ʻIo and the Hawaiian Monotheism

‘Io and the Christian God are not the same. Hawaiians and Māori both had a deity named ‘Io and in both cases they were tied with forest deities. The first written account by the Maori of Io was only published in 1907 and mostly came from H. T. Whatahoro, who was a former tohunga and Mormon missionary. Sir Apirana Ngata, Sir Peter Buck and John Te Herekiekie Grace all said that Io was a late innovation that came from the Tainui and Te Arawa tribes and were unique to Aotearoa.  Both Sir Peter Buck and Sir Apirana Ngata actually believed that Io was a misinterpretation from a bird creation myth by a European writer, Prytz Johansen, who promoted the idea in order to show that the Maori were “civilized” and were Aryans.  Outside of Māori Mormons, most Māori from the Tainui do not associate Io with Jehovah.  The very first time anything about Io was published from the Hawaiian perspective was in 1931 in a magazine by Mrs. Emma Ahuena Taylor, also a Mormon and from the Kamehameha line. Then in the 1980s came one of the most hate filled books on the Hawaiian religion called “Perpetuated in Righteousness” by Daniel Kikawa, a born again Christian, who picked up on the Taylor myth.  But Kamakau, Kepelino, and Malo never mentioned anything about a deity named Io even though all of them having such a myth would have made their work to propagate the Christian faith easier. Kamakau actually says that the hawk was actually eaten.  In fact, King Kalākaua, Kepelino, Poepoe, Nawahi and Malo tried to associate the Christian god with the akua, Kane, in their writings. The name “Io” and “Iolani” appear as titles to many Hawaiian ali’i including Kamehameha II and IV. If a name and history was so sacred, why was it an openly used title? 
From my own family traditions, the ‘Io was an ‘aumakua of Hawai’i island chiefs and the white or yellowish hawk was associated with Kane but the dark brown one was associated with ‘Uli.  In one of the creation stories that I was told, the special red bird called the manu’ulakina’u or the kai’iwikina’u kept appearing in dreams to Maui urging him to keep “fishing” for islands and would tell him where to “fish”. Eventually the bird led him to the islands of Hawai’i. Unlike the Papa-Wakea cycle and like the Pele cycles, Maui fished out the islands clockwise beginning with Nihoa until Hawai’i island–much like the procession of the Makahiki. One will notice that the names manu’ulakina’u and ka’iwakina’u also appear among sacred names in Kaua’i and O’ahu lines of rulers, including in my own middle name. Similar Maui stories with birds leading him are also found among Tahitian, Marquesan, Tongan, and Māori sources. When Kamehameha came to rule over the archipelago, he changed the ‘iwi bird to the ‘io bird in order to highlight his personal ‘aumakua. When the Kalākaua dynasty came to power, ‘io was replaced by the ‘i’iwi who were ‘aumakua of Queen Kapi’olani’s family line. One will find that in many hula performances at ‘Iolani Palace, there was usually one or two dances with ‘i’iwi bird references.  I was told by my own family traditions that the ‘io was a powerful deity who was a messenger from the lewalani and guardian of the hidden islands of Kāne, but not a supreme deity. The dark ‘io was associated though with not such great things like Uli and ‘ana’ana, but again not a supreme deity. A personal supreme god was unnecessary in the Hawaiian concept of religion in the first place because Hawaiians thought in more circular and in more abstract forms. In addition to that, the ideas of salvation and sin–usually tied with monotheistic religions–are alien concepts.

