Researching Hawaiian Traditions

Related image
Hula dancers as depicted by Louis Choris in 1816
When I’m trying to verify certain Hawaiian traditions, I always try to look at the concept and see if it matches the framework of other Hawaiian traditions as well as having religious and linguistic cognates in Polynesia and in the larger Austronesian speaking world. For example, the idea of kapu is not unique to Hawai’i. In fact it seems very ingrained and probably goes back three or four thousand years back to our early maritime ancestors as its so universally practiced with our side of the world. Kapu, tapu or taboo was an intricate social, economic, political, and religious method of organizing both society and natural resources throughout Polynesia. Some of the kapu imposed were also due to sanitation and health for example the prohibition against drinking or mere touching of the blood of menstruating women, the blood of newly circumcised males, dead corpses, and the drinking or touching of the blood of pigs .
In my research on Marquesan society, one of the things I learned about their kapu or tapu system is that while the haka’iki (high chief) could impose (kahui) a tapu, manahune (commoners) and villages could also kahui a tapu on their own private homes, plants and live stock. The tau’a or kahuna and the haka’iki, however, were the only ones who could kahui on a place, on other chiefs, and enforce such a tapu.. The Marquesan term kahui and the Tahitian cognate lahui is also related linguistically to the Hawaiian term lāhui. While we think of lāhui as being a racial or national group, that term also means to impose a kapu. In the Marquesan sense, kahui not only does kahui mean to impose a kapu, but to impose an order or to set things in order as part of the larger process of organizing. Sacredness was therefore linked to having an organized society. We should take note of this especially with Hawaiian politics—sacredness was linked to being in an organizedm well managed and efficient society.
Within the larger Austronesian speaking world, I’m sure similar ideas must have existed in pre-Islamic SE Asia. Madagascar, which only Christianized itself in the 19th century, the ideas of kapu and haumia/hewa would be familiar. Malagasy have the idea of fady (kapu/tapu) and maloto (haumia). The Malagasy term for “please” or “excuse me” is azafady, literally translating as “may it not be fady to me”. In Hawaiian, we have a similar idea when we say “e kala mai iaʻu” which literally means “may your forgiveness be upon me” though more accurately what it implies is that may you free/untie me from any potential error or haumia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: