Malo) Kamakau, noted that “a place had been made ready” before the arrival of the Makahiki gods, where sporting matches were performed after the tribute offerings were made. (Kirch)
Hawaiian ethno-historic sources indicate the existence of special gathering places where members of an ahupua‘a community would assemble during the Makahiki period, especially for the offering of tribute to the Lono priests and for various sports, games and other ceremonies associated with this important ritual period. (Kirch) On such has been identified on Kauai.
Lono, the god of agriculture, along with Kāne’s help, insures a life cycle and abundance to all animal husbandry and crops. Kanaloa, the god of the sea, also needs Kāne’s help in order to insure a life cycle for the fish. This is significant as these three components are represented at Kāneiolouma on the South Shore of the island of Kauai.
“The heiau was the principal medium through which all religious activities were manifested, and was therefore the most important representative of religion collectively in ancient Hawai‘i.”
As noted by Henry Kekahuna in his 1959 mapping of the Kāneiolouma complex, the Kāneiolouma heiau at Poʻipū had three main sections (religion, agriculture and aquaculture (fish ponds.))
“On the East side, there is a large sports arena where Hawaiian games such as forearm wrestling, or uma, wrestling, or hakoko, and deadly grappling, or lua, were carried on.” (Kekahuna)
“On the South side, there is a large fishpond where special fish intended only for the ali‘i were raised. The Waiohai spring is the center of this fishpond.”
Extensive walled enclosures, alters, numerous bases for temple images, shrines, taro patches, irrigation ditches, a series of large fishponds, house platforms, extensive cooking areas, and terracing throughout make this complex ideal for rehabilitation.
Within the complex, an intricate system of walls and terraces trace the architecture of an ancient way of life. Near its center, the complex contains what may be the only intact Makahiki sporting arena in the state.
The Kāneiolouma and agricultural site complex is part of a huge complex of agricultural and habitation sites ranging from Kōloa town to the coast of Poʻipū and ranging from the Weliweli area westward to Kukui‘ula Bay and the Kōloa Field System.
Per the Bishop Museum Planetarium, December 1, 2016, marks Makahiki (start of the Hawaiian year.) To mark the start of the Makahiki season: 1) wait for the star cluster of the Pleiades to rise at sunset, which occurs every year on November 17; 2) wait for the new moon that follows this sunset rising of the Pleiades, which occurs in 2016 on November 29 …
3) wait for the first visible crescent moon that follows this new moon. This year, this slender crescent should be visible in the west at dusk on December 1, thus marking the start of the Makahiki season and of the Hawaiian year. (BM)