Makawahine: Sports God of the Makahiki

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Oh, people of Hawaiʻi from the fine sands of Hilo to the shell sands of Niʻihau, greetings to you all. Have you seen the spectacular pictures of Hawaiian treasures that were shared on social media in October by several Native Hawaiian researchers that traveled to the British Museum? If you follow Kumulāʻau and Haunani Sing on Facebook, you may have seen their interesting posts. The wonderous, deep, and profound knowledge of our ancestors was shown in those posted images. True excellence!

(Kiʻi 1, left) Nā kaula hulu wīwī o Makawahine. (Kiʻi 2, right) Ke kanaka e hoʻopaʻa ana i ka ihe me ka huhui kaula hulu e like me kā Matthison i kākau ai. – Mahalo: Trustees of the British Museum.

The Sings were invited by the British Museum to update and verify their information on precious artifacts in their Hawaiian collection. Their responsibility was to examine items made from the sturdy ʻieʻie vine as well as feather gods. My eyes were attracted by pictures that Kumulāʻau posted online of several strands of skinny feathered  strands (see Fig. 1) and a lithograph of a man holding a barbed spear with several feather lei-like strands dangling from the neck of the spear (see Fig. 2). My first thought when I saw his post was, “Wow, that is Makawahine.”

According to Kelou Kamakau (Kamakau Nui, not S. M. Kamakau), Makawahine was a sports god. His account was documented  at Kaʻawaloa, South Kona:

The king then called for a boxing contest. A very large number of men and women attended the match, among them was a small sporting deity of Lono, Makawahine by name. There was loud shouting from the people while the said small female deity was amusing the people, to make them feel very happy. Both the women and the men were dressed handsomely. Both men and women boxed.  (Kamakau in Fornander 6, p. 42).

When the long-god Lonomakua left the boxing field of the Makahiki games, his eyes were turned back to gaze upon the combatants. The small female sports god stayed back. That was Makawahine.

It is not known for sure if the tassels were used for Makawahine. Gilbert F. Matthison, a European who came to Hawaiʻi to collect artifacts, wrote in his diary that the feathered tassels were associated with “The Wandering God.” That would be Lono. According to him, a man with a spear to which the feathered tassels were attached, brandished the spear before an image made in respect for Captain Cook [Lono]. The spear carrier’s job was to clear the way for the procession of Lono.

While it is not clear if the article is indeed Makawahine, Matthison confirmed the relationship of the feathered tassels to the Makahiki as Lono only processed during that season. If the tassels were Makawahine or not, a very deep inquiry as to the origin and reasons for the tassels has begun. For some of us, it is our first time seeing this precious treasure. In addition, the great skillfulness of our ancestors is now known through these pictures. Aloha to us all.