AUMAKUAS, OR ANCESTOR-GHOSTS
There are two meanings to the
first part of this word,
for "au" means a multitude,
as in "auwaa" (many canoes),
but it may mean time and place,
as in the following:
"Our ancestors thought that if
there was a desolate place
where no man could be found, it was
the aumakua (place of many gods)."
"Makua" was the name given to
the ancestors of a chief
and of the people as well as to parents.
The aumakuas were the ghosts
who did not go down into Po,
the land of King Milu. They were
in the land of the living,
hovering around the families from
which they had been separated
by death. They were the
guardians of these families.
When any one died, many devices
were employed in disposing of the body.
The fact that an enemy of the
family might endeavor to secure the bones
of the dead for the purpose of
making them into fish-hooks, arrow-heads,
or spearheads led the surviving
members of a family either to destroy or
to conceal the body of the dead.
For if the bones were so used it meant
great dishonor, and the spirit
was supposed to suffer on account
of this indignity.
Sometimes the flesh was stripped
from the bones and cast into
the ocean or into the fires
of the volcanoes. that the ghost
might be made a part of the
family ghosts who lived in such places,
and the bones were buried in
some secret cave or pit, or folded
together in a bundle, and these
were called unihipili. The unihipili
bones were used in connection
with a strange belief called
pule-ana-ana (praying to death).
When the body of a dead person
was to be hidden, only two or three
men were employed in the task.
Sometimes the one highest in rank
would slay his helpers so
that no one except himself
would know the burial-place.
The tools, the clothing, and
the calabashes of the dead were
unclean until certain ceremonies
of purification had been faithfully
performed. Many times these
possessions were either placed in the
burial-cave beside the body
or burned so that they might
be the property of the spirit
The people who cared for the body
had to bathe in salt water and
separate themselves from the
family for a time. They must sprinkle
the house and all things inside
with salt water. After a few days
the family would return and
occupy the house once more.
Usually the caretakers of a dead
body would make a hole in the
side of the house and push it
through rather than take it through
the old doorway, probably having
the idea that the ghost would
only know the door through which
the body had gone out when alive
and so could not find the new way
back when the opening was closed.
After death came, the ghost crept
out of the body, coming up from
the feet until it rested in the
eyes, and then it came out from
the corner of one eye, and had a
kind of wind body. It could pass
around the room and out of doors
through any opening it could find.
It could perch like a bird on
the roof of a house or in the branches
of trees, or it could seat
itself on logs or stones near the house.
It might have to go back into
the body and make it live again.
Possibly the ghost might meet
some old ancestor-ghosts and be led
so far away that it could not
return; then it must become a
member of the aumakua, or
ancestor-ghost, family, or wander off
to join the homeless desolate
Sometimes dead bodies were thrown
into the sea with the hope that
the ghost body would become a
shark or an eel, or perhaps
a. mo-o, or dragon-god, to
be worshipped with other
ancestor-gods of the same class.
Sometimes the body or the bones
would be cast into the crater of Kilauea,
the people thinking the spirit
would become a flame of fire like Pele,
the goddess of volcanoes; other
spirits went into the air concealed
in the dark depths of the
sky, perhaps in the clouds.
Here they carried on the work needed
to help their families. They would
become fog or mist or the fine
misty rain colored by light. With
these the Rainbow Maiden, Anuenue,
delighted to dwell. They often
lived in the great rolling white
clouds, or in the gray clouds which
let fall the quiet rain needed
for farming. They also lived in the
fierce black thunder-clouds which
sent down floods of a devastating
character upon the enemies of
the family to which they belonged.
There were ghost ancestors who
made their homes near the places
where the members of their families
toiled; there were ancestor-ghosts
to take care of the tapa, or kapa,
makers, or the calabash or house or
canoe makers. There were special
ancestor-ghosts called upon by name
by the farmers, the fishermen,
and the bird-hunters.
These ghosts had their own kuleanas,
or places to which they belonged,
and in which they had their own
peculiar duties and privileges.
They became ancestor ghost-gods
and dwelt on the islands near the homes
of their worshippers, or in the
air above, or in the trees around the
houses, or in the ocean or
in the glowing fires of volcanoes.
They even dwelt in human beings,
making them shake or sneeze as
with cold, and then a person
was said to become an ipu,
or calabash containing a ghost.
Sometimes it was thought that a
ghost-god could be seen sitting
on the head or shoulder of the
person to whom it belonged.
