Volume 57 1948 > Volume 57, No. 2 > Kava in Hawaii, by Margaret Titcomb, p 105-171
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THIS presentation of the kava custom in Hawaii is the outgrowth of a suggestion made by Dr. E. S. C. Handy several years ago. The material has been gathered from a wide variety of sources: observations of foreigners, early visitors and later residents, native material from chants and legends revealing thought untouched by external influence, and later-day comments by Hawaiians in their newspapers and periodicals. Hawaiian sources have been searched by Mary Kawena Pukui. She has selected, translated and elucidated the material and has contributed from her own wide knowledge of early Hawaiian life as well as searching for information from other Hawaiians. Deep indebtedness for her share in making this record is herewith acknowledged.

Material additional to that in the Bishop Museum Library has been found at the Archives of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Mission Children's Society on the topics of kava and the law, and kava as a foe of the missionaries. Thanks are due to the librarians of those institutions, Miss Maude Jones and Miss Bernice Judd. Miss Marie C. Neal and Mr. E. L. Caum have criticised the statements concerning kava as a plant. Gratitude is expressed to Dr. John Embree, Dr. Felix M. Keesing and Dr. Kenneth P. Emory for helpful and painstaking criticism.


The Pacific islands custom of making a beverage from the root of Piper methysticum is well known to the rest of the world, chiefly from observance of its use in western Polynesia-Samoa and Tonga, as well as Fiji. Kava is the widely known term for the root and the beverage. In Hawaii, and some other Polynesian areas, the initial k of the word is dropped, and it becomes 'awa. The term kava has been used in the title of this paper because it is well known. The Hawaiian spelling will now be followed, however.

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The study of the 'awa custom is of interest because it was cultivated in Polynesia wherever it could be grown and its use was of significance. Indeed its presence is an indication of Polynesian influence, and 'awa vies with the betel nut of Melanesia in being closely and tenaciously associated with culture.

The 'awa custom is of interest in Hawaii because it was a sacred drink of importance in many phases of Hawaiian life. Outside of water and drinking coconut, no other drink was known. Its effect is to relax mind and body and it was used by farmer and fisherman for this purpose. Medical kahunas (learned men) had many uses for it. It was customary for chiefs to drink it before meals, for commoners also if obtainable. It was essential on occasions of hospitality and feasting, and as the drink of pleasure of the chiefs. The manner of its use indicated rank, though not to the extent displayed in western Polynesia. It was a fit and necessary offering to the gods and the gods shared with man the desire for its potent effect.


There is more than one legendary source for 'awa. The discovery of Hawaii is credited to the adventurous sea roamer, Hawaii-Loa. In Fornander's version of the story (21, VI: 278) it happened this way:

“One time when they (Hawaii-Loa and his company) had thus been long out on the ocean, Makalii, the principal navigator, said to Hawaii-Loa: ‘Let us steer the vessel in the direction of Iao, the Eastern Star, the discoverer of land . . . There is land to the eastward, and here is a red star . . . to guide us . . .’ So they steered straight onward and arrived at the easternmost island . . . They went ashore and found the country fertile and pleasant, filled with 'awa, coconut trees . . . and Hawaii-Loa, the chief, called that land after his own name . . .”

Did the ancient composer of this tale assume that 'awa was growing in Hawaii when the first Hawaiians came from the south, or was it his figurative way of describing any fertile land, to sketch in 'awa, coconuts and other desirable things?

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Makalii, the navigator, is described as a “celebrated king in Kahiki Kapakapaua-a-Kane” (21, VI, p. 272) and a hoarder of food.

“During a season of great fertility he sent his messengers all over the country and collected all the food they could get at and stored it up in Makalii's storehouses and forts. A famine followed, but Makalii was stingy and had all the food gathered up in nets and hung out of reach, and great distress came over man and animals. The rats scoured the earth and climbed up on the black shining cloud of Kane . . . and on the rainbow and from there they nibbled at Makalii's nets until they broke and tore them, so that the food fell out on the earth again; and thus the earth was restocked with potatoes, taro, yam, etc.”

This legend is referred to in a chant in the tale of Kaukaieie (48 s.), a chant to accompany an offering of 'awa.

He 'awa keia no'u no Awini,
He kanaka lawai'a au
No na pali hula'ana nei
O Laupahoehoenui me Laupahoehoeiki,
Na Kane me Kanaloa i kanu,
No'u akua o ka lewa lani, ka lewa nu'u,
O ka 'awa popolo a Kane i kau iluna,
I ulu iluna, i lau iluna, i o'o iluna,
I hului ia e Makali'i pa'a iluna
I ki'ina ia i ka 'iole moku ka 'alihi
Helelei ilalo nei, ulu laha i ka honua
Aha'i ka manu kau iluna o ka la'au
Iho mai ka 'awa hiwa me ka makea
Elua laua.
O ka papa'ele me ka papakea,
Elua laua.
O ka mo'i me ka mokihana,
Elua laua.
O ka nene me ka waimakaakamanu,
Elua laua.
Ho'awa ko 'awa e Kane i ka wai
Inu ka 'awa, pupu i ka i'a
No ko pulapula ho Hanoalele
Amama ua noa, lele wale ho'i.
Here is 'awa from me, Awini,
A fisherman am I
Of the inaccessible cliffs
Of greater Laupahoehoe and lesser Laupahoehoe,
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A plant set out by Kane and Kanaloa,
My gods of the heavens above and the heavens below,
The 'awa popolo of Kane, that existed above,
Grew above, leafed above, ripened above.
It was seized by Makali'i and hung on high.
The rat ascended and chewed the rope that held it.
Down it fell, multiplied and spread over the earth.
The birds carried some up into the trees,
The awa hiwa and the makea came down,
A pair were they.
The dark papa and the light papa,
A pair were they.
The mo'i and the mokihana,
A pair were they.
The nene and the ka-wai-maka-a-ka-manu,
A pair were they.
The 'awa of Kane is mixed with water,
The 'awa is drunk, fish is eaten for an aftertaste.
This is for your offspring, Hanoalele,
Amama, it is freed, it has flown.

The chanter has here gathered together some of the salient points in the legendary history of 'awa—that it was set out by the gods, Kane and Kanaloa, that for a time it was denied mortals, or else almost disappeared during a famine or blight, and that it later spread widely. Some was carried to the trees by the birds, and there flourished. And then he tells us some of the varieties, the pairing signifying species that were similar. (Pukui, personal communication.)

Another statement, by Mana (21, V: 606-608), gives credit to Oilikukaheana, who brought it from Kahiki for a “fishing plant,” which Fornander explains by saying that it was a “favorite of sharks at the hands of kahunas.” It was planted first on Kauai, and then spread by chance to Oahu, where the legendary character, Ewa, had the courage to test its effect and discovered its intoxicating character. “Ewa said: ‘Let me first eat of this plant, and should I die, do not plant it, for it would be valueless; but should I not die, then we will be rich.’ When Ewa ate it she became drunk and was intoxicated all day. When she awoke she called the plant ‘awa’; from thence forward this plant was called awa, the awa of Kaumakaeha, the chief.”

Mana admits that: “There are many other places mentioned as to where awa came from. It is said that birds brought it and planted it in the forests of Puna, - 109 Hawaii. Others say that a son of Hi'ilei brought it. But this is what I have been told by friends as to the origin of the awa.

'Awa has been found by botanists in many of the high islands of the Pacific, in Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia and New Guinea. It was used as a beverage throughout Polynesia. Hawaiian plants were doubtless brought from the Society islands whence the Hawaiians are said to have migrated.


'Awa is a shrub growing about four to eight feet high. Botanically, it is known as Piper methysticum Forst. (22:50). Among other botanists, Hillebrand describes it (29:417). The leaves are heart-shaped, pointed, smooth, green on both sides, being about six inches in length, sometimes wider than long. The stems are jointed, the spaces between the joints sometimes determining the native name of the species, as do also the intensity of the green of the leaves, the colour of the stems, and the quality of the root. The root, which is the part used for making the beverage, is an underground stem. Just below the surface of the ground, and for two feet or so, it becomes three to five inches thick at maturity, which is about two years planting (40, p. 80). In a patch of 'awa, the roots eventually become a heavy, knotted mass, and such a patch was highly prized, for the root gathers strength and flavour with age.

