Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



Hawaiian stories of going to the underworld after the soul of the dead and restoring it to the body are based on the Hawaiian philosophy of life, whose tendency is to dissociate the spirit or soul (uhane) from the body (kino) and to think of it with a quite independent life of its own apart from the body, which is dead or inert without it. The spirit may wander away from the living body, leaving it asleep or merely listless and drowsy, and visit another in dream or as an apparition (hihi‘o) while the other is awake. Its exits from the living body are made through the inner angle of the eye, called lua-uhane. Since this habit of wandering is dangerous, lest the spirit be caught and prevented from returning to its body, the kahuna will perform a ceremony and place a special kind of wreath on the head of a person thus addicted.

Theoretically the kahuna alone can see the spirit (uhane) of the dead or dying, but practically everybody is afraid of the lapu or visible form of a dead person. It has human shape and speaks in the same voice as in life, but has the power of enlarging or contracting at will. It cannot change into another shape. The gods alone have this power, called "four-hundred-bodied" (kino-lau). But the dead may enter an object, especially a bone, and hence it is that Hawaiians fear to disturb human bones or to speak of sacred things lest they anger these spirits of the dead, who will then work them mischief. They fear to carry food, especially pork, at night lest they be followed. They will tie to the container a green ti leaf or bamboo or lele banana leaf as a command to the ghost to fly away (lele). This is called placing a law (kanawai) upon the food. But unless the leaves are fresh the law will not work.

To test whether a form is that of a spirit or of a living person, large leaves of the ape plant are laid down. A living personwill tear the leaves in treading over them, a spirit will leave no trace. Or something is done to startle the supposed person, who will vanish instantly if a spirit. Another method is to look for the reflection of the person in a bowl of water. The reflection is the spirit of a living person; a mere spirit casts no reflection. Fox enumerates a number of ways employed by natives of San Cristoval to test a stranger who looks like a human being but may be a spirit. Most of these tests are such as would betray ignorance of local ways or clumsiness in applying them.

Restoration of the dead in Hawaiian story consists in bringing the body back to form if crushed, then in catching the released soul and restoring it to the body. Just as, in cases of fainting, manipulation begins at the feet and progresses upward, so in stories of bringing the dead to life the spirit is represented as pushed back into the body at the foot (instep or toe) and making its way upward with resistance, because fearful of the dark passages within the body, until a feeble crow announces the final resuscitation. Fragrant plants are wrapped about the body to tempt reëntrance by the reluctant spirit. Chants play a determining part in the process. A purifying bath is the final step, out of which the body emerges transfigured and full of renewed life. This process of resuscitation is called by Hawaiians kapuku or kupaku. 

The soul is often represented in such operations as fluttering about the body or over land or sea, visible to the eyes of the kahuna, who catches it in a gourd. Or it may already have joined the spirits in the underworld of the dead and must be brought or lured thence for return to the body. Thus we get a story of the Orpheus type of a visit by a mortal, aided by the gods, to the underworld. Three such legends are traditional in Hawaii: that of Maluae who brings his son back from the cleft of the underworld where he is being punished for eating a banana which is tapu to the gods Kane and Kanaloa; of Mokuleia whose god Kanikani-a-ula accompanies him to the realm of Manua after his wife Pueo who has hanged herself; and the famous legend of Hiku who goes on a similar errand to the realm of Milu after his wife Kawelu. Only the first and last of these stories is told in detail. Besides these, the Westervelt Hainakolo version contains a long account of how the soul of Keanini is brought back from the realm of Milu by his grandson. Hi‘iaka restores the soul of Lohiau in the Pele cycle. The folktale of Ka-ilio-hae (The wild dog) tells how the spirit of the young warrior at the doorway to the spirit world is met by his sister, who is an aumakua-ho‘oola (guardian spirit who brings back to life), and is taken first to the underworld and shown the spirits at play, but forbidden to join them lest he never be allowed to come back to life; then taught the passwords enabling him to enter the presence of the chief of the spirits; finally led home and forced back into his lifeless body through the foot. The story resembles folk legends of a person who dies and comes back to life such as are common in every culture. 


Maluae raises bananas for his gods in the uplands of Manoa at a place called Kanaloa-ho‘okau. For his family he raises other food. His son Kaali‘i eats one of the tapu bananas and the gods cause the boy to choke to death over it. His spirit goes to the underworld while his body lies lifeless. The father thereupon ceases to feed the gods and refuses all food himself, wishing only to die with his son. The gods miss their daily offering and repent having punished the boy so severely. After forty days they promise to aid Maluae in bringing back his son's soul from Manua. They restore his strength and give him the canoe Maku‘uko‘o which contains food, weapons, fire, and fresh water. He enters the roadway at Leilono in Moanalua and breaks through the cleft below the foundations of the earth where his son is being punished for his sin, but not in the place set apart for the worst sinners, and he restores the spirit to its lifeless body. 


