Posted by: forquilombo | December 7, 2012


The Program to Preserve Hawaiian Place Names

In ancient times, many stone temples were built to honor the Polynesian gods. Called marae in the South Pacific and heiau in Hawaii, these temples were built to communicate with the gods – and to harness their power. The first and mightiest god was often called I’o … a primeval creator. Names of the gods differed – Tangaroa and Rongo of Maori New Zealand became Kanaloa and Lono in Hawaii. The primeval natural and supernatural energies were more important than their names.

Ancient Hawaiians called the trade wind makani – the life-giving spirit of air. For millennia this elemental wind helped shape the islands of Hawaii, and later the emotional and spiritual lives of Hawaiian people. This wind helped the early Polynesian voyagers cross the Pacific ocean in their ocean-going canoes. The makani brought the god Lono, the god of fertility and healing, and supported the aloha culture. The wind is also called Ha. Aloha means with breath; aloha is generally translated as “love”. The makani wind brought another Lono – Captain Cook – and the haole hordes that followed him.

Western visitors to Hawaii are often called haole (pronounced ha-owlee) by native Hawaiians. This word has been used for pale-skinned foreigners since Captain Cook arrived at Kealakekua Bay over two centuries ago. To be haole is to be part of the cultural arrogance, prejudice and ethnocentric opportunism of those who brought disease, devastation and death to the aloha culture. It is not a compliment. Haole means without breath and without life. To a native Hawaiian, a haole has minimal contact with family, culture and soul. Haole rarely honor or can even name their ancestors. Haole cannot appreciate the beauty and dignity of Hawaiian people. Haole only appreciate opportunities.

Settled missionaries also rejected old traditions that sustained Polynesians for millennia. Haole landowners – often the children of missionaries – called the old gods demons and labeled their restorative power as witchcraft. To live in balance with nature became somehow wrong, somehow bad, and somehow evil. The missionaries encountered a basically spiritual culture. The Hawaiians worshipped and prayed much. There was the rhythm of household prayer each morning and each evening. On the Big Island the male head of the household prayed twice daily, made an offering, took the ipu o Lono (gourd of god Lono) filled with food into the center of the men’s eating house (hale mua), prayed again, then sucked the ‘awa root attached to the gourd (as drinking from Lono). Prayer (pule) was woven into each step of canoe making, fishing, and farming with specified kapu days of the lunar calendar. Many Hawaiians had their own ancestor gods in addition to the assorted gods and goddesses of varying ranks.

Neeedless to say, old ways became illegal under haole law, but were too lively to die. They became huna, hidden, for 200 years, in remote villages and upland farms. Distorted stories about the old ways are marketed and sold by haole writers. Many Hawaiians became embarrassed by their ancestors, and deny or distort histories about the old days. Only recently have the keepers of balance, the kahuna, risked sharing their knowledge again. Only now is Hawaiian spirituality slowly recovering from the return of Lono.

Hawaiian spirituality includes chants that blend with the wind in the trees and the rhythm of the ocean waves to offer experiences of the underlying spirit of Polynesia. Hawaiian spirituality draws mana (power) from Kane in the clouds, from Kanaloa in the ocean and from Ku in the wild places. Pele, the impulsive goddess of the volcano, can be gentle and loving, as serene as her hapu’u fern forests and kukui tree groves. Yet Pele’s red lava and shaking earth demand respect. Listen for Pele’s chants rumbling and echoing in caverns below Hawaii Volcano Park.

Shortly after the arrival of the Christian missionaries, at a time of great plagues from common Western diseases to which the native Hawaiians had no resistance, pre-Christian spirituality and traditions were declared witchcraft. Hawaiian spirituality was altered by the missionaries, yet even now many Hawaiians bless ceremonies with both Hawaiian chants and Christian prayers.

The Kumulipo, a sacred Hawaiian chant, tells a story of creation from chaos. The Kumulipo teaches the evolution of light and life – from darkness came a living earth in which our ancestors’ spirits could take form. The Kumulipo includes abundant descriptions of aumakua – protective family spirits or guardian angels. Hawaiian spirituality honors and protects the animals and plants described in the Kumulipo.

‘Ohana refers to both family and community. According to the Kumulipo, the universe is one family; created and related in ‘ohana. Ohana describes family and spiritual connectedness – more valued by native Hawaiians than by most haole visitors. From ‘oha, the roots of the taro plant, and na, or balance; ‘ohana describes a community where relationship responsibilities balance personal goals.

Many native Hawaiian families preserve their old proverbs and chants, their blessings and names; and their huna or secrets. But these diamonds from the sacred past are distorted by two centuries of haole exploitation. Hawaiian spirituality includes a cry for pono – a desire for justice following two hundred years of suffering under haole invaders. Yet ho’oponopono (creating justice) is a Hawaiian blessing – a gift of harmony – a gift of Soul – for those willing to accept the responsibilities of love and life.

The old ways were interrupted by ha’ole law in 1827 when they became illegal. In 1964, Kahuna Daddy Bray was arrested in Honolulu for chanting in a public place. Only in 1979 did the Native American Religious Freedoms Act require the state of Hawaii to remove all laws prohibiting the practice of huna, which took a further ten years. Yet, as the rape of the planet continues and essential resources dwindle, those who remember the past may yet survive the future. So much has been totally lost and cannot be recovered as far as the history of Hawaii is concerned, yet the spirit of old Hawaii lives on through the Spirit of Aloha.

~Martyn Kahekili Carruthers


* “Pono is a concept worth adopting in our own life. If each of us really aspired to be pono, if we accepted our implicit agreement to be a pono spiritual being, a pono guardian of the earths resources, a pono daughter or son, a pono spouse, friend, co-worker, employer, government servant – what a different world we could live in. I think it’s a concept worth working for.” ~Kumu Kea


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