Lomilomi Massage and the concept of Ho'omana

Volcano erupts at night in Hawaii

             Religious belief helps to shape the way in which people see and interact with the world.  For the people of Polynesia, their religious beliefs are deeply interwoven with everyday existence.  There are no aspects of life that can be separated from religion, and their underlying spiritual viewpoint also influences perceptions and worldview.  In this special form of land-based religion, humans have a delicate relationship with their earthly surroundings.  All natural things are considered to be sacred, and humans are the caretakers of the earth.  The spiritual law of pono, balance and harmony, governs mankind’s existence and is intertwined with all aspects of life.  For this very reason, to understand Polynesian and Hawaiian religion is to understand their complete way of life and experience their existence from their point of view.

            To fully understand why Polynesian religion is inseparable from the Polynesian way of life, it will be helpful to first examine the Kumulipo, a cosmogonic origin story.  This chant tells of how the kanaka (Hawaiian people) are descended from the ‘aina (land).  According to this genealogy, kanaka can trace their ancestry all the way back to the first plants and animals that were born from the land.  The Akua (god-like humans) come from the same line of ancestors as the humans do, and therefore, are rooted in the history of the earth alongside kanaka.  This means that the Gods of Hawai’i, as well as the earth itself, are the ancient ancestors of the people.  The earth and all of its natural things are considered to be sacred because of this connection.  The concept of pono, which is balance and harmony, is what ensures that the earth and all of its inhabitants are properly cared for.  It is of the utmost importance for a person to be pono in how they live their everyday life in order to show respect for their Gods and their ancestors.  Every single act impacts the balance of the universe; therefore, all aspects of life must be regarded as sacred and spiritual.  The earth, which nourishes and sustains human life, must also be cared for in return.

            To further illustrate the importance of the land, it is also helpful to examine the many Hawaiian legends concerning the Akua and the Kupua (demi-gods).  Many of these legends help to explain the history behind certain geographic locations.  Often, visible features of the land are the direct result of the actions of Akua and Kupua.  For example, “Ka’auhelemoa Spring” tells the story of a fight between Kamapua’a (who is a Kupua in the form of a pig) and the goblin cock.  Because the cock falls backwards into the stream and dies, there is a reddish blood colored tint to the water.  This stream is located in Palolo Valley and is now named Ka’auhelemoa after this chicken.  For the people of Hawai’i, place names can invoke images of the gods and deities that have inhabited there.  The natural surroundings will always speak the stories of the Gods because the Gods have laid their mark on the same land that the humans dwell in.  Individual locations also have their own unique mana (power) which resides there based on its history.

            According to John Charlot, a Christian theologian who has studied Polynesian beliefs, “the Hawaiian studies the universe as the ultimate truth.”  This means that there is no separation between earthly life and religious experience.  There is no need to look outside of this world for sacred knowledge because all things sacred belong to the earth.  Traditional Hawaiians do not look to the heavens for their Gods but instead look to the land that they come from.  The stories of the Gods tell of where the Gods reside.  For example, Pele is on the island of Hawai’i, and Kamapua’a usually lives on Oahu.  Hawaiians also believe that there are special spirit realms.  The three main realms of the spirit world co-exist with the earth and are all part of the same universe. They can be accessed through actual physical locations called leina aka ‘uhane (leaping places).  Even the other realms of existence are still directly connected to the earth in Hawaiian religious beliefs, not separate.  Ka’ena Point is one such example of a gateway to another realm.

            Because the Gods play such an integral part of daily life, so does the act of prayer.  For example, special prayers to ho’okuakuhi (clear the way) are made preceding every task, undertaking, or journey.  These prayers serve to remove obstacles and gain the favor of the Gods.
This means that all important actions are always done with reverence to the Gods and is another way in which daily life is interconnected with religious beliefs.  It is impossible to separate prayer from action because all acts have consequence on the physical world.  Since mankind belongs to the earth, it is necessary for all actions to be pono and have the favor of the Gods.

            Another point of interest is the earthly presence of Aumakua (guardian ancestors).  These spirits are an ever-present influence on the acts of daily life.  Because a person’s Aumakua are part of their ancestral line, this means that you are constantly being watched over by your relatives.  The origin story of the Aumakua explains some of the special duties they have in regards to humans.  Most importantly, Aumakua help humans to lead a pono life of high morals in preparation for judgment after death.  This is another way in which all daily acts in life have significant religious meaning.  For the traditional Hawaiian, every action is being watched over by their Aumakua, and they are constantly surrounded by the spirits of their Gods and ancestors as well as the mana of mother earth.  Religious beliefs are not something that can be separated from life because these beliefs are what make up their entire way of living.

            Most importantly, Polynesians actually experience their religious beliefs as part of daily life.  It is not simply an act of faith to live according to their beliefs.  The presence of the Gods can be seen in the geography of the land.  A region’s peculiarities hold the stories and history of the interactions of the Gods.  The Aumakua can take the form of plants and animals and can also possess humans in times of need.  Life can be full of spiritual visions and signs that serve to guide people in the right direction.  Religion has meaning and applies to daily living.  In turn, everyday life is also a constant reminder of religious belief and spiritual reality.

            All actions in traditional Hawaiian life are thought of in the context of the greater spiritual universe.  This universe is not something that exists outside of daily life but is something that is interconnected throughout everything.  The Hawaiian people lead an existence that is based completely on their religious beliefs.  Therefore as Charlot puts it, “Polynesian religion is really a description of Polynesian experience.”  This system of belief is not merely an explanation of the unknown nor is it only a philosophy on life and death.  Polynesian religion is an entire way of life that encompasses all of the actions and perceptions of those that experience it.