(a) Fornander version. Hiku, or Hiku-i-ka-nahele (Hiku of the forest), son of Keaholu and Lanihau, lives at Kau-malumalu in Kona, Hawaii, on the slope of Hualalai. One day he goes out to amuse himself with his answering arrow Pua-ne, made from the stalk of a sugar-cane tassel. The arrow falls near the home of the beautiful Kawelu of the seashore and she picks it up and conceals it, in this manner luring Hiku into her house, where he remains six days "without being offered food" [that is, the favors of her body]. At the end of this time he leaves her angrily and when, too late, she follows and chants of her love and begs him to return, he conjures up vines and vegetation to block her way. The disconsolate chiefess strangles herself and her spirit goes down to Milu.

Hiku consults the kahunas as to her recovery. Following their directions, he is paddled out to the point where the sky meets the water, his body rubbed with rancid oil to simulate putrefaction, and a convolvulus vine let down into the sea on which he descends into Milu. There he invites the spirits to share in the new sport of swinging. When the spirit of Kawelu is thus tempted to grasp the vine, he gives the signal and the two are drawn back to the upper world. The spirit is borne to the house where her body is lying and crowded in from the feet up until she is completely resuscitated.

(b) Emerson and Westervelt version. Ku is the father of both Hiku and Kawelu (who are thus half-brother and sister and their marriage hence predestined); Hina is his mother, with whom he lives alone at her home on the mountainside. A place named Wai-o-Hiku marks the spot on the shore where his arrow fell. Ku accompanies his son on his journey to the underworld. The rope used is the ieie vine and it is let down at the traditional entrance to the spirit world in Waipio valley. In Milu, Hiku takes part in a betting contest, with Kawelu as the stake, and completes her name chant. The soul of Kawelu is imprisoned in a coconut shell split lengthwise, such as sorcerers use for soul catching, when it tries to escape in the form of a butterfly. 

The theme of the unrecognized lover, which belongs to the Kaha‘i cycle and is evidently at the basis of the Hiku and Kawelu story, occurs in a tale from the Maori of the southern island which almost exactly parallels that of the Hawaiian Hiku and Kawelu.

Maori. (a) Pare and Hutu. Pare is a woman of high rank living with a single female attendant in a fine carved house, her food being passed in to her by three attendants. A stranger, Hutu, comes to the village and spins tops better and throws darts farther than any competitor. Pare comes out of her house to watch him. His arrow falls at her door and she takes it inside, thus forcing him to go in to recover it. She begs for his love and is refused because of his lower rank and the fact that he has a family at home. When persuaded that he has left her for good she hangs herself. Her retainers seize Hutu to kill him also. He offers to restore her to life. He chants to heal her injured body, then goes to fetch her spirit from the lower world. Hine-nui-te-po, to whom he has brought a token, directs him on his way and gives him a basket of food, because if he eats food in the lower world he will surely die. She shows him how to plunge head first so that as he meets the wind at the bottom he will land on his feet. When he reaches the lower world, Pare refuses to appear. He invents a new sport by bending down a tree and swinging out on its tip. Pare seats herself on his back and they are swung upward by the rebound until his hands grasp the roots of plants growing in the upper world. Creeping through the opening with his prize, he performs the ceremonies for bringing the soul back into the body and marries the revived woman. 

(b) Hikareia. A lover, Hikareia, comes at night to make love to his lady. She pushes him away, mistaking him for someone else, but in the morning she discovers her mistake and, finding him offended, drowns herself. 

(c) Miru. Kewa was a prince or ruler of the spirit world. Miru had been educated in all the mysteries, a full knowledge of which constitutes a perfect tohunga. By means of this knowledge, he, on the death of his sister, was enabled to follow her to the spirit world, where he captured her spirit, and, bringing it back, succeeded in making it enter her body, and thereby brought her back to life. Meanwhile Kewa was completely foiled and deprived of his victim by this act of Miru. 

Marquesas. (a) Kena of Hiva-oa deserts his first wife. She follows him in vain over mountain ridges and finally throws herself over a cliff and is killed. He takes a cousin for his second wife. She is killed by a stratagem and her spirit goes down to the fourth Havai‘i. His mother aids him to descend into the lower world to recover the spirit. Great difficulties attend the descent. At the entrance to the fourth Havai‘i are clashing rocks between which his companion, who is holding on to the tailpiece of his loincloth, is crushed to death. Kena escapes. The chiefess of the land assists him to bathe and dress his wife and put her into a basket, from which he is forbidden to release her on any pretext whatever for ten days after their return. The first time he breaks the tapu and has to repeat the journey, but the second time he is more careful. 

