The Sacred Na Aumakua…what are they, who are they and where is their place in Kanaka Maoli culture? (Native Hawaiians) The culture of the Kanaka go way back…thousands of years. As they left their past behind on Tahiti they took many of their cultural history with them to the promised land of Hawai’i.
If we are to understand the meaning of the Na Aumakua, we must understand the Spiritual Power (MANA) they posses, Mana is the spiritual energy and also healing power which can exist in places, objects and persons…with Mana there is KAPU…Kapu is a CODE of CONDUCT of LAWS and REGULATIONS. Only the Ali’i Nui (Royalty/Chiefs) could put Kapu’s on items, people, things and Aumakuas, which is a ( Family God, Guardian, Protector and Ancestor)
Why would a free diver off Moloka’i toss away every few fish he speared?
For his Aumakua…that’s why.
All of a sudden, this huge MANO, (Tiger Shark) came up and took the fish tossed away by the diver…The Shark did not attack the free diver, but why? For the Diver was feeding his ‘Aumakua. Wherever the diver would go, his MANO (shark) would help him, guide and protect him from other sharks…His Aumakua would protect and follow him wherever and whenever he would dive.
The Story goes like this:
A long time ago a tour boat sank off Moloka’i in the 1930s. Sharks swarmed as the tourists splashed away, all of the tourists were attacked and killed. The captain of the boat, however, started to chant and pray for protection. “His Aumakua appeared and offered his dorsal fin up and carried the captain to safely to shore. Is this just a story? Even in modern times, things like this happen. People try to explain it, but you can’t. A lot of Kanaka Maoli culture cannot be explained only accepted.
Can we Forget our Na Aumakua the HONU? The Gentle Giant of the Hawaiian waters, or friend and protector as well as protector of our reef, The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle. The Hawaiian way is to value all creatures as having a rightful place in the ecosystem…it is the essential connection between the aina, the kai, the aumakua and the mana of the old Kapu system that was in place thousands of years ago.
The shark, turtle and other Sacred Ancestors in Hawai’i are more than just ferocious ocean predators or Goats of the ocean…These Na Aumakua are woven into the fabrics of Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) History and culture.
Those who had an Aumakua believed that a departed ancestor took the form of these beings after death and appeared in dreams to living relatives. These Hawaiians would feed and pet a special Aumakua whom they believed to be a relative of their Kanaka Bloodline. In turn, the Aumakua would protect the family. This did not mean every animal a Kanaka Maoli comes across was their Aumakua…Ones Aumakua are identified very specifically by body markings, and are named. They are part of the ohana. There is a direct connection, a blood relationship between ones Aumakua and the ohana’s Bloodline. When comparing the relationship to the feelings a person might have for his elders (Kupuna). When you’re in a difficult situation, one may recall the lessons that your grandparents or great grandparents taught you…There’s a feeling that they’ll be there to watch over you, give you guidence and protection, usch as the MANO or HONU.
Care and feeding of your Aumakua was an essential part of this symbiotic relationship, may it be the MANO (Shark), the HONU (Green Sea Turtle) the MO’O (Lizard) or even the PUEO (White Owl). Caring and feeding your Aumakua would drive off all bad spirits and carry its mortal family members to safety, but in return, family members were responsible for scraping the barnacles off the Aumakuas back or belly, making sure it was well and healthy and feeding it as well, may it be Limu or fish. Fishermen would give out some of the first catch to the MANO and then the shark would disappear, when the fishermen would return from a day of fishing they would return with full nets. Only when the shark appears do the fishermen have such luck. Sometimes their Aumakua would tell them beforehand in dreams that it has gathered the fish together for them and would be waiting.
*Ancient Hawaiians relationship with the environment helped them connect more readily with their Aumakua. In ancient times there was a system of KAPU, Mana…Spiritual Power of laws and regulations…There was one penalty for polluting the ocean, taking things out of it that shouldn’t be taken, killing an Aumakua or even casting a shadow on one that had a Kapu on it…By breaking Kapu this way you took Mana away and created an unbalance and theft of mana which was a HUGE KAPU…if an Ali’i Nui (Chief) had a Kapu on an Aumakua and you even casted your shadow on the Chiefs Protector and Ancestor…the penalty was DEATH!
Every aumakua, every wind, every piece of land, every body of water, every cloud had a name and a story. Kanaka Maoli’s could talk to the trees, mountains and the animals and they would always answer back…In Life or in dreams.
This was the ways of the Kanaka Maoli people…The ways of old…The KAPU SYSTEM may be mostly gone today, but our love for our Na Aumakua thankfully is one of the traditions that continues and live on today.
It’s vital to remember, reflect, learn and respect the culture and history of the Hawaiian People…if we do that, if we show them aloha and the living beings of these islands…the islands and the Kanaka will love and respect us.
Here is a small list of our most beloved and known Na Aumakua~
ʻAumākua could appear as:
- honu (turtle)
- pueo, owl (as at Manoa, Oʻahu, Kau and Puna)
- manō, shark (all islands except Kauaʻi)
- ʻalalā, crow (island of Hawaiʻi)
- ʻio, hawk (on island of Hawaiʻi)
- ʻelepaio, monarch flycatcher (also the goddess of canoe makers)
- ʻiʻiwi, honeycreeper (whose feathers were used extensively in featherwork)
- ʻalae ʻula, Hawaiian Gallinule (whose cry was considered a bad omen)
- heʻe, octopus
- puhi, eel
- ʻiole liʻiliʻi, mouse
- ʻiole, rat
- ʻīlio, dog
- moʻo, lizard, or dragon
- peʻelua/ʻenuhe/nuhe/ʻanuhe/poko, caterpillar
- pōhaku, rock
- leho, cowry
- ao, cloud
- mea kanu, plant