Before going into that, it might be helpful if we look at the word akua in the first place, as there is life and death in words. Hawaiian is a Polynesian language closely related to Marquesan. All Polynesian languages are part of the Austronesian family of languages which includes other related languages like Ami (Taiwan), Malagasy (Madagascar), Iluko or Ilocano (Philippines), Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesia), Javanese (Indonesia), etc. At some point in our history, some 4,000 or more years ago, all these Austronesian languages came from one very ancient mother language that emerged in the Pacific. As people spread over the Pacific, the language became separated and dialects from. As time went on, dialects became full languages. But many of the ancient concepts were still embedded within certain customs and certain words. So much so that one can actually follow the evolution of a single word from one side of the Pacific to the other side in a pretty logical path. The word “akua” has a cognate or close relationship in the Pacific with the words makua, atua, matua, tua, tuan, and tuhan. Akua and makua, most Hawaiians already know. The two ideas are linked together because according to genealogical ties, all of the akua are ancestors.  Matua and tua in different Indonesian languages means parent, elder, major pole of a house, or founder of a ruling house. Tuan and tuhan in Malaysian and Indonesian languages means elder, chief, or lord. In some languages in Borneo  tuhan also means both the head chief of the tribe and the patron akua of the tribe. So we can see that to our ancient ancestors, they associate their akua with their founding parents and their ancestors. So when thinks of akua, they should be thinking not of some outside force, but of ancestors who became venerated after their death and would took up different kuleana or aspects for us, their descendants. They became the personification of aspects of traditions, natural laws, and of the people themselves. In many cases, to paraphrase Sir Peter Buck wrote that great navigators became chiefs, great chiefs became akua. As akua, they would then became the the mind images for the people to understand Pō to uphold ideas of traditions, nature, and morality. 

The Polynesian concept of Pō is integral to understanding Polynesian monotheism and polytheism. Were Hawaiians polytheistic? Yes. Were Hawaiian monotheistic? Yes. Were Hawaiians animists? Yes. All of these answers are yes but Polynesian ideas of religion can not be understood in Western linear ways, in the same way that Hinduism and aspects of Buddhism require a totally different frame of mind and world view. The body of akua, ke kini akua,  the 40,000 or 400,000 gods, were all part of an ocean. An ocean that flowed the manifestation of the hanu akua, the breath of the akua or divine essence, which was a reflection of the vastness of Pō, which existed and always existed. Kane is but a drop of the ocean. Kāne is the ocean because Kāne is part of the ocean. Every drop of the ocean contains the ocean. At the same time, since it has become separated from the ocean, it has acquired a form. If the drop is in the palm of your hand, it acquires the shape of your palm. If its in a bowl, this drop acquires the shape of the bowl. But when you place the drop back into the ocean, it returns to the ocean not as a individual drop but as it were before. All of the akua were like these. Kāne, ‘Uli, Ku, Hina, Lono, and the other akua were drops of the hanu akua that were made to take forms in remembrance of our ancient parents. That is why the multitude of gods are referred to as Ke kini akua with the singular indefinite marker, ke, not the indefinite plural marker, nā. The 40,000 were one, yet could be separated into 40,000. That is why Hawaiians of the 19th century did not have an issue with praying to Jehovah and then making offerings to Laka, Ku or Pele. Their world view did not object to this because whether one believed in Jehovah, Ku, or Buddha, all of these were drops from the same ocean of the hanu akua, the divine essence of that which came our ancestors and akua were part of and to which in Hawaiian religious thought, our wailua or souls merge from and would return to.  That’s also very similar to the beliefs that Māori, Tahitians, Marquesans, Tongans, Micronesians and even Javanese once held. So it is a concept that came from our very early ancestors. There simply was no need to have an almighty powerful deity in the Polynesian world view because the many were one out of the one emerged the many. This world view of course of the early Christian missionaries objected to this but that’s something else.

Some references:

Hānau Hou and Reincarnation

I wanted to share addition thoughts on the concept of reincarnation from the Hawaiian point of view. As pointed out by Dr. Rubelite Kawena Johnson and what is common among other Polynesians, Hawaiians believed that there were two souls (or one soul and one spirit depending on how you interprete it) -a wailua and an ʻuhane (also called the mauli). Both were eternal and existed before time began. The soul after death could leap into Milu (Meru), Ke Ao Mālamalama or the Hidden Islands of Kane or to Pō depending on the tradition and the pono-ness of the person. Also on the choice of the person. According to David Bray and from traditions that I know of, the spirit would remain on earth to be reborn as an ʻaumakua (if they were pono) or become a hungry ghost (if they were still clinging to this world). Sometimes, however, after centuries of being an ʻaumakua, a spirit could be reborn into the family line itself and the cycle would repeat. Hānau wawā is what I remember it being called. Sometimes, a hungry ghost could also be reborn into the family line if there was an intercession from the ancestors. Souls that were deified, however, could not be reborn into a family line because they were considered to be akua and being an akua meant essentially being a perpetual ʻaumakua.

