Old Hawaiian rituals focus of cultural fest
By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer
|||Hawaiian cultural festival
Pu'ukohola Heiau at Kawaihae, on the Big Island
7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
(808) 882-7218 or www.nps.gov/puhe
Note: This year's theme is Ke Kulana No'eau O Ka Wa Kahiko (the culture of ancient Hawai'i).
Today, few Hawaiians exclusively practice "the old ways," a belief system based on the concept that sacred power resides in nature, Lake said. Believers recognize more than 40,000 gods, including four akua (greater gods of nature), Lono, Kane, Kanaloa and Ku; as well as lesser gods, including, Pele and Laka, the hula deity, and 'aumakua (family gods).
But when Lake, who teaches college-level classes on the intersection of Christian and Hawaiian spirituality, looks at this weekend's events at the heiau, with the theme Ke Kulana No'eau O Ka Wa Kahiko (the culture of ancient Hawai'i), he sees a pocket where the old religion continues.
Lake estimates 300 to 600 Hawaiians will come to the heiau to practice ancient cultural rites. And under the 'ai kapu system of old, culture and politics and religion are often so fused that it can be hard to tell where culture ends and religion begins.
Daniel Kawaiaea Jr., the superintendent of the national historic site, characterizes the event as cultural. He details the many cultural events, including craft workshops on lei making, the 'ohe hanu ihu (nose flute), kahili (fly brush) and kakau (tattoo). The festival will also include an exhibit on the history and founding of the kingdom of Hawai'i.
Nevertheless, for some practitioners, rituals such as the 'awa ceremony have religious overtones.
Lake has resurrected an ancient ceremony, a ha'ule lani ("fallen chiefs"). It honors those who have died in the past year by lighting fires, calling out names of the dead and sending prayers to heaven.
The Pu'ukohola Heiau event marks its 30th anniversary this year. Kawaiaea expects 3,000 spectators and participants from all islands, filling the nearby county beach park for events that begin with a royal assembly conducted by Na Papa Kanaka o Pu'ukohola. A ho'okupu (offering ritual) will take place below the heiau at Pelekane (the courtyard of Kamehameha I), near the ocean.
The heiau is held sacred by many. Other groups and individuals also practice ceremonies and rituals there, said Kawaiaea.
Even today, some people, mostly on Neighbor Islands, worship Pele; others maintain the old order of Ku and of Lono, and celebrate the makahiki, a season devoted to Lono, the god of peacemaking, humility and caring for the land.
Christianity has become the predominant religion of Hawaiians. But even Hawaiian Christians may want to bring something of their ancient culture to the new ways.
When the Rev. Darrow Aiona, rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Kapahulu, was a student at 'Iolani School, he went to two Sunday services, one at St. Andrew's Cathedral, the other at Ka Mauna Oliveta, a Hawaiian-language church tucked away in Waikane Valley.
Aiona said he knows some Hawaiians who become Christians turn their backs on the past, and he is saddened by that. But he also has a warning for those who hope to revive their Hawaiian spirituality: Tread lightly.
Don't dabble, he advises, or you might awaken a spirit you'll wish had kept right on sleeping.
"You've got to know who you're touching, the names you are calling," he said. "You have to follow all the obligations required to go with that past, otherwise, a lot of pilikia (trouble) comes through."
Kawaiaea isn't too worried about that. The royal court assembly knows not to rush into areas they aren't very familiar with or don't understand, he said.
"They only touch the tip of the iceberg on purpose," he said. "As Hawaiians say, you do something wrong, you get whacked. If you don't know what you're doing, you could get into trouble."