Prior to the arrival of the missionaries in 1820, Hawaiians believed in many gods. A Hawaiian chant, the Kumulipo which consists of 2102 lines, links the royal families to the gods. There are four major gods, KU, KANE, LONO and KANALOA. Demi-gods included Pele and many others. The complexities of the relationships between all Hawaiian gods are explained in many legends.
Each Hawaiian family had its own aumakua (personal god) which protected them. For some it was the shark, others the pig, and so on. It was thought that spirits could communicate to the living through dreams and often appeared in the form of the family’s aumakua.
The Hawaiians built many heiau (temples) and placed offerings on specially constructed altar-like towers. Most offerings were edible and wrapped in ti leaves to keep the evil spirits away. Human sacrifice did occur but was not common. It was reserved for the war god Ku. The Hawaiian religion was greatly altered by the missionaries, yet strong beliefs did not die. In modern times a Hawaiian priest may bless a ground-breaking ceremony with a combination of Hawaiian chants and Christian prayers. The spirit of old Hawaii lives on. Of the great gods worshiped throughout Polynesia, Ku, Kane, Lono and Kanaloa were named to the early missionaries. They are invoked together in chant, as in the lines: A distant place lying in quietness for Ku, for Lono, for Kane and Kanaloa.
The Four Major Tiki Gods
KU – Ancient God of War: Warrior, Provide focus, energy and motivation. He was the husband of the goddess Hina, suggesting a complementary dualism as the word ku in the Hawaiian language means “standing up” while one meaning of ‘hina’ is ‘fallen down’. Ku is worshiped under many names, including Ku-ka-ili-moku, the “Seizer of Land” (a feather-god, the guardian of Kamehameha). Rituals included human sacrifice, which was not part of the worship of the other gods. Ku, Kane, and Lono caused light to shine in upon the world. They are uncreated gods who have existed from eternity.
LONO – Ancient God of Fertility and Peace: Most ancient of the Tiki, Seeker of Knowledge, Represents Family Strength, Good Luck, Happy and Love. Lono is a fertility and music god who descended to Earth on a rainbow to marry Laka. In agricultural and planting traditions, Lono was identified with rain and food plants. Twin brother of KANALOA, who existed before the world was created. Lono was also the god of peace.
Hawaiian Tiki Gods Lono (Pictured Left) & Kane Mask (Pictured Right)
KANE – Ancient God of Light and Life: Provides safe keeping, Virtue Tiki of Patience and Consciousness. God of procreation. Highest of the 4 major Hawaiian Tiki Gods. Kane Milohai is the father of the tiki gods Ka-moho-ali’i, Pele (whom he exiled to Hawaii), Kapo, Namaka and Hi’iaka by Haumea. He created the sky, earth and upper heaven and gave Kumu-Honua the garden. He owned a tiny seashell that, when placed on the ocean’s waves, turned into a huge sailboat. The user of the boat had merely to state his destination and the boat took him there. In agricultural and planting traditions, Kane was identified with the sun.
The word Kane alone means “man”. As a creative force, Kane was the heavenly father of all men. As he was the father of all living things, he was a symbol of life in nature.
KANALOA – Ancient God of The Sea: Instill Hope and Faith, Cleansing Tiki of Fresh Water. He is the local form of a Polynesian deity generally connected with the sea. Roughly equivalent deities are known as Tangaroa in New Zealand, Tagaloa in Samoa, and Ta’aroa in Tahiti.
In the traditions of Ancient Hawaii, Kanaloa is symbolized by the squid, and is typically associated with Kane in legends and chants where they are portrayed as complementary powers. For example, Kane was called upon during the building of a canoe and Kanaloa during the sailing of it. Kane governed the northern edge of the ecliptic while Kanaloa manned the southern; Kanaloa points to hidden springs, and Kane then taps them out. In this way, they represent a divine duality of wild and taming forces.
Goddess Pele Tiki