Hauʻoli makahiki hou! Happy New Year!
As the evenings begin to cool down, we welcome Makahiki Season here in Hawaii—a time of rest, rejuvenation, and celebration during the winter months, marking the beginning of the Hawaiian new year. The change of seasons here in Hawai‘i are sometimes hard to distinguish, as we enjoy such beautiful weather all year long. However, the beginning of Makahiki season is marked by the appearance of the Makali’i star cluster, (also referred to as Pleiades, or “Seven Sisters”) in the eastern night sky after sunset. Typically, the cluster is visible in late October or early November.
SEASON OF REST
In ancient Hawai‘i, Makali’i indicated the presence of Lono, the Hawaiian god of agriculture, rainfall, music and peace. It only makes sense that Makahiki also marks a time between growing seasons when the dry season ends and the wet, short days of winter begin. This made the four-month period of (roughly) October to February a very important time to reset for the coming year. Most of the year falls under Kū, the god of war, and during the shift from Kū to Lono, war (and most work) was actually forbidden. The season of rest was intended for both the people and the ‘āina (land). It allowed the ocean to replenish its fish, the land to prepare for a new season of crops, and the Hawaiian people time to connect with each other.
SEASON OF PEACE
Captain James Cook – the first westerner to make contact with the native Hawaiians first arrived to the islands during Makahiki Season. Some argue that at the time of Cook’s arrival, the native people believed that he was sent by Lono, therefore they welcomed Captain Cook and his crew with gifts, offerings, and aloha. When Cook and his crew returned to the islands Makahiki Season was over, and the Hawaiians were feeling taken advantage of. With relations between the two groups strained, a battle ensued resulting in the fatal shooting of a Hawaiian chief, and the death of Captain Cook and many of his crewmen. It’s said that the season of peace created a relationship of hospitality between the Hawaiians and explorers, which later went sour once Makahiki Season had ended.
It was believed that during Makahiki Season, Lono was traveling to the islands, so celebrations would begin just before his arrival, and end at his departure, or the end of Makahiki season. The people of Hawaii would celebrate the sacred Makahiki Season with prayer, joyful gatherings, and games to observe peace and honor Lono.
Before the arrival of Lono, often referred to as Lono-Makua (Father Lono), “taxes” were collected in the way of offerings (hoʻokupu). Offerings included produce, poultry, fish, leis, clothing, and more.
To mark Makahiki Season, there was also a four- or five-day ceremony called Hi‘u-Wai (water splashing). This was a ceremonial bathing in the ocean, followed by warming by the fire, and dressing in new clothes to commemorate the new year, and a new start.
MODERN DAY MAKAHIKI
Modern celebrations of Makahiki include luaus and family gatherings, and the sharing of traditional dishes and games. Cultural dishes have also changed as Hawai‘i has become home to different cultures. Traditional Hawaiian dishes like laulau (meat and/or fish wrapped in taro or ti leaves and baked or steamed), and kalua pork are ever-present, but others have become popular as well including Portuguese bean soup and sweet bread, Filipino pork adobo, Chinese dumplings and Japanese mochi. Many ancient Hawaiian games are also integrated into celebrations, such as ‘ulu maika, a sport similar to bowling, foot races, tug-of-war and others.
Many national and state parks host Makahiki festivals, with demonstrations of cultural activities, music, hula, traditional sports and games, and crafts. Although these haven’t taken place in recent years due to Covid-19, many families still celebrate at home with the sharing of cultural foods and traditions.