(b) Tue-ato's wife has been strangled for infidelity but is brought back by his sisters because of his grief. He must abstain from her for thirteen days, but the first time he breaks the tapu and the sisters are obliged to bring her back a second time. In a variant from Nukuhiva, Hahapoa goes to Havai‘i to recover his wife Hanau and breaks the tapu by letting her out of the basket too soon. 

(c) Te-noea-hei-o-Tona sends to Taaoa beach a coconut-sheath canoe which moves of itself and the beautiful Hina-tau-miha takes it into her cave. He follows and weds her. Two wild women beguile him away. She follows in pursuit and when he fails to return she hangs herself and her spirit goes to Havai‘i. 

Similar stories of a journey to the other world to recover a soul that has left the body at death occur throughout the South Seas. In Tahiti, Tafa‘i recovers his wife's spirit from the underworld and restores it to her body. In Samoa the spirit of Sina, daughter of the king of Fiji, is recovered from the ninefold heaven and the girl comes back to life. In another Samoan tale two lads see the gods handing about the soul of a dying chief and manage to snatch it away in the dark and restore it to the body. In Tonga the handsome husband of the daughter of Hina and Sinilau is killed and his spirit goes down to Pulotu. Hina's brother brings it back to the body and restores him to life with the "life-affecting fan." In Tokelau the wife's jealous sisters steal her husband's soul. The wife goes to seek it and restores her husband to life. In Pukapuka:

Milimili dies and goes down to Po. His wife weeps. Tangata-no-te-Moana (Man of the ocean) is applied to by the woman's family gods and goes down to the house of Leva. The gods are unwilling to let the soul go but Tangata-no-te-Moana gets Tulikalo to beat the wooden gong so hard that it shakes the house, the gods rush out, and the rescuer throws the soul of Milimili to the family gods, who restore it to the body. 

In San Cristoval, to recover the live spirit of the dead it must be brought back from Rodomana (land of souls), from some sacred place, from the sea, or from the sky (Hatuibwaro's country). The "doctor" goes into a trance and his soul goes to Rodomana. A friend hides him. A dance is in progress. He goes in and seizes the unwilling soul or pushes it before him. The other souls try to stop him. He flies into the air with the soul. 

In the Hawaiian legends of Eleio, of Kahalaopuna, and of Pamano, restoration to life does not imply a visit to another world. The soul is caught fluttering apart from its dead body (kino wailua) and the body restored to life by crowding the soul back into it or by some other device. Eleio brings back to life a chiefess who becomes wife of Kakaalaneo of Maui and mother of the famous sorcerer Ka-ulu-laau, who drives the spirits out of the island of Lanai. Kahalaopuna is an innocent wife who dies at the hands of her jealous husband. The story is developed into a romance which provides a second husband for the loyal wife, from three to five restorations, and episodes of ghost testing and shark transformation. Pamano is a lover also killed out of jealousy, and his resuscitation is effected by two unihipili sisters. A school mistress in Kipahulu, to which district the story belongs, believes it must be true because of a rock resembling a human form and said to be that of Pamano, which used to lie face upward before someone pushed it over on its side.


The Eleio family are independent chiefs living at Kauiki at the time when Kakaalaneo rules over the whole island of Maui. The "awa roots of Eleio" are among the famous things of Maui. Eleio is a swift runner who can make the circuit of Maui three times in a day. It is his business to provide fish (or awa) from Hana at the east side of the island to the chief at Lahaina on the west side. He makes the run while the feast is preparing and by the time it is ready he is back with the fish (or with awa, prepared by chewing as he runs). Three times he is pursued on his way by a spirit named Ka-ahu-ula (The red cape) and once he is saved only by the prompt action of his sister Pohaku-loa, who lives at Kamaalea, in exposing herself and shaming the spirit away. He therefore changes his route from the north to the south side of the island. Here he encounters the spirit of the high chiefess Kanikaniaula who has come from Hawaii in disguise and married a low chief of Maui and her body now lies lifeless. He pauses to perform the ceremony of restoration to life, which involves building a bower of sweet-smelling plants, offering the proper prayers and sacrifices, and when the spirit approaches at the offering of awa, catching it and pushing it into the body from the instep up. Kakaalaneo, impatient at his messenger's delay, has an oven prepared to put him to death as a punishment for his tardiness. Eleio appears with the rare feather cape wrapped about his neck and leaps directly into the oven, but is dragged from it to tell his story, and to offer the restored chiefess as wife to Kakaalaneo. 