Hillebrand, who was in Hawaii when 'awa was still used by the natives, says that he never saw it in a “truly wild state, but . . . extensively cultivated in clearings in the forest, especially on Hawaii.” (29, p. 417.) 'Awa is no longer cultivated in Hawaii, but has been reported to be growing wild on all the major islands. Emerson (19, p. 132) said so in 1903, and various informants have reported it recently. It thrives in cool, moist uplands, but will grow at lower levels if cared for. After cuttings were set out in a cleared area of the lower forest, the patch was weeded once or twice in its younger growth, and needed no further care. After maturity, a supply could be taken out at any time, but a thought for the future was ingrained in the Hawaiians, and fresh cuttings were planted when roots were dug. Handy (26: 201-204) has described the plant, its cultivation and use, and names fourteen varieties: the 'apu, hiwa, - 110 ke'oke'o, kumakua, kua'ea, makea, mamaka, manienie, mo-i, mokihana, papa 'ele'ele, papakea, kau la'au. Meanings of these names are 'apu, cup, significance unknown; hiwa, black or very dark, refers to a dark area just above each stem node in mature plants; ke'oke'o, whitish, the stem is light green; kumakua, from ku-ma-kua-hiwi, forest-growing; kua'ea, back of the hornbill turtle, mottled; makea, whitish, light-coloured stems; mamaka, to put out new buds, evergrowing; manienie, a sensation as of suddenly dropping from a height; mo-i, royal, supreme, the very best; mokihana, fragrant, perhaps suggesting the fragrance of the mokihana berries; papa, recumbent; papa 'ele'ele, a dark, low-growing plant; papa kea, light coloured, low-growing plant; kau la'au, tree growing, or tree supported; nene, goose, a speckled 'awa, named in the chant of Awini (p. 4 herein). Lilia Frank of Palolo valley, Oahu, tells of the kawa, which has a yellow root. A letter from Oscar P. Cox to Governor Carter (10a) is worth quoting from in regard to kinds of 'awa:

Since meeting you . . . I have met my granduncle at Waialua, and from him I received the following information . . . awa mo-i: skin or the stem red or brownish. The priests used this kind in sacrificial ceremonies to Pele . . . obtainable today; awa hiwa: skin dark, also leaves; used in Pele worship, also at heiaus and koas; awa papa: smallest, grows slow, creeps; the bulk (sic.) is very hard, the strongest kind of awa; very small roots; awa koa'e: fast growing, plentiful, skin has long white stripes running up and down; leaves large, and like the hoi vine; named after Puna-ai-koa'e, a demi-god; perhaps there is some growing on Mt. Kaala; awa kukaenalo (same as nene): skin spotted with black; considered a strong awa; awa puhi (not the flower, awa puhi'): fast growing, dark in colour, with short white stripes; named after Puhiula, a demi-god; awa manakea: a white awa; not strong, not much used; named after Wakea, a demigod.

Whether this is the complete list or whether some have become extinct and have passed out of memory, cannot now be determined. As with all plants and animals, names sometimes varies according to island or even locality on one - 111 island. For certain 'awa there were also figurative names which the poets conferred, as the “'awa of the birds of Puna” (48n.) and the “birds' tears” (ka wai maka a ka manu), this variety being a favourite. Theodore Kelsey says this was also called kau la'au. Beverage from this root seemed to have greater strength than from others.

Varieties of 'awa differed enough to make some preferred for one purpose, some for another. Beckwith says (3: 94):

Only the most common variety could be used by the commoner; the rarer kinds were reserved for the chiefs. For the gods and on ceremonial occasions the moi (royal), hiwa (black), and papa (recumbent) were used, the papa, from which the moi was often an offshoot, being especially offered to female deities.

Certain localities were famous for the potent 'awa. Kamakau (48 e), a native historian, says: “From of old there were places made famous by the intoxicating qualities of their awa, for example, Ko'uko'u on Kauai, Hena on Oahu, Lanakila on Maui, and Puna on Hawaii.”

Its manner of growth is shrub-like. With sufficient sunlight it grows densely to a height of about twenty feet. Planted in the forest, or at the edge, where it has to climb to reach sunlight, it sprawls up, the leaf growth at the top of the plant being heavy enough to make the support of sturdier growth welcome. Such 'awa plants make use of the decayed vegetable matter in the crotches of trees, roots are formed at the nodes, and extra nourishment and a second hold are gained. The plant is not epiphytic, however. It is evident that Hawaiians noted such manner of growth, especially in the luxuriant forests of Puna. Not having planted 'awa in that way themselves, they gave credit to the birds, thereby reflecting their love of poetic figure. Kaaiakamanu (32, p. 19) says that the birds take “the bark and fruit to their nests,” and identifies this tree-growing variety as the 'awa mokihana. If Kaaiakamanu is correct, the whole seed spike must have been taken, for the seeds are very small.


The drink is made from the root, which is woody, slightly spongy, toughish, and roughly gnarled.

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One Hawaiian writer advises: “Use only fresh awa that has just been dried.” (48b.) Fresh roots are easier to use. In the tale of Kamiki (48 n, 9/25/1912), the root is described as “tender as a raw sweet potato.” However, in preparing a sample of the beverage today, we found it was too woody to be described as crisp and were glad to be able to resort to a meat grinder to break up the roots—perhaps a compliment to the strength of teeth and jaws of the early Hawaiians. Fresh roots not always being obtainable, a supply of roots was often kept in reserve, thoroughly dried by hanging in the sun. Strength was not lost in drying, and soaking brought back something of the crispness.

The root was scraped and washed, then reduced to small pieces. This was done by breaking with a sharp-edged stone if the root was large; by cutting into small pieces with a bamboo knife if small, young and fresh. It was then ready to chew (mama) and mix with water to make a cold water infusion. In later days, chewing was replaced by grinding or pounding. Reports of early visitors vary widely as to details of preparation, perhaps depending on their tolerance or disgust, and according to the rank of the person or persons for whom it was being prepared. Kotzebue (35, II, p. 199) says: “They intoxicate themselves with the Avaroot, which is prepared in the same manner as in the other South-Sea islands, with this exception, that here only the old women chew the root, and the young ones only spit into the dish to dilute the pap.”

This is denied by all Hawaiian informants, and it must be that what Kotzebue saw, or was reported to him by one of his companions, was a break from usual custom. Paahana Wiggin (informant) says that 'awa was never chewed by old women, only by young men and women, and usually women. The demands on the jaws and teeth make this easy to believe. The stipulation that the chewers be young persons has been found in other areas in Polynesia as well as Hawaii.

In 'awa chewing, as in some other ceremonies, it was sometimes demanded that an ula pa'a (a girl or a boy who had not yet reached physical maturity) do the service, or a girl who was pu'u pa'a (virgin). This quality of immaculateness or sanctity was felt to be transferable from the - 113 participant to the ceremony itself. (Pukui, personal communication.

Chiefs and priests had special 'awa chewers in their train. A kahu (personal servant) performed alone all the work of preparing the drink for his chief, and was often required to do it several times each day, certainly before each meal. Portlock records this service (47, p. 157):

“My friend the old priest was almost constantly on board, and, according to his usual custom, drank vast quantities of yava, which kept him in a most wretched condition . . . The old man had generally two attendants on board to chew the yava root for him, and he found them so much employed that their jaws were frequently tired, and he was obliged to hire some of the people along-side to chew for him at a bead for a mouthful . . .”

A large quantity was prepared by a number of people, the work divided, some entrusted with cutting, or pounding, others with chewing, others with mixing and serving. For a group of forty people, perhaps six chewers would be needed.

