Hawaiian mythology

Growing up in Hawaii I was privileged to hear the oral history of Hawaii from the kapuna (respected elders). The kupuna of my childhood were raised in an oral tradition whose parents had lived during the time of the  chiefs and warriors.  Oral history and oral traditions were passed down in strictly memorized chants. Specially chosen children who showed skill at memorization were sent to the equivalent of colleges or schools for learning and memorizing the history and stories of their island. It wasn’t until the time of King Kamahama that the islands were united. There are many stories from this era. One treasured kupuna’s father was the chief of one of the islands — which was later stolen by the sons of the missionaries (Missionaries Boy’s Club these men called themselves).

Anyway while my mother was attempting to indoctrinate me into her fundamentalist religion my local Hawaiian friends from my mother’s church were teaching me about their religion — the religion of the ancient gods and respect for the land — the aina. The Patriarchal Christian religion of my mother was none too positive about females. The Hawaiian believe system was very different from the European world view which is based largely on the Biblical Christian’s world view. The concept that native Hawaiians could still hold the religious beliefs of the parents and at the same time also consider themselves Christians isn’t new among indigenous populations who have been introduced to the God of the Europeans. In Hawaii church was and is more of a weekly social gathering than a time for religious indoctrination. It is said that on Moloka’i that the worst traffic is on Sunday — the going to church folks crowd the roads. Often after church there is the traditional pot luck with food from dozens of cultural traditions.

Humans seem to be hard wired for some sort of religion or spiritual god belief.

The battle by scientists against “irrational” beliefs such as creationism is ultimately futile, a leading experimental psychologist said today. The work of Bruce Hood, a professor at Bristol University, suggests that magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our brains from birth, and that religions are therefore tapping into a powerful psychological force

These findings aren’t surprising to those of us with degrees in Anthropology and/or psychology. For each culture studied in the modern era (and archaeology of the pre modern era) Anthropologists have found some sort of religious world view and origin myths. Ancient burials have been used as an indicator of some sort of belief in an after life. Cultural Anthropology is a massive field of study and these few sentences barely do it any justice.

The point is that there are many different religious belief systems to chose from — and for me the stories and the creation myths as well as the after life were far my complex and developed by the ancient Hawaiians — that if I had to choose a religion I would choose the Hawaiian’s world view.

This isn’t to say that Hawaiians are or were perfect — they are after all humans and humans are both good and bad. My favorite story of dealing with an evil person who dies is that the Kahuna will not tell the recently departed ghost where the “jumping off” place is — so the evil person is left to wonder forever — lost with nowhere to go. Each island has a “jumping off” place which is in the English language a portal to the other world or next world or after world.

Two books which explain Hawaiian mythology and the Pacific migration — or island hopping of the Polynesians are the classic by Martha Beckwith.

Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Beckwith

    • A Shark Going Inland Is My Chief: The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawai’i by

      by Patrick Vinton Kirch

    • This is a very good book! The Native Hawaiians civilization was really very unique in the world.
    • “This island civilization in many respects mirrored early states that arose in other favorable zone in both the Old World and the New. . . . [Captain] Cook and his crew had unwittingly stumbled upon one of the last “pristine states” to have arisen in the course of world history. In total isolation from the outside world, over the course of centuries the Hawaiians had developed a unique civilization. Displaying many similarities with earlier archaic states that had developed in the Near East, Egypt, China, Mesoamerica, and the Andes, Hawaiian civilization at the time of Cook’s arrival was based on principles of divine kingship. Hawaiian society was divided into two great classes–a vast majority of commoners who worked the land and provided the economic underpinnings of society, and a smaller cadre of elites who included warriors, priests, and chiefs. At the pinnacle of society was the divine king, the ali’i nui.

Edit notes — spelling errors corrected. Quotes from Patrick Vinton Kirch’s book added.


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