(a) The parents of Kahalaopuna are the twin brother and sister Ka-au-kuahine (The rain of the mountain ridge) and Ka-hau-kani (which names the Manoa wind), children of Akaaka and Na-lehua-akaaka, names of a projecting spur of the ridge back of Manoa and the red lehua bushes that grow upon it. Rainbows still play about her former home and Manoa girls are said to inherit her beauty. She lives under tapu in a house called Kahaimano on the way to the spring of the Water-of-the-gods, and is early affianced to Kauhi of a powerful family of Koolau (or Waikiki), belonging some say to the Mohoali‘i. Mischievous persons pretend that they have enjoyed her favor. Kauhi believes them and determines that she must die. He leads her through the wild forest to the uplands of Pohakea close to Kaala mountain, where he beats her to death and buries her body beneath a lehua tree under leaves. Her spirit flies to the top of the tree and chants her story. Passers-by hear her and tell her parents, who search out her body and, finding it still warm, restore it to life.

(b) Nakuina version. The girl's family owl god follows and she is restored to life only to return loyally to her husband, who again beats her to death and finally buries her where the owl cannot recover her. An elepaio bird (or her own spirit) bewails her fate and a youth named Mahana finds and restores her by the water cure called Kakelekele at the water cave of Mauoki in Kamoiliili, since called Wai-o-Kahalaopuna. Knowing that she will go back to her husband if he is allowed to live, Mahana learns the chants with which the girl pleads for life with her husband and renders them on a public occasion, declaring that he learned them from the girl herself, now living. Kauhi stakes his life that the girl's supposed form is that of a ghost. Tests are imposed. He loses and he and the two false accusers are put to death. His spirit, however, enters a man-eating shark, which lurks along the coast until it catches the girl out sea-bathing and finally consumes her body so that resuscitation is impossible. 


Pamano is born in Kahiki-nui on the island of Maui in the days of Kai-uli the chief belonging to a famous Kaupo family. Pamano is son of Lono and Kanaio. He studies the art of the hula, becomes a proficient chanter, and is adopted by Kai-uli, at whose court his mother's brother Waipu is also residing. Kaiuli's pretty daughter Keaka is kept under strict tapu. Both Pamano and his intimate friend Koolau are in love with her, but they agree to have nothing to do with her without the other's consent. She, however, prefers Pamano and entices him into the house. When Koolau chants a song of reproach from without Pamano answers from within. The chief, seconded by Pamano's treacherous uncle and his jealous friend, decides that he must die by poison. Although warned by his unihipili sisters Na-kinowailua and Hokiolele, he allows himself to be enticed in from surf riding, made drowsy with awa, poisoned, and chopped to pieces. The sisters find and restore him to life. A kaula (seer) tests him with ape leaves to see if he has a human or a ghost body. At a kilu dance given by Keaka and Koolau he reveals himself by chanting songs known only to himself and Keaka. He refuses to have anything to do with her while his enemies live, and Kaiuli, Waipu, and Koolau are ordered slain. 

In Anaa of the Tuamotus:

Mehara, ruling chiefess of Ra‘iatea, is courted by Pofatu of Mo‘orea. She gives a formal dance. Fago, a young chief of the upper valley, dances so well that Mehara falls in love with him. Pofatu is angry and has Fago cut into bits and sunk in the sea in a basket. Fago's sister Pua recovers the body through her guardian gods and by magic brings him to life. After avenging himself on Pofatu he becomes Mehara's husband and rules her people. 

The Hawaiian teaching illustrated in these stories is that death to the body (kino) does not entail death to the spirit (uhane) but follows separation between the two. The experiences of the soul after it leaves the body at death, according to the teachings of the kahunas, follow a traditional pattern based on very early traditional ideas but probably influenced by later development of the aumakua belief. There is a place of the dead, reached at some leaping place, with which is connected a branching tree as roadway of the soul. Elaborations enter into these basic ideas as a result of the part conceived to be played by the aumakua in protecting and sheltering the soul and leading it to its aumakua world.

The worst fate that can befall a soul is to be abandoned by its aumakua and left to stray, a wandering spirit (kuewa) in some barren and desolate place, feeding upon spiders and night moths. Such spirits are believed to be malicious and to take delight in leading travelers astray; hence the wild places which they haunt on each island are feared and avoided. Such are the plains of Kama‘oma‘o on the island of Maui, the rough country of Kaupea at Pu‘uloa on Oahu, Uhana on Lanai, Maohelaia on Molokai, Mana on Kauai, Halali‘i on Ni‘ihau. In these desolate places lost spirits wander until some friendly aumakua takes pity upon them. 

