Hawaiian mythology as a subset of Polynesian mythology will be the subject I tackle here. I will be examining many of the Polynesian Island groups separately in the near future, some with full pages of their own, but to whet everyone’s appetites I figured I would start out with a Top 11 list looking at the major Hawaiian deities. NEW – This list was so popular I did a sequel with eleven more Hawaiian deities – when you’re done with this list click here: http://glitternight.com/2011/03/02/eleven-more-deities-from- hawaiian-mythology-2/
Shinto Myth - http://glitternight.com/shinto-myth/
Also see my pages on Vietnamese, Navajo and Bunyoro myth.
NEW!!!!!!!!!! CHOCTAW DEITIES – http://glitternight.com/2012/06/03/the-top-twelve-deities-in-choctaw-mythology/
11. KAMOHO – Hawaiian shark god who was the chief of the many lesser shark deities in the Hawaiian pantheon. Kamoho was the brother of the fire goddess Pele and was considered the guardian god of the Hawaiian Islands. He alone of all Pele’s relatives tried to aid her when she was seeking to avoid her marriage to the boar god Kamapua’a. Kamoho also ruled over the shark-men, or “were-sharks” as I call them. These beings were greedy humans cursed by Kamoho to periodically transform into sharks. They could be recognized by the large shark tattoos that Kamoho branded onto their backs.
10. MILU - The goddess who ruled over the subterranean land of the dead which shared her name. A cave led to her realm and the mouth of this cave was guarded by two gigantic lizards. The association of lizards with the land of the dead came from the way lizards often feed on flies and if there’s one thing dead bodies do it’s attract flies. She would punish the souls of the wicked by feeding them on flies and beetles, then devour them after cooking them in her eternally burning oven. Some confusion exists because Milu is depicted as male in some myths.
9. KAHOALI - The god of sorcerors and sorcery. His favorite drink was kava served with a human eyeball in it (shaken not stirred, I’m assuming). He could construct wood, stone or coral figures and then bring them to life to do his bidding. Kahoali’s wife was Paluhu, the sorcery goddess of the island of Moloka’i. His priest was always greatly feared and was permitted to eat with the chiefesses and one of his priests was noted for his Rasputin-like influence over King Kamehameha I. Kahoali’s nemesis was the god Lono, the one deity who could cure all harm inflicted by the sorcery god.
8. HAUMEA - Hawaiian mother-goddess who was prayed to by midwives attending at the birth of children. The kinkiest myth about her involves the way she would take a man as a mate, have children with him, then when those sons were old enough to procreate she would restore her own youth and have children with those sons. She would repeat the process with the sons she had through those children and so on and so on, generation after generation. Sometimes she is associated with the primordial Earth goddess Papa, the wife of Rangi the sky god. Another famous myth about her involves her ownership of a grove of enchanted trees. One of them produced fish the way other trees produce fruit. She gave this tree to humans with the warning to never shake the tree to get fish to fall but instead wait for the fish to ripen and fall on their own. Naturally this warning was ignored, the tree was shaken by impatient humans and all the fish fell from the tree, escaping into the sea from which humans now have to work to fish them up
7. KAMAPUA’A - The warlike god of wild boars and the husband of the fire goddess Pele. In his human form he was a handsome warrior armed with a mace but when the battle- lust was upon him his snout became tusked and hog-like and he was virtually uncontrollable. For a quick pop culture reference think of him as a combination of Wolverine and the Incredible Hulk when he’s enraged. Other qualities he shared with the wild boars he was the lord of were the ability to use his snout to dig up edible roots and find underground springs. The many myths in his saga involve his evil step-father’s attempts to have him killed as a child , his slaying of the dog-man creature Kuilio and his wanderings from island to island, marrying the daughters of chiefs and fighting their father’s enemies. Inevitably his volatile nature would antagonize his fathers-in- law and he would flee to another locale. His final marriage was to the goddess Pele. He bested all her other suitors at the contests held for her hand but she still refused to marry him until her family intervened on his behalf.
6. LAKA - Fertility and reproduction goddess. This wife of the god Lono was also considered the goddess of love and beauty. She is credited with inventing the hula dance and is sometimes identified with Pele’s sister, the goddess Hi’i'aka but most often is considered a separate deity. The red lehua blossom is sacred to Laka and is among the flowers used to decorate her shrine, kuahu, in the halau temple. The hymns sung during hula dances are also dedicated to Laka. To avoid confusion be aware that in other Polynesian Island groups there is a Laka who is a male hero of a popular epic myth. This male Laka is also known as Rata since consonant pronunciation varies from island group to island group. That is why Kane is also known as Tane, Pele is also known as Pere, Ku is also known as Tu, Hina is also known as Sina, Lono is also known as Rongo, Tahiti is pronounced Kahiki in Hawai’i, etc.
5. KU – The Hawaiian god of war. Ku wields a fiery mace that burns with the souls of the gods, demons and mortals he has personally slain in combat. Ku, like his brothers Kane and Lono, was a child of the sky god Rangi and the Earth goddess Papa. Ku’s prowess in battle was responsible for saving all the deities in the Hawaiian pantheon after the separation of Papa and Rangi caused a massive assault by the storm god Apuhau. Next, when another of his brothers, the sea god Kanaloa (also called Tangaroa in other Polynesian island groups) launched a war against his fellow deities it was again Ku who prevailed against him (though the conflict caused the submergence of Havaiki, the mythical home island of all the Polynesian peoples, an event that supposedly caused their massive nautical migration to various island groups). Human sacrifices were offered to Ku at heiau temples.
