The Hawaiian Makahiki
"Make love not war." -- Proving it could be done.
The Makahiki season began in mid-October, when the Pleides became visible on the eastern horizon after nightfall. And within a short period of time, war has been averted in the Balkans, a peace treaty has been signed after all these many years between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and the last Inquisition of the 20th Century (investigation of the President's sex life) seems to have been put to rest by the surprise results of a national election that has quieted down even the warring political parties.
These seem to be good signs! Because the Makahiki is dedicated to the celebration of peace. It is an observance in honor of the harvest god, Lono, the god of "the yield," whose body is actually experienced by Hawaiians in the wind, and in the rain, and clouds and thunder. "Here's that peaceful Lono again!" E Lono e!
The Makahiki is a celebration of the good life in harmony among warring neighbors. It was required by sacred law (kapu), so there was no getting around it. And nobody tried, for why should they? Because this was also a season of special enjoyments. And the Hawaiians knew how to do that in remarkable style. The party and games went on for the next four months! The high holiday in the middle of this Makahiki period was the winter solstice, when the "cross" passed overhead by night. They venerated a cosmic cross made up of asterisms in the eclyptic crossing the Milky Way galaxy.
Na aumakua mai ka la hiki a ka la kau,
You gods of the ancestors, from the rise of the eclyptic to its setting,
Na aumakua ia ka hina kua, ia ka hina alo,
You ancestral benefactors--the Milky Way falling backward and forward,
O kiha i ka lani, nununu i ka lani, kaholo i ka lani, owe i ka lani,
There is a rise and a pitch in heaven, a soughing in heaven, a vibration in heaven, a coming to life in heaven.
Eia ka pulapula a oukou. E malama oukou ia ia.
HERE NOW is your sprout (offspring, child). Be preserved your cosmic cross.
Polynesian explorers first came to Hawaii around 425 A.D. Hawaiian history during the following centuries, like all histories, is much told about in wars. But there is this striking record of these sacred seasons of peace, as well. Even though the kings and their warriors from the different islands fought ferociously from year to year, these Stone Age people (the first iron they saw was brought by Captain Cook in 1798), were smart enough to find a way to be absolutely sure to have at least four months of peace of mind every single year. And they lived it up, instead of fighting. Did they ever!
There were feasts of all the things that the harvests brought--harvests of the sea, harvests of the land. They had delicacies that ranged all the way from wana (minced lobster and sea urchin) to the choicest tropical fruits that still exist wild in the forest there. And of course there was the sour effervescent poi, and many kinds of smoked fish, and roasts, and, yes, sweet potato, in many varieties, of which they specialized. This was the sacred vegetable. (In fact, they had everything but the macaroni salad that one finds in the modern luaus in Waikiki today. They had much more than that, indeed.)
And--here is a good clue to the spirit of this occasion--after each of the great feasts was over, those who had been feasted set about preparing and serving the 'aha'aina maka luhi, the special feast to honor those who had prepared and served the other feast for them. (The Hawaiians understood the lesson that Perk Clark writes about in his story on Arthur Deikman in this quarter's issue of MAM.)
There were theatrical presentations, recitations, songs and hulas throughout the season. People lined up to get in. There were games of sports--spear catching, and pit wrestling, and boxing. And there were sexual games. The players on one side hid a pebble in a sheet of bark kapa cloth that was wrapped and wrapped around their bodies, and the players of the other side . . . searched for the pebble. In another such game, the players on one side had wooden cones set up before them, and the players on the other side rolled wooden balls across the matted floor in attempting to knock over the cones of their hoped-for partners. Even the royalty sometimes participated in these games with the common people, and when they lost they were good sports about it, and, whether kings or queens, "paid their forfeit." These games went on throughout the Makahiki.
Hawaiians were unashamed about sexuality. And . . . they were completely innocent. Adultery was defined as "loveless intercourse," inside or outside of marriage. There was no "marriage" in the form that Westerners know that term today. Hawaiians could have as many "wives" and "husbands" as the lovers that they chose, if they wished to. Men and women enjoyed equivalent prerogatives. Certain male friends of men were called "kaio," denoting the closest of male relationships, wherein the visiting kaio slept with the wife of his friend. Even the kaio of a king was *expected* to cherish the queen. The wishes of the women were taken entirely into consideration in the formation of these interesting "male-bonded" relationships. Sometimes, in fact, they were the cause of it. [Fragmentary note: "Lamont slept in the house of the king, E-ka-hoa, and the king's wife lay down beside him. The king explained that this was right, as Lamont was the king of his ship, and he, himself, was King E-ka-hoa!"]
