Mānoa Heritage Center



Mānoa Moʻolelo

In the traditional Hawaiian worldview, the psychic and spiritual realms are embodied in the physical realm, and the spirits may inhabit animate and inanimate objects. Mary Kawena Pukui, the pre-eminent Hawaiian scholar of the 20th century, wrote eloquently on the relationship Hawaiians, and in particular, the mahiʻai, the farmer, had with their environment.

It is hard for the modern, intellectually rigid and extroverted mind to sense the subjective relationship of the genuine Hawaiian to Nature, visible and invisible. But without in some degree sensing the feeling that underlies this quality of consciousness in those who live intimately in a condition of primary awareness and sensitivity on the plane of subjective identification with Nature, coupled with perceptions and concepts arising therefrom without some comprehension of this quality of spontaneous being-one-with-natural-phenomena which are persons, not things, it is impossible for an alien (be he foreigner or city hardened native) to understand a true country-Hawaiian’s sense of dependence and obligation, his “values,” his discrimination of the real, the good, the beautiful and the true, his feeling of organic and spiritual identification with the ʻāina (homeland) and ʻohana (kin). (Handy and Pukui 28)

With this in mind, we can understand how the people of old saw their world through a very different lens than we do today. To them, the rain was not just rain, it was Kuahine, the mother of Kahalaopuna, grieving for her daughter’s death. The wind was not just the wind, but Kahaukani, Kahalaopuna’s father, crying for his child. They saw the handiwork of the gods Kāne and Kanaloa on the landscape in the form of the freshwater springs these two brought forth. Owls lived not far away on Puʻu Pueo and interacted with humans. Everything in the world was alive with a presence, vitality, and meaning that our worldview does not recognize.