Cleanliness was insisted upon, and required going to a beach or pool to rinse the mouth with water, sometimes adding wood ashes to the mouth rinse. Further insurance of cleanliness might be gained by chewing some edible seaweed, such as limu kala, or a piece of sugar cane, until its fibres were sufficiently free of juice to make a cleanser for the teeth. Hands were washed before the task of preparation started, and a final washing at the last moment was customary, both as extra insurance of cleanliness and a gesture of courtesy for guests to observe.

The chewers sat around a large, round bowl (kanoa), or a canoe-shaped vessel (holo wa'a) usually of wood, perhaps sometimes of stone. Each mouthful became a ball, called a māna (not to be confused with mănă, inherent power). As soon as the mass in the mouth was finely minced it was put into the bowl. A Hawaiian informant, Ke Kahuna, claims that good 'awa chewers developed the technique of chewing without allowing the saliva to flow too freely, thereby getting a comparatively dry ball. This is difficult to believe but others have made the claim also. Some saliva would be mixed with the minced root, and had - 114 its use. Walter Hough (30, p. 88) states that “Kava that is prepared by chewing is said to be more palatable, which is perhaps due to the conversion of the starch into a fermentable substance by the ptyalin of the saliva,” and that two properties of 'awa are (p. 86) “resin and kavahin . . . insoluble in water but . . . soluble in saliva and the gastric juices.” The custom of chewing the root in general to Polynesia and its origin must be ancient. Churchill (9, p. 58) says: “The existence of the chewing custom in so many communities is evidence that it must carry some advantage . . . the islanders maintain that chewed awa has a better taste . . .” Hough offers two other reasons for chewing (30, p. 89):

“The kava root was probably chewed as the most available way to disintegrate its fibres. The tin grater found an immediate adoption in Samoa . . . Another reason may be that since kava drinking was a semi-religious ceremony, or at first highly official in most islands, the custom may have been perpetuated as one giving greater efficacy to the potion.”

The chemical properties of the root were determined in Tahiti by G. Cuzent (11, p. 282-283):

“The root of the Piper methysticum contains an essential oil of a citron yellow colour, combined with a balsamic resin . . . Also a large amount of starch in small, round grains, a special neutral principle that we isolated at Tahiti, April 10, 1857, and to which we gave the name kavahin. It is probably to this principle that should be credited the stupefying and intoxicating properties of kava.” (Translation by author.)

It is interesting to note that in the various dialects of the Polynesian language, there are two words for the verb to chew, mama and nau. Nau means to chew with the intent of swallowing; mama means to chew so as to mince finely. Mothers did this to the first solid foods given to their infants. The service was rendered by personal servants for chiefly children until they were well into childhood, and by medical kahunas in preparing medicines. The jaws and teeth were classed as good tools, not to be overlooked.

In Hawaii, the pounding process finally superseded the chewing process, special tools being developed for the new - 115 method. (p. 164 herein.) Emerson (19, p. 133) notes that: “It is prepared by pulverizing the root in a mortar; if it is the dry article of commerce it is kept sufficiently moist to prevent its scattering and forming dust. When well pulverized, water is mixed with the mash to bring it to a proper dilution, when it is strained.”

The strength of the concoction was roughly measured by the number of balls prepared. If a strong concoction was wanted, about four balls for each person were allowed. Two were usually sufficient. As soon as all were ready and placed in the kanoa, a coconut cup of water was added for each person to be served. For chiefs, and on rare occasions, water from coconuts was used. In the tale of Kamiki (48n, 9/25/1912) this is referred to: “After the chewing was done, the fluid used was the milk of the hiwa coconut, plucked from the tree, Niuapoe, the tree of the very sacred chief, Kalapana . . .” The mixture was thoroughly kneaded with the hands, and stirred, then strained. The strainer (ahu-'awa) of tangled fibres, tied together at one end, and grasped with both hands, was moved slowly through the liquid, to pick up the fibrous root-particles, then squeezed dry, shaken out at the side of the bowl and the process repeated until the liquid seemed free of fibres. There remains no evidence of ceremonial manner of straining. Ke Kahuna says it was drawn through carefully and twisted as it was brought to the near side of the bowl, so that it ended up being a thick rope of fibres. Emerson, writing late (19, p.133), says only that “The fibre . . . is put into the bowl of diluted awa in such a way as to surround and gather up the undissolved particles, hence the name ahu-awa, the gatherer in the awa.

In order that persons of unfriendly or evil intent might not use the discarded fibres in sorcery, they were carefully thrown away in a running stream or in the sea. The last straining was through a twist of the fibres, a sort of funnel or “bird's nest.” There seems to be no record of details of strict ceremony for this last pouring. One informant claims that the one who strained was also the server. Not all informants agree that this was always so. According to the narration which follows, 'awa was sometimes made in a gourd vessel, emptied into kanoa and then served into - 116 cups. The tale of Kamiki furnishes this evidence of the whole procedure (48n, 11/8/1911):

“When he had pulled up the awa, he chewed five balls (walu 'awa, of eight mouthfuls each that is, 40 mouthfuls), wrapped them in green banana leaves, then dried banana leaves, and returned to the chief's house. The unchewed awa was tied in a bunch. The bundles of chewed awa were unwrapped and put into dippers (haona) . . . When the people went to open the imu for the pork, that was the time when the awa was put into one mass and the juice squeezed out into a long gourd (olo), the dregs strained out, the containers (kanoa) filled, and then poured into cups made of coconut shell ('apu niu), and was enough for four times four men, and when the chief and they themselves were counted in together that made five times four men to drink the awa.

The amount drunk varied greatly. A coconut cup was invariably the container from which to drink and would contain half a pint or more, the amount commonly taken before a meal. At a drinking party much more would be taken. Boastful chiefs exaggerated their ability at drinking. Emerson (19, p. 135) says:

“In the olden times there were those among the Hawaiians . . . who were stout drinkers and who won renown among their fellows by their ability to take large potations with a steady head. It is said of Pana, a king of Kauai and a famous drinker in the days of Keawe-nui-a-umi, that he could easily take forty cups of awa at a time without feeling it—an overstatement of course . . .”

'Awa was never made ahead of time and kept, but the chewed balls were sometimes prepared and wrapped in moss (paihiihi moss), or banana leaves, as already stated by the teller of the Kamiki story. This met the necessities of long journeys or voyages, or the wish to serve a chief expeditiously.

When a scarcity of the supply of 'awa demanded it, two or three infusions were made from the same mass of chewed 'awa. “The first brew is called the mahu, the second the hope, and the third the kua.” (48n, 2/22/1911.)

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The beverage is not attractive to the eye. If dried 'awa is used, the liquid is greyish, if green 'awa is used it is greenish. The liquid is never clear in spite of straining. In Hawaii it was a fairly thick liquid, this being preferred to “the dishwater drunk in the south” according to an old saying remembered by Kinney. Ellis (16: 358) termed it “like thick calcareous water.” 'Awa is no longer drunk to any extent in Hawaii and, therefore, to observe the colour, a bowl of 'awa was prepared from fresh 'awa taken from the forest at the head of Manoa valley on Oahu. It had a greenish cast like that of milky pea soup. During the process of mixing and straining a light foaminess occurred. After standing a few moments, that in the bottom of the cup had an almost puree-like thickness. One allusion to this potent sediment is in the legendary tale of Kaeha and Kaulu (21, IV: 524). The two brothers are drinking 'awa and planning to deceive some spirits. One says, “Before you drink yours offer a little to me as your god by repeating the following words: ‘Here is your awa.’ I will then answer back: ‘Drink it and let me have the portion that is intoxicating!’” In western Polynesia, the drink of honour is the last from the bowl, because it is the most potent. (P.H. Buck, personal communication.)


There is disagreement as to the taste, easily traceable to wide differences in personal reaction, potency of the root used, strength of the infusion, familiarity with the taste, and with the custom.

Emerson (19: 131) says: “While tramping in the woods I have often moistened my tongue with a piece of awa chipped from some root, and experienced relief from thirst by its pleasant, cooling, aromatic, numbing effect on the mucous membrane of the tongue . . .”