One should also understand that akua and ʻaumakua share the same linguistic origins. In Hawaiian, ʻAu means group. Makua means parent. In other Austronesian languages such as in Sulawesi, matua means elder, clan head, or the main pole of the family house. Akua derives from the Proto-Austronesian term tua where Malays and Indonesians get their term Tuan (Lord, chief, etc). A tua may have been a clan chief of several clans or a tribal leader. For Polynesians, however, tua became atua and so ancient tribal chiefs and navigators became our akua and revered family heads and ancestors became our ʻaumakua. In venerating ʻaumakua and akua, Hawaiians were not venerating wooden statues. They were venerating ancestral lines, ancestral memories, and Ke Ao Mālamalama (the spiritual world). Also one quick note: Huna and New Age beliefs are not Hawaiian and should not be regarded as fitting into Hawaiian traditional beliefs which are much more complicated and rich.

Some thoughts on the old Hawaiian religion

I thought maybe I would share some aspects of the Hawaiian religion that most Hawaiians have long ago forgotten but is well documented. I know that some Hawaiians or Huna might get upset with me for talking about the old religion. But it needs to be passed on. If you think of the old Hawaiian religious system as being bloodthirsty or full of restrictions, that is not entirely correct. If you think of the old Hawaiian religion as being “Huna” or passive, that is also not correct. The Hawaiian religious system of our ancestors was very rich and much of the concepts are hard to articulate in English. Too often those who right about it have an agenda that tries to link the religion to the Hebrews, the Egyptians, ancient space aliens, or some other civilization instead of looking for our links within Oceania. I think maybe its because for the last 200 years, we have been taught to have an inferiority complex so we have to look for validation from some other far off civilization instead of looking at the Pacific itself as our “cradle of civilization”. I will give an example. Most Hawaiians will think of the soul as being one because most have adopted Christianity. Those who studied what is called Huna will come up with some triune spirit concept which is not remotely Hawaiian. Rubelite Johnson once gave a great lecture on this topic decades ago and wrote a lot about this already and I agree with what she had to say on the topic. For Hawaiians, we have two souls. That is correct because that was also taught to me and that’s exactly the same concept Rapa Nui, Tahitians, Maori, Marquesans, and many Micronesians, Indonesians, Filipinos, and Taiwanese Aboriginals once had before they adopted Christianity, Buddhism or Islam. That is well documented and appears to be a belief most Pacific Islanders once held at least for the last 2,000 years. For Hawaiians, the soul (wailua) was divided into two: kino wailua and the ‘uhane. These two parts are dwell in the na’au (abdominal/gut) in a place called the pu’u mauli located by the liver. When a baby is born, they cry because they receive the hanu akua, the breath of the akua. The kino wailua then enters the body of the baby with the baby’s first ea (breath). It is this kino wailua that allows us to dream, to connect with our ancestors, and to have special charisma. When the body dies, the kino wailua becomes an ʻunihipili and fades away until it is ready to make the journey to the to the leinaka’uhane (or leaping place) and fades into the sea to become hanu once again. If the ‘unihipili however can not let go of this realm (i.e. unfinished business, harsh emotions, etc), it remains as a lapu or ghost. The second part of the soul, the ʻuhane, was the one that survives the body and is eternal on earth. Like the ‘kino wailua, it too also journeys to the leinaka’uhane when but does not enter into Pō, rather continues to pass on through the family line in the form of an ‘aumakua (guardian). In my family’s traditions, the ‘uhane itself is rejoined with a kino wailua (which is different from reincarnation) through the maternal line after four generations of being an ‘aumakua or being in the realm of Pō, depending on the deeds of the ‘uhane. Again, in my family’s traditions, the baby’s first birthday (it used to be the baby’s fourth year but now its the first year) is special because its an acknowledgement of the ‘uhane re-joining this realm, this ola ʻana. When I was tonsured into the mo’o kahuna (into a lesser order at that time and yes there are still kahuna around, not all lines died) when I was much younger, I was taught to think of the two souls shaping each other as one just as a river (the “lua” in “wailua” literally means “two” or “likenesses” in English) shapes a valley and the valley in return shapes the water. Our ancestors are like the mountains that protect the river and the valley while collecting rain to nourish the river and akua, whether uses the plural or the singular, is that rain itself that feeds the mountains, the valley, and the rivers within us. Eventually all rivers lead to the kahakai and ultimately to the moana. That is the same with our souls which will lead us into Pō. This complex system of life, breath, and eternity is some of the aspects of our old religion we should remember

