By Kaliko Baker, Ph.D.

E ala e ka paekua, me ka paealo,
E ala e ka poukua me ka poualo
E ala e ka hiʻi kua me ka hiʻi alo,
E ala e nā kūkuna.
E ka ua, e ka lā, e ka malino, e ka pohu,
E ka wai hū, wai hu‘i, wai kahe a Kāne, e ala!
E ala e Lononuiākea i ka pō,
E ala e Lonomakua i ka pō,
E ala e Lonoikamakahiki i ka pō,
E Lonoikeaopolohiwa, e Lonoikeaopolohuamea lā ē,
E nā akua i ka pō,
Pale ka pō,
Puka i ke ao mālama!
Weli ke kapu, weli ka noa,
Welina ke kaʻina huakaʻi a ke akua!

From at least the time of Lonoikamakahiki, son of Keawe-nui-a-ʻUmi (k) and Kaihālāwai (w), the 64th generation from Wākea, Kānaka Hawaiʻi have observed Makahiki as a season dedicated to harvest, bounty, taxation, and Lono.

Lono is the akua associated with Makahiki. A function of the Makahiki prior to foreign arrival was to assess the prosperity of the ʻāina, at least from a political perspective. The new year, makahiki, begins during the Makahiki season, specifically on the night of Kūkahi in ʻIkuā when the signage would come out to inform everyone that the Makahiki season is commencing.

On the Kapu Hua nights of ʻIkuā, the nights of Hua and Akua, the highest-ranking aliʻi and kāhuna would perform incantations and shatter lustrous niu in a ceremony known as Kuapola. This began the Makahiki season in traditional times. It was after the Kuapola that the aliʻi nui declared that Makahiki festivities could begin.

This was a time of peace and tending only to one’s own crops and livestock for four nights. On the Kapu Hua days of Wele(e)hu, the lesser chiefs would break their niu and have their Kuapola ceremonies. Heiau were suspended. This was the time when the greater festivities and games would occur – peace was of foremost importance.

Photo: Kealaikahiki
Kealaikahiki is a landing spot used by Kāne and Kanaloa on their descent to the islands and the final ceremonial spot for the ʻaha Makahiki. From here, practitioners swim out a waʻa ʻauhau which is used as the final lele so Lono can return to Kahiki.

As for Lono, on the latter ʻOle-days of ʻIkuā, the feather gods would lead an expedition to fell and carve a tree into the image of Lono to be marched in procession from district to district. This image carving expedition was called kūikepaʻa. The kūikepaʻa troupe would carve a kiʻi called the akua loa. It was long, about 12 feet in length, and would travel far. The kiʻi had a cross piece called a keʻa. On the keʻa hung pala, green ferns, adorning the akua loa. Long kapa paʻūpaʻū draped from the keʻa and lei hulu rounded out the glory of the akua loa. ʻAila manoʻi (niu) was used to give the akua loa its luster.

By the end of ʻOlepau, the akua loa would be complete. The kiʻi is then known as Lonomakua. The akua loa takes the name Lonoikamakahiki while traveling. Both names, though, are always available to the akua loa.

At this point, Kānaka have been readying their bounties for collection. These were ʻauhau. ʻAuhau consisted of tributes of food and crafts. These ʻauhau were presented to the aliʻi for collection. Today we use the term ʻauhau for taxes because what the aliʻi would do during the Makahiki season is tax the Kānaka taking their bounty and redistributing it amongst the kin and nobility.

Moving into the day of Kāloakūkahi, fires were lit at dawn near swimming areas, and all would participate in hiʻuwai, a ceremonial cleansing associated with Makahiki.

Lonoikamakahiki, the akua loa, makes his way from district to district to collect the ʻauhau from the tax assessors, or the luna waiwai. While on the march and the uka was on his right, Kānaka knew that the kānāwai were in place. The kapu were coming. Those not ready or ignoring the kānāwai would have to pay a fine — a six-foot pig or their lives. When the akua loa arrived, a kahuna would step forth and recite the Pule Hainaki which was a pule that required collective participation, pule pūwalu. We still recite this incantation until today. The collected ʻauhau were said to be in heaps and mounds in each district. After the ʻauhau were offered, or hoʻokupu, the kapu was removed and the ceremonies were noa.

The Hilo moon of the lunar month Makaliʻi rises on the fourth of December this year. Surely by this time you have participated in or heard of Makahiki ceremonies occurring throughout our pae ʻāina. Simply search #lonoikamakahiki and you’ll find what Makahiki ceremonies and events are occurring throughout our islands. Makahiki is a kīpuka or an opportunistic time and ceremony for Kānaka Maoli to re-engage and re-awaken our mauli Hawaiʻi, that core life force which drives our ʻuhane.