By the way, the threads of the highest royal lineages were always followed through the highest ranking queens and the women chiefs. It was, at heart, a matriarchal society--the cultivated lands, beach-camps, and houses belonging in the main to the women chiefs. And the men joined up with the women's families when they chose to and were chosen. Great women chiefs were not allowed to make "mesaliances." That was the sole taboo in Hawaiian sexuality, and, in practice, it didn't go very far in terms of restriction.
Williamson wrote--about sex that many Hawaiian girls had with sailors out on their ships: "Much of the sexual behavior which has been criticized was part and parcel of the unbounded hospitality which formed such a prominent feature of the customs of the Polynesians." Forster wrote: "The hospitable lending of wives to travelers was always a possibility." Apparently (although violent jealousies of other kinds were sometimes formed in issues that came up), Hawaiians were without sexual jealousy. It wasn't until the women were forced by missionaries to start wearing bulky "Mother Hubbards" to cover their nakedness, that there began to appear reports of sexual neuroses among Hawaiians, and violent sexual aberrations such as are frequently noted in American society today. It's something to think about. Mother Hubbards gave rise to salacious curiosities, such as Hawaiian men had never had to deal with before.
Captain Cook's crew-members who kept journals reported that the natives didn't bother to look up when sailors came upon them making love on the beach or in the woods or in the fields. They went on enjoying themselves as if there was nobody else there. This innocent trait of the people later quite horrified the Boston missionaries, who kept statistics in their schoolhouse records of the number of times per month that Hawaiian students were caught making love *in class*. Of course, the teachers were trying their darndest to drive those numbers down (as teachers do with other alarming statistics today). Even many years later than that, one of the missionaries reported "four couples fornicating during prayer services today" *in church*. Golly, those were the days!
I guess I can get away with reporting it--this being intendedly a family magazine--as it was a missionary doctor who first recounted in his 19th Century medical journal--during a Makahiki season-- that about two thousand villagers from Waianae on the Island of Oahu were in a huge area in the rain forest, picking hundreds of thousands of flowers for the flower leis that were being distributed to everyone everywhere in the islands. From time to time, they were all chanting in unison as they worked: E Lono e! ("E" being the *evocative* form of the verb "to be." -- "Be, Lono! Be!")
Sometimes, here and there, people among them giggled, and sometimes they laughed, and laughed. Sometimes they fell upon the piles of flowers they were picking, raising a powerful aroma in the air of their perfumes. Then a voice from here in the gathering would sing out a phrase from a hula: "Hai'na ia mai ka puana . . . ka wai anapa i ke kula." Translated, "Declare to me now the riddle . . . the waters that flash on the plain." -- ("wai" is waters, and also semen). From another area among the two thousand flower-pickers, another voice would sing out: "A pua ka wiliwili . . . a nanahu ka mano." (Translated: "When flowers the wiliwili, then bites the shark." Many people began to dance. The right foot made a little circular motion . . . the arms began to undulate like the sea . . . E Lono e!
Well, you know the rest of the story. This editorial is not intending to advocate the revival of all such ancient customs, of course--only the part about "peace." But it shows, at least, that our modern Western concept of "the way it's supposed to be" for homo sapiens isn't the only way that is natural for humankind. There are other ways than we sophisticated 20th/21st Century Americans know about that may spring naturally out of our genetic make-up, as well. And so with the custom of Makahiki itself. It must have been the ancient Hawaiians who originated that famous phrase that became popular again in America in the late 1960's: "Make love, not war."
The word "Makahiki" refers to "the appearance of the visage" of the great god of peace, Lono. They saw this "visage" in the wind's movement of a sail on the ground, and in the night-time starry sky up above. To "capture this image" on the ground, they made a two-fathom-long wooden cross, which was called the Lono Makahiki. This had a tiny, vague, carved figure of Lono at the very top, and a cross-bar farther down with a sail on it. A procession of kahunas carried this cross with a sail on it all the way around the islands, starting at the beginning of the Makahiki season after the signal of the Pleides was observed rising in the evening sky. As the trade-winds always blew, the people in every village they passed carrying the Lono Makahiki, "saw Lono" in the movements of its ruffling sail. And they set and maintained huge bonfires all around the perimeters of the islands as the cross went by. This fiery spectacle was intended to be seen from the point of view of heaven. As above, so below--the cosmos was also the perspective of Lono, the Yielder.
When Captain Cook discovered Hawaii, he passed off Makua Beach in a ship with tall wooden masts and squared sails, just like the Lono Makahiki. (The sails on the Hawaiians' ocean-going canoes were triangular, with the point down). As Cook passed off the western tip of Oahu, bound towards the Island of Kauai and Kealakekua Bay ("...where the humuhumunukunukuapua'a goes swimming by...") where he actually first made land, the Hawaiians who saw this amazing spectacle actually thought that his enormous ship was an island that moved. They could see lights as if there were fires all around. And the Lono Makahiki, with its wind-blown sail, stood tall upon this remarkable island's shore.
