Painting Credit: Brook Kapuakuniahi Parker
A poignant final chapter in Hawaiian history came to a tragic conclusion on the barren rocky lava fields above Kuamo’o Bay, in the Kona district on the island of Hawai’i.
Following the Death of Kamehameha the Great on May 8, 1819 and before the arrival of Christian missionaries on April 4, 1820, reservations and doubts about the ancient religion led to it’s abandonment by the Kuhina Nui, Ka’ahumanu, and the new king Liholiho (Kamehameha II). In defense of the former gods and former religion, traditionalist rallied to High Chief Ka’owa Kekuaokalani, a favorite nephew of Kamehameha I, who was a son of his brother, Keli’imaika’i. Kekuaokalani was given the responsibility upon Kamehameha’s death to care for the war god, Kukailimoku.
At Kuamo’o Bay near Keahou, Kona, Kekuaokalani and his forces were destroyed by the Monarchy troops led by Liholiho’s Prime Minister, Chief Kalanimoku. The old religion died in a blaze of musket fire. Both sides had firearms, but superior numbers on the side of Kalanimoku led to the deaths of over 300 Loyalist including that of Kekuaokalani and his brave wife Manono who fought valiantly by the side of her husband. The dead were interred in rock cairns visible on the lava fields at Lekeleke Burial grounds at Kuamo’o Bay. It is said that Kalanimoku left the body of Kekuaokalani on the lava rocks after this battle instead of having it buried according to his rank of a chief because Kekuaokalani’s ancestor, Alapa’i-Nui-a–Ka’u-au-a had drowned Kalanimoku’s ancestor, Kauhi-ai-moku-a-kama, at Puhele, Kaupo district, Maui by tying him up and throwing him into the sea to the mercy of the sharks. After Kalanimoku’s departure, Kekuaokalani’s loved ones retrieved his body and the iwi of Kekuaokalani rest today at Pohukaina Tomb on the grounds of I’olani Palace in Honolulu.
Artist Comments: Before starting on the illustration, my wife and I had the sacred honor of visiting these hallowed grounds in October 2008. It was late afternoon with overcast skies. One can still feel an overall sadness to this place as I walked the rough a’a lava battlefield alone as my wife parked the car. In my minds eye I could see the army of Kekuaokalani with the wives standing bravely with their husbands. I could see the huge army of Kalanimoku and his forces. This illustration was heartrending to do. Deep sadness was felt as the picture progressed and transferred in the faces in the rendering. While doing research I was able to locate a photograph from the Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts of the actual ‘aumakua hulu manu (feathered idol) of the war god Kukailimoku that was carried into that final battle by the army of Kekuaokalani. It is being held high by the Kahuna Nui.
Priest of Ku
Masked Priests of Ku and Makahiki Season
The Masked Priests of Ku (Hawaiian God of War)
During the celebratory months of Makahiki Season (November-February), priests of Ku (a mysterious group) hid behind masks while the God Lono reigned.
Na Huihui o Makali’i is a cluster of stars the English-speaking world calls the Pleaides or the Seven Sisters. The Makali’i is much revered in the Hawaiian tradition as the place from which, according to legend, the first Hawaiian people came to Earth and the star-based calendar of the ancestral Hawaiians has long placed special significance on their ties to the Makali’i. It also has renewed significance for this gathering of Native Hawaiians here and on every island who are seeking to observe their spiritual and cultural traditions.
Late November is the beginning of the Ho’o-ilo (winter or rainy season) season in the star-based Hawaiian calendar. Winter officially begins when the Makali’i cluster begins to rise at sunset and set at dawn and is visible most of the night. Ho’o-ilo lasts for about four months until the beginning of Kau (summer) when the Makali’i begins to rise in the east at sunrise and is not visible at night.
To the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) the stars’ appearance in the night sky also signifies the beginning of the Makahiki, the most important holiday of the year. It is the traditional Hawaiian celebration of the harvest and time of personal rest and spiritual and cultural renewal.
Makahiki is a form of the “first fruits” festivals common to many cultures throughout the world. It is similar in timing and purpose to Thanksgiving, Octoberfest and other harvest celebrations. Something similar was observed throughout Polynesia, but in pre-contact Hawaii the festival reached its greatest elaboration. As the year’s harvest was gathered, tribute in the form of goods and produce were given to the chiefs from November through December.
The Makahiki was a designated period of time following the harvesting season. During the special holiday the success of the harvest was commemorated with prayers of praise made to the Creator, various deities especially Lono ancestral guardians, and caretakers of the elements.
