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The magic world of Hawaiian traditions

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02 November 2019
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A Hawaiian ceremony on the occasion of October 31, in which Lono is celebrated with offerings to the dead, as in the Celtic traditions
A Hawaiian ceremony on the occasion of October 31, in which Lono is celebrated with offerings to the dead, as in the Celtic traditions

Interview with Kai Markell, Native Hawaiian


Aloha Kai, I really want to thank you for your precious time that you have dedicated to me.
This is my little interview for you.
Describe yourself very briefly, what do you do and how would you visualize your strongest connection to Hawaii?

I am a Native Hawaiian man who is a Native Hawaiian Rights Attorney and working in the area of protecting Native Hawaiian cultural practices and historic sites as well as teaching others about Native Hawaiian history, culture and values. My mother is Native Hawaiian from the island of Kaua’i and my journey has been one of self-discovery of my own Native Hawaiian identity and how it has transformed not only my life, but the lives of those around me.


Our ancestors have always had a close connection between them and the whole of their surrounding environment, I know that there are seven fundamental principles in Hawaiian spirituality:  Ike, kala, Makia, Manawa, Aloha, Mana, and Pono.
Are these principles really the basis of our ancient kahuna's teaching, or is it simply a new-age kind of thing?

These words have great meaning, and also great kaona, or different layers of meaning as well. Unfortunately, there has been much misinformation surrounding the concept of kahuna, which just means “expert” similar to loea, or master. There were kahuna kalai wa’a who were experts in making canoes. There were kahuna la’au lapa’au who were experts in natural medicine. There were kahuna ‘ana’ana who used sorcery to manipulate the human Spirit and dealt with sending and removing curses. A whole variety of kahuna. The whole idea of monetizing the teaching of Hawaiian culture under the guise of “huna” or other similar teachings, which began with Max Freedom Long attaching Sigmund Freud’s Id and Ego to what little Max knew about the Hawaiian culture created a whole “Huna” movement today which strays from true Hawaiian culture.


According to the teaching given to you by your kahuna, would you give me a precise definition of each principle starting obviously from the first, for example Ike.

I have Kumu who have taught me from all areas of Hawaiian society, but nobody I consider a kahuna.

Ike means to me vision, sight, foresight, and a way of seeing the World and yourself.

Kala is to release, to forgive.

Makia is to aim or strive for.

Native Hawaiian lawyer Kai Markell
Native Hawaiian lawyer Kai Markell

Manawa is multiple meanings like most words. It means to me time and the passage of time, a place of love and emotions in our body, and the top of the head, the fontanel, the “Piko I” which connects us to Ke Akua and the Ancestors. One of three piko we possess.

Aloha is the Breath and Life of Ke Akua. It embodies Love, Selflessness, Kindness, Compassion, Self-Sacrifice, and all the highest attributes Humanity strives for.

Mana is a Spiritual Power that is Divinely Bestowed. In the old days, the highest Ali’i possessed Mana, as “gods” that walked among men. They inherited Mana from their parents and ancestors before them who possessed high Mana in their lifetimes, as hereditary power, and acquired Mana by waging war against others with high Mana and taking their Mana as the spoils of war. Now, we acquire Mana from the goodness of our Ancestors, the kindness, compassion, justice, mercy, forgiveness and Love that they showed in their lifetimes, and we acquire our own Mana by the very same acts in our Lifetime.

Pono is usually referred to as Righteousness. It is the sense of right versus wrong, good versus bad, justice versus injustice, fair versus unfair, equitable versus inequitable, humility versus arrogance, and all those things that make us a more better Human Being. It can be found deep in your guttural visceral Hawaiian Heart known as your na’au. This guides you as to what is Pono or what is Pono’ole…


During the year, which holidays and how many of them were celebrated to honor the Hawaiian gods by our ancestors in the past?

There were two big divisions in the Hawaiian year. The time of Ku, where war, politics and other activities occurred including the building and dedication of heiau, or temples, used to acquire the favor of the akua, or gods, in battle to acquire more land and resources. This lasted from about February through October. Then from October to about February, when the Pleiades, or Makali’i as we call them, rose above the horizon after Sunset was the time of Lono. A time of tribute, peace, sportsmanship, games and an assessment of the health of the people and land.

We know that next October 31st we will celebrate Halloween on All Saints' night, and on November 1st we remember our beloved ancestors.


Does the Hawaiian tradition have a feast similar to the Italian one, where the dead are remembered, and if the answer is yes, please tell me about the traditional celebrations of our ancestors?

Hawaiians had contact with the dead in the Spirit World all throughout the year. There was no particular day to honor the ancestors. Guardian familial protectors were known as ‘aumakua and sometimes wooden or stone images were fashioned with anthropomorphic features and honored and fed to keep contact with the ‘aumakua. Sometimes when the ‘aumakua was in an animal or natural host, like an owl or shark, they were fed and cared for. The bones of the dead are defined as the “most cherished possession” by leading Native Hawaiian cultural experts. They still had a person’s Mana and were a conduit to communicate with the deceased. Care of the bones was of highest priority and people sometimes kept a loved one’s bones in a bundle at home to communicate with them even after death.


Can you describe an ancient ceremony with which the Hawai'ian gods were celebrated?

The Makahiki ceremony is widely known and practiced more and more even today. Lonoikamakahiki, or Lono in the Makahiki, takes the form of two akua, or gods, an akua loa, or long god, and an akua poko, or short god, and they are taken on a circuit of the island while offerings fruit, plants, etc. are offered to Lono on an altar or lele.


During these ceremonies were animal sacrifices made or offered in the form of food and flowers? Please explain.

Food is offered to Lono such as plants, and other natural items. No animal sacrifice or human sacrifice.


A Hawaiian ceremony conducted by Kai Markell
A Hawaiian ceremony conducted by Kai Markell

But what role did Hula dance play in these ancient ceremonies?

Hula began as a men’s only dance to tell stories and pay tribute to the akua. Women eventually were allowed to dance as well. You will find hula performed at various Native Hawaiian ceremonies like the Makahiki or other Hawaiian gatherings as a part of the ceremonies.


Perhaps in the dance there was a form of prayer to the Hawaiian gods?

Prayer to the akua, or gods, took place in the morning, noon, nighttime, and everywhere in between as well. It was a constant communication. Sometimes special prayers, ceremonies or rituals occurred for more formal requests or tributes to certain akua or when the Ali’i desired to hold National functions as part of their rule and governance.


To conclude our interview I ask you which Hawaiian God you are most attached to and why you believe that?

I am most attached to Ke Akua, also known as “I”…the Supreme, the Highest of the High. Some know as the Supreme One, the Highest of the High, the Creator. All the rest of the akua are ancestors, whether Pele, Kane and Kanaloa, Lono, Ku, Poli’ahu, Mo’oinanea, Laka, etc. and I have an affinity for many of them through stories, encounters, interactions and cultural practices. They all hold a special place in my Life and Heart. Christ is my Greatest Teacher however. They are all part of one Beautiful Mysterious Divine World of which I am humbly Blessed to be here to experience it all. Aloha Ke Akua. God is Love.


Aloha Kai, I thank you very much for the time you have dedicated to me, mahalo nui.
This is very important to me.

It is important to me too...

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