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Ancient Faiths Of Hawaii


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Hawaiians claim descent from the Cushites of Arabia, and in their
folk-lore they have the same agreement with the Jewish myths which
we find so strangely in other tribes that seem to have no relation
to one another. Like the Israelites, they believed in a first pair
that forfeited paradise by sinning, and were put out of it. Like
the Israelites, they built temples and places of worship. Like the
Israelites, they practised circumcision. Their priests and chiefs
were kin of the gods, and well may they have seemed so if it is true
that the kings of the islands were men whose height was nine feet,
and who flourished spears ten yards long. Even Kamehameha, who died
in 1819, and who was politically the greatest of these rulers, as he
established one government over all of the islands, is said to have
been a giant in strength.

Without compasses, guided only by sun and stars, the people made long
voyages in their canoes--vessels of a length of a hundred feet--and did
battle with other races, fighting with spears, slings, clubs, axes,
and knives, but not with bows or armor. Doubtless they exaggerate
their numbers and their heroism, and in the last great battle, by
which Kamehameha became ruler of the group, it may be that there
were not quite the sixteen thousand men he claimed to have when he
forced the troops of Oahu over the cliff of Nuuanu. The language of
Hawaii resembles the tongues spoken in the southern archipelagoes,
thereby bearing out the legend of early migrations. As, in the East,
we hear tales that seem to hark back to the lost Atlantis, so among
the Pacific tribes are faint beliefs in a continent in the greater
ocean that sank thousands of years ago, and of coral islands built on
its ruins that crumbled or were shaken down in their turn, albeit they
served their purpose as stepping-stones between the surviving groups.

The Columbus of Hawaii was Nanaula, a Polynesian chief, who reached
them in the sixth century, either blown upon them by gales or actuated
in a long search by love of adventure. He carried dogs, swine,
fowls, and seeds of food-plants, and for several centuries the people
increased, lived in comfort, and enjoyed the blessings of peace. Four
hundred years later a large emigration occurred from Samoa and the
Society group to these islands, and the new-comers proved to be the
stronger. Each island had its chief or chiefs until this century,
but their families had intermarried until a veritable aristocracy had
been set up, with a college of heraldry, if you please, that recorded
the ancestry brags of the Four Hundred. Captain Cook chanced on evil
days when his turn came to discover the islands again, for although
the people at first thought him to be the god Lono, they were so busy
hating each other that they had not time to extend as many courtesies
to him as they might have granted at some other period. When they
killed him he had incurred their wrath by his overbearing manner, his
contempt for their customs, and by trying to make prisoner of a chief
who was innocently pulling one of the ship's boats apart to get the
nails out. Juan Gaetano, a Spanish captain, sailing from Mexico to the
Spice Islands in 1555, is said to have discovered Hawaii, but he said
little about it. There are traditions of other white visitors likewise.

While Christian missionaries claimed to have worked the moral
regeneration of the islands, the Martin Luther of the group anticipated
them by half a year. Liholiho--that was his name--publicly kicked
the idols, burned the temples, ate from the dishes of women, and
defied the taboo. So soon as the natives discovered that the sea
did not rise nor the sky fall, they rejoiced exceeding, and when one
of the priests gathered an army and mutinied against the new order,
they vehemently suppressed him. Yet the gods whom this soldier-priest
defended are said to lament his fall in battle, and the south wind,
stirring the shrubbery about his grave, is often heard to sob. The
first missionaries were Yankees. They made some converts, acquired
real estate, their example and teaching in political and industrial
matters were profitably heeded, and peace and prosperity returned to
the islands. Catholic missionaries were forbidden by the government
to land until 1839, when they were put ashore under the guns of a
French man-of-war, and have remained in safety ever since.