Dr. Buck, who has often drunk 'awa in Samoa and other Pacific islands, corroborates this, saying that Emerson's adjectives are well chosen. To him 'awa is astringent, rather than bitter.

Ellis, a missionary who toured Hawaii in 1823 (16: 358), says:

“(Chief Miomioi) took a large coconut shell full of ava. If an opinion of its taste might be formed by the - 118 distortion of his countenance after taking it, it must be a most nauseous dose. There seemed to be about half a pint of it in the cup . . . As he took it, a man stood by his side with a calabash of fresh water, and the moment he had swallowed the intoxication dose, he seized the calabash, and drank a hearty draught of water, to remove the unpleasant taste and burning effect of the awa.

None who have drunk 'awa today find it nauseous, and not even unpleasant enough to distort the countenance. A morsel of food is customarily taken after drinking 'awa, and in the old days the mouth was rinsed with water before taking the morsel of food. The “burning effect” must have been a guess on Ellis' part. It may be taken into account that the missionaries fought against the 'awa custom, and any description of it would be apt to represent it as unpleasant.

Two Hawaiians speak of its bitterness, Kauea (48g, 1/6/67) says: “When chewed there is a peculiar bitterness with a feeling of thickness in the mouth, so that one does not taste the deliciousness of food after chewing or drinking awa . . .” Kaualilinoe (48h) says: “If you chew a piece in your mouth, it is sour, and very bitter. The mouth will not taste food that is eaten after . . .” The Hawaiian dictionary (2: 74) gives one meaning of 'awa, “the quality or state of being bitter; acridity.” Bitterness seems to cling to the word. However, Pukui suggests that numbing is the strongest characteristic of the 'awa taste. This numbing astringent effect on the tongue was the effect most noticeable to those who have tried 'awa experimentally—to my knowledge. Among Polynesians there was no other drink that had bitterness, except those that were taken as medicines, and most foods were suave, non-acid. It may be that the exact translation of 'awa, the adjective, is not bitter as we understand the word. Churchill says (9: 56-8):

“Polynesians do not praise kava for its taste, it is the odor which appeals to their sense of pleasure . . . Such woody taste as is recognized in the first sip is quite obliterated by the more distinctive effect of a numbing of the papillae at the tip of the tongue . . . The beverage made from brayed kava has a raw and woody taste, that prepared by chewing is lacking - 119 in the raw flavour, is apparently more potent, smoother . . .”

In telling of the delights of Hana, Maui, and especially of the hill of Kauiki, Kamakau (48f, 12/1/1866) speaks of its olfactory appeal: “Heaps of awa delighted the nostrils of the dear, first born chiefs.” The U.S. Dispensatory says that the odour is “faint but characteristic.”

Whatever the taste, it was not one to hold in the mouth and linger over. Water was always at hand to drink or use as a mouth rinse, and then a morsel of food, called pūpū, was eaten. This might be any of good flavour—fish, banana, cooked greens. Cooked food was preferred, raw sometimes causing nausea. “After drinking, eat until satisfied with a good pupu, that is, a fish cooked in ti leaves or broiled over hot coals . . .” (48g, 1/5/1867.) The hero, Kamiki, “ate salt and taro leaf greens to remove the bitterness of his awa. Maka'iole ate a section of sugar cane and well ripened bananas to remove the bitterness of his awa, while their grandmother drank the water wrapped in taro leaves to remove the bitterness of hers.” (48n, 2/15/1911.) Epicurean chiefs had decided preferences in the choice of pūpū, and it was a kahu's pride to have the right food on hand.


The effect of 'awa varies according to the amount taken. In moderation, it relaxes the nerves and induces refreshing rest; taken often in large quantities it makes the skin scaly (mahuna), ulcerous, the eyes blood-shot and suppurated, and reduces the control of the nerves of the arms and legs. Walking is difficult or impossible. In striking contrast to the effect of alcohol, the mind remains clear until sleep comes, and the emotions are unaffected. The reputation of 'awa may have suffered a little from the lack of a term that accurately expresses its effect—intoxicating, narcotic, soporific, all being peculiarly applicable to alcohol and drugs.

Kamakau vividly described 'awa drinking by the commoner, and the effects (48e, 11/25/1869):

Awa is good for the farmer when he is weary and sore after labouring day and night, and for the fisherman who has been diving, rowing, pulling and bending with his head down, or until his thighs and buttocks are sore from sitting on the edge of the canoe. He goes - 120 ashore and in the evening the awa is prepared for the fisherman. It is chewed until the dish is filled then the head of the kahala fish, the uku, the mokuleia, and the ulua fish, the bundle of kumu fish cooked in ti leaves, and the opule lauli are taken from the imu and heaped on the table together with a bunch of dead-ripe bananas, sections of sugar cane just on the point of souring, sweet potatoes ridged in shape and deep red in colour, all ready for eating. Then straining fibres are dropped into the awa and water is added, the awa stirred with the fibres, the dregs are gathered together and lifted up in the fibres, and the juice squeezed out, th cup handed forth, the awa poured in. When it was full, a prayer of praise was offered to the gods for evil and good received from them, for their life-giving care of their offspring in this world and in the bright world beyond. Then the weary man grasped the awa cup, gulped it down, reached for the water gourd to rinse his mouth, spit out the mouthful of water to remove the bitter taste, reached for sections of sugar cane to cool his throat, then for a banana to eat, took a mouthful of potatoes to hold that down, then reached for the eyeball of the uku and mokuleia, so full of fat (momona, meaning primarily fat, secondly delicious), and the bundles of kumu and opule lauli fish, and began at once on the pieces of pork cooked in ti leaves. By that time he felt a sharp tingling in his ears and took water and washed his hands. He could not eat another mouthful for nausea, for he was seized by the intoxication of the awa.

“The awa-drinking house was like a chief's house, there must be no gaiety, no talking, no jollity, lest one vomit. The candlenut torch was the only thing one desired—one or two torches would produce warmth—then there was a sound in the ear like the chirping of land shells and of fiddles that teased the ear pleasantly, or like the roaring of the strong wind that changed to stillness. Such was the custom of the planter; he would sleep till morning and the pains and soreness would be gone.”

Kamakau's description needs no further explanation, and describes well the delicate balance the senses arrived at, - 121 a disturbance of which by too much food or too much noise would produce nausea. After nausea, intoxication would cease, and the greatly desired effect of the 'awa would be lost. Kamakau continues, telling the effects of continued drinking:

“People in the old days liked awa as a means of reducing weight. When a man saw himself growing too fat and subject to illnesses, the best thing was to drink copiously like the gods and like those possessed of a spirit until the skin scaled. Let him look for the potent awa and buy a large quantity, then begin to drink, and eat nothing between meals. Fish and poi were to be eaten only when the cup of awa was drunk. One must not go out in the sun and rain lest the feet crack if wet in water or mud. [Note: Because the skin became thin and dry—Pukui.] The first cup was enough to make one drunk for two days. The day after a man had become intoxicated drinking awa, he would be intoxicated again when he drank awa, when he bathed in sea water or when he ate. This effect lasted two or three days. Then if he took it again his head would grow heavy and his eyes pucker up, and with the third cup the heavy feeling would go down to the chest, and when the cups of awa were continued his skin would begin to scale and he would begin to lose weight. The scales would peel off, then more awa was taken as medicine, combined with a cathartic to act as a double net to clean out the body, and after three, four, or five cups of awa the body became spare.
“Then a pig was sought as an offering for the breaking up of the awa bowl, a feast made, the awa bowl broken, and the drinking of awa was ended and sea water was drunk. The effects of the awa would then cease, the body would be thin, the illness would be gone, and the body recover its fitness.”

There are many witnesses who give corroboration to one point or another of this testimony. Deihl (12, p. 68) says:

“White men in these islands (the Pacific) have readily taken to kava drinking for its thirst-quenching properties are unequalled . . . Excessive use of it, especially when the dried root has, through the process - 122 of chewing, been mixed with saliva in the preparation, leads most certainly to a loss of control over the muscles of the legs. One thus affected walks with a staggering gait, while the mind is clear . . .”

