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Shorter days and heavy rains signal the beginning of Makahiki season, a time of harvest and celebration

makahiki festival waimanalo
U.S. Marine Corps
Wikimedia Commons
Members of a ceremonial procession present gifts to the Hawaiian god Lono during the hoʻokupu protocol presentation of a Makahiki festival in Waimanalo. Lasting from October until February, the Makahiki season honors Lono, the guardian of peace and health, as he arrives for the transition from Kū, a time of war, politics and construction, to Lono, a time of relaxation and celebration of life.

Summer flowers are gone, the days are shorter, and rain clouds are coming in, all signaling the beginning of Makahiki season, an annual time of harvest and celebration. In old Hawaiʻi, it was also a time of reckoning, when the fruits of a year's labor were assessed and distributed.

"Makahiki is about time," said Imaikalani Winchester, who was born and raised in ʻEwa on Oʻahu.

He's pursuing a doctorate in education and has been teaching at Hālau Kū Māna Public Charter School for 18 years. They hold a Makahiki festival in Makiki every November.

"Specifically for an agrarian society, Hawaiian time was divided between Kū and Lono. Lono came during the winter seasons and so his kino lau, or body forms, come in the form of the dark clouds, the shorter days, the rains, the heavy rains that are going to be coming that we are also accustomed to," Winchester said.


"During this time, the chief would meet with the kahunas and they would kilo, they would observe, the rising of Makaliʻi in the east."

That's the Pleiades. The Seven Sisters.

"And the rise of Makaliʻi in the east during this time signaled the changeover from the Kū season to the Lono season."

Winchester says, generally, this occurs around Nov. 17, inaugurating the four-month season of Lono.

Students at Hālau Kū Māna are preparing right now for protocols, games and events that mark the season.

"These traditional games would prepare the people and identify the great athletes, the great warriors, the great poets, the great orators in these grand celebrations," he said. "It was a time for the chiefs to kaʻapuni, or to travel around with the Akua Loa, who is the long staff. The Akua Loa represents Lono."

Could you describe it?

akua loa lono.jpg
Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum
The Akua Loa, image of Lono.

"The Akua Loa is a tall staff with a crosspiece at the section. The long staff which is held by the hand is called the aulima. And the crosspiece at the top section is called the ʻaunaki. These are important because these are the two fire starters in Hawaiian tradition. So part of what Lono brings is the fire starters," he said. "From it hang two peʻa, which are two kapa pieces, sort of catches the wind, and it means the sparking of life."

The white kapa peʻa can billow from the Akua Loa, like banners.

"So Lono would be draped with lei with Hulu, specifically that of the kaʻupu bird, who would be representative of famine. To remind the people and the chief to avoid bad decisions that would lead us ultimately to famine. And our people faced famine."

Winchester says Makahiki is about the year's harvest, normally a season of bounty, which was offered to Lono in ritual ceremonies.

"And the chief would then 'kalai' or redistribute many of the offerings to his chiefs, to the people, and so the bounty was shared in what I like to consider a big block party."

"Some people will say that during this time it's an evaluation of the wealth and the well-being of the society, of the community, of the king himself, and the way that he rules. Because a good chief is a chief who can feed many," he said.

"These are the times during the season for Lono, the season of healing and peace, to really celebrate the collective work, the collective responsibilities that society shares."

"Lonoikamakahiki is like Lono of the new year, right, so don't tell me Merry Christmas, don't tell me Happy New Year's, tell me Lonoikamakahiki."

Through this whole season?

"Through this whole season. We always try to say, like, (sings) Lonoikamakahiki is the thing to say...."


Click here to listen to the extended interview from The Aloha Friday Conversation.

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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