Hawaiian Games, Sports, Rituals, Ceremonies, and Celebrations

Hawaiian Games, Sports, Rituals, Ceremonies, and Celebrations

Ancient Hawaiians enjoyed a great variety of pā‘ani (sports and games), many of which were part of more serious rituals and ceremonies. For example, ancient Hawaiians (especially the young) made various hei (string figures) using string looped around the fingers. Ancient Hawaiians produced at least 115 of these string figures, and many of the figures were associated with particular chants.

A traditional loop and ball game was known as pala‘ie. The game of kōnane is similar to the Western game of checkers, and was played using pebbles on a stone or wood surface called a papa kōnane.

Ancient Hawaiians also engaged in many contests of strength and balance, including uma and pā uma (hand and wrist wrestling), kula‘i wāwae (foot-pushing), kula kula‘i (chest pushing), heihei kūkini (foot races), and hākōkō (wrestling). Ku‘i a lua was a dangerous form of hand-to-hand fighting, sometimes resulting in broken bones.

Pua (arrows, or darts) were sometimes made from stalks of kō (Saccharum officinarum, sugarcane) or other plants, and were used in games and contests.

O Ka‘aōna ka pua i ka uwahi o ka ho‘oilo, a ulu māhiehie.

In Ka‘aōna [is used] the dart that has rested in the smoke during

the rainy months until it acquires beauty.

Said of the month Ka‘aōna, when the young people bring out their darts for games. These darts had reddened in the smoke of the fireplaces during the wet months. With rubbing and polishing they acquired a beautiful sheen.

(Pukui: 2396-262)

Loulou is a finger-pulling contest in which opponents hook their fingers together (loulou means “to link or hook together”[i]) and then the competitors see who can stay hooked the longest.

A team tug-of-war game is known as pā‘ume‘ume (also called hukihuki); ‘io is a tag game involving foot-racing; and ‘ulu maika involves rolling stone discs for accuracy and distance. Ho‘olele lupe (flying kites) were made by covering a hau frame with kapa barkcloth or plaited lau hala, and then the kites are flown on a cord made from olonā.

Ancient Hawaiians also practiced kio (mock war games) in anticipation of real battle. They threw ku‘uku‘u (boomerangs) and participated in kākā lā‘au (spear fencing), ‘ō‘ō ihe (spear throwing), and ku‘i a lua (hand-to-hand fighting). Kūpololū involved using long spears (pololū) to pole vault, which was a necessary warrior skill for traversing ravines.

Many activities occurred in or near the ocean, including ‘au (swimming). Lele kawa involved jumping off cliffs into the sea in an attempt to make the least amount of splash, while the goal of lele pahū was to make the biggest splash.

The sport of kaupua was another ocean challenge, requiring participants to dive deep underwater to retrieve half-ripe ipu (Lageneria siceraria, gourds). Ancient Hawaiians also engaged in kaha nalu (body surfing), he‘e nalu (surfing) and heihei wa‘a (canoe racing).

Many ancient Hawaiian games and sports were played during the ancient Hawaiian harvest festival known as Makahiki, which began with the first appearance of the crescent moon following the new moon after the appearance of the constellation Makali‘i (Pleiades) rising in the east after sunset (around the middle of October), and lasting several months.

Time was taken away from work for feasts, sports games, and other events in honor of Lono, the god of agricultural fertility. Some contests engaged in during the Makahiki were meant to strengthen the participants’ warrior skills.

He‘e hōlua involved using papa hōlua (wooden sleds) to slide down steep hills or down specially constructed stone ramps. The slides were lined with pili grass (Heteropogon contortus, twisted beardgrass) or tassels of kō (Saccharum officinarum, sugarcane), allowing the sledders to reach speeds sometimes exceeding 100 miles per hour (161 km/hr).

Children often slid down the steep inclines on the stalks of a mai‘a (Musa species, banana plants) or on hōlua kī, the leaves of kī (Cordyline fruticosa, ti).


He he‘e hōlua

One who rides a hōlua sled.

Said proudly of being a descendant of the chiefly families of Waipi‘o, Hawai‘i, who were well known for their skill in hōlua sledding.

(Pukui: 571-66)

On Kaua‘i’s northern shore, ali‘i (Hawaiian royalty) marked special occasions with the ‘ōahi (fire throwing) ceremony, which involved throwing burning logs of hau (Talipariti tiliaceum) and pāpala (Charpentiera species) into the seaward winds blowing off the cliffs of Makana, Mākua and Kāmaile. Carried by the strong winds, the firebrands soared out over the water to the delight of crowds that arrived in canoes from as far away as Ni‘ihau.

[Illustration: ‘Ōahi (fire throwing) ceremony]

[i] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.