Hello Friends and Family,

1981 - Hawa‘i, the Big Island, Part 2

Link to this year's index by clicking here.

In 1779, Captain James Cook, FRS, British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the British Royal Navy stumbled across some previously unknown (to Europeans) islands in the mid-Pacific Ocean. His first landing was on the island of Kaua‘i approximately a year earlier. The European hubris at the time permitted him to name the island chain, the Sandwich Islands, in honor of the fourth Earl of Sandwich—the acting First Lord of the Admiralty.

This photo shows Kealakekua Bay (south of Kona), which is an important spot in Cook's voyage and subsequent death. Per Wikipedia, "Cook's arrival coincided with the Makahiki, a Hawaiian harvest festival of worship for the Polynesian god Lono. Coincidentally the form of Cook's ship, HMS Resolution, or more particularly the mast formation, sails, and rigging, resembled certain significant artifacts that formed part of the season of worship. Similarly, Cook's clockwise route around the island of Hawaii before making landfall resembled the processions that took place in a clockwise direction around the island during the Lono festivals. It has been argued (most extensively by Marshall Sahlins) that such coincidences were the reasons for Cook's (and to a limited extent, his crew's) initial deification by some Hawaiians who treated Cook as an incarnation of Lono."

Over time, tensions rose with misunderstandings due to the language and cultural barrier and eventually resulting in Cook being attacked and killed. He was still recognized as a chief and his body was prepared according to Hawaiian tradition for reserved for chiefs and highest elders of the society. A monument to Captain Cook now stands along the shoreline. Note that the monument is not easy to reach, requiring either a boat or a two-and-a-half-hour hike on Captain Cook Monument Trail.

Further south along the coast, one finds a national park, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, AKA The Place of Refuge. The Hawai‘i of old was organized into a social structure including chiefs, priests, skilled laborers, and commoners. Strict laws (AKA kapus) existed for each of the separate divisions. If you violated a kapu, the penalty could be death. However, if you could run and escape to a Place of Refuge, your sins could be forgiven and you could return to Hawaiian society.

Per the park's website, "Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is still an active religious site for kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians). While the National Park Service maintains the physical structure of the heiau (temple) and other features within the park, lineal descendants of the place continue to perpetuate ancestral traditions as caretakers and cultural practitioners, enabling the heiau to continue as a functioning religious site for Native Hawaiians.

Throughout the year, various ceremonies are conducted in accordance with a lunar calendar used in Hawaiian tradition. Notable examples are the annual observations of the makahiki or the new year season. Over the last few years, the kiʻi at Hale o Keawe have been dressed in cloth during these observed times, demonstrating the manner in which Native Hawaiians maintain and venerate sacred places."

Here we see a gathering of ki‘i, each an image, statue, or likeness that serves as symbolic representations of the akua, or the multitude of Hawaiian gods, deities, and venerated ancestors. While images most commonly took the form of wooden carvings, they were also formed out of pōhaku (stone), carved into pūnohunohu (sea urchin spines), or as ornate feathered images.

As you probably guessed, these are not the original kiʻi, they were carved using the skills and traditions of the Hōnaunau area. During the Hale o Keawe restoration project in the 1960s, the park engaged scholars, artists, and craftsmen who were knowledgeable of cultural traditions to guide and carry out kiʻi reconstruction. Many of the carvers were maintenance workers in the park who brought their skills based on family knowledge to the park. Since these structures are wooden and deteriorate over time, they are periodically replaced. Just as with the original restoration, local carvers (some of whom are family members of the original carvers) bring their skills and knowledge to continue the tradition.

As with almost every human culture, music is an important cultural activity with unites the people into a cohesive whole. I was lucky the day I visited Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau — they had locals demonstrating traditional Hawaiian musical instruments. I looked online to find out what she is playing but I was unsuccessful. Obviously, the musician would provide a rhythm by striking the larger stick with the smaller and pressing the flat board with her foot — and isn't rhythm the beginning of any form of music?

Here we see a demonstration of a ohe hano ihu — a flute that is played with your nostril. You blow across the holes with your nose while pinching one of your nostrils shut. Interestingly, the sound is very much like simple flutes from other cultural traditions.

The ipu is a percussion instrument that is made from a gourd used during hula dancing. There are two kinds of ipu: the ipu heke and the ipu heke ‘ole. The ipu heke is made from two gourds and is made by cutting and then joining the gourds at their necks. The ipu plays a significant role in traditional Hawaiian culture. The gourd itself was used for food and medicine and played a variety of significant roles in the days before the islands met with Western civilization.

In addition to music, people were showing other cultural crafts — here the pounding of bark into tapa — which was then dyed with patterns and worn as clothing (although in ancient Hawai‘i, little clothing was needed due to the tropical climate). In modern times, tapa is valued for its artistic merits and collected by those in the know.

These folks were making feathered helmets known as "mahiole". Note that certain colored feathers were attributed more value than others. Since red was associated with gods and chiefs, red feathers were reserved for religious objects and garments worn by high-ranking members of society. In Hawai‘i, where the red-feathered i’iwi and apapane birds are small but plentiful, feathered capes made for the elite actually came to be known as ‘ahu ‘ula, meaning “red garment.” The name did not change even after Hawaiian artists began including yellow feathers alongside the red. Rarer than red feathers in Hawaii, the golden feathers of the ‘o’o and mamowere highly prized.

The ʻAhu ʻula (feather cloak in the Hawaiian language), and the mahiole (feather helmet) were symbols of the highest rank of the chiefly aliʻi class of ancient Hawai‘i. The feathered cloaks and capes provided physical protection and were believed to provide spiritual protection for their wearers. At least six of these cloaks were collected during the voyages of Captain Cook. These cloaks are made on a woven netting decorated with bird feathers and are examples of fine featherwork techniques. Modern capes (and helmets) are made with the feathers of domesticated birds (chickens, ducks, or geese) and dyed to the desired colors.

To be continued...

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com