Mānoa Heritage Center



Farming in Mānoa

The gods had kinolau (many bodies) and something of their essence existed in plants, animals and many natural phenomena. Many of the gods overlap in their kinolau.  The following are a tiny representation of the many kinolau of the gods. Lono was seen in thunder and in the rain clouds, in the ipu and ‘uala, the hala, kukui and hapu‘u fern. The kumu, humuhumu and ‘ohua palemo (parrot fish) are also forms of Lono. Kū was seen in the ‘ie‘ie (Kūka‘ie‘ie), in the coconut and breadfruit trees and the fibrous pulupulu fern. The caterpillar, sea cucumber and eel were also kinolau of Kū. Kāne would be found in lightning, the rainbow and earthquakes. He is also found in coral, maile, bamboo, awa, ‘olapa and the palai fern. Kanaloa is generally associated with things from the sea such as the squid, the octopus, the sea turtle and the porpoise. One of his plant kinolau is the banana.

By understanding kinolau, we can further understand the close, personal and subjective relationship the Hawaiian farmers had with their natural environment. While it is true that Polynesian settlers/Hawaiians had a definite impact on the environment with their agricultural practices and animals, their impact was far less threatening than the onslaught brought with Western contact and the introduction of post-contact flora and fauna. Hawaiians, and in particular, Hawaiian farmers understood that they were completely dependent on the land and consequently they respected it and developed a relationship with it that is deeply spiritual…The early Hawaiians saw themselves as part of nature and their interactions with it were oriented toward maintaining unity and balance (Liittschwager and Middleton 29).

The close relationship between the maka‘āinana farmers, their natural surroundings and their gods is clearly evident in the existing agricultural prayers and the existing documentation of agricultural rituals. Some of these prayers address and invite the gods to be present, and to participate and aid in an agricultural activity. In a prayer to carve an ‘ō‘ō, a digging stick which was  the primary farmer’s tool, the farmer states thoroughly his activities so that the akua will be there from the beginning to the end: the hewing of the trunk of the tree, the top of the tree, and the branches; the carving of the ‘ō‘ō, and the farming using the ‘ō‘ō (Solis 18).

Farmers maintained altars in the men’s house with an image of their family god and made daily offerings of awa. Deities were also invoked at planting, harvest and other celebrations.  Offerings of food and plants often accompanied prayers on these occasions as if the deity were an integrated and honored family member sharing in the life cycle of a family. Rather than gazing down from some far-off heaven or other location, Hawaiian deities were perceived as close, physically present in multiple forms and closely involved with the everyday actions of human beings. In the introduction to her book Na Pule Kahiko, author, Jane Gutmanis states: For the worshippers of the gods of old Hawai‘i who see manifestations of gods wherever they look, prayer may be as frequent as conversations between close friends…Generally not propitiated, the gods of Hawai‘i are approached with just requests for help as family members.  They may be ordered, bargained with or threatened.  If a particular god does not produce the desired results, the dissatisfied supplicant can denounce the failure, scold the unresponsive god, and seek help elsewhere.