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Kauwela, the Hawaiian summer

May 28, 2009

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Many in Hawai‘i are already familiar with makahiki, the period of time that lasts from roughly late October to the end of April. In pre-contact times, makahiki was a time of peace and tranquility, filled with festivities dedicated to the god Lono. But many are not entirely familiar with the other traditional Hawaiian season, kauwela-the word that also corresponds to the Western summer.

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A few weeks ago, I attended a ceremony to mark the traditional beginning of Hawaiian summer, kauwela. Directed by the students of the late kumu hula John Lake (his hālau and Nā Wa‘a Lālani Kāhuna o Pu‘u Koholā), the ceremony took place right next to the Waikīkī Aquarium, which was the site of the astronomical heiau Kūpalaha.  Here, kāhuna (priests or cultural experts) watched for the setting at the southern end of the Wai‘anae mountains,over Pu‘u Pāla‘ila‘i and Pu‘uokapolei, the sign that summer had begun. After a series of hula and oli, the ceremony closed with a final chant in timing with the setting of the sun .

According to Sam ʻOhukaniʻōhiʻa Gon III, who led the ceremony, kauwela is the season of Kū, widely known as the god of war. Kū, however, was more multi-faceted and epresented several other functions necessary in life.  While warfare did take place during kauwela, the season was also time for governance, taking action, making critical decisions. Interestingly enough, after a cool, rainy, and often cloudy April, in my observations, the season of Kū started off with a remarkable flash of heat. For the first few days after the ceremony, I noticed the sun set a stunning blood red.

For any of us who live on the leeward side of the islands of Hawai‘i, we are particularly know how hot and uncomfortable kauwela can be. Though it may not compare to the steaming East Coast summers I used to endure – steaming asphalt in the day, 86 degrees at 10 o’clock at night – I can feel the distinct personality of kauwela and the presence of Kū . While I’m accustomed to the Western idea of summer–a time to relax and, metaphorically, check out–I’m coming to appreciate the idea of taking things head on in the midst of the blaze of heat.

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