“Native species were not treated as just biological elements, but recognized as kino lau”. (Sam Gon; Kumupaʻa; 199)
According to the theory underlying Hawaiian natural philosophy, all natural phenomena, objects and creatures, were bodily forms assumed by nature gods or nature spirits.
Rain clouds, hogs, gourds, and sweet potatoes were ‘bodies’ of the god Lono. Taro, sugar cane, and bamboo were bodies of the god Kane.
Bananas, squid, and some other forms of marine life were bodies of Kanaloa. The coconut, breadfruit, and various forest trees were bodies of Ku. (Handy & Handy with Pukui)
Kino lau are the multiple manifestations of akua, Hawaiian ancestors. Protocol, conducting oneself in an appropriate manner, was a part of everyday life. Permission was asked of plants (kino lau) and of the associated akua to utilize resources.
“While there is no record of Hawaiians planting native trees for the purpose of forest reforestation or restoration of native vegetation, protocol has been recorded that indicates that native trees such as koa, ʻōhiʻa and lama were not casually handled.”
“Depending on the purpose of handling, protocol specific to major appropriate gods would be practiced (i.e., to Kū for ʻōhiʻa, to Lea for canoe trees, to Laka for lama dedicated to the kuahu (altar of the hula hālau (hula school.)” (Sam Gon; Kumupaʻa)
Pukui and Elbert described kino lau as “the many forms [that might be] taken by a supernatural body.” It is derived from the words kino, meaning “form or embodiment,” and lau, meaning “many.”
Some believe that virtually every plant species known to the Hawaiians was considered kino lau of some spirit or deity. This concept helped to link the Hawaiian people to their gods.
Lau-ka-‘ie‘ie has been described as a “beautiful demigoddess who was transformed into an ‘ie‘ie vine.” The palai fern was a kino lau of Hi‘iaka, a sister of Pele. (Anderson-Fung & Maly)
The ki, or ti plant, was “not regarded as the kinolau of any forest god,” and yet its leaves were considered essential for decorating the altar of Laka in the hālau hula (dancers’ house).
Kino lau could also be worn.
Wearing a lei made of materials from a kino lau would allow Hawaiians to touch their gods in a literal sense, and be touched by them, since the plants were bodily forms of the akua.
Sometimes, Hawaiians wore lei to show the akua their appreciation for the beauty of the plants that were their kinolau. Other times, these lei were worn in hopes of being enlightened or inspired by the deity.
Kinolau were also placed on kuahu of a hālau hula and is meant to honor the gods and goddesses of the hula and to inspire the haumāna (students) as they learned their art. (Anderson-Fung & Maly)
Laka is known for creating hula. With hula, a form of storytelling, Laka gave the Hawaiian people a way to record their history and pass it on to future generations. A hula dancer looks to Laka for inspiration before a performance.
The dancer is the body; that which is moved, Laka the inspiration; that which causes movement. The dancer and Laka become one in the dance. The dancer will adorn themselves in the kinolau of Laka which include ʻōhiʻa lehua,‘ie ‘ie, hala pepe, maile, palapalai and other native ferns. (VAC)
Kūpuna note that chants used in obtaining these offerings were so strong that the plants never wilted on the kuahu but remained green and fragrant.
If any of the students broke one of the many strict rules of the hālau while in training, the plants would wilt, to show their disapproval.
This example demonstrates that these kinolau (body form) offerings were not just decorative symbols but were powerful entities that were not to be taken lightly or treated with disrespect. (Anderson-Fung & Maly)