The world of the ancient Hawaiians was also rich with spiritual forces that were closely linked to their natural environment. Certain species were considered sacred ‘aumākua, guardian spirits that might be seen in visions or dreams.
This connection to the natural world and these spiritual beliefs continue today—the Hawaiian culture is a living culture, and the ancient philosophies still resonate in the daily lives of Hawaiians.
As personal or family gods, ‘aumākua may take on various physical manifestations, becoming incarnate in living animals that appear to warn or protect.
Some ‘aumākua are the ‘io (Buteo solitarius, Hawaiian hawk), manō (shark), pueo (Asio flammeus, short-eared Owl), honu (Chelonia mydas, sea turtle), kōlea (Pluvialis fulva, Pacific golden plover), and hīnālea (Labridae, wrasse), with different species being ‘aumākua to different people or families.
An ancient Hawaiian saying states: “‘Ano lani; ‘ano honua.” (“A heavenly nature; an earthly nature.”), which is “said of some ‘aumākua who make themselves visible to loved ones by assuming an earthly form, such as fish, fowl, or animal, yet retain the nature of a god.”
“The knowledge of these kāhuna of ancient times was remarkable. It is possible that the source of their knowledge was from observation of the clouds in the heavens, and at times from dreams, and they spoke of what was revealed to them by the ‘aumakua in whom they had faith and who disclosed to them the signs in the heavens and events to come.”
Stephen Langhern Desha Sr