Lono, the god of agriculture and fertility, was honored to ensure peace and productivity. Lono is seen, associated with or visualized as clustering or dark clouds, as thunder, the partial rainbow, whirlwinds, and even waterspouts - all aspects of Hawaii’s winter season. Lono is the rain that falls from the Kona direction. He reestablishes the vitality of the land and nourishes the gardens of the people.
When the Makahiki season closed, Lono went back to the ancestral lands of Kahiki (Tahiti) and Ku returned to be in charge for the growing season. In a ceremony marking the closure of the Makahiki, a canoe with offerings to Lono was set adrift to help return Lono to the ancestral lands and be generous upon his return next year.
Kamehameha was the high priest of Ku while Kamanawa and Kame’eiamoku (royal twin brothers) were the high priests of Lono once the Kingdom of Hawai’i was established. Accordingly, while Kamehameha ruled during the growing season, Kamanawa and Kame’eiamoku ruled the Hawaiian Kingdom during Makahiki Season.
Kealakekua Bay (Original), John Webber (Artist aboard Cook’s ship, 1778)
Masked Paddlers at Kealakekua Bay- Herb Kawainui Kane
Masked Paddlers at Kealakekua Bay- Herb Kawainui Kane
From the deck of the Resolution, John Webber, artist with Captain Cook, made a quick pencil sketch of masked paddlers in a small double canoe. Later, after his departure from Hawai’i, he refined it as a watercolor painting, but his original hurried sketch was incomplete, without sufficient details on the rigging and construction of the canoe, and Webber’s attempt to recreate such details from memory resulted in errors. Although his pencil sketch showed six paddlers in each hull, his painting shows five, and he also reduced the size of the sail from that depicted in his sketch, presumably to fit it all within the sheet of his paper. Now, with apologies to Webber, whose work he admires, Herb Kane has applied his knowledge of Hawaiian canoes to correct these errors in what he calls “the painting that took 200 years to complete.”
Nothing is known about the gourd masks, crested with ferns and bearded with tapa streamers, except they were seen and recorded by Webber in several drawings. The men may have been members of a priesthood, for the man on the center deck is carrying a feathered image, and a sacrificial pig has been killed and set beside him. The canoe is on course toward Hikiau Heiau, the temple on the eastern side of the bay, and the yellow-dyed tapa capes proclaims them as men of status. This was during the Makahiki Seaon, the season when warfare, politics, or any of men’s work done under the patronage of the god Ku was held in abeyance. One might conclude that in this time of the god Lono, the priests of Ku must be masked…
In The Beginning…
In the beginning in Hawaiian mythology, Po was a vast, empty land, a dark abyss where only one life form dwelled. This was the spirit of Keawe. A single light shown through the darkness of Po-a flame holding the energy of creation. In this chaotic vortex, Keawe evolved order. He opened his great calabash and flung the lid into the air. As it unfolded, it became the huge canopy of blue sky. From his calabash, Keawe drew an orange disk, hanging it from the sky to become the sun.
Next Keawe manifested himself as Na Wahine, a female divinity considered his daughter. In addition, he became Kane, his own son, also known as Eli or Eli-Eli, who was the male generative force of creation. In the Kumulipo, the best known of the Hawaiian creation chants, the feats of Eli-Eli are detailed in rhythmic litany. Na Wahine and Kane mated spiritually to produce a royal family, who became additional primary gods worshipped by the Hawaiian people.
In ancient chants and rituals, three sons: Ku, Lono, and Kanaloa, along with Kane are the four major Hawaiian gods. Keawe made Kane the ruler of natural phenomena, such as the earth, stones, fresh water. Most importantly, Ku as Kukailimoku was god of war, but he also reigned over woodlands and crops, and in various forms was worshipped by craftsmen
Kanaloa was responsible for the southern Pacific Ocean and as such was god of seamen and lord of fishermen. Lono, as lord of the sun and of wisdom, caused the earth to grow green. As a god of medicine, he had a particular interest in keeping herbs and medicinal plants flourishing. Lono was the god who presided over the makahiki season when war ceased and taxes were paid to the ali’i.
Kane and Na Wahine also had daughters. Among them, Laka was the goddess of hula; Hina was the mother of Maui who pulled the Hawaiian Islands from the ocean; and Kapo was the goddess of the South Pacific and was largely worshipped on Maui. Among the major divinities was the goddess Papa, queen of nature, and the man she married, called Wakea. In legend, Papa and Wakea’s first child was born deformed like a taro root. From the child’s grave, the first taro plant grew to furnish sustenance to the rest of the human race, which had its origins in this first couple.