Bray and Reincarnation

Reposting an article on the topic

The Kahuna and Reincarnation

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Thursday, June 11, 1959 – Clarice B. Taylor’s “Tales about Hawaii

     “Did the Hawaiian believe in reincarnation?” asks the haole “seeker of the truth” of Daddy (David K.) Bray in trying to find the secret of the power of the Kahuna.

     “Yes and no,” Daddy Bray replies. “The Hawaiian did not call it reincarnation, but his beliefs were very similar to what you call reincarnation.”

     First of all, Daddy Bray explains, the Hawaiian did not believe in death. He believed that life went on eternally and never died.

     When the Hawaiian left this life, his soul either went straight to heaven or it was sometimes lost and consigned to hell. But hell to the Hawaiian was an underground cavern where the soul lived a monotonous life. There were no hell fires.

     The soul in heaven could visit earth at will – it could go into hell and rescue a lost soul.

     Sometimes heavenly souls were reborn on earth into the same family. Then you have a real reincarnation.

    Sometimes heavenly souls returned to take possession of a body or person.

     But the aumakua was the real “reincarnation” as the Hawaiian saw it.

     If a man was good and prospered – it was because he had a “powerful aumakua,” ancestor who visited him and directed his actions. The Hawaiian of today call his aumakus his “inspiration” because not other word explains the situation.

     If am man were bad and suffered for his sins, then his aumakua was said to have deserted him. At death, his soul wandered and became lost because his aumakua had deserted him and did not look after his soul.

     Each person has an aumakua and a spiritual person has more than one. A commoner might have a mother or grandmother as his aumakua.

     An alii (nobleman) coud claim any one of the gods in heaven as his aumakua as well as some ancestor. The more aumakua the better. But, an aumakua, like a god, must be treated with care. Regular prayers and offerings must be made by the living person.


Often times we tend to think that by the 1840s, all Hawaiians were Christians. But up to the 1880s, there were writers who still were reporting resistance to Christianity. Reverend Forbes–pastor to female High Chief Kapiʻolani–writing in the 1840s reported that kāhuna were still meeting at ʻIliʻiliʻōpae Heiau and offering prayers to ʻUli, Lono, and other ancient deities. (Just a side note, not many people realise this but the deity Lono also had “dark” aspects). ʻIliʻiliʻōpae was one of the most important temple schools through Hawaiʻi Nei. It wasn’t just an ordinary temple but had a teaching complex and was surrounded by the temples of Kūkui, Pu’u ʻŌlelo, Kaluakapiʻioho, Kahōkūkano, Pākui,and Kalauonākūkui. From these temples, priests could learn the rituals, chants and arts of of the main deities.

When Hawaiian priests cut their ties to Raiatea in the 15th century after the murder of the high priest there, ʻIliʻiliʻōpae became the center of Hawaiian priestly education for what the missionaries and Hawaiian Christians called “black magic” and “ʻanaʻana”. In actuality, it taught far more than that including how to counter “black magic” as well as what today may call “white magic”. The complex itself dates back to at least the 12th century and the valley it was located in, Hālawa, was at one time the seat of government for Molokaʻi. What is notable about the temple complex as well is that they did not just train male priests but also female priests. When Queen Regent Kaʻahumanu ordered the destruction of the entire complex in 1820, it is said that the priests hid the old temple images and committed self-immolation rather than to submit to the new regime. Many Molokaʻi priests actually burned themselves alive rather than live under the new regime. Nonetheless, the temples were indeed razed under the watchful eyes of Hewahewa but despite that, people and kahuna would still visit the temples until the 1840s as reported by Reverend Forbes.