Gods like Ka-onohi-o-ka-la and Ku-waha-ilo bore to the heavens the souls of chiefs "where it was supposed the spirits of kings and chiefs sometimes dwelt, and afterwards returned them to earth, where they accompanied the movements and watched over the destinies of their survivors," writes Ellis. In every case, the reception the soul met after separation from the body depended upon his relations with his aumakua. A person who has committed a sin against his aumakua, says Malo, is exhorted to obtain pardon while he still lingers at Pu‘u-ku-akahi (First stopping place) before being conducted to Ku-akeahu (Heaping up place) where he must make the final leap into the underworld called Ka-pa‘a-heo (The final parting). At the first point his aumakua may succeed in bringing him back to life.

Milu is said to have been a chief on earth who, on account of disobedience to the gods, was swept down into the underworld at death and became its ruler. Both Kahakaloa on Maui and Waipio on Hawaii claim him as chief; Kupihea says that the Kahakaloa story is the older and the Waipio Milu story is patterned after it. According to the Waipio story, Wakea in his old age retired to Hawaii and lived at Waipio, and at his death he descended to the "Island-bearing land" (Papa-hanau-moku) beneath the earth and founded a kingdom there. Milu succeeded him as chief in Waipio and after Milu's death, due to disregard of the tapu set upon him by the god, Milu became associated with Wakea in the rule of the underworld. In the Kumu-honua legend Milu sets himself up against Kane and is thrust down with his followers "to the uttermost depths of night" (i lalo lilo loa i ka po). The name of Kanaloa is sometimes associated with this opposition to Kane and the quarrel said to be because awa was refused to Kanaloa and his followers. Others call Manua the original lord of the underworld of the dead. Manua is said to be brother to Wakea and Uli and is spoken of in the chant of Nu‘u as "the mischief maker." 

Entrance into the pit of Milu (Lua-o-Milu) is at a cleft on some high bluff overlooking the sea or in the edge of a valley wall, and a tree serves as the roadway by which the soul takes its departure. One such entrance is at Kahakaloa on the island of Maui, another in Waipio valley on Hawaii, a third in Moanalua on Oahu. Other leaping places of the soul (Leina-ka-uhane) are named at different points about the island coasts. Miss Green reports a leaping place for every district of Hawaii. Pogue and Fornander name leaping places for each island. Dibble speaks of "one at the northern extremity of Hawaii, one at the western termination of Maui, and the third at the northern point of Oahu." Thus Ka-papa-ki‘iki‘i is named on Ni‘ihau; Mauloku on the islet of Lehua; Hanapepe on Kauai; Kaimalolo and Kaena on Oahu; in Wainene between Koolau and Kona on Molokai; Hoku-nui on Lanai; Keka‘a and Kama‘oma‘o on Maui; and on Hawaii, at Maka-hana-loa for Hilo district, Kukui-o-pae for Kohala, Kumukahi for Puna, Leina-akua (God-leap) for Kau.

The tree myth is given in considerable detail by both Kepelino and Kamakau. Malo makes no allusion to it.

(a) Kepelino version. The soul when it comes to the leaping place encounters a tree called Ulu-la‘i-o-walu which forms the roadway into the other world. Little children are gathered about it and direct the soul. One side of the tree looks green and fresh, the other dry and brittle, but this is an illusion, for the dry branch is the one which the soul should grasp to save itself from being cast down into the world of the dead. It must climb on to the top, being careful to lay hold of a dry twig which will grow under its hand, and then descend the main trunk to the "third level," where little children will again direct it how to escape being cast down to Po.  

(b) Kamakau version. When the spirit comes to Leilono (perhaps Leina-o-Lono, "Leaping place of Lono") where grows the tree Ulu-o-Leiwalo, if no aumakua is there to help it will catch at a decayed branch and fall down to endless night, but if an aumakua is at hand the soul may be brought back to revive the body or it may be led into the aumakua world. At the leaping place at Kaena point on Oahu is a circular clearing about two feet in circumference which is the doorway to the aumakua world. Nearby is the tree with the "misleading" branches. A huge caterpillar guards the eastern boundary of this roadway, a mo‘o the western, and if the soul is afraid of these guardians and strays away from the entrance, he will again need his aumakua to help him. The place is at the right side of the bluff toward Waialua and near the road to Keaoku‘uku‘u. 