There are Makahiki events throughout our pae ʻāina every year now. Most are centered around the youth as a means to engage them with our traditions and practices such as games and competitive events. We’re even now seeing the reintroduction of traditional ceremony into our Makahiki events from an acknowledgment of Lono to the actual standing of a kiʻi akua loa. This is all a reflection and, simultaneously, a stoker of our mauli Hawaiʻi. That is, the more our lāhui frees ourselves of the mental slavery of colonization, the more we seek to re-indigenize our beliefs and practices.

Makahiki has proven to be a lush, verdant kīpuka for Kānaka Maoli to re-indigenize.

The Makahiki was revived on Kahoʻolawe and Molokaʻi in 1981 and 1982, respectively. The Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana (PKO) is celebrating its 40th anniversary of Makahiki practice, opening and closing each year with all ceremonial tributes and incantations.

Makahiki on Kahoʻolawe was designed by what would become the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation, specifically renowned kumu hula, Hawaiian knowledge exponent, and an indeed treasure of our lāhui, ʻAnakē Nālani Kanakaʻole.

Our modern practice is founded upon traditional practice and belief yet differs from the summarized historical account provided above. Our ceremonies were designed around our reality, not a reality of 250 years ago. For example, nine is a significant number in our ceremonies because of the brave nine who first accessed Kahoʻolawe in January 1976. We also don’t have the political power to collect ʻauhau and enforce as the aliʻi did before. We ask our lāhui to offer hoʻokupu in hope that our tributes to Lono will entice him and his kinolau to re-green and heal Kanaloa (Kahoʻolawe). Our lāhui and its woke mauli come through every season with bountiful hoʻokupu to be offered on Kahoʻolawe and to feed those who undertake the ceremonial kuleana. Mahalo nui e ka lāhui!

Having the honor to serve Kanaloa and our lāhui as the head moʻo lono on Kahoʻolawe, I have the privilege of writing this article for you, e kuʻu makamaka. The past 28 years of my life have been dedicated to Makahiki on Kahoʻolawe. As a kumu ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi at UH Mānoa for 25 years, I can’t help but think and research about what is what and why, then how, when and where.

We hoʻāla (awaken) our akua loa for our ceremonies with incantations similar to that which open this article. We don’t carve a new akua loa every year as the kūikepaʻa did before. Lonomakua is adorned in lush palapalai and lei hulu. Some Makahiki practitioners attend to a picture with the entire kaʻupu hanging from the keʻa (cross-piece). We don’t. Many old descriptions of Makahiki from the 19th-century state that there were lei hulu that garland the akua loa. Thus, that is what we use. These hulu were tied loosely and fell to the ground.

ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi is core to the reawakening of our mauli Hawaiʻi. It is the communicative means where our cultural knowledge is encoded in words, idioms, proverbs, and grammar.

In 2014, I began organizing huakaʻi ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi to Kahoʻolawe for the UH Mānoa, Hilo, and Maui campuses during spring break. This has resulted in an influx of Hawaiian speakers into the PKO and our ceremonies.

Some years back, I recalled hearing about a form of oratory known as hoʻonuʻunuʻu. Hoʻonuʻunuʻu is an art of oration where those who are presenting hoʻokupu talk up their offering through poetic expression. While hoʻonuʻunuʻu isn’t in the dictionary, our kūpuna remind us that ʻike is not pau i ka hālau hoʻokahi (learned in one school). Hoʻonuʻunuʻu has allowed us to place importance on fluency in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi and moʻolelo (history).

Indigenization of our mauli through practice is critical in healing our historical trauma. Colonization has left our lāhui aspiring to the colonizer’s ends. By design, the colonizer aimed to cleanse our heathen ancestors of their sinful, savage ways.

We know, though, that our ancestors were great humans. Their humanity is our humanity. We awaken and re-envision traditional practices for the 21st century, as we have for Makahiki, as we see fit. Our intention is never to go back.

Like Hōkūleʻa, the lāhui moves forward, not in reverse. We decide how we indigenize our present and our futures. Knowing our moʻolelo is knowing us. Knowing us is knowing an indigenized mauli.

No laila e kuʻu makamaka, kuʻu hoa o ka lāhui hoʻokahi, ke hāʻawi aku nei kahi hoa Kanaka i ōna aloha iā oukou pākahi ā pau, a ma ka hoʻōho a mākou…


C. M. Kaliko Baker, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language at UH Mānoa’s Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge. He is president of Haleleʻa Arts Foundation and works to support, promote and publish Hawaiian medium media. He has been a member of the Protect Kahoʻolawe ʻOhana since 1993 and has led the Makahiki ceremonies there since 2003. He is a lifelong resident of Koʻolaupoko, Oʻahu.