Vancouver (57, Vol. 2, p. 182): “His (Kahekili of Maui) age I suppose must have exceeded fifty, he was greatly debilitated and enervated, and from the colour of the skin, I judge his feebleness to have been brought on by excessive use of awa.” Ellis (15, Vol. 2, p. 168): “Their general drink is water or the milk of the coconut, but all the chiefs use the awa, and some of them to excess, as was very evident from their skins, which were rough and parched as can well be conceived, and their eyes red and inflamed.” Kotzebue (35, Vol. 2, p. 199): “How unhealthy the constant use of this root must be is proved by the many ulcers with which the inhabitants are afflicted.” In the following chant, probably one of praise, the skin, evidently affected by awa indulgence in the kapu periods, is described. (21, IV, p. 242.) (Translation revised by Kawena Pukui.)

O Ka'ihikapu, 'ili manoa,
'Ili pepe'e, pepe'e i ke kapu,
Ka 'ili pe'e ku-e o ke 'ili o Mano,
No Mano 'ili 'oi, 'ili kalakala,
Ke kalakala o ka lau ea pu,
Ke kalakala o ka i'a 'ili e'e,
Ka 'ili 'e, o Mano, lae pohaku.
O Kaihikapu with the thick skin,
Crusted skin, crusted by the kapus.
The thick, coarse skin of the chief Mano,
Mano of the pimply rough skin, the gritty rough skin,
Like the roughness of the coarse, exposed leaf,
Like the roughness of the rough-skinned fish,
The peculiar skin of Mano, he of the hard forehead.

In modern times, 1903, Emerson made his own observations of the effect of awa (19, p. 135).

“The Hawaiian is muscular and given at times to prolonged exertion and exposure which induces excessive weariness, and awa by relaxing the muscles and inducing sleep gives him relief. On stopping overnight a few weeks ago at a native house, preparatory to climbing out of Pelekunu valley and over the summit of Kilohana, Molokai's highest mountain, I was surprised in the evening to find my host drinking awa. In the - 123 morning we were to start on our wearisome and difficult tramp and here he was making himself stupid with awa. I felt anxious for the result, but I need not have been so, for in the morning he told me that he had had a fine night's rest and felt well prepared for the day's work. The climb proved the truth of his words, for he went far that day, climbing the face of a steep mountain wall over five thousand feet high, where hands as well as feet came into constant requisition, and he carried a heavy burden strapped to his back all the way . . .
“On the following evening he again took awa, remarking that it would take away the soreness of his muscles and give him a good night's rest. The next morning he was up early, bustling about as actively as usual . . . He told me that the first cup did not make him sufficiently drunk and that in order to get the full benefit he had to take a second, and then when the flame of the lamp seemed to be double, as if two lamps were burning he fell off into a profound sleep, so profound that he did not turn over till morning.”

Kauea (48g, 1/5/1867) writes:

“Because his body is steeped with awa . . . his skin is scaly like the skin of a tortoise or a rough skinned shark, and as shiny as a hairless dog. The eyes smart, they become bleary and squint, ‘red as the earth of Kalau raised by the wind . . .’ The lips are cracked and dry, the whole body is withered like the grass and beauty fades like a flower . . .”

Kaualilinoe (48h) says:

“There is no admiration for the body and face of an awa drinker whose eyes are sticky, and whose skin cracks like the bark of the kukui trees of Lilikoi in unsightliness. The face is coarse like that of an old man or woman with withered skin. If you are drunk with awa you will find your muscles and cords limp, the head feels weighted and the whole body too . . .”

An unsigned article (48k) states: “It has a different effect from that of beer or rum. The man that is drunk with awa does not talk loud, fight or make trouble. It is as much as he can do to eat and fall asleep like a pig.” Kawena Pukui recalls the old expression, “He kanaka ka - 124 mea inu 'awa; he pua'a-laho ka mea inu kuaipa.” (The man who drinks 'awa is still a man, but the man who drinks liquors becomes a beast.) Kotzebue (35, Vol. 2, p. 199) says: “. . . they [Hawaiians] are in this [drunken] state the most cheerful and affectionate.” Very little else has been recorded of the effect on the mind. If sleep is deep and refreshing, as already stated, shall we guess that it is dreamless? Emerson (18, p. 199) refers to “that state of dreamy mental exaltation which comes with awa intoxication.” But there is too little evidence on this subject to make a definite statement.

At times it was desirable to transfer the effect, or most of it, from the actual drinker to another person present who might or might not be participating in the drinking. Paahana Wiggin explains two situations in which this might be done. If an 'awa chewer were treated ungraciously in any way, if for instance the service were performed by request but no gift of sugar cane, bananas or other things were given in exchange for the service, the chewer might appeal silently to her own aumakua (personal god) to transfer the pleasant effect from the ungracious one to another person designated.

The following excerpt from a chant 1 collected by Miss Roberts (52, Bk. 23, p. 37-38) illustrates another situation. A chief or chiefess might wish to drink 'awa, either for personal pleasure, or for ceremonial necessity, yet feel himself in personal danger from untrustworthy persons present, and so wish to keep his senses alert. He would then ask a kahuna to pray to the gods and cause the effect to be transferred. In this chant the effect is felt by the Pleiades, which were, possibly, among the personal gods of the chiefess Maukaa.

O ka 'awa makeanu o Puna i ka la'au,
I ka 'awa mokihana a ka manu,
I kanu i ka papa o Kaniahiku,
I ulu i ka 'ohi'a o Kali'u, ka pu'awa mo'i,
Papakea i mama ia e ka wahine a wali,
I hoka i ke kanoa i ka mau-'u
I ho'ohae i ka 'apu ku ke au
Ho'okahe ka'awa he 'awa no ke 'lii,
- 125
No ka pua a I nona ka pu'awa hiwa a Kane o Lono,
Ho'olono ka inu 'awa kupuna o Kanaloa-wai-a-ka-honua,
Ho'ohonua ka 'aha inu 'awa,
A k pua i kela i ka wekiu,
He kiu he makani 'awa no Lono o Puaka,
Kau onaona Makali'i i ka 'ona a ka 'awa,
He 'ona, he lehua, he poluea,
He luluhi 'ona 'awa no Mauka'a,
Ke moe maila i Halehalekalani.
The 'awa grows in the cold, on the trees of Puna,
The mokihana 'awa planted by the birds.
It is planted on the flat lands of Kaniahiku,
In the ohia forest of Kaliu grows the moi variety of 'awa.
The papakea 'awa is masticated well for the woman [Maukaa]
It is strained in the kanoa with fibres
Dip it up in a cup, hold it till it becomes still [literally, till the current stops]
Pour, pour out the 'awa for a royal one,
For the descendant of I, [name of a person] to whom the hiwa awa of Kane, of Lono,
All are quietly attentive during the drinking of the ancestral 'awa of Kanaloa-wai-a-ka-honua,
Hushed is the 'awa-drinking company
Of the offspring of the most high.
The Kiu is Lono's chilling wind at Puaka.
The Pleiades are becoming drowsy with the effects of 'awa,
They are drunk, drowsy, dizzy,
They are sleepy for Maukaa, from the effects of 'awa,
They slumber at Halehalekalani.

The effect of 'awa, then, varied greatly according to the amount taken and frequency. Still leaving it in relative terms, a moderate amount was beneficial, excessive use gradually impaired strength and hastened the debilities of age. The effect on the mind was not harmful, except to dull it when under the influence of an excessive amount, and after moderate drinking no after effects remained. An additional statement of the effect of 'awa can be made after an examination of the use of 'awa as medicine.


Quotations from Kamukau and others, just given, have already shown that 'awa taken judiciously had a beneficial effect on the health, soothing the nerves, relaxing fatigue-stiff muscles, and inducing sleep. A treatment for excessive fat brought back the body to normal fitness. Skin that was disgustingly scaly and ulcerous during the 'awa treatment became smooth and fresh again when the treatment ended - 126 (Pukui, personal communication). Affections of the skin from other causes often yielded to the 'awa treatment.

