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Makahiki: Building bonds through the celebration of culture

01 December 2023

From Anna Marie G. Gonzales, Navy Region Hawaii Public Affairs

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - In Native Hawaiian tradition, an annual ceremony takes place during the Makahiki season which in ancient times lasted for four months, usually beginning from mid-November to mid-February, a time set aside for tribute, harvest and play.
Makahiki, also known as year, hence the term used for Happy New Year (Hau’oli Makahiki Hou), is a Hawaiian cultural festival dedicated to Lono, the deified god of agriculture, rain, health and peace. It is a change from harvest time to the beginning of the agricultural season.

In partnership with the Oahu Council of Hawaiian Civic Clubs, military leaders from Navy Region Hawaii (CNRH) and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) celebrated the 22nd annual Makahiki festival at Pu’uloa, the site now known as Pearl Harbor, at Rainbow Bay Marina, Nov. 18.

The U.S. Navy and Native Hawaiian organizations (NHO) collaborate each year to host this annual event. Makahiki provided an opportunity for the military and Hawaii community to come together to learn about the rich pre-western Hawaiian traditions and history of the lands surrounding JBPHH.

“Makahiki started at Ford Island, moved to Hickam Beach, and now Rainbow Bay Marina,” said Jeff Pantaleo, Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Hawaii archaeologist. “Future Makahiki festivals may include recognizing the cultural significance of Ford Island.”

The event began with a reenactment of Lono and canoe paddlers transiting out to sea from the marina to Loko Pa’aiau fishpond, then returning back to land, or aina with a welcoming chant, or oli.

Among the canoe paddlers included Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander, Navy Region Hawaii; Capt. Ted Carlson, chief of staff, Navy Region Hawaii; Master Chief Derek Mullenhour, command master chief, Navy Region Hawaii; and Capt. Mark Sohaney, commander, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam; to name a few.

Following the welcoming of Lono and his cohort, a procession took place to commence the offering of gifts (ho’okupu) along with cultural presentations such as a hula performance by Aiea High School students.

As the presentation and offering of gifts concluded, Barnett provided opening remarks to continue with the festivities of the event.

“I was fortunate to participate in last year’s Makahiki here, and I look forward to learning even more about Hawaiian culture and traditions from our friends in the community this year,” said Barnett. “Mahalo to the Royal Order of Kamehameha and Hawaii Civic Clubs for this opportunity.”

Concluding his remarks, he introduced Shad Kane, a cultural practitioner with the Oahu Council of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and personally thanked him.

“We are here to learn, listen, and enjoy participation in some unique events today. It is my pleasure to introduce Shad Kane,” Barnett added. “First, I want everyone to know that besides being a wonderful cultural advisor to us, Shad is a Navy and Vietnam veteran. For that, I am personally thankful.”

Kane explained the history of Makahiki and its significance to Pearl Harbor, along with the long-standing relationship between the military and Hawaiian community.

“Makahiki is all about relationships, it is important to understand how important that is. We got to know each other before we understand each other,” said Kane. “The Royal Order decided that this site, Pearl Harbor, was chosen as a place to establish the relationship. It’s all about history. Early on there was interest in coming into Pearl Harbor by the local organizations. That’s why we came to know this area here and how special this area is.”

Makahiki is also celebrated with traditional games enjoyed by participants of all ages which include the ulu maika, haka moa, maka ihe, and moa pahe’e.

Ulu Maika closely resembles bowling where disc-shaped stones are rolled between two stakes on a lawn. Haka Moa is a standing chicken fight, where two players compete in a one-arm, one leg wrestling match. Maka Ihe, or spear throwing, involves throwing wooden dowels at targets. And lastly, Moa Pahe’e is a torpedo-shaped wooden dart where a player tosses it on the ground aiming to slide it between two stakes similar to ulu maika.

These games were played by participants to encourage camaraderie, sportsmanship and friendly rivalry to develop skills and strategies. Other Navy leaders from both CNRH and JBPHH shared their experience.

“Here I am with this opportunity to participate in this event for the second year to get to know our Hawaiian neighbors and understand the importance of this area and where it all began,” said Sohaney. “A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity with the mayor to be able to do some cleanup efforts with the local community on the Pearl Harbor bike trail so this to me is just part of our ohana and I’m glad that I’m part of it, and that the base gets the chance to get to really come together every year and get to know each other and do this.”

“It is a great opportunity for us to come out and share this important ancient Hawaiian holiday, Makahiki, which welcomes the season of peace and healing,” said Carlson. “I was actually able to participate in outrigger canoe paddling which was really an honor as we brought in the god Lono. Just to learn about the culture and participate with the Native Hawaiians is such an honor.”

“It’s just really a learning experience for me,” said Mullenhour. “I just thought about this morning on the paddle out to the fishpond how incredibly beautiful and peaceful it is then come back to the ceremony and be a part of that. I look forward to doing more of these events with the community and learning something new.”

Kehaualani “Aunty Kehau” Lum, president of the Ali’I Pau’ahi Hawaiian Civic Club describes the unity she observed during the Makahiki.

“If you look around us, you can hear and see how many people are here, with its amazing abundance and diversity,” said Lum. “When you talk about the Hawaii community, you think everybody in the community is here today, but first the people of this place, I also see some people who have come here visiting.”

As a first-time visitor to Hawaii, Judy Stow was impressed with the culture of Hawaii and shared her thoughts.

“What impressed me the most is the devotion of the people to the preservation of the culture, the customs, symbols and the language,” Stow said. “It fills my soul; it makes me tear up because so many of the people that I’ve met are so earnest about it and so passionate about being connected.”

“Being surrounded among people who not only acknowledge but respect and honor the beauty…that’s the best thing,” she added.

With sports, games, and a cultural history lesson, this event brought service members and the local community together to celebrate the traditions of Hawaiian culture and to keep it alive for generations to come.

For the first time concluding the Makahiki festival, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signing took place between the Navy and the Ali’I Pau'ahi Hawaiian Civic Club, Living Life Source Foundation, and Na Lima No’eau to honor the Navy’s relationship with the Native Hawaiians.

It affirms the commitment to work together to fully preserve and restore Loko Pa’aiau fishpond which was built by Moi Wahine (Queen) Kalanimanuia in the 17th century.

Located at McGrew Point Navy housing, Loko Pa’aiau is one of only three fishponds out of an original 22 in the Pearl Harbor area which are relatively intact.

It served as an opportunity to come together to honor Hawaiian history and culture, where all parties agreed to do the signing during this significant time.

“Makahiki and Loko Pa’aiau enable the Navy leadership, Sailors/Airmen and families, and community members to meet and build friendships,” said Pantaleo. “Loko Pa’aiau is a place to heal the aina and relationships.”

"These events take a lot of work to pull off, and I appreciate everyone who has made this Makahiki possible," said Barnett. "Gatherings like this underscore the importance of ohana, and I deeply value the community and the collaboration that makes Hawaii a truly special place."

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