(c) Pukui version. In Ka-u district on Hawaii the "casting-off" place of the soul is marked by an old kukui tree to which the soul must cling, laying hold of a green branch, which has the attributes of the dry, in order to be hurled more quickly with its companions into the "labyrinth that leads to the underworld" lest it lose its way and be left to wander as a stray soul over waste lands of earth. 

(d) Emerson note. Kane(lau)-apua in pursuit of Kane-leleiaka (a spirit whose "real body" is in the heavens while its "shadow" flits upon the water) is advised to "start from the breadfruit tree of Leiwalo" and take a flying leap in order to reach his objective. 

Except for this myth of the leaping place with its arboreal roadway, Hawaiian poets have not done much toward elaborating the story of the fate of the soul after its separation from the body. There is no voyage of the soul overseas as in Mangaia; no drama of a pathway of the soul where it is tested and purged of earthly associations, as in Fiji; no vivid experience of adventures in the underworld, as in the South Sea stories, or of the literal "oven of Milu" into which the soul is cast for devouring by the goddess who presides over the dead. Open as the tree myth is to suspicion as influenced by our own myth of the "tree of life and death" which may have become known in early days through stories of the Alexander cycle or The Arabian Nights tales, Hawaiians claim it as a true native belief, and its wide distribution in the South Seas must argue for its genuine character in some form or other in Hawaii. Kepelino says: "This is not a variant of sacred story, this is a genuine Hawaiian legend. It is not a version taken from the stories of the Holy Bible. It is a strange thing taught by the spirit. Perhaps the Hawaiians were mistaken. Perhaps a tree is not the roadway down to Po. Perhaps these were words handed down from our first ancestors, but (the meaning) lost because of the length of time gone by."

Kepelino's contention is sustained by comparison with South Sea stories. In Rarotonga, Tiki climbs the "Pua tree at the leaping place" (Pua-i-te-reinga), but, ignoring his mother's warning to climb the green side, he is precipitated for his folly into the underworld of Muru (Milu), and hence men die. In another story a girl is told to step on the green branches as she climbs, as the dry will take her to spirit land. In Mangaia a great bua tree with fragrant blossoms rises to conduct the soul to the underworld, the domain of Miru, bearing a branch for each principal god. Each soul climbs out on the branch of his own family god and either falls thence into a great net from which he goes into the presence of Miru, or leaps into the expanse of the sky. In Rarotonga the souls climb to an ancient bua tree and fall into the net of Muru. Gill describes Tane at Ukupolu climbing the bua tree and arriving at Enuakura, spirit land of red feathers. In Anaa of the Tuamotus, when Kihi-nui is stolen and taken down to Po, the parents follow the taproot of a pua tree down to the dark world of Ko-ruru-po where the dead repair. The Moriori dead travel to a point of land at Perau westward, where they leap into the sea and cling to the root of an ancient akeake tree (or vine), chiefs climbing over the branches, commoners crawling under. In the Fijian story of the pathway of the soul across the island of Viti-levu, the way leads past a tree where cling the souls of children, who ask after their parents in the world of living men. So far as I know this is the only other association in this area of children with the soul's pathway to the world of the dead.

The division of the world of the dead into compartments of greater or less desirability seems to have developed rather under the teaching of the priesthood as a means of political power than under that of the missionary doctrine. There is no evidence that American missionaries dwelt upon the horrors of hell to convert their hearers to seek after the joys of heaven. They were very young and very convinced and they preached to a people accustomed to tapus as the mark of acceptance by the gods. The sufferings therefore pictured in that part of the underworld ruled over by Milu, as in the chant,

You die in the oven of Milu
Established in the fire of Milu
And unending death,

must be referred to threats of sorcery. We recall that sorcerers who kill by sending an evil spirit to entangle the soul (kahuna-ho‘ounauna) are called priests of Milu. The spirits of Milu are called lapu (ghost) or hihi‘o (apparition), those of Kane are the "spirits of the high places of the wind" who belong to the aumakua world. It is Milu who sends the soul that is unforgiven by its aumakua to "an unsubstantial land of twilight and shade, a barren and waterless waste, unblest by flower, or tree, or growing herb." A sorcerer's prayer to destroy an enemy concludes,

Bind, bind fast
And cast down into the voiceless deep,
Down, down, down to the bottom of the abyss.

It is possible that such imprecations have, as has been suggested by Gill for the South Seas, a literal implication. A distinction was made in burial customs between chiefs and commoners. The bones of the highest chiefs were carefully preserved and deposited in heiau or distributed among their families for veneration. The bodies of the lower chiefs were laid out straight and wrapped in many folds of tapa before depositing in caves for burial. Priests were disposed in the same fashion, but generally in the heiau where they had been keepers. The common people were bound into a sitting posture with their heads bent over their knees, and thrown down the mouths of inaccessible caves or pits. Kamakau describes two such pits on the island of Maui, one at Waiuli, "several miles" in depth and with a wide mouth so that it could be approached from various directions, the other at a cone in the crater of Haleakala called Ka-aawa, a name applied to an insect that destroys vegetation and also to an embryo hilu fish. 