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Menstruation through the Lens of Hawaiian Culture

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One of the negative impacts that Westernization and colonialism brought to Hawaiʻi was the way we understand women in Hawaiian culture. Take for example a womanʻs menses. There are several terms for a womanʻs menstruation. Hanawai, kahe, maʻi (wahine), heʻe koko, wai, wai ʻula, wai o ka wahine, waimaka lehua. We tend to think of maʻi as meaning solely diseased or sick but it also referred in general to the genitals of either male or female (i.e. hula ma’i). In the writings of David Malo, he uses maʻi (despite the other terms) and that is translated as unclean or sickly. Due to this translation and other Calvinist views on Hawaiian culture in our educational system, generations of women have been taught that they are to be ashamed of their bodies and of their gender. Most Hawaiians today actually use the term ma’i or ma’i wahine to mean menstruation. Malo and other noted Hawaiian writers of the 19th century should be taught within the context of their own biasnesses because to do so has lead to notions that ancient Hawaiians had some sort of patriarchal system and women in general were viewed unclean, dirty, flawed and diseased–all of which is wrong. The term kahe for example means menstruation as well as male circumcision/supercision (yes Hawaiians practiced that before Christianity). Nothing negative there. Hanawai means to irrigate or to flow as a river or ‘auwai as well as menstruation. Nothing negative there either.The other terms such as waimaka lehua, heʻe koko, etc all carry powerful positive connotations. Out of all the many other terms to use, the term ma’i with it’s connotations to diseases was used to refer to the menstruation cycle and many Hawaiians today know only that term–which is very unfortunate for the self-confidence of Hawaiian women who should be celebrated not admonished.

But Hawaiians did not have a negative or embarrassed view of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle of women was a process that helped to ensure the coming of the next generation. Hawaiians thought it cleaned out the blood and helped to clean out the naʻau (conscience) of pilikia (problems). I know that when a woman had her first menstruation, she was taken to the Hale Pe’a (the Menstrual House) with her female relatives and they celebrated it because it meant that her body was preparing to become one with Papahānaumoku (linking her to the Earth Mother who births lands) and Hina (linking her to the Moon Goddess and the Eternal Woman). She was unclean in the sense that males were not allowed to touch a woman undergoing her menstruation and all her normal chores and duties would be suspended except for lau hala weaving and kapa making. Special sweet and fatty foods would be brought to her to ease discomfort, though in cases of severe pain or blotting, noni juice would be used. Softened lau hala mats and pillows on a raised bed made of rocks and wood was usually also found in a Hale Peʻa in order to make it easier for her to stand up or sit down. This was a time of reflection and being able to have a break from the issues of the community.

In larger settlements, the Hale Peʻa were also normally located near a womanʻs temple and a special pond or stream was dedicated to women undergoing their hanawai. The Hale Peʻa was also where aliʻi and makaʻāinana women could mingle freely without social distinction. In smaller communities, the Hale Peʻa would be located somewhere in the Western most side of the family housing complex–the Western direction signaled the realm of the ancestors.

The recent activity with Pele reminded me of this. The ways I know is that we were taught that the lava flows were like hanawai (menstrual) cycle of Pele because like a womanʻs menstrual cycle, it prepared for the birth of new life and it was cyclical. The thought was that there would be one major eruption every generation and just as a womanʻs hanawai cleaned out the blood to prepare for the next generation, Pele cleaned out the ʻāina. So in that a womanʻs menstrual cycle can be seen as powerful as Peleʻs eruptions and vice versa.

Menopause In Hawaiian Culture

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I’ll just give some mana’o on menopause from a Hawaiian perspective based on talking story with kūpuna in Papakolea and Hawaiʻi island as well as from research primarily from Mary Kawena Pukui. 