You'd better believe the "coconut wireless" carried this news to every Hawaiian kane and wahine around. Strange as history would have it be, Captain Cook sailed in during the high solstice holidays of Makahiki (fresh off of "Christmas" Island to the south). Lono had a reputation of having a white face and red hair (ehu). Although they had never actually seen this visage except in the movements of the wind, all the Hawaiians were immediately given to believe that Captain Cook was Lono. Stranger yet, when Cook caught on to this, he *pretended* that he was Lono, too. But this supercilious gesture proved ultimately to be his final undoing. For the venerable English explorer proved out to be--a little too obviously and apparently--less like the real Lono the Yielder, Lono the Giver, than like "Lono who takes, and takes."
The Hawaiians didn't mess around when it came to dealing with greedy leaders, even high chiefs. That attitude went against their religion. There are stories in the mele (chants) of one such high chief and his retinue who were all killed by having gigantic koa logs rolled downhill over their traveling party. In another such song, the weary bearers in a long line who were carrying all the belongings along the shore of another despised high chief--who was himself traveling along the coast in the lavish comfort of a fancy ceremonial canoe--suddenly started throwing all the heavy packages and baskets of goods that made up their burdens into the offending chief's canoe, until it sank into the ocean. And he was drowned because he was too bloated with his selfish private feasting to swim.
The fatal flaw that was illustrated in both these cautionary tales was personal greed. Under the "aloha system" all the provender of their islands was shared in by everyone generously ("Come join us, stranger! Aloha! Come right in and eat!"). And no one (except heroes) did more than their reasonable share of the common collaborative work; no one received less of the bounties of their farms and the ocean. It was a principled thing. (Again Dr. Deikman's Sufi story in Perk Clark's article comes to mind.)
Yet it was somewhat a different matter, when it came to killing "Lono of the Island that Moved." After all, a real god couldn't be killed! If they made any mistake in going about this awesome deed, all Hawaiians knew full well that they risked having their own islands sink beneath them into the ocean, out of sheer godly wrath!
Several historians have reported that they called upon their greatest and bravest warrior, who was later to become the most famous Hawaiian King when he united all of the islands, Ka-mehameha ("the sacred hush of taboo"). He killed Captain Cook (armed with a pistol), face-to-face in the surf, with a wooden spear. He did it as the famous explorer was about to reach shore on the Island of Hawaii, after jumping off a longboat from his "floating island." (Tourists can still visit a memorial at this famous spot today, a testimonial that the islands didn't sink.)
The royal kahunas made the crucial final decision to do this when they saw a certain sign. E. S. Craighill Handy writes (in "Polynesian Religion," Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, Honolulu, 1927), pp. 297-299:
In Hawaii, toward the end of the Makahiki festival, in which the king personified the god of fertility [Lono], was enacted a dramatic ceremony symbolic evidently of the testing of the mana of the divine chief.
I don't know if there is any lesson in this story, unless it is that even the famous Hawaiian *aloha*, the welcoming hospitality that they extend so lovingly, along with their fragrant flower leis, even to very bothersome people who come there to this very day, apparently does have its limits. But, mind you, it wasn't the Makahiki season when this happened, or even the poor English imposter for Lono would have come to no harm, I assure you. Yet, when the wind (Lono) forced him back to the shore that day . . . it was a fatal sign.
Hawaiians kept up their sacred Makahiki customs for hundreds of years, until the white men and women finally changed the whole society in their islands in the 19th Century. The sacred season of the Makahiki has been abandoned ever since. But it could be revived. It could be tried out *anywhere*!!! The mere fact that they *did it* back then is the proof that it can be done. Mere homo sapiens, as we are created, has the inate ability to enjoy a long season of harmony and peace *every year*, and . . . live it up, instead, bruddah an' seestah! Aloha! Why not???
What if people begin to catch on to waking up on this idea, and the word starts getting passed around? Imagine! Four consecutive months of absolute peace and abstention from treating other people violently and aggressively! Four months of happy celebration of the selfless sharing of the harvest of the good life together! What a party! This Makahiki season now goes on into next February!!! Wowee! Party hearty!
The Stone Age Hawaiians did it! So, why the heck can't we?
I have to apologize that the long piece on Hawaiian kahunas' mindfulness intended for this issue is still "under construction." And I must turn now to the Kindergarten again, because it's time to add in some more new classes with experiential exercises for the second semester of mindfulness training that is going on there now. When "Mindfulness in Stone Age Hawaii" is completed and posted on-line in this quarterly issue of MAM, it will be announced with a link under *Latest Postings* near the top of the Site Map of the Campus in the accompanying Teaching Tools for Mindfulness Training website. Thanks for your patience. -- Editor & TTMT Coach, Keoni Pilipa'a. ("John Bilby," in the twelve-lettered Hawaiian alphabet.) Aloha.