Deihl (12, p. 68) tells us: “As to its medical properties, it is a spinal rather than a cerebral depressant, it steadies the pulse, does not raise the temperature, and acts as a diuretic and stomachic tonic . . .”

Hawaiian medical priests (kahuna lapa'au) made extensive use of it. Kaaiakamanu and Akina (32, p. 17-19) say that the root was dried in the sun; when partly dried it was washed clean and chopped into pieces of convenient size. They state that “its use as a medicine is confined to the cure of sleeplessness and general debility . . .” A prescription for this ailment is:

“. . . allow five mouthfuls of the thoroughly chewed ‘awa’ for a dose. This is taken and mixed in about a quart and a half of water and strained . . . (and) put into a container in which a medium-sized stone, heated red-hot, is placed. After boiling, the liquid is allowed to cool . . . taken internally . . . (and) repeated until complete relaxation and sleep are fully restored. At the end, the scraped iholena or lele, banana, thoroughly cooked in ti leaves, is eaten. Spring water is used for a regular drink.”

Similarly detailed prescriptions are given for the cure or alleviation of such troubles as “general debility, especially in children,” “weary muscles . . . a great restorer of strength,” for “chills and hard colds,” “difficulty in passing urine,” “sharp, blinding headache,” for children having a “disorderly stomach and . . . thick, white coating on the tongue,” “lung and kindred troubles,” “weaknesses arising from certain conditions during virginity,” “displacement of the womb,” and a “poultice for boils.” In some of the old records made by Hawaiian doctors on file at the Archives of Hawaii and at Bishop Museum there are other records of the use of 'awa.

Kawena Pukui adds that, within recollection, babies were given the juice of the nene variety for a soothing syrup. She recalls such remarks as, “This is a fretful child, and must be given the 'awa nene.

Jarret (31, p. 127-128) mentions 'awa and states that: “It was extensively used in Germany previous to the World War, in the manufacture of certain drugs and medicines.” - 127 Emerson (19, p. 133) says of 'awa as an article of export that its “value as a drug is in the preparation of remedies for urinary troubles. The materia medica gives it recognition only under this head.” Mouritz (45, p. 115) says that “an alcoholic solution injected into the skin causes anaesthesia, followed by paralysis of the peripheral nerves for several hours.” He says that both Hawaiian and haole (foreign) doctors use it for venereal and kidney diseases, and, in alcholic solution or as an unguent, in affections of the skin, including leprosy. Handy (27, p. 20) adds, “bits of awa root chewed at frequent intervals and awa leaves wrapped around the head are said to protect against contagious disease and to cure headache. Awa leaves, stuffed into the vagina, are said to induce miscarriage . . . 'awa hiwa is generally required in medicines.”

From the time of European discovery by Cook, in 1778, the islands have been the reservoir of a constant and ever increasing flow of alien peoples from many parts of the world. Many diseases have come with them—smallpox, syphilis, leprosy, bubonic plague, cholera, influenza, and so forth. These diseases were more devastating than those endemic at the time of discovery. Foreigners were accustomed to taking safeguards against disease. Hawaiians resisted accepting the knowledge of how disease germs may be transferred, and were incredulous of the warnings of danger. It is easy to see how disastrous was the habit of sharing the brew made from chewed 'awa, and how efficient was this way of spreading diseases. One of the worst diseases was leprosy. Though the mode of transfer was a debatable subject for many years, Hawaiians did not share with foreigners the abhorrence of association with lepers. The following deposition quoted by Fitch (20, p. 531-532) illustrates such insouciance:

“I knew Paiaina in the year 1857 . . . he was living with the Prince — [sic] and Paiaina was servant of — at that time . . . one of the Prince's favourite men, and he chewed awa for the Prince . . . My remembrance is that Paiaina had the leprosy in the year 1863, or 1865 . . . it was in the year 1878 . . . that he ceased living with the Prince—. While Paiaina was diseased he was chewing awa for the Prince, and I have drunk, together with the - 128 Prince, of the awa chewed by Paiaina . . . From the time when Paiaina got the leprosy . . . until the year 1878, I knew of his chewing awa for the Prince . . . all that time, and the Prince drank the awa chewed by him, yet the Prince has not contracted the disease, nor have I, nor has Mr. G. P. Wood, a special companion of the Prince . . . Written this 26th day of May, 1885 . . . (Signed) G. B. Kalaaukane.”

Besides being slow to learn the nature of germs and their ability to spread from mouth to chewed 'awa, to the drinker, Hawaiians resisted segregation, the uprooting and the loneliness, and treated leprosy as a skin disease, using the 'awa treatment. Said Ferd. W. Hutchinson (50, p. 5): “It is well known that the Hawaiian people universally believe that 'awa is a sovereign remedy for all kinds of skin diseases . . . and are certain to go through regular courses of the drug when so afflicted . . . (with leprosy).”

To sum up, it seems that 'awa has a two-fold effect of temporarily reducing the sensitivity or action of the nerves which centre in the spinal region, and increasing the activity of the fluids of the body, thereby relieving any seat of congestion. The physio-chemical action is discussed in the U.S. Dispensatory. It is probably more true of 'awa than of any narcotic or intoxicant that, upon stopping the habit of drinking, the body recovers completely or nearly so, unless the habit has been constant and prolonged.


Hawaiian society was composed of slaves (kauwa), who were accorded no social privileges, commoners (maka-ai-nana), and chiefs (ali'i). Priests (kahuna) were usually of chiefly rank.

Women had a high place in society, but certain privileges were denied them. As to 'awa, women were permitted to drink it, but usually by themselves, rarely in the presence of men (Pukui personal communication). The following quotation provides indication of occasional exception to this prohibition: “The chief, Kukuipahu, had an awa-drinking party that evening . . . The house inside was encircled by chiefs, not only men but women too.” (48.) There is also the instance of the grandmother who drank the water from taro leaves for her aftertaste (p. 119 herein). Female - 129 goddesses had an evidently unquestioned right to drink 'awa. Pele was one of the most powerful goddesses. A chant to Pele and her 'awa has been recorded by Emerson (18, p. 198-299) and is here given, with revised translation by Kawena Pukui.

O Pele la ko'u akua
Miha ka lani, miha ka honua.
'Awa iku, 2 'awa lani,
Kai 'awa'awa, ka 'awa nui a Hi'iaka,
I kua i Mauli-ola,
He 'awa kapu no na wahine.
E kapu!
Ka'i kapu kou 'awa, e Pele a Honuo-mea.
E kala, e Haumea wahine,
O ka wahine i Kilauea,
Nana i 'eli a hohonu ka lua.
O Mau-wahine, o Kupu'ena [Kuku'ena] 3
O na wahine i ka inu-hana-'awa,
E ola na 'kua malihini! 4
Pele is my goddess.
Let there be silence in the heavens, silence on the earth.
For the straight-growing 'awa, the heavenly 'awa,
The bitter juice, the great 'awa of Hi'iaka,
That was cut down at Mauli-ola,
It is 'awa dedicated to the women,
It is sacred!
Let your 'awa be sacred indeed, O Pele-honua-mea.
Proclaim the kapu, O Haumea-the-woman,
The woman at Kilauea.
It was she who dug the pit until it was deep.
Mau-wahine and Kuku'ena
Were they who prepared the drinking 'awa,
Long live the gods from foreign lands!

In the legend of Kawelo (25, p. 21), a goddess, Malei, “felt a longing for awa such as is planted by the birds in the trees of Panaewa . . . When the awa was prepared both Malei and her lord . . . drank so deeply as to be intoxicated . . .”

- 130

All things especially good or rare were reserved for the chiefs. “It is true that the awa that grew on trees in Puna was a favourite of the ruling chiefs in ancient times, carefully kept in gourd calabashes, rolled up and kept in a piece of tapa.” (48n, 6/12/1912.)