In Hawaiian, menopause is referred to by three terms: Hoʻokiʻo; lele; and mau. Kiʻo refers to a small pool used to stock fish. Hoʻokiʻo therefore would mean something like to become a stockpile of fish. Lele is commonly used to mean to fly or disembark but in this case means to cease the menses. Mau is commonly used to mean to continue and in this case refers to the menstrual cycle being stopped. None of them negative. In fact, those three terms are also used in aspects of childbirth and fishing.

Hoʻokiʻo, though, is the most common term. Fishing is often a metaphor in Hawaiian mythology for discovering new islands. Māui, for example, fished out the islands. Fish itself could and would be used as a substitute for blood offerings in the old Hawaiian religion.

From the kūpuna that Iʻve talked with, it seems that that is the general idea of what menopause was for women. It was a transition for women to discover aspects of their personality without the obligations of child rearing and to enhance their skills and knowledge to pass it on to their moʻopuna (grandchildren), nieces, nephews, and the community at large. It was also a time when women were to be guided because the thought too was that it was during menopause that a woman would have an awakening in her spiritual gifts–gifts that she would use when she would rejoin her ancestors in Pō and become an ʻaumākua (guardian spirit) to her family. For some women, this also meant that the ties between them and Haumea (the childbirth patroness) and Hina (in her role as helping the hanawai or menses) were given over to a specific Hina-hanaia-i-ka-mālama (Hina who worked the moon), an aspect of Hina (the moon goddess and Eternal Female) associated with the ebbing moon and the deep seas. Hina-hanaia-i-ka-mālama should not be confused with Hina-hānai a-ka-mālama (Hina who nourished the moon). Hina-hanaia-i-ka-mālama is a very specific sea goddess who guards the deep oceans and who also helps to take spirits from the leaping places to Pō to meet the ancestors. She is invoked also in the final rites as a ply to a mother to take the soul to the Realm where the ancestors wait. The fact that menopause seems to be tied with both fishing and this particular deep sea goddess suggests that Hawaiians saw menopause not as the end of life or the drying up of a person but a soul transitioning to becoming her own person and becoming someone to be invoked from beyond.

Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani and Mauna Loa

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There was a major eruption from Mauna Loa that erupted in November 1880 and continued for several months. By March, 1881, the lava flowed northeast toward Hilo threatening the entire city. The lava inched its way closer and closer to the city. Local Christian churches held special services to pray for the volcano to stop, but to no avail. Many of the people of Hilo evacuated to Hāmakua and Kona.

A small group of Native Hawaiian women who maintained the old Hawaiian religion from the island of Hawai’i went to O’ahu and approached Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani, The Princess was staying on O’ahu at the time due to her overseeing the construction of her private home, Keoua Hale and a lingering illness.

The Princess agreed to do something. She would travel immediately to Hilo and and asked to be taken near the edge of the lava flow with four days’ food supply, water for her to drink and some offerings for Pele including silk, pigeons, gin, brandy, and pigs. Her entourage brought her near the edge of the lava flow and built a pili grass house for her to stay in.

The princess asked to be left alone, but some of her retainers remained on a nearby hill. They did not see the Princess for an entire day. The same on the following day. They feared for their Princess’ life while the slowly lava flow advanced to within twenty feet of the hut. The Princess began the rituals of welcoming Pele and making the appropriate offerings to her by giving her the essence. She also offered herself if Pele would spare Hilo.

By the next morning, on the fourth day, all could see that the lava flow stopped four feet from where the princess slept. Pele had accepted the offerings and stopped the lava flow.

As the Princess went down from the mountain to Hilo, throngs of people gathered to greet and thank the Princess.

King Kalākaua then arrived a day later and held a thanksgiving to Pele and to honor Princess Ruth Keʻelikōlani as well as giving out donations and construction materials to the victims of the lava flow.

(Picture: View of the lava flow that almost destroyed Hilo. Note the artists.)

