Makahiki, Hawaii’s Holidays

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Like many indigenous cultures the world over, native Hawaiians celebrate the harvest season. And like those other indigenous cultures, the Hawaiian makahiki is meant to celebrate the year’s bounty as well as to honor the god Lono, who is commonly associated with rain and the fertility of the land. Full of feasting and games, tribute, surfing, song and hula dancing, makahiki also sees certain kapu (or taboos) observed. This included a ban on all war, to allow for processions to honor the god Lono on each island without opposition.

The yearly festival takes place at roughly the same time each year, and comprises the months between the end of October and into February or March. Because the festival is based on the lunar calendar, its beginning and end pay no heed to the modern Gregorian calendar. Makahiki extends over 4 Hawaiian lunar months.

The conventional, modern holiday season in the western world is fixed, with noted celebrations taking place on the same calendar date each year: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But makahiki begins when certain celestial bodies appear in specific places in the sky, regardless of what the date may be.

Makahiki begins when the Pleiades constellation, known to Hawaiians as the Makali’i, appears in the eastern sky with the setting of the sun. Cultures in Africa, Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Oceania have long associated the constellation with their own harvest celebrations, making Hawaiians part of a world family of indigenous cultures similarly attuned to the workings of the heavens.

Traditionally, the Hawaiian makahiki season doesn’t end until all customs and rituals have been observed, and the high chief lifted all of the kapu, particularly those on fishing, farming, and warfare. Perhaps despite Hawaii’s geographical isolation from the rest of the world, the same night sky shared with other cultures of Earth united Hawaiians in a family of humanity.

Makahiki takes place at the same time, but it utterly lacks the vulgar commercialism and consumerism that Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas have come to embody. It celebrates the harvest. It honors an arrangement between humans and the gods they worship to get them through hard weather and long nights. And it celebrates the beginning of the cycle of life that all indigenous cultures have built their beliefs around.

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