In serving, the highest in rank was given the honoured cup. There is not enough evidence to determine exactly all the qualifications of the rule for serving. It is likely that the last cup, being the most potent because it contained the residue of 'awa, was the one carrying the greatest honour and would go to the highest chief, who would therefore have to wait for his cup. The chief second in rank would receive the first cup and others would take their turn according to their rank. But if the serving of 'awa were not at a gathering for that purpose, but merely a serving to two or more chiefs before a meal, or at some time when the bowl was not emptied, then the highest chief would be served the first cup. If two chiefs were peers, they were served simultaneously. The following excerpts from legend and tradition have led to this conclusion.

“As the ruling chiefs (Kamehameha and Kaumualii) were yet talking, Kaumualii's attendant chewed the awa, strained and poured it into two cups and brought them to the two chiefs. The two high chiefs took them together and drank.” (48o.)

And in the History of Kamehameha (48f, 1/19/1906) an incident shows that discord was the result of trying to waive the rule:

“When Kamehameha entered the men's house (mua), the chief's drinking gathering was being prepared for. Kekuhaupio suggested to the ruling chief, Kiwalao, ‘Let Kamehameha prepare your awa.’ Kiwalao asked, ‘Why should he?’ And Kekuhaupio answered, ‘That was the will of your father, that one of you should serve the other, and one stand at the head of the government.’
“Kamehameha chewed the awa, strained and poured it into a cup. He offered a prayer and after freeing the kapu, the ruling chief (Kiwalao) took the first cup in his hand and gave it to a favourite friend. When the friend raised the cup to drink it, Kekuhaupio slapped it away from him and said, ‘You are wrong, O - 131 Chief, your younger cousin did not chew the awa for anyone but you.’ Kekuhaupio pushed Kamehameha with his foot and said, ‘Let us go . . .’ This act of Kekuhaupio was much discussed by the attendants of Kiwalao. Some blamed Kekuhaupio and some approved, and laid the blame on Kiwalao.”

In the tale of Kihapiilani (48g), the hero, a younger brother, feeling himself hated and abused by his elder brother, tries to snatch the power he covets by sitting on his father's right knee, instead of the left, where he properly belongs, and also by interfering in the order of serving 'awa—“And he snatched the awa cup intended for his elder brother . . .” 5

Several of the crew of Captain Cook, discoverer of Hawaii, issued reports of that voyage. Samwell, one of these, gives his report of an instance of 'awa drinking on January 19th, 1779. This was probably the scene recorded much better by Cook himself (p. 145 herein).

“A Chief in one large double canoe drank his Morning dose of intoxicating Liquor called Kava with his Attendants along side the Ship they prepare it by chewing the root in their Mouths like they do at all the South Sea Islands, while this operation was going forward the Chief himself began a song or gave out the Stave and was joined by all his people in the Canoe, when the Liquor was ready the Man who had prepared it gave some in Cups to those round him who were allowed to drink it being inferior Chiefs and dependents on the other, they held their Cups in their Hands with out offering to drink till the song was concluded, then they all gave a shout together and emptyed their Cups, after this a Cup of the Liquor was given to the Chief himself and was answered by the rest, he repeated them three times and was answered as often, upon which he emptyed his Cup, then he dipped his fingers in a Wooden Bowl containing some thin pudding . . .”
- 132

The personal belongings of a chief, and the food and drink that he touched took on some of his mana (inherent power), and had to be guarded from harm, especially from falling into the hands of an enemy, or ill-disposed person. The personal servants closest to a chief had, therefore, great responsibility, and it was an honour to hold such a position. Quite often the office was held by a lesser chief. This close relationship, and the duties of such a servant (kahu), are well set forth in the tale of Pakaa (21, V, pp. 72-74):

“Pakaa was the servant of Keawenuiaumi, the King of Hawaii, and was a very great favourite with his master. It was his duty to have the supervision of the lands and household servants of the king. It was also his duty to have in his keeping all of the king's personal effects, the kapas, the food, the meat and fish, the malos, the feather kahilis, awa bowls (kanoa), awa cup ('apu 'awa), awa, the calabash containing ointment and all the different things belonging to the comfort of Keawenuiaumi.
“Because of the great care exercised by Pakaa in the supervision of the things belonging to the king, he was raised to the highest office in the king's household and he became a greater favourite than all the chiefs and men under the king. In time the king gave Pakaa several pieces of land in the six different districts of Hawaii for his own use . . .”

The story continues to be interesting as evidence of the place of 'awa in the pleasure of a chief. The chief made favourites of two other men, and through their intrigues the chief's affection for Kapaa lessened. Heavy-hearted, Kapaa withdrew to Molokai, married and had a son whom he named Kuapakaa. “The meaning of the name is this: ‘the cracked skin’ (literally: scaly back), given because the skin of Keawenuiaumi was cracked by the constant use of the 'awa, so much so that the flesh was exposed in places.” Kapaa trained his son in all things that he knew. With love for his chief still in his heart, he said to his son, “It is possible that in time he will miss me and will come to make a search; if he does I want you to be in a position of readiness to meet him.” That is just what happened. The fickle Keawenuiaumi, longing for Kakaa, his dear servant, his “backbone,” is lured to Molokai by a dream about - 133 Kapaa. Without revealing identity, Kuapakaa and Kakaa meet the canoes of the king. Through sorcery Kakaa plays some trickery with the winds, the winds play havoc with the weather, the canoes of the king are imperilled, and even his life. Kuapakaa has been the mouthpiece during the meeting with the chief, reciting chants that insult the lesser chiefs, chants that call forth the winds, chants that quiet the winds. Finally Keawenuiaumi is brought to shore safely, in disgust with his chiefs, less skilled in taking care of him than his again-beloved Kapaa. He admires Kuapakaa for his knowledge of chants, and his use of them. Dry clothes, of the kind he used to be provided with under the care of Kapaa, are brought to him by Kuapakaa, and again the king is pleased.

(pp. 112-134):

“That evening the chiefs came together with their men and as they were sitting quite close to the king, the king said: ‘If Pakaa were here, of an evening like this, he would have my awa ready with two fresh hinalea (a choice fish for an aftertaste). I would drink the cup of awa and as its effects came over me, I would feel like a newly made net, nice and snug, all night. How I do miss Pakaa.’
“When Kuapakaa heard this he returned to his father . . . and said, ‘My master is in want of some awa, and he has expressed his affection for you and showed that he still remembers you.’ When Pakaa heard this, he took down the awa cup (apu), the awa dish (kanoa), the grass (mau'u), the piece of awa (pu 'awa), and two pieces of awa already prepared (mana 'awa), and said to the boy: ‘You take these to your master and show them to him. If he should ask you to prepare the awa for him, give your consent. Then you turn to one side where it is dark, leave the piece that is not prepared, take up the portions that are ready, strain them into the cup. He will compliment you for being very quick, for I was ever ready with these things when I was with him. After you have strained the awa into the cup, hand the cup to your master, then run fast as you can to the pool where we keep the hinalea and catch two for your master, for he would - 134 want the fish to take away the bitter taste of the awa from his mouth’.”

All went well with this plan, and

“Because of these things performed by the boy, Keawenuiaumi complimented him for being quick, and for carrying himself like a person who has always lived with kings, and for conducting himself so well. The king then drank up the awa and as the effects of it stole over him, combined with the weariness of a hard and eventful day, he fell into a deep sleep.”

Lesser chiefs and commoners were fortunate if they could live under a rich chief, one who was powerful, had good lands, and ruled well enough to provide all retainers and subjects bountifully. In the story of Umi (33, Vol. 2, Ch. 14, p. 48), it is stated:

“To him (Umi-o-ka-lani) the people made their gift offerings, torches burned constantly for him and his chiefs, the old men among his followers drank awa constantly—it was clear that he was a rich lord. As for Kanaloa's old counsellors, their urine was white. That was a sign of a chief without wealth.”

The chiefs did not limit themselves in their demands for refinements of service. There were special servants for all sorts of tasks. Evidence of such service has already been shown in the tale of Kamiki, and in the tale of Pakaa. There might be special servants for growing 'awa. In the tradition of Kihapiilani (48q), there is mention of someone who was “a keeper of the 'awa kapu.” This might be 'awa for the chiefs or for the priests to offer to the gods. Runners might be dispatched long distances to get 'awa—or anything else a chief wanted, for that matter—and those especially gifted at chewing were delegated to that service, as already stated: “chiefs and priests had special awa chewers in their train.”

Besides being pleasant, bringing restfulness and forget-fulness, 'awa drinking was a matter of personal prestige. Ellis notes (15, Vol. 2, p. 168) “. . . all the chiefs use the awa, and some of them to excess, as was very evident from their skins . . . This appearance they are very proud of, and, so prevailing is the custom, esteem it as a particular mark of distinction.” Frequent drinking was noted by - 135 Cook (10, Vol. 1, p. 319). “It should be observed . . . that though these islanders have this liquor always fresh prepared . . . I have seen them drink it seven times before noon . . .” and again (10, Vol. 3, p. 142): “The chiefs constantly begin their meal with an doze of the extract of pepper-root, brewed after the usual manner.”

When the pleasure-loving chiefs desired to assemble socially, 'awa was their drink. Would that there were more descriptions of such scenes as this, given in the tale of Kepakailiula (48p):

“The chief, Kukuipahu, had an awa drinking party that evening. The kukui candles were lighted in the long shed of the chief. The burnt nuts were knocked off by four hunch-backed men. Hunch-backs were favourites of chiefs. After the chiefs had drunk their awa, Kukuipahu sat against the wall, but he was not intoxicated with awa. The house inside was encircled by chiefs, not only men but women too.”

Already quoted is the mention of such an assembly in the incident of the dispute between Kekuhaupio and Kiwalao: “When Kamehameha entered the men's house, the chiefs' awa-drinking gathering was being prepared for . . .” Kawena Pukui remembers from her childhood in Kau and Puna, that the old people would sometimes have an 'awa drinking party ('aha inu 'awa). “When someone dug up 'awa, news of it would spread, and many people gather together.” She and other children were not invited, nor did they see any fun in such a quiet time, when no one could talk or laugh or make any disturbance. That there were 'awa-drinking parties at such late date is evidence of the tenacity of at least fragments of the 'awa customs, for European influence had had forty years or fifty to have its effects by the time these old people were born.

There are instances in legend and tradition in which chiefs wishing to express love for a dear one, or great honour to a guest, prepared the food and drink with their own hands. Three quotations follow which set this forth.

“Ka-lele-alua-ka reached for the awa container and strained the awa into a cup. He, the chief, prayed that all harm and trouble be warded from his son-in-law to be and from the chief too. He prayed that life be - 136 lengthened, be productive, and blessed. Then Kahuhi-hewa raised the cup for Kalelealuaka to drink from, and he lifted the ihiloa water gourd so that Kalelealuaka could rinse his mouth. Kahuhihewa reached for a piece from the leg of a cooked pig and put it into the mouth of his son-in-law to be, and also big fingers of poi made from the ka'i koi taro of Ewa. So it was with all things prepared . . .” (48m.)
“When they arrived they were welcomed . . . Keohiolo went to the upland of Keauhou for awa for his adopted grandsons and other awa drinkers of the household of chief Honalo. Kamiki chewed all the awa, filling several long gourds (olo). He worked it with his hands as he added water . . . After drinking the awa they ate the pork and everything else . . .” (48n, 6/28/1911.)
“Let us turn to Umi (a king of Hawaii), who received Kiha-a-Piilani with love and kindness . . . He stood up to speak to his kahunas, and left them in the men's house to go to the house of his stewards to prepare foods of every kind served on the tables of chiefs . . . After this was done, Umi went to fetch the awa, put it into a kanoa, strained and poured it into a cup. He filled a sennit corded ihiloa gourd bottle with fresh water, put the poi into a calabash decorated with the teeth of chiefs, went to open the imu for the dog and pig, fetched ripe bananas with skins as dark as the breasts of fat plovers, and some sweet sugar cane from Kona. In doing all this, Umi was proving his affection and hospitality in humbling his position as a ruling chief . . . When all was ready, he laid the food before Kiha-a-Piilani . . . Umi picked up the awa cup and held it for Kiha-a-Piilani to drink from, gave him some water, a banana and sweet sugar cane to take away the bitterness of the awa.” (48r.)

As to whether 'awa might be freely used by commoners as well as chiefs, we find conflicting comments. Cook says (10, III, p. 127), “It is fortunate that the use of it is made one of the peculiar privileges of the chiefs. The young son of Terreeoboo, who was about twelve years old, used to boast of his being admitted to drink ava, and shewed us, with great triumph, a small spot in his side that was grow-

- i
'Awa growing in cultivation at elevation of 1,000 feet. This two year old plant is five feet high.
- ii
Gourd strainer.
- iii
Drawn by Yoshio Kondo from photograph by Giglioli. (24, plate 2.)
Bowl in Bishop Museum.
- iv
Bowl in Peabody Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- v
- vi
- vii
4219, 4223, B2677, Three 'awa cups of coconut., 4219. Exterior well polished; interior almost as smooth. Rim is beveled smooth. The one eye probably used to pass through a cord for hanging., 4223 (J. S. Emerson, 1227). Interior and exterior dull, very dark. Shell exceedingly thin throughout, especially at rim; rim smooth and beveled. Two eyes are plugged, the rim is cut so as to eliminate the third eye., B. 2677 (175). Exterior highly polished; interior dull. Traces of 'awa (?) deposit on inside of cup.
- viii
- 137

ing scaly.” Ellis (16, p. 358) says, “. . . being a plant of slow growth (awa) was frequently tabued from the common people.” In 1903, Emerson (19, p. 135) said:

“In the olden times of Hawaii awa seems to have been a drink used quite exclusively by the chiefs . . . It is a question if . . . restriction was always maintained. Probably it did not hold after 1820, when the tabu system . . . was abandoned. The common native could then raise and use his awa without fear of molestation, and the protection which the government of the Kamehamehas brought him permitted an indulgence in drunkenness to which the ancient . . . Hawaiian . . . dared not yield for fear of harm from some lurking foe.”

In an article written by a Hawaiian thirty years earlier (48k), the same thought is expressed:

“When the whites first came to this archipelago, and in the years following, awa was not much drunk by the people for it was unobtainable. Only the chiefs, the kahunas, and members of the royal household had awa to drink. Awa was not much planted in those days but later when many of the ancient kapus were abolished, the common people began to drink it. Perhaps many drank it because they could not get it before . . .”

On the other side of the argument, we have Kamakau's statement that 'awa is good for the farmer and the fisherman (p. 119 herein). Though some farmers and fishermen were of the chiefly class, we feel sure he was speaking of commoners, the men of toil who counted on its benison as their right. There is also the chant (pp. 107-8 herein): “Here is awa from me . . . a fisherman am I . . .” And there is the account of a farmer in a contribution, “Noted places of Ewa.” (48j):

“He planted his awa on the hill in the upland of Waiawa (Ewa, Oahu) . . . This is what this farmer did when the gods came to earth. He chewed a quantity of awa, cooked a bundle of luau greens, strained the awa and poured it into coconut cups . . . The awa went into the cups, the luau into a gourd dish, the sweet - 138 potatoes onto a calabash lid, and then he called upon his gods.”

We also have a statement from a Hawaiian, Kaualilinoe (48h), which states: “This is an awa drinking race from remote times. None stood, none lay down, no one who caught shrimps in shallow water ever went without it, for all from chiefs to commoners drank it . . .”

From this seemingly confused evidence it is possible to assume that 'awa was used by both chiefs and commoners, but that what the commoners were denied was the right to indulge to the point of dissipation. Perhaps denial is too strong a word. Accorded to the chiefs were all the privileges and even the evils of luxurious living. It was unthinkable that a commoner would ape the ways of a chief. The boy of twelve, “the son of Terreeoboo,” who boasted of having obtained the right of 'awa drinking, probably obtained the right, not of taking a drink of 'awa before a meal, after a day of heavy exertion, as the