Some details of the Makahiki

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

“I turn to gaze upon this, focusing on growth and the rising of a new day, Yes, day has arrived,” are the words that Kauanoe Kimua proclaims in his stirring anthem, “Ua Ao Hawaiʻi.”

His words are true. The Hawaiian language and culture have, indeed, flourished and the resurgence of the Makahiki celebration in schools and the community are examples of this growth, Let us look, oh honorable reader of this humble column, at some details below so that we Kānaka can improve upon the customs and traditions of the Makahiki.

The first set of details concern the taboos of the Makahiki. These details were preserved by Kelou Kamakau or Kamakau Nui (to differentiate him from Samuel Kamakau). According to Kale Langlas, Kelou Kamakau was born in 1773 in Kona and was, therefore, a child when Captain Cook landed at Kona during the time of the Makahiki season and he was an eyewitness to the traditions of the Makahiki at that time. This was recorded in Fornander:

The god (Lono) decreed his law and prohibitions for man that there be no killing; war is prohibited, no fighting; the sea is kapu, no canoe shall go abroad; the kapa pounding anvil shall not strike; the pahu is kapu, not to be pounded; the conch shell is prohibited, not to be blown; the land is kapu, not to be tilled; the heavens are kapu to Lono; the thunder is kapu to Lono; the earth is kapu to Lono; life is kapu to Lono; the mountains are kapu; the hillsides are kapu to Lono; the ocean is kapu to Lono; the raging sea is kapu to Lono; the family is kapu to Lono; the sailing canoe is kapu to Lono; a so forth is how the god decreed. The chiefs, the priests, and all the people observed his law. – by Kelou Kamakau (A. Fornander, 1919. M.VI, p. 41)

Although the taboos of the past are no more, perhaps we can observe those that we can keep such as not blowing the conch shell or beating upon the pahu (drum). There are some kumu hula like myself who avoid conducting a graduation ceremony during the Makahiki (November to February). The taboo to not sound the pahu is probably a reason as the performance of the hula pahu is a major requirement of the ʻūniki graduation.

There are other interesting details by John Papa ʻIʻī, another historian and eyewitness to the Makahiki during the time of Kamehameha I and II. According to him, when the long-pole god arrived at the house of the highest-ranking chief, he was anointed and fed. Then the wife of the high chief presented a new loincloth and it was girded upon the traveling god image. How so? Wouldn’t it fall? This how it was done. The malo was tied to the joints on the god-image pole. These joints were like the bumps on the bamboo and ʻawa plants. Lono would be happy, perhaps, to travel around the island wearing a malo and not go naked.

Yet another detail concerns the God of Games. This god-image stood on the field of boxing and other sporting games and Lonomakua continued on his circuit of the island. Lonomakua did not stand on the playfield as is the thinking of these times. According to Kelou Kamakau, one God of Games was named Makawahine. This brings up another interesting detail. According to Kepelino, there was a God of Games for women. Therefore, the women boxed and participated in the same sports alongside the men during the Makahiki. Excellence comes from paying attention to the details.