Hawaiians - Religion and Expressive Culture
The religion described in ethnohistorical sources was largely the province of male chiefs. Sacrificial rites performed by priests at monumental temples served to legitimate chiefly authority.
Religious Beliefs. Chiefs were genealogically linked to gods and were believed to have sacred power (mana). Under what was called the kapu system women were denied many choice foods and could not eat with men. Pre-Christian beliefs persisted at the local level long after the chiefly sacrificial religion was overthrown. The indigenous religion recognized four major gods and at least one major goddess identified with the earth and procreation. Ku, the god of war, fishing, and other male pursuits, was Kamehameha's patron deity. Another god, Lono, represented the contrasting ethos of peace and reproduction. Women worshipped their own patron goddesses. Commoners made offerings to ancestral guardian spirits at their domestic shrines. Deities were also associated with particular crafts and activities. Although Congregationalists were the first to missionize in Hawai'i, the sect has few adherents among Hawaiians today. Roman Catholicism has attracted many Hawaiians, as have small Protestant churches emphasizing personal forms of worship.
Religious Practitioners. Before the kapu abolition younger brothers normatively served their seniors as priests. Major deities had their own priesthoods. The volcano goddess Pele is said to have had priestesses. Among the commoners there were experts in healing and sorcery, known as "Kahuna," and such specialists are still utilized by Hawaiians today.
Ceremonies. The Hawaiian ritual calendar was based on lunar phases. Kü ruled the land for eight months of the year. Lono reigned for four winter months during the Makahiki festival when warfare was suspended and fertility was celebrated.
Arts. Chiefly men were sometimes tattooed, but this was not a general custom and most of the details have been lost. The carved wooden idols of the gods are artistically impressive, but few survived the dramatic end of the native religion. The hula, the indigenous dance form, had numerous styles ranging from sacred paeans to erotic celebrations of fertility. Various percussion instruments used included drums, sticks, bamboo pipes, pebbles (like castanets), gourds, rattles, and split bamboo pieces.
Medicine. Hawaiians today utilize Western medicine but may also consult healers and spiritual specialists, some linked to Hawaiian cultural precedent and others syncretic, drawing on other ethnic traditions. Hawaiians are particularly prone to spirit possession, and many believe that evil thoughts have material consequences on other people. Illness is linked to Social grievances or imbalances.
Death and Afterlife. Ancient Hawaiians secreted remains of the dead in burial caves. The deceased's personal power or mana was believed to reside in the bones. Chiefs were particularly concerned that their enemies not find their remains and show disrespect to them after death. Those who broke the taboos, on the other hand, were killed and offered to the gods, and their remains were allowed to decompose on the temple.