The ʻIo: True Majestic Guardian of the Land


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

The ʻio (hawk) is a regal bird when seen soaring in the skies. The old folks said, “I am an ʻio, the bird that soars in the heavenly space” when speaking of the high chiefs.

There is no bird that comes second to the heights reached by the Hawaiian hawk. The ʻio can see everywhere from its advantage up high and is called, according to Kepelino, “io-that-sees-everywhere-on-land.” This is the full name of Kamehameha IV, namely, Ka-ʻio-nui-maka-lana-aumoku (ʻIolani for short). Therefore, the Hawaiian hawk was greatly revered by the Hawaiian people.

According to an aunt of Kawena Pukuʻi by the name of Puʻuheana:

Io is a great akua, an akua of great sanctity whose name is not to be revealed carelessly. The hawk-body that sees evil and sees the right. It is this body of his that executes justice, punishing sin and approving righteousness.

In a life-giving prayer for Kamehameha, a kahuna (priest) from Maui chanted, “Who is the champion above all? It is Io-uli of the heavens, Io-ehu, and Io-mea.” These nams are also the three growth phases of the hawk. The hawk was thought to be a body form of Uli, one of the 83 Hawaiian gods recorded by King Kalākaua. According to Pukuʻi, ʻIomea was the most sacred of all.

The ʻio was an ʻaumakua (family guardian) of some families. According to Ahuʻena Taylor, the hawk was the ʻaumakua of the Kamehameha family. For this reason, ʻIolani was the name of Kamehameha IV. And it was for this handsome king that the ʻIolani Palace was so named along with ʻIolani school. Previously, ʻIolani College was located in Kaliu, Nuʻuanu on the site of the present Hawaiʻi Baptist Academy elementary school on Bates Street.

Although the ʻio was admired and respected by our kūpuna that is not the case in these changing times. There are a few who abuse and shoot the hawks. Such a bad thing to hear. Our ancestors would not have harmed the ʻio.

Pukuʻi tells a story about her grandmother. Although a few chicks were grabbed by a hawk, the grandmother did not retaliate. Pukuʻi said, “She didnʻt throw a stone or curse but only sat, thought, and only said, “Forgive us, ʻIo, for my rude speech. You have never harmed us and only we are at fault. I have said before that these chicks were for my granddaughter (Pukuʻi) but some have come and taken them without asking. Forgive us.” After that, the hawk never returned. The kupuna did not curse the hawk although it was known that the ʻio was the one who took the chicks away.

Therefore, let’s examine again the words of Puʻuheana who said, “The hawk-body that sees evil and sees the right. It is this body of his that executes justice, punishing sin and approving righteousness.” According to the ways of the ancestors, the hawks were the ones who brought balance and justice to the forests of Hawaiʻi. In an old chant concerning the ʻio it said, “There is no other god that may tread upon the kapu of mountains.” Yet another saying concerning aliʻi goes, “I am a hawk; there is no branch on which I cannot perch.”

Let’s show respect again to the hawk, the true majestic guardian of the land.