4. LONO - The god of cultivated, agrarian foods, especially the kumara or sweet potato. In the early days following the separation of Rangi and Papa Lono used a net to fish up the sun and the moon from the seas and set them in orbit. When it came time to create humans he supplied the fertile soil to create them, his brother Ku sculpted the bodies and their oldest brother Kane breathed life into them. Lono liked to descend from the heavens on a rainbow and surf (Many figures in Hawaiian mythology surf. How can you NOT love that?) which is how he met and married the mortal woman Kaikilani. Her beauty was so intense that he was frequently jealous and on one occassion was so convinced she had been unfaithful that he struck her down with his godly powers. Repenting of this act he wandered the island mourning her and in her memory instituted the Makahiki festival that lasts from October to February – rainy season. The rains are said to be Lono’s tears over the loss of Kaikilani (though other myths say they are Rangi’s tears over being separated from his wife Papa). He later married the goddess Laka.
3. KANE - The chief of the Hawaiian trinity, which also consists of his brothers Lono and Ku. In contrast to Lono being the deity of cultivated foods, Kane was the god of wild foods and plants like trees, etc. He was also the god of the forests and jungles with all their gifts like wood, medicinal plants and leaves, etc. When the close proximity and constant lovemaking of Papa and Rangi was preventing the birth of all the deities who had formed in Papa’s womb Kane was the god who separated them by growing upward like the trees he is the lord of, keeping Earth and sky separated and allowing himself and all his siblings to be born (though one lone deity, Luau, remained in Papa’s womb and his stirring is the cause of earthquakes). After death virtuous souls would go to Hunamoku, Kane’s paradisal island in the clouds. In some myths Hunamoku is also the home of all the heavenly gods, sort of like Asgard in Teutono- Norse myth and Mt Olympus in Graeco-Roman myth. Kane was a generally benevolent deity and human sacrifices were never offered to him. Kane is the father of Pele and in various myths owns a seashell which when placed in the water grows into a boat for travel between the islands.
2. MAUI - Sort of a Polynesian Hercules in some respects, this mighty demigod is also a trickster deity and a sun god. When Maui felt the sun that Lono fished up out of the sea moved too quickly across the sky, making the days too short, he physically attacked the sun, beating it and taming it like a beast and forcing it to move more slowly so that humans would have longer days to finish their work in. (In some versions he first lassoes the sun with vines from cocoanut trees) Other feats he is credited with are: a) pushing the sky up even further above the Earth than it originally was when Kane first separated Papa and Rangi , b) slaying a giant eight-eyed bat, c) giving humans fire by stealing flames from the eternally burning oven of Milu, the death-goddess, d) fishing up various Polynesian island groups with his massive strength, including the Hawaiian island that bears his name, e) transforming his brother-in- law into the first dogs, f) saving his sister, the moon goddess Hina, from the eel god Tetuna and his legion of sea monsters, then marrying her himself and g) creating shrimp from his own blood.
Maui’s final adventure involved his failed attempt to gain immortality for humanity. This myth also has solar overtones and goes as follows: the sun that Lono fished up was swallowed each night by Milu and traveled across her subterranean realm, lighting it the way it did the Earth during the daylight hours. Each morning the sun emerged from Milu’s vagina and started its journey across the Earth, and so on and so on. Maui made a wager with Milu that if he could enter through her vagina right after the sun emerged at daybreak and then race his way across her realm, emerging from her mouth before the sun could set in it, then she would let human beings live forever. The wager was accepted and Maui raced with the sun, fighting his way through many perils and menaces in Milu. Unfortunately, before he could reach the mouth of the land of death the sun was entering through it, bringing daybreak to Milu and waking the goddess herself from her daytime slumber (in many versions the “sunrise” in the land of the dead prompts a bird to sing, waking Milu up). Maui lost the bet, so humans were still doomed to die, and in some versions Milu forced Maui to spend eternity with her in her gloomy kingdom.
1. PELE – The Hawaiian fire and volcano goddess, as dangerous and uncontrollable as the elements she ruled over. I placed her at number one because she is the most truly Hawaiian of deities, with no counterpart in other Polynesian island groups except in Tahiti, where she is called Pere, and may have been unknown even there until the era of European exploration of the Pacific Ocean. Her volatile nature prompted her father Kane to dismiss her from the heavens, so she wandered the Earth, creating the world’s volcanoes until finally establishing her home on Mount Kilauea on the Big Island. Another indicator of Pele’s importance in the Hawaiian pantheon is the fact that Mount Kilauea is the Axis Mundi in Hawaiian belief. (My fellow mythology geeks will get the significance of that)
Pele and her sister Hi’i'aka were both in love with the mortal Prince Lohiau of the island of Kaua’i in a famous epic myth. Pele’s mother was said to be Haumea in some myths. Her father Kane at one point passed his sovereignty over the Menehune, the Hawaiian version of elves and dwarves, to Pele. The fire goddess eventually married the war-like wild boar god Kamapua’a, who had bested all her other suitors when her father Kane offered up her hand in marriage in an attempt to settle her tumultuous nature. Pele still refused to be married and fled, but none of her family would risk Kane’s displeasure by hiding her except her brother Kamoho, the shark god. Eventually Kane, as chief of the gods, ordered Kamoho to stop shielding Pele. Pele then attacked Kamapua’a personally when he came to claim his bride, but, with help from Kane and other gods, Kamapua’a succeeded in surviving her attack and the two were married. The union tamed both of their violent natures and they fell deeply in love with each other. Their son, Opelu, the god of thieves and doctors, became the ancestor of the ruling chiefs of the Hawaiian Islands.
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