Kau Makaliʻi - Season of the Makahiki Ritual

A man in traditional clothing walks the shoreline carrying the akua loa draped with white kapa cloth and a lei made of ferns adorns the crosspiece
In the Makahiki ritual an image of lono, called the Akua Loa, traveled a route across the moku (district) in a ritualized survey of wealth and productivity of the land.

NPS Photo


In a season of renewal and rejuvenation, the traditions of Kau Makaliʻi remind us to reconnect with the cycles of nature to find balance within ourselves and the lands, waters, and resources that sustain us. And even more importantly, Makahiki reminds us that our human experiences are also intertwined, all throughout our life's journeys. With the wisdom of tradition, we can learn from the past and open new pathways into the future.

The Arrival of Makaliʻi

As the Sun makes its southern descent toward Ke Ala Polohiwa ā Kanaloa (the Tropic of Capricorn), practitioners of ka hoʻomana kahiko (traditional religious practice) once again look to observe the signs of Kau Makali‘i – the season of the Makahiki ritual.

By noting celestial and environmental phenomenon, kahuna (priest-seers) reset the lunar calendar during this time each year. In this way Kau Makaliʻi functions as both the beginning and end of the annual cycle of rituals and observations performed at heiau (temple). This period of time, which falls on the lunar months of ʻIkuwā, Welehu, and Makaliʻi (approximately November - January), is dedicated to the akua (god) Lono.


Lono, a deified personification of oxygen and the atmospheric forces of nature, serves to ignite subtle energies within the atmosphere, bringing rains and releasing nutrients necessary to ensure growth and collective abundance.

An artists depiction of a man in traditional clothing standing on the edge of a shoreline cliff holding the akua loa with a procession of people following him.
Depiction of the Akua Loa

Herb Kane

Lono Makua

In the Makahiki ritual an image of Lono, called Akua Loa, traveled a route across the moku (district) in a ritualized survey of the wealth and productivity of the land. A smaller twin image – called Akua Poko – remained within each area for the duration of this observation.

Maka Wahine

Also called Akua Pā‘ani, this kiʻi (carved image) presided over a tournament dedicated to Lono. Before the Maka Wahine, contestants competed in the sport of Mokomoko (boxing), with each contestant displaying his greatest feats of strength and skill in sight of his ancestors, gods, and people.


During Kau Makaliʻi Lono is personified, placing an emphasis on creative
activity, renewal, and the cycles of nature. The traditions of Lono remind people to make concious efforts in maintaining the balance within ourselves and one another, as well as with the lands, waters, and resources that sustain us.

School children play huki huki (tug of war) upon the sandy shores of the Royal Grounds. A referee in a white kihei signals the start of the game.
During the annual Lā Pāʻani tournament, local schoolchildren compete in games and challenges like huki huki (tug-of-war).

NPS Photo

Kau Makaliʻi Today

Today Makahiki is observed as a joyous time where games and competitions take place to celebrate Hawaiian tradition. Wrestling matches and spear throwing draw in crowds and challenge strength and agility. ‘Ulu maika (stone disk rolling) and moa pahe‘e (sliding darts) serve to test skill and accuracy. While kōnane (a strategy game) and ‘ōlelo ho‘onanenane (riddling) strengthen the intellect, with the flawless recital of mo‘okū‘auhau (genealogical chants) being the most impressive and celebrated feat of mind.

Lā Pāʻani

Here at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, local school children compete in an annual games tournament to celebrate and learn about Hawaiian tradition.

Two men dressed in white traditional clothing walk across lava rock. One holds a carved image of the akua (god) lono. The other carries a gourd water container. Coconut trees line the background.
Cultural Practitioners are essential in perpetuating traditions so traditional Hawaiian values and practices thrive now and into the future.

NPS Photo

Cultural Identity

For Hawaiian cultural practitioners, donning traditional garments perpetuates cultural identity and enables them to engage in native thought and practice. Here, the perpetuation of Makahiki traditions has become an important way local communities commemorate the passage of time and celebrate ancestral wisdom. Across the islands, images of the Lono Makua walk their traditional routes, carried forth by men and women garbed in white, as the ancient prayers are spoken once more.

Ola i ka wai a ka ‘ōpua.
There is life in the water from the clouds.

Last updated: November 13, 2021

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