Lono’s Season

Hawaiians call it Makahiki, the months when work and warfare cease in celebration of a god’s return.


Hawaiian belief associates specific deities with different facets of life. Each element has its own god, and each god can take many body forms, or kino lau. Thus, the sacred is inextricably linked to the natural world, for all parts of nature are manifestations of the divine.

Mikiala Pescaia, a Hawaiian cultural practitioner on Molokai, explains that, because a kino lau is a physical manifestation of a supernatural being, incorporating that form in worship engages the god himself. Lono’s many kino lau include the kukui tree, clouds and the sweet potato. These and other forms of Lono preside over different parts of Makahiki.

In the Hawaiian pantheon, Lono is the only deity who departs and returns with the seasons, a characteristic he shares with harvest gods of other religions.

He is also the only god who each year circumnavigates all the islands. In Hawaiian Mythology, folklorist Martha Beckwith recounts that, while playing checkers (konane) with his wife, Kaikilani, Lono overhears a stranger address her as his lover. In a fit of jealousy, Lono kills Kaikilani. At once, anguish overcomes him, and he roams the islands, challenging every man he meets to combat.

“The people astonished said, ‘Is [Lono] entirely mad?’ He replied, ‘I am frantic on her account, I am frantic with my great love.’”

To honor the memory of Kaikilani, Lono established games of physical and mental skill, then “he embarked in a triangular boat . . . and sailed to a foreign land.

“Ere he departed he prophesied, ‘I will return in after times, on an island bearing coconut trees, and swine, and dogs.’”

In pre-Contact Hawaii, Lono’s priests fulfilled that prophesy at Makahiki by reenacting the god’s circuit around each island, carrying with them an effigy called the akua loa, or “long god,” for the length of its journey. The akua loa was a great staff of wood, topped with a carved human head. Sheets of white kapa (bark cloth), spiral feather lei and ferns fluttered from its crosspiece. Chiefs, commoners, and priests traveled in this procession, stopping at every altar marking the boundary of an ahupuaa, the traditional land division. An akua poko (“short god”) specific to the ahupuaa accompanied the procession the length of its own district. At each boundary, the local people paid tribute in the form of hookupu—bananas, sugar cane, pudding, kapa, feathers for cape making . . . the best from their villages. Farmers sought assurance of plentiful rain; the chiefs accepted the tributes as a levy of taxes. If the hookupu was sufficient, the akua loa moved on, ushering in a time of festivities presided over by akua paani—the god of sports and games.



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