The Story of Kamehameha I

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Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

By Samuel M. Kamakau

Kamehameha established feasts for the annual Makahiki season, which were considered feasts of respite from all human labors; they were also a means to strengthen the bodies of all the people.

After nine months of the year had passed, the flesh of animals and the coconut were restricted. When the annual Makahiki circuit was made, a pig was placed on the altar, and the coconut was cracked open, then there was feasting for seven days, with everything being provided. At that time, the games deity would begin to make a circuit. Pleasure activities were his business: games, dancing, boxing, hand-to-hand fighting, parrying, seated wrestling, broad jumping, martial arts, toppling, and all the other games of strength. The government provided the food, which was collected by each land manager on the king’s work days and immediately distributed to the pleasure seekers. Two deities, Kāpalaʻalaea and Kihawahine, were carried about with one side, that by the sea, being sacred, with the other, the inland side, being free of kapu. Those who approached the sacred side paid a fine of goods, but if they knew to lay down prostrate, they would escape and not be fined.

Then came the Makahiki gods, namely Kapuni, ʻOulu, Kaʻohumalu, Lono, and Kahoʻāliʻi, along with some other deities. An albatross was placed atop a wooden staff to be borne along as a standard.

Lono was crafted as a long staff, as was Kapuni and all the gods connected to the Makahiki ceremonies, to be carried along to the boundary of the land division, subdistrict, or district. There, the deity was raised up, and the land division, subdistrict, or district would offer every kind of goods in tribute. If the goods were numerous, appropriate, and fit the wishes of the high chiefly guardian of the gods, then the deity staff was furled, and the goods were distributed to the guardians of the deities, while the remainders were given out to all the people. People said, “We are spared from the chief becoming poor and hungry; here is food, fish, cloth, loincloths, skirts, mats, cordage, netting, and feathers, riches gained in a single day.” If a land did not make offerings in this circuit of the god, the deity would be critical and not be furled, and thus the deity would not be brought back down. The outcome was that all would be seized and that the land would be taken; whether a land division, a subdistrict, or a district, all would be seized. An amazing thing is that those doing the seizing would watch the stance of the deity, and if the deity should be furled in, one would have to run fast, or they would be caught by the owners of the goods; the goods would be retaken, for the power of the god was ended; thus it was furled, and the deity was wrapped up. The akua loa, or long-circuit god, would travel for 15 days and meet up with the akua poko, or short-circuit god, and then the long god and short god would be wrapped up, and the deities would return to the residence of the king. Once a deity went back into the temples or the men’s houses, it was sacred again, not to be seen by people.