Peter Apo: It’s the season for Makahiki

In Hawaii, at some point in late fall each year, the Makalii (Pleiades) star cluster will rise in the east in sync with sunset in the west. The timing of this alignment of the celestial bodies marks the beginning of the Hawaiian season of Makahiki – the Hawaiian New Year.

The Makahiki season also marks the annual change in seasonal weather conditions from fall to winter and runs from November to February. The season is one of peace, celebration and rejuvenation. A season to celebrate the harvest of harvests. A season of thanks and appreciation. A season of healing dedicated to peace. War was kapu (forbidden) during Makahiki. The season was marked by religious festivities and a plethora of celebrations.

Lono I Ka Makahiki

The religious basis of the Makahiki season was rooted in the Hawaiian god Lono. The Hawaiian religious system was ruled by a pantheon of gods similar to the ancient Romans and Greeks.

Lono was one of the four major gods which included Ku, Kane, and Kanaloa. Lono was the god of peace and prosperity. He also ruled over the weather, the sea, agriculture, fertility, and a number of other jurisdictions.

While each island’s ruling chiefs have their own unique way of celebrating Makahiki, there was a commonly performed Lono-led activity that happened on each island each year. Makahiki season was a time when the chiefs collected taxes from the makaainana (ordinary citizens). The tax collection, seen as a tribute to Lono, was marked by a somewhat festive march by tax collectors around each of the islands to celebrate Lono.

Hula Halau dances in favor of stopping construction of the TMT.  April 10, 2015. photography Cory Lum / Civil Beat
Hula is traditionally a part of the Makahiki season celebrations. Here, a Hula Halau performs on Mauna Kea in April to protest the Thirty Meter Telescope Project. Cory Lum / Civil Beat

The march traditionally moved clockwise along the coasts of each island. In the subsistence economy of the time, instead of currency, taxes were paid with food, animals, kapa (plant-based cloth), ropes, feathers, and other products.

Makahiki events and celebrations in each district could not begin until the tax collection for the district was completed. The “taxes” were then redistributed between the minor chiefs and their supporters on behalf of Lono, which I guess was based on need.

Once the tribute to Lono and the chiefs was collected, communities could start celebrating the Makahiki season with parties, games and sports competitions. Chiefs, commoners, men and women clashed. Boxing was a favorite sport. Other games included ulu maika (a type of bowling), running races, and marksmanship with pahee or short javelins.

Also included are wrestling and puhenehene, a guessing game with pebbles that often involved sex betting. The hula and celebratory chants composed specifically for Lono I Ka Makahiki crowned the celebrations.

Lono and Captain Cook

The manifestation of the god Lono was symbolically captured by a long, high pole with a crossbar near the top. White kapa cloth banners were draped over the rail with feather necklaces and plush Laysan albatross skins.

From a distance, the cross-shaped frame draped in white fabric resembled the sails of a European ship of the time. The similarity of European sails to the Lono symbol, coupled with the fact that Hawaiian gods, like those of the Greeks and Romans, were partly human, makes it likely that the natives believed that Cook was
the god Lono. This is the only way to explain why Cook has been so warmly welcomed and celebrated.

The fall and resurrection of the Makahiki season

Cook’s arrival marked the beginning of the influence of Western Europe and the United States on Native Hawaiian customs and traditions. It didn’t take long for some Hawaiian traditions to come under the influence of a burgeoning Christian belief system, which led to the banning of hula and other traditions as immoral practices.

Although the Makahiki tradition itself was not specifically banned, it lost its importance as the best Makahiki celebratory activities were not allowed. It wasn’t until the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1970s, sparked by the bombing of the Kahoolawe protests and the simultaneous rise of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the Hokulea, that Makahiki traditions were revived.

Season Of Aloha: A Fusion of Celebrations

The Christmas season, the traditions of Santa Claus, the Makahiki season, and the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah intersect during the same general period marking the onset of winter. And although each celebration goal is separate, each with its own traditions, they are all in sync to seek the best of our humanity.

This convergence of celebrations springs from its general sense of goodness, human dignity, respect for all life and the creation of a better world.

Spread the Aloha. It’s the season. Imua.

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