Hoʻokupu, ʻĀlana and Making Offerings

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The subject of making or giving offerings is important to Kanaka Maoli and is a marker of respect when one is visiting a wahipana (sacred place) such as a heiau. The giving of an offering goes deep into Hawaiian mythology and within the Hawaiian epic of the Kumulipo, nature emerges before the gods. The Gods are then given birth and they in turn give birth to humanity. While in the Judeo-Christian traditions, G-d gives man dominion over the world. In the Hawaiian world view, man is given birth by the Gods as an offering to nature. That relationship is important to understanding Hawaiian offerings.

In ancient Hawaiʻi, there were several types of offerings—more than 30 types that I know of. The most common type is the hoʻokupu. This has become a general term used to mean all types of offerings but that was not the case even 150 years ago. Hoʻokupu in former days were formal offerings made by the common people to a king or chief normally during an important occasion and was a way of honoring both the chief and the Gods themselves. The last hoʻokupu of that sort happened on Queen Liliʻuokalaniʻs birthday in 1917. Nowadays every offering is called a hoʻokupu but originally the accepting party would be a chief who acts in his/her role as a descendant of the Gods and required a specific ceremony. That is why the root word “kupu” in this case means ancestral spirit or supernatural being because a chief or king accepts such an offering on behalf of the Gods.

What we nowadays think of as a hoʻokupu would have been more commonly called ʻālana, which are more informal types of offerings. There are actually several types of ʻālana. The ʻālana aloha was a daily offering made by Native Hawaiians to their family ancestors, the Gods and the peace of the world similar in many aspects as the canang sari of the Balinese. These could be given on shrines, to special trees, to special rocks, or to the ocean or mountain itself. The uluʻālana was a form of offering made by a priest to the Gods normally at a shrine or temple. Kahukahu were food offerings made to the Gods or to departed ancestors. These food offerings would be specially prepared near the spot or eaten at the spot with the smoke (the aka or essence) or steam being given to the Gods or ancestors and the meat and fruits consumed by the participants. (Hawaiians did not leave meat, fruits or fish on altars). Hua mua were types of offerings made by giving the first plucked fruit of the season or first fish back to the ground or sea as an offering.

The type of offerings that travelers (including Hawaiians visiting a new place) should be aware of are the type called ʻālana komo. Although ʻālana komo are confused often called hoʻokupu, they are different. Hoʻokupu have a formal structure. ʻĀlana komo was offerings made as a mark of respect upon entering a sacred site and does not require a formal ceremony. Specific Hawaiian families have their own traditions on the ʻālana komo when they visit a place but normally it would be related to their location (i.e. a specialty crop or rock of their region), a flower or fern, and red sea salt.

Tourists sometimes thinking that they are paying respect will leave pineapples, coins, and candies on Hawaiian altars. This should be discouraged. Hawaiians did not like to leave rotting things on altars. Appropriate offerings by tourists would be flowers particularly flowers that are red, white, or yellow. Red, white, and yellow are general colors used favored by a number of male and female Gods. Normally such offerings would be wrapped in green ti leaf (green representing nature and the imagery of nature and Pō is throwback to the Kumulipo). If one can not wrap it, itʻs fine as well. If one is going to leave a lei, ask the vendor if the string is biodegradable. Many lei vendors have begun to use biodegradable string or some recycled material. I know of people who simply buy ti leaf leis as offerings in order to not have to worry about biodegradable string and ti leaf wrappings. If using a ti leaf lei as an offering, the lei should be placed on an altar or platform horizontally. Putting a ti leaf lei around a kiʻi (temple image) or lopping the ti leaf lei should be avoided. A closed ti leaf lei was normally in ancient times was normally only worn during a period of mourning. So the ti leaf lei should be left open.

This advice also goes with visiting Hawaiian statues. There is a tendency for people to leave leis on the tongue of the lei niho palaoa of the statue of Queen Liliʻuokalani. That should be avoided. If one is unsure of where to leave an offering at a statue, the food of the statue of the person itself is the best place. Some statues like that of Queen Liliʻuokalani tend to have an extended hand and one will see Hawaiians offering leis on that hand. That is appropriate as well.