The religious faith that white men drove from Hawaii, or think they
did, is based on the customary moral precepts, while the theogeny
comprehends a trinity, composed of Kane, who plans and who lives in
the east; Ku, who builds, and Lono, who directs. These three gods in
one, who had existed from the beginning, created light; next they
built the three heavens; they then made the earth, sun, moon, and
stars. The angels were spat from their mouths, and after the fruitless
or experimental creation of Welahilana and Owe, the chief god, Kane,
with his saliva, mixed with red earth, made the first man, Kumuhonua,
and from his rib took the first woman, Keolakuhonua. These parents of
the race were put into a beautiful garden, divided by three rivers that
had their source in a lake of living water, which would bring the dead
to life when sprinkled over them, and which was filled with fish that
fire could not destroy. This living water was found again, ages after,
by Kamapikai, who led some of the Hawaiians back to it that they might
bathe, and they emerged young, strong, and handsome; but from their
third voyage to the lake they never returned. In the garden stood
a bread-fruit tree and an apple tree, both taboo. Whether Kanaloa,
the rebellious angel, persuaded the first pair to pluck the forbidden
fruit, or whether he wrought their downfall in some other fashion,
we do not know; but he was angry because they refused to worship him,
and because the man whom he had created could neither rise nor speak;
so, in the form of a lizard, he went into the garden and beguiled the
pair. Kane sent a large white bird and drove them out. Of the three
sons of the parents of the race the elder slew the second, and in
the thirteenth generation came the deluge, from which Nuu was saved,
for at the command of Kane he built an ark, took refuge in it with his
family, and, with pairs of every species of bird, beast, and reptile,
was released by the gods after the water had gone down, and found
that his ark was resting on the top of Mauna Loa. The rainbow was the
stair by which Kane descended to him, and it was left in the sky as a
token of forgiveness. As the history proceeds we recognize the story
of Abraham, and of Joseph and his brethren, and the likeness to the
Bible narrative ceases after an account of the long wanderings and
troubles of the people in their search for the land set apart for
them by Kane,--a search in which they were led by two brothers.

It was only in the eleventh century that the priesthood became a power,
exalted itself above the kings, prescribed senseless ceremonials and
forms of worship, invented so many gods that they often forgot the
names of them, and devised the prohibition, or taboo, the meaning
of that word being "Obey or die." Among these gods none are more
curious than the stones of Kaloa beach, Ninole, Hawaii. The natives,
who believed that they had sex, and propagated, chose male specimens
for their household deities. In order to make sure whether or not they
were really gods, the stones were blessed in a temple, wrapped in a
dress, and taken to see a game of skill or strength. If the owner of
the god won he gave to the piece of stone the credit for his victory
and established it in his house; but if he lost, the stone was thrown
aside. If the believer wanted to make sure of finding a god he would
take a beach pebble of each sex, wrap the two in cloth, and put them
away for a time. When they were brought back to the light a smaller
pebble, the result of their union, was found with them. This grew,
like an animal, until it was of a size to be blessed by the priests and
formally declared to be a god. The original pebbles are of black trap,
compact lava, and white coral. Beside the gods there were spirits that
could be called from the grave by wizards, although this power rested
only with the strongest and most righteous of the class. The soul of a
living creature might also leave his body and exhibit itself to one at
a distance, as Margrave projected his luminous apparition in Bulwer's
"Strange Story."

