Free Essay Sample - Gods

Published: 2023-03-26
 Free Essay Sample - Gods
Type of paper:  Research paper
Categories:  Culture Religion World
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1815 words
16 min read

Religion was the paramount aspect of Hawaiian life, permeating every daily activity, every aspect of secular affairs, and every significant event, such as birth, marriage, death, house construction, fishing, agriculture, and war. Also important were the regular calendrical celebrations to ensure the peoples' prosperity and well-being. All activities were accompanied by appropriate rites, religious ceremonies, and prayers to establish and maintain proper relations with the spirits. The ancient Hawaiians believed these spirits, who pervaded the world and shaped events, had the power to inflict injury if directed or if angered by the breaking of their kapu, but could be approached and persuaded to act in one's behalf. The Hawaiians worshipped a vast number of deities, of which there were two main categories. Akua represented nature's elements - they were the personifications of great natural forces. The 'aumakua mentioned earlier were the familiar ancestral protective gods.

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All parts of nature were thought to be manifestations or particular functions of one of these gods. A distinct difference in their "personalities" was reflected in the kind of phenomena and natural processes with which they were associated. A particular manifestation of one of a god's functions was regarded as a separate being. One god, in his different aspects, could be a patron of various crafts and activities and was usually referred to with an epithet attached to the name describing the particular aspect being invoked (e.g., Ku-of-fishing, Ku-of-war). These aspects of the major gods were worshipped as separate entities. The war god Ku-ka'ili-moku, the special god of the kings of Hawai'i Island, became of great importance during the latter era of Hawai'i's ancient history, especially in the reign of Kamehameha. At that time Ku-ka'ili-moku (Ku-the-snatcher-of-islands), Kamehameha's personal god, was established as the principal deity of the realm, a kind of state god. Demigods such as Pele, the volcano goddess, were less powerful than the four major ones and were associated with definite places, forces, or beings, as they are today. Their worship was mainly a private affair, while that to the great deities was publicly carried out in large temples by noble priests and their superiors. [129] The four all-powerful cosmic deities, or akua, in Polynesian mythology were Kane, the primary god, representative of the supreme being, creator of nature and men, concerned with life and procreation; Kanaloa, associated with the sea and death but of little importance in the hierarchy; Ku, who assisted in strenuous activities, generally controlled the fruitfulness of the earth, politics, and, as the power behind war, was a special god of the chiefs; and Lono, god of rain and agriculture and hence of fertility, the most benevolent of the four.

The general welfare of the land, its occupants, and the chiefdoms was considered dependent on the careful and proper observance of the several calendric cycles of temple ritual. The strength and prosperity of a chiefdom, in other words, was directly related to the religious fervor the paramount chief displayed. Although the paramount chief exerted the ultimate political authority of the chiefdom, the resting place of supreme power and authority lay with the gods, or usually one specific god, who provided the paramount chief with the mana to rule. This divine mandate was considered revoked if there were a successful coup d'etat or victorious invasion resulting in a reassignment of political authority. The successful defeat of an invasion, on the other hand, was interpreted as divine confirmation of the status quo. [130]


The ancient Hawaiians considered themselves always in the midst of gods, spirits, and supernatural beings who frequented the mountains, woods, shores, and the sea, and who entered into objects, stone and wood images, and living things such as birds and sharks as well as people. According to Hawaiian belief, the success of all human activities depended on maintaining the proper relations with these spirits, and the vehicles for accomplishing this included shrines, temples, and images as well as rituals and prayers. The latter work was carried on by kahuna. In family worship, the male head of the family acted as priest, but at the elaborate, prescribed rituals in the temples of the chiefs, professional priests presided. It was they alone who knew the proper rituals for winning the favor of the gods and obtaining the purity necessary to survive the ever-present dangers in life. Closely associated with the ruling chiefs, and next in rank and authority to them, stood the kahuna pule, a distinct group of officiating priests that presided over each facet or cult of the religion. Although the chiefs were more closely descended from the gods, these kahuna were also very powerful because of their direct contact with the gods and could best determine ways to gain or perpetuate power, maintain rapport with the major gods, and intercede with them for a particular purpose.

The worship of the gods named earlier comprised a state religion characterized by large, influential cadres of priests, complex rituals, and specific places where ceremonies took place. Each major god had his own hereditary priesthood, distinct ceremonies, and specific temples (heiau) where the appropriate rituals were performed and offerings made. Each priestly family was, by tradition, devoted to the service of a particular god and could not officiate at the temple of any other deity. Only the king had free access to all sacred enclosures. In addition to their religious duties, the priesthood had charge of the chronologies, historical songs, traditions, and legends of Hawaiian society. On the island of Hawai'i, at least, two hereditary hierarchial orders of priests existed, those of Ku and those of Lono, with the former being of highest rank and therefore most powerful. The high priest (kahuna nui), one of the supreme chief's two senior advisors, headed the cult of the war god Ku. The KG rituals were only held in luakini (a sacrificial heiau) of the independent ruling chiefs, which will be described later, and were held in connection with war and other national emergencies. The Lono rituals were for maintaining peace and the fruitfulness of the land. [131]

Purpose of System

The ancient Hawaiian culture's system of law, derived from religious authority, influenced social organization by dictating an individual's appropriate behavior within this highly rigid and ranked society. As Apple and Kikuchi state,

The universe of the native Hawaiian can be viewed as having been a delicately balanced, tri-state system composed of the supernatural, the natural, and the cultural. Hawaiian culture demanded that the balance be maintained in order for the universe to function smoothly, efficiently, and abundantly. [132]

The kapu system was based in part on a dualistic conception of nature that separated the things which were believed to be inferior (the common and unsacred, the physical, passive, female, darkness, destruction, and death, ignorance, westerly direction, left side) from the things which were believed to have a superior nature (the sacred, the psychic, mana, male, light, life, occult knowledge, easterly direction, right side). [133]

This system, a "sanctioned avoidance" behavior conforming to specific rules and prohibitions (kapu), prescribed the type of daily interactions among and between the classes, between the people and their gods, and between the people and nature. By compelling avoidance between persons of extreme rank difference, it reinforced class divisions by protecting mana (spiritual power) from contamination while at the same time preventing the mana from harming others. Kapu not only separated the nobility from the lower classes, but also prevented contact with such spiritually debasing or defiling things as corpses and evil spirits. The kapu system preserved the Hawaiian culture not only by maintaining social control through the prevention of chaos caused by the confusion of societal roles and by reinforcing political power, but also by providing environmental controls through the conservation of natural resources, which maintained a balance in nature and enabled maintenance of a subsistence [134]

Origin and Enforcement

The kapu system was practiced throughout Polynesia, indicating that the early Hawaiians brought its basic tenets from their homeland. Certain religious kapu were permanent and unchangeable, relating to customary rites, observances, ceremonies, and methods of worship, and to the maintenance of the gods and their priests. They were familiar and understood by all, having been practiced from childhood. Civil kapu were more capricious, erratic, and often temporary, depending on the whims of the chiefs and priests. [135] The kapu system comprised a vast number of prohibitions with dire penalties for infractions, intentional or not, that included execution by being stoned, clubbed, strangled, drowned, or burned alive. The strict observance of the kapu system and its punishments were necessary to preserve the power and prestige of the priesthood and the rulers. This intricate system that supported Hawai'i's social and political organization directed every activity of Hawaiian life, from birth through death, until its overthrow by King Kamehameha II in 1819. [136]

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