Body Painting a Mythology

Tiki Stare

Menehune- the mythical fairy folk of Hawaii

“An artist carving an ‘object of art’… is re-creating the creation of the earth through his actions.  So it is not just an object, ‘a thing in itself’, but energy made material, whose seeming solidity is actually vibrating”—Rima A. Morrell –The Sacred Power of Huna: Spirituality and Shamanism in Hawaii

“Not only was the sculpture intended to be… used as ritual objects, but the act of carving were rituals themselves…” Cox and Davenport –Hawaiian Sculpture

Living in Hawaii gives me a unique chance to explore a culture that is very old and has an incredibly diverse and enormous mythological history to bathe in.  I live on the island of Maui which in itself is famous for many Hawaiian gods and goddesses. I decided after 8 years of living here to deeply research Hawaiian mythology and more specifically the famous tiki statues that have been carved for hundreds of years here in Hawaii and all throughout Polynesia.  Tikis became a pop culture sensation in the 20th century however their ancient history is very intricate and linked to the divine.

First a brief explanation of  an aspect of Hawaiian worldview and the function of tikis based on my research before I explain my recent body painting projects (if any cultural advisor has additional info to add, people to meet, books to read, or suggestions to this essay based solely on my ongoing present research I gladly welcome it):

Hawaii’s spiritual worldview before the Europeans came and eventually conquered the land and religion was animistic.  Animism refers to an inner life in all things animate and inanimate.  However, nothing was inanimate to the Hawaiians. That very word implies a separation of life force. Everything was connected to each other.  Everything had life force in it. The land was sacred.  The gods were their ancestors.  The people were not separate from God.

They believed in “mana” or the essence of life that inhabited all things. There was mana in the wind, the clouds, the trees, the ocean, the rocks and so on and so forth.  Animals or ancestors were guardians and considered family.  They were called “Aumakua”.

Pele is the goddess of the volcano energy that brought forth the very Hawaiian islands. There is an enormous pantheon of gods and goddesses, demi-gods, and kupuas (supernatural beings) that exist in the Hawaiian spiritual mythology.

Once such figure is the carved tiki. Tiki was the first man in some Polynesian traditions and the carving of this divine being is a sacred act. Only the best woods would be used.  Prayer and chants accompanied everyday actions of the ancient Hawaiians as they would carve the tiki.  The tiki that was carved would store up these prayers and chants and act as a protector or fierce guardian of the ali’is or chiefs of the Hawaiian people.

The God invoked would come to live inside the tiki itself and be treated as the physical representation of the energetic divine. It was the house for the god to live in while the Hawaiians on Earth interacted with it.

There were many different tikis of various gods but the main four gods in the Hawaiian culture I am delving into within the show are Kane, Ku, Kanaloa, and Lono. The four major gods have a multitude of various forms and areas of worship they preside over but what follows is a few more well known aspects of them.

Kane is the ultimate creator of life and represents the sun and procreation. Kanaloa is partnered with Kane but represents the wild energetic side of Kane. Kanaloa is the sailor of the canoe while Kane is the builder. Kanaloa is the god of the ocean and some say the underworld.  Then came Ku, the most aggressive of all the gods.  He is most known as the god of war and human sacrifices were made to him. Ku stood for the power of the ali’i or ruling class, but he was a god of fishing and protector.  Last of the major tiki gods was Lono.  Lono is the god of peace, the harvest, and of athletic games.  Storms and clouds are associated with this god’s coming.  The people were not allowed to work during worship of Lono and his presence served as a break from the strict “kapu” or rules the Hawaiians lived by.  During Makahiki time of which the Source Festival is during, no warfare was allowed.  This is Lono’s time.


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