Kamakau tells us Hawaiians were taught that there was a place of darkness called Milu and a place of light called Wakea. The aumakua were the intermediaries between the living and the dead.

Na aumakua mai ka po mai
Nana i na pua, ho‘okomo iloko o keia po o ka malamalama.

"Aumakua of the night,
Watch over your offspring, enfold them in the belt of light,"

pray the religious. Of the place of darkness he says, "The endless darkness is the darkness of Milu, the deep darkness, the strata with a deep cleft, the strata of bitterness. . . . Fire, darkness, and dreadful cruelty were in the keeping of the chief of that world." 

In Rice's legend of Makua-kau-mana, as in Kepelino, three worlds of the dead are taught. The "third world" is the world where Kane lives and where he takes people good enough to become gods. Bad people go first to a land "where men have done neither good nor evil and where they wait to be rescued," next to a world "where they see joy and sorrow," finally to the world "where they shall weep because of the heat which lasts day and night." According to Kepelino, to the po of Kumuhonua go the spirits of those who have kept the law. To the "cold po" go those who descend by the tree of life and death; it is a place without pain or happiness where the soul lives much as in this world. To the po of Milu go the law breakers, where there is "unending fire."  Dibble describes a "place of houses, comforts, and pleasures" enjoyed by the religious and a "place of misery below, called Milu" where the irreligious are thrust. 

The po of Kumuhonua, the world where the offspring of Kane live, is the aumakua world, the Papa-o-Laka, evidently taught by the kahunas as an urge to pious exertion, the imagery of which, as translated from Kamakau after Mrs. A. P. Taylor, is not without a ring of apocalyptic vision.

The aumakua world is a wide level world containing many dwelling places. . . . Many were the dwelling places but the world was one . . . many overseers ruled over by one great Lord. . . . In the aumakua world were a rolling heaven, a multiple heaven, a multitudinous heaven, a floating cloudland, a lower cloudland, the immovable standing walls of Kane, the horizon line enclosing the flat surface of the earth, the depths of ocean, the beauty of the sun, the brightness of the moon, the glories of the stars, and other places too numerous to mention which were called the aumakua world. . . . Many were the gates by which to enter the aumakua world. If a man or one of his descendants was related to the heavenly beings and was not a stranger to those who had rights in the heavens, then it was understood that he had a right to go to the heavens. If the aumakua of a man and his family belonged to the floating cloudland (just below the heavens), then he was prepared for the floating cloudland. If the aumakua of a man and his family belonged to the ocean depths then it was understood that there he had a right to go, and if the man and his family had an aumakua in the volcanic fire, there he had an irrevocable right to go, or if at Ulu-ka‘a and the upright walls of Kane, then it was understood that he would be taken there. . . . And it was said that those who were taken to the floating cloudland and to the multiple heaven and to the other heavens had wings and had rainbows at their feet. These were not wandering spirits . . . these were the beloved of the heavens. . . . Those of heaven are seen on the wings of the wind and their bounds are above the regions of earth and those of the ocean are gathered in the deep purplish blue sea of Kane, and so are all those of the whole earth belonging to the aumakua world; all are united in harmony. The world of endless darkness, the darkness of Milu, the deep darkness, the strata with a deep cleft, the strata of bitterness, the strata of misery, the strata of harshness, has many names given it in Hawaiian stories. That world was said to be an evil world, a friendless world, without family, a fearful world, a world of dread, a world of pain, a world to be patiently endured, a world of trouble, a cruel world. . . .  

Certainly this Papa-o-Laka, this aumakua world of Kane, must be considered a very considerable achievement by the priests of the Kane worship in thus spiritualizing the aumakua conception. It must never be forgotten that these aumakua changes of body had in them nothing symbolic. The transmutations were looked upon as absolutely literal. When Kamehameha went down to appease Pele and save his fish-ponds from an approaching lava flow, a certain chiefess accompanied the party whose child, lately dead, had been dedicated to the fire goddess, and the kahuna was able to point out to her the particular flame in the advancing flow which was her child's transformed body as a minister of Pele; whereupon the mother poured out a chant of love and greeting.

Descent to Milu is, on the other hand, merely a popular expression for death. A victor boasts,

The youth kills with a single blow
Lest he (the victim) go down to Milu
And say he was struck twice.

