The Hawaiian Kumulipo is a genealogical prayer chant linking the royal family to which it belonged not only to primary gods belonging to the whole people and worshiped in common with allied Polynesian groups, not only to deified chiefs born into the living world within the family line …
… but to the stars in the heavens and the plants and animals useful to life on earth, who must also be named within the chain of birth and their representatives in the spirit world thus be brought into the service of their children who live to carry on the line in the world of mankind. (Beckwith)
There were also family gods, and gods for individuals. Each family had its own ʻaumakua (personal god) that watched over and protected them.
For some it was a shark, others a pig, and so on. It was thought that spirits could communicate to the living through dreams and often appeared in the form of the family’s ʻaumakua.
Hawaiian traditions surrounding ritual practice allowed for the reciprocal exchange of mana (spiritual power) between the ʻāina (land, earth) the akua, and kānaka.
These rituals varied from strict ceremonies accompanied by mōhai (offerings) of food and sacrifice, to the utterance of a chant or prayer. (Pukui)
Beckwith explains, “The great gods each had his own form of worship, his priests and heiaus, his own special symbols of ritual distinction…”
“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.”
Malo further explains, “Each man worshipped the akua that presided over the occupation or the profession he followed, because it was generally believed that the akua could prosper any man in his calling.”
And so with this way of life, it became a custom for kānaka to approach any kind of undertaking with the acknowledgement of Hawaiian deities and their various manifestations.
In the upland forest, there were several cultural activities that involved ritual protocol. For example, the god Kū was invoked when gathering material for luakini (temple) construction, kālai kiʻi (image carving), and ritual objects.
“If the King was minded to worship after the rite of Kū, the heiau he would build would be a luakini. The timbers of the house would be of ʻōhiʻa, the thatch of loulu palm or of uki grass. The fence about the place would be of ʻōhiʻa with the bark peeled off.”
“The lananuʻu-mamao had to be made of ʻōhiʻa timber so heavy that it must be hauled down from the mountains. The same heavy ʻōhiʻa timber was used in the making of the idols for the heiau.” (Malo)
Canoe construction was another activity that involved ritual practice in the upland forest. Malo explains that when a koa tree was chosen for a canoe, the kahuna took the axe of stone and called upon the gods: “O Kū-pulupulu, Kū-ala-na-wao, Kū-moku-haliʻi, Kū-ka-ʻieʻie, Kū-palalake, Kū-ka-ʻōhiʻa-laka.”
These were the male deities. Then he called upon the female deities: “O Lea and Ka-pua-o-alakai.” In another instance, bird-catchers would appeal to the god Kū-huluhulu.”
It is written in the book titled, Nānā I Ke Kumu, “With little formality, the Hawaiian would ask forgiveness for taking from nature’s bounty.”
The bird-catcher would speak to Kū in his manifestation as a god of hulu (feathers): “Oh Kū-huluhulu, forgive me for catching this bird and taking his feathers. They are needed for a kihei [mantle] for my chief [named]…” (Pukui)
Plant gathering for medicinal use was another occasion in which certain akua were called upon. For example, Kū and his wife Hina were invoked when medicinal plants were gathered, as they are the akua associated with the male and female properties in healing plants and in ritual. (Pukui)
The native Hawaiian relationship with the ʻāina is spiritually guided by reverence and a deep seeded respect. This connection is depicted in the Kumulipo, a highly detailed genealogical creation chant, where kānaka descend from Papahānaumoku, Earth Mother, and Wākea, Sky Father.
Therefore, to disrespect the land is to disregard one’s ʻohana. So sustaining a pono connection to the ‘āina, or that which feeds, is essential to the balance of all life and to the well-being of our society. (Kumupa‘a) (Image by Patrick Ching.)