Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Makahiki Hou

I was looking through some of my old notes and handouts from when I took a Hawaiian class a few years ago and came across some seasonally appropriate material:

Makahiki is the traditional Hawaiian version of New Year. The Makahiki season begins with the first sighting of the constellation Pleiades, Makali’i, in late October or November and ends about four months later with the rising of the fourth new moon. It is the time when the god Lono-i-ka-makahiki reigns over the ancient god of war , and the people enjoy peace and harmony. It is also the time for tax collection, thanksgiving, and feasting. There are various rites of purification and celebrations during the Makahiki season.

Once the Makahiki season ends, Lono(1) returns to Kahiki (Tahiti) and the time of Kū begins again, which is symbolic of the ali’i (chief) reasserting his power and imposing kapu (taboo) to be observed for the rest of the year.

Here is an ancient chant from the Makahiki season:

Nā ‘Aumākua

Nā ‘Aumākua mai ka lā hiki a ka lā ‘ākau
Mai ka ho’okui a ka hālawai
Nā ‘Aumākua ia Kahinakua ia Kahina’alo
Ia ka ‘ākau i ka lani
O kīhā i ka lani, ‘owē i ka lani
Nunulu i ka lani, kāholo i ka lani
Eia ka pulapula a ‘oukou, nā po’e o ka Pakipika
E mālama ‘oukou ia mākou
E ulu i ka lani, e ulu i ka honua, e ulu i ka pae ‘āina o ka Pakipika
E homai ka ‘ike
E homai ka ‘ikaika
E homai ka ‘akamai
E homai ka maopopo pono
E homai ka ‘ike pāpālua
E homai ka mana
‘Āmama ua noa.

To the ancestral deities from the rising to the setting sun
From the zenith to the horizon
The ancestral deities who stand at our back and at our front
You who stand at the right side
A breathing in the heavens
An utterance in the heavens
Here are your descendants, the people of the Pacific(2)
Safeguard us
That we may flourish in the heavens
That we may flourish on the earth
That we may flourish on the islands of the Pacific
Grant us knowledge
Grant us strength
Grant us intelligence
Grant us the understanding
Grant us the spiritual insight
Grant us the power.
The prayer is lifted, it is free.(3)

The translation of the chant above is not my own, and as I was thumbing through the dictionary to find some unfamiliar words, it seems some poetic liberties were taken by the translator. For instance, although kīhā is translated as 'breathing' by this translator, the only dictionary entry I found defines it as 'belch.' A belch in the heavens?! Well, I guess breathing sounds better than belching, so I'll go along with this more poetic translation!

1. Lono is one of the four ancient gods brought from Tahiti and is associated with peace, fertility, and agriculture, the clustering of dark clouds, thunder, whirlwinds, waterspouts, earthquakes, and the Kona rain. This same god is known as Rongo on Rapanui (Easter Island; Hawaiian l = Rapanui and Tahitian r) and is the namesake of the Rongorongo hieroglyphic script of that island, which has not been deciphered.
2. I suspect this is altered from the traditional chant, since Pakipika for 'Pacific' was obviously borrowed from English in post-missionary times. Perhaps the original was simply moana or kai, 'ocean' or 'sea.'
3. This is a pre-missionary, or pre-Christian, ending of a traditional prayer.

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year!


David Marjanović said...

"Which has not been deciphered"? And what about Steven Roger Fischer, who makes a very convincing claim to have done just that?

Dave said...

I'm not sure I'm very convinced of his decipherment. I might be completely wrong, but it seems like an awful lot of interpretation of symbols as phalluses in an Old Testament format of so-and-so begat so-and-so. I would be much more convinced if the rongorongo symbols were linked with a syllabary, like the Ha-ka-la-ma of Hawaiian, which I'm sure is very similar in Rongorongo since it and Hawaiian are closely related. It's my understanding that most hieroglyphic systems are at least part phonetic and often based on syllables (e.g. Maya and Egyptian). I think it's pretty unlikely all those Rongorongo symbols are mere pictograms of penises.

David Marjanović said...

Well, the script was very young, the symbols are still complicated drawings even though carved by hand, and the symbols are far too many for a Polynesian syllabary; plus, the only use seems to have been a very narrow religious one with limited vocabulary, while all other scripts seem to have come from economy where inventing a new glyph for every word soon becomes cumbersome and (see Chinese) impossible without some connection to phonetics. I wouldn't be surprised if some of Fischer's interpretations of individual glyphs turn out to be wrong, but beyond that, it looks entirely convincing. The decipherment is consistent, and it, well, works. I think Fischer is just bad at publicity. (His scientific book on his decipherment of the Phaistos Disk was published by a publisher that seems to be specialized in topics from the humanities that less than 100 people in the world are interested in... why not some American university press!?!)

There is a Hawaiian syllabary?!? Please tell me more!!!

Dave said...

Well, David, you may be right. Perhaps I'll go back and reread the article I found online by Fischer and give him another chance. I'm just beginning my studies of decipherments (focusing primarily on Mesoamerica: Maya, Zapotec, and Epi-Olmec) and am very new to this field. I myself hope to be looking much more at the Epi-Olmec script (predating the Maya) during my PhD studies as it looks like I'll be focusing on documenting Zoque of Mexico, which is believed to be descended from ancient Olmec and might give some valuable clues to deciphering that ancient script.

The Ha-ka-la-ma is basically just a way to teach the Hawaiian phonetic and phonological system to children. Instead of reciting the a b c's, they learn to recite all the possible V and CV combinations. The name Ha-ka-la-ma comes from the first set of possible CV combinations: ha, ka, la, ma, na, pa, etc. progressively cycling through all the other combos: ho, ko, lo, mo, etc.

David Marjanović said...

Epi-Olmec! Great!!! Best of luck!!!

All I've read about Fischer's decipherments is his book Glyphbreaker (Copernicus/Springer 1997). Despite the somewhat embarrassing title and blurb, it explains the decipherments very well (especially the Phaistos Disk, where there is more to explain, because he had to figure out the language from the incomplete decipherment...), though of course it's not quite primary literature.