Saturday, July 11, 2009

Holua Fun at Makahiki

July 2 was incredibly hot in Aloha, Oregon, and in hula class we were all pretty miserable. To make everyone feel a bit cooler, I chose "sledding" as the topic for my weekly Fun Fact. However, sledding in old Hawai'i had nothing to do with snow.

From what I gathered, the sport of hölua originated as a tribute to Pele, the fiery volcano goddess. Like hot lava rolling rapidly down a hillside, the sledders rode down steep hills. Their descent was slowed either by a level meadow at the bottom of the hill, or by a plunge off a cliff into the ocean. A lava flow (preferably no longer in use by the volcano) was the preferred route. Dirt and leaves were piled atop the lava rocks to make a smoother ride, and the runners of the sled were greased with kukui nut oil.

The sled itself was no more than about 6 to 8 inches wide, but long enough to hold a tall body, and then some. The sleds ranged in length from 7 to 18 feet long. A woven mat atop the two runners sometimes was used to provide some comfort. There were hand grips near the top. The trick was to grab a handle with one hand, start running like hell, throw the sled down on the ground and drop on top of it, hold on for dear life and prepare to reach speeds up to about 70 miles per hour.

Needless to say, some sledders didn't survive their sport. In ancient Hawai'i, it was a sport reserved for the ali'i (chiefs). But the last recorded sledding contest, in which the winner was the one who rode the furthest, was held in 1825. Like so many other aspects of Hawaiian culture, it was outlawed by New England missionaries.

In 1993 the sport was revived by a surfer and Hawaiian history buff named Tom Pohaku Stone. Stone makes and sells hölua, as well as surfboards, at the Hawaiian Boarding Company.

Sledding and other royal sports, including spear catching (kids, don't try this at home), were part of the season known as Makahiki. The ancient Hawaiians devoted eight months of the year to warfare, and the remaining four months to rest and recreation, enjoying the fall's harvest, playing games, working on crafts, etc. Makahiki officially begins at the first new moon after the stars of Pleaides appear in the eastern sky, usually in November.

When I was in Maui last month, at the hotel where I stayed, the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel, the employees observe Makahiki each year. Well, not to the T, because in the old days, nobody worked for four months. The hotel employees do continue to work, but they take time to learn traditional crafts, such as making leis, poi pounders, fish nets, toys, etc.

Every department at the hotel decided on a particular craft to learn and each person made something. In the lobby of the hotel are glass cases holding many of the items that have been made over the years. Pictured above are fish hooks that were carved from soup bones by members of the culinary department. Eventually, the hotel ran out of room to display all the beautiful items in the lobby, so they converted one guest room into sort of a museum to hold all the handicrafts.

I liked this idea so much that for this week's Fun Fact I talked about Makahiki and how we could work some of its features (not spear catching) into our halau activities. I proposed that our halau observe Makahiki each year by making crafts that we can then sell at our annual hö'ike (hula show) and fundraiser. To that end, one of my wonderful hula sistahs, Kepola, ended our practice today by teaching us how to make candy leis. It was too fun, especially since sampling of the materials was allowed.

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