Even in this twentieth century
a native woman told the writer
that she saw a ghost-god whispering
in his ear while he was
making an address. She said,
"That ghost was like a fire or
a colored light." Many times the
Hawaiians have testified that
they believed in the presence
of their ancestor ghost-gods.
This is the way the presence
of a ghost was detected:
Some sound would be heard,
such as a sibilant noise,
a soft whistle, or something
like murmurs, or some sensation
in a part of the body might be
felt. If an eyelid trembled,
a ghost was sitting on that
spot. A quivering or creepy
feeling in any part of the body
meant that a ghost was touching
that place. If any of these
things happened, a person would cry
out, "I have seen or felt
a spirit of the gods."
Sometimes people thought they saw
the spirits of their ghost friends.
They believed that the spirits of
these friends appeared in the night,
sometimes to kill any one who was
in the way. The high chiefs and
warriors are supposed to march and
go in crowds, carrying their spears
and piercing those they met unless
some ghost recognized that one and
called to the others, "Alia
[wait]," but if the word was
"O-i-o [throw the spear]!"
then that spirit's spear
would strike death to the passer-by.
There were night noises which
the natives attributed to
sounds or rustling motions made
by such night gods as the following:
Akua-hokio (whistling gods).
Akua-kiei (peeping gods).
Akua-nalo (prying gods).
Akua-loa (long gods).
Akua-poko (short gods)
Akua-muki (sibilant gods).
A prayer to these read thus:
"O Akua-loa! [long god]
O Akua-poko! [short god]
O Akua-muki! [god breathing in
short, sibilant breaths]
O Akua-hokio! [god blowing like whistling winds]
O Akua-kiei! [god watching, peeping at one]
O Akua-nalo! [god hiding, slipping out of sight]
O All ye Gods, who travel on the dark night paths!
Come and eat.
Give life to me,
And my parents,
And my children,
To us who are living in this place.
This prayer was offered every night
as a protection against the ghosts.
The aumakuas were very laka
(tame and helpful). It was said
that an aumakua living in a
shark would be very laka, and
would come to be rubbed on
the head, opening his mouth for
a sacrifice. Perhaps some awa,
or meat, would be placed in
his mouth, and then he would go
away. So also if the aumakua
were a bird, it would become tame.
If it were the alae (a small duck),
it would come to the hand of
its worshipper; if the pueo (owl),
it would come and scratch the
earth away from the grave of one
of its worshippers, throwing
the sand away with its wings,
and would bring the body back
to life. An owl ancestor-god
would come and set a worshipper
free were he a prisoner
with hands and feet bound by ropes.
It made no difference whether
the dead person were male or
female, child or aged one,
the spirit could become
a ghost-god and watch over the family.
There were altars for the
ancestor-gods in almost every land.
These were frequently only
little piles of white coral,
but sometimes chiefs would
build a small house for their
ancestor-gods, thus making
homes that the ghosts might have
a kuleana, or place of their
own, where offerings could be
placed, and prayers offered,
and rest enjoyed.
The Hawaiians have this to say
about sacrifices for the aumakuas:
If a mo-o, or dragon-god, was
angry with its caretaker or his
family and they became weak and
sick, they would sacrifice a
spotted dog with awa, red fish,
red sugar-cane, and some of the
grass growing in taro patches
wrapped in yellow kapa. This they
would take to the lua, or hole,
where the mo-o dwelt, and fasten
the bundle there. Then the mo-o
would become pleasant and take
away the sickness. If it were
a shark-god, the sacrifice was a
black pig, a dark red chicken,
and some awa wrapped in new
white kapa made by a virgin.
This bundle would be carried
to the beach, where a
prayer would be offered:
"O aumakuas from sunrise to sunset,
From North to South, from above and below,
O spirits of the precipice and spirits of the sea,
All who dwell in flowing waters,
Here is a sacrifice-our gifts are to you.
Bring life to us, to all the family,
To the old people with wrinkled skin,
To the young also.
This is our life,
From the gods."
Then the farmer would throw the
bundle into the sea, bury the
chicken alive, take the pig to
the temple, then go back to his
house looking for rain. If
there was rain, it showed that the
aumakua had seen the gifts and
washed away the wrong. If the
clouds became black with
heavy rain, that was well.
The offerings for Pele and Hiiaka
were awa to drink and food
to eat, in fact all things
which could be taken to the crater.
This applies to the four great
gods, Kane, Ku, Lono, and Kanaloa.
They are called the first of
the ancestors. Each one of these was
supposed to be able to appear
in a number of different forms,
therefore each had a number of
names expressive of the work he
intended or was desired to do.