It is not thought of as a place of torture. One informant thinks of the dead as dancing the hula olapa (drama dance), feasting on shadowy food, and leading a drowsy existence. In the stories the spirits are found dancing with the eepa people and pleased with new sports, songs, and dances. There is competition. The gods may effect a way of escape, but there is always reluctance on the part of the spirit, an idea easily derived from observation of the actual process of resuscitation. Ellis calls it "a land of darkness" where the dead lie be-side streams under spreading kou trees surrounded by the emblems of chiefs. The idea is of a shadowy world where people live much as in this world, but an unsubstantial world, a return to the Po, a spirit world.

One Hawaiian informant explains Po as a vast sea where forms live in the lower stages of life. It is out of this sea that land is born and the higher forms of life and man, who make up the world of light (Ao). "So each human being is formed in the spring of water within the uterus of the mother and emerges from it into human life. At death he returns to the Po again." Upon this general sense of the continuity of life is superimposed the idea of a kingdom of the dead where life appears much as in this world, an idea derived from experiences in trance or dream and found particularly useful in story-telling. The thought that man might have lived forever had not someone disobeyed the prohibition imposed is so wide-spread throughout the South Seas, and the stories told about this disobedience so various, as to preclude Christian teaching as its origin. The idea is of a cycle of life, the human rising out of the spirit world and at old age returning into the safe waters of that world again, to be guarded and reborn into the world of form, either as a human being or as some one of the many bodies which we see in nature, whose god has revealed itself as aumakua to the man during life and whose tapus he has punctually observed. The period of a man's life from birth to old age, "withered and dried like a mat of pandanus," may never be broken save by some sin against the aumakua which has aroused its anger. Even the dark arts of sorcery seem to depend upon an enemy's skill in catching the man at some point of vulnerability, some carelessness in observing the tapus of his god. Contests between aumakua are certainly pictured in story, one seeking the man's life, the other protecting it, but the broken law is the fundamental idea in all Hawaiian thought about accident or early death.

In the Maori account it is said that the offspring of Tane by Hine-te-tama would not obey Rangi and were swept down to Po; "by them mankind are drawn into a lower world. 

Family ties in the afterworld remain unbroken, and all Hawaiians believe in the power of spirits to return to the scenes they knew on earth in the form in which they appeared while they were alive. Especially is this true of the processions of gods and spirits who come on certain sacred nights to visit the sacred places, or to welcome a dying relative and conduct him to the aumakua world. "Marchers of the night" (Huaka‘i-po) or "Spirit ranks" (Oi‘o) they are called. Many Hawaiians and even some persons of foreign blood have seen this spirit march or heard the "chanting voices, the high notes of the flute, and drumming so loud as to seem beaten upon the side of the house." Always, if seen, the marchers are dressed according to ancient usage in the costume of chiefs or of gods. If the procession is one of gods, the marchers move five abreast with five torches burning red between the ranks, and without music save that of the voice raised in chant. Processions of chiefs are accompanied by aumakua and march in silence, or to the accompaniment of drum, nose-flute, and chanting. They are seen on the sacred nights of Ku, Lono, Kane, or Kanaloa, or they may be seen by day if it is a procession to welcome the soul of a dying relative. To meet such a procession is very dangerous. "O-ia" (Let him be pierced) is the cry of the leader and if no relative among the dead or none of his aumakua is present to protect him, a ghostly spearsman will strike him dead. The wise thing to do is to "remove all clothing and turn face up and feign sleep."


Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com


1. Coming of the Gods
2. Ku Gods
3. The God Lono
4. The Kane Worship
5. Kane and Kanaloa
6. Mythical Lands of the Gods
7. Lesser Gods
8. Sorcery Gods
9. Guardian Gods
10. The Soul after Death
11. The Pele Myth
12. The Pele Sisters
13. Pele Legends

14. Kamapua`a
15. Hina Myths
16. Maui The Trickster
17. Aikanaka-Kaha`iI
18. Wahieloa-Laka
19.  Haumea
20. Papa and Wakea
21. Genealogies
22. Era of Overturning
23. Mu and Menehune
24. Runners, Man-Eaters, Dog Men
25. Moikeha-la`a Migration
26. Hawaiiloa and Paao
27. Ruling Chiefs
28. Usurping Chiefs
29. Kapua Stories
30. Trickster Stories
31. Voyage to the Land of the Gods
32. Riddling Contests
33. The Kana Legends
34. The Stretching-Tree Kupua
35. Romance of the Swimmer
36. Romance of the Island of Virgins
37. Romances of Match-Making
38. Romances of the Dance
39. Wooing Romances
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