It was the gods of the second rank, however, that seemed most busy
for good or mischief in human affairs: such gods as Pele, the spirit
of the volcanoes, with her five brothers and eight sisters who lived
in the flaming caverns of Kilauea; or as Kalaipahoa, poison-goddess
of Molokai, and her two sisters, who put a bane on the trees so deadly
that they rivalled the fabled Upas of Java, and birds fell lifeless as
they attempted to fly above them (a volcanic sulphur vent was probably
the origin of this tale); or, as Kuahana, who slew men for sport;
or, as Pohakaa, who rolled rocks down the mountains to scare and hurt
travellers; or, as the shark and lizard gods that lashed the sea into
storms and wrecked canoes. War gods of wood were carried in battle,
among them the fierce-looking image of Kalaipahoa, born in the van of
the army of Kamehameha, and made at a cost of many lives from one of
the trees poisoned by that goddess. Its fragments were divided among
his people after the king's death. Apropos of this figure, a gamester
had lost everything except a pig, which he did not dare to stake,
as it had been claimed for a sacrifice by a priest with a porkly
appetite. At the command of a deity, however, who appeared in his
dreams, he disregarded the taboo and wagered the pig next day. Being
successful in his play, he in thankfulness offered half of his gains
to the deity. This god appeared on a second night and told him that if
the king would make an idol of a certain wood growing near she would
breathe power into it, and would make the gambler her priest. So the
king ordered a tree to be cut. As the chips flew into the faces of
the choppers they fell dead. Others, covering their bodies with cloth
and their faces with leaves, managed to hew off a piece as large as
a child's body, and from this the statue was carved with daggers,
held at arm's-length; and Kalaipahoa means Dagger-cut. Another god
of the great king was Kaili, which was of wood with a head-dress of
yellow feathers. This image uttered yells of encouragement that could
be heard above the din of conflict.

Statues of the gods were kept in walled enclosures, sometimes four
or five acres in extent, within which stood the temples and altars of
sacrifice, and there the people read the fates, as did the Greek and
Roman soothsayers, in the shapes of clouds and the forms and colors of
entrails of birds or of pigs killed on the altars. Human sacrifices
were offered on important occasions, but always of men,--never of
women or children. If no criminals or prisoners were available,
the first gardener or fisherman was captured, knocked on the head,
and his body left to decay on the altar. Oil and holy water were
used to anoint the altar and sacred objects, and when a temple was
newly finished its altar was piled with the dead. There is a striking
universality among people in the brutal stage of development in this
practice of pacifying their deities by murder. When a king or high
priest offered a sacrifice of a foeman the butcher gouged the left eye
from the body and gave it to his superior, who pretended to eat it. If
a victim succeeded in escaping to a temple of refuge he was safe,
even though he had killed a king or slapped the chops of a wooden god.

All over the islands are natural monuments associated with instances
that prove the faith of the people in gods, fiends, spirits, and
heroes. At Mana Beach the "barking" or whistling of the sands under
the tread is held to be the wailing of buried Hawaiians, complaining
that they are disturbed. Here, too, dwells the ghost of the giant
Kamalimaloa, rising through the earth with spear and helmet at certain
seasons and seeking two beautiful girls who scorned him in life, and
whom he is doomed never to meet in death. Holes and caves that abound
in the lava--old craters, bubbles, and steam-vents--also have their
stories. On Kauai they show a series called Pele's Jumps, because when
the fire-goddess was driven from that island by the water-gods she
made three long steps in the soft crust before undertaking the final
leap that landed her on the slope of Kilauea. Each of these pits would
hold a hotel. Another chasm was made by pulling a monster turtle out
of his lair, while he slept, with the intent of eating him. This pit
is thousands of cubic yards in extent, and the turtle may be seen on
a neighboring mountain, turned to stone by the curses of the chief
from whom he tried to sneak away when he noticed that preparations
for cooking were forward. Near the famous Hanapepe Falls is the cave
of Makaopihi, variously regarded as a chief, a devil, and a god, who
took refuge here from his enemies, but every now and then showed his
contempt for them by going down the long slope that is still called
his slide,--a recreation that to an ordinary mortal would mean death.

It is curious, if not significant, that in the language of Tahiti,
which is related to that of these islands, Maui appears, not as a
place, but as a sun god who destroyed his enemies with a jaw-bone,
while the word hawaii means hell. Strange, indeed, that one of the
most heavenly corners of the earth should have taken on a name like
that. The volcanoes may have terrified the early comers to such a
degree that it seemed the only fitting one if they chanced to arrive
in the time of an eruption.

Next: The Giant Gods

Previous: Finding Of The Islands

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