An explanatory adjective or phrase
was added to the god's own name,
defining certain acts or
Kane-puaa (Kane, the pig) was Kane
who would aid in stirring
up the ground like a pig.
This is one of the prayers used
when presenting offerings to
aumakuas, "O Aumakuas of the
rising of the sun, guarded by every
tabu staff, here are offerings
and sacrifices--the black pig,
the white chicken, the black
cocoanut, the red fish-sacrifices
for the gods and all the aumakuas;
those of the ancestors,
those of the night, and of
the dawn, here am I. Let life come."
The ancestor-gods were supposed
to use whatever object they
lived with. If ghosts went up
into the clouds, they moved the
clouds from place to place and
made them assume such shapes as
might be fancied. Thus they would
reveal themselves over their old homes.
All the aumakuas were supposed
to be gentle and ready to help
their own families. The old
Hawaiians say that the power of the
ancestor-gods was very great.
" Here is the magic power. Suppose
a man would call his shark,
'O Kuhai-moana [the shark-god]!
O, the One who lives in the
Ocean! Take me to the land!'
Then perhaps a shark would appear,
and the man would get on
the back of the shark, hold fast
to the fin, and say: 'You look
ahead. Go on very swiftly without
waiting.' Then the shark would
swim swiftly to the shore."
The old Hawaiians had the sport
called "lua." This sometimes
meant wrestling, but usually
was the game of catching a man,
lifting him up, and breaking
his body so that he was killed.
A wrestler of the Ina class
would go out to a plain where no
people were dwelling and call his
god Kuialua. The aumakua ghost
-god would give this man strength and
skill, and help him to kill his adversaries.
There were many priests of
different classes who prayed to the
ancestor-gods. Those of the
farmers prayed like this:
"O great black cloud in
the far-off sky,
O shadow watching shadow,
Watch over our land.
Overshadow our land
From corner to corner
From side to side.
Do not cast your shadow on other lands
Nor let the waters fall on the other lands
[i.e., keep the rains over my place]."
Also they prayed to
Kane-puaa (Kane, the pig),
the great aumakua of farmers:
"O Kane-puaa, root!
Dig inland, dig toward the sea;
Dig from corner to corner,
From side to side;
Let the food grow in the middle,
Potatoes on the side roots,
Fruit in the centre.
Do not root in another place!
The people may strike
You with the spade [o-o]
Or hit you with a stone,
And hurt you. Amama [Amen]."
So also they prayed to
Kukea-olo-walu (a taro aumakua god):
O Kukea-olo-walu! Make the taro grow.
Let the leaf spread like a banana.
Taro for us, O Kukea!
The banana and the taro for us.
Pull up the taro for us, O Kukea!
Pound the taro.
Make the fire for cooking the pig.
Give life to us--
To the farmers--
From sunrise to sunset
From one fastened place to
the other fastened place
[i.e., one side of the sky to
the other fastened on each
side of the earth].
Trees with their branches and
fruit were frequently endowed with
spirit power. All the different
kinds of birds and even insects,
and also the clouds and winds
and the fish in the seas were
given a place among the spirits
around the Hawaiians.
The people believed in life and
its many forms of power. They
would pray to the unseen forces
for life for themselves and their
friends, and for death to come
on the families of their enemies.
They had special priests and
incantations for the pule-ana-ana,
or praying to death, and even
to the present time the supposed
power to pray to death is one
of the most formidable terrors
to their imagination.
Menehunes, eepas, and kupuas were
classes of fairies or gnomes
which did not belong to the
ancestor-gods, or aumakuas.
The menehunes were fairy servants.
Some of the Polynesian Islands
called the lowest class of servants
"manahune." The Hawaiians separated
them almost entirely from the
spirits of ancestors. They worked at
night performing prodigious tasks
which they were never supposed
to touch again after
the coming of dawn.
The eepas were usually deformed
and defective gnomes. They suffered
from all kinds of weakness,
sometimes having no bones and no more
power to stand than a large leaf.
They were sometimes set apart as
spirit caretakers of little children.
Nuuanu Valley was the home of
a multitude of eepas who had
their temple on the western
side of the valley.
Kupuas were the demons of ghost-land.
They were very powerful
and very destructive. No human
being could withstand their attacks
unless specially endowed with power
from the gods. They had animal
as well as human bodies and could
use whichever body seemed to
be most available.
The dragons, or mo-os,
were the most terrible
kupuas in the islands.
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