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Traditional Hawaiian wood carving of guards at ancient Hawaiian site Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on Big Island, Hawaii

The Makahiki is an ancient Hawaiian festival, honoring the Hawaiian god Lono. The festive holiday spans four consecutive lunar months, from approximately October through February. The focus of the season is a celebration of the ʻaina (land), fertility and the harvest. This Hawaiian tradition coincides with the fall and winter holidays celebrated by other cultures around the world, and like many other world festivities, it celebrates peace, abundance and gratitude.

However, unlike most other global holidays, early Hawaiians celebrated the Makahiki for a full four months by distributing food, playing games and enjoying a long period of peacefulness. During this time, priests would take down the tikis of Ku, the god of war, and erect the tikis of Lono, signaling the beginning of the Makahiki season.

Prior to European contact, Lono’s priests reenacted the god’s circuit around each island, stopping at each boundary or ahupuaʻa (land division). Here, Hawaiians paid tribute by contributing the best goods from their district. Items like fruit, vegetables, taro, sweet potatoes, dried fish, sugar cane, pudding, kappa cloth and feathers for cape making and other items of value, were exchanged for blessings of plentiful rain and abundant crops. When all the goods were collected, they were redistributed among the districts and used to support the functioning of the royal court in the upcoming year. When the redistribution of wealth was complete it was time for the games and festivities to begin.

People held feasts lasting weeks and competed in games such as spear throwing, boxing, spear throwing and foot races. It was a time of celebration and appreciation for the bounty of resources given by the land. It was also a reminder for people to take care of the land for future generations.

Today, more Hawaiians are bringing back the celebration of the Makahiki season with modern celebrations throughout the season. Because Makahiki also means “year”, or “New Year,” the Hawaiian saying for “Happy New Year” is “Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou.”

This is a memorial to Captain James Cook, captainof HMS Endeavor, who was killed, at this site, by Hawaiian natives on the island of Hawaii.

To learn more about the Makahiki and how it played a role in the demise of Captain James Cook at Kealakekua Bay, join Body Glove Hawaii on our Historical Sunset Dinner Cruise to Kealakekua Bay and visit the site of the Captain Cook Monument. Hear the story of how Captain Cook lost his life after the end of the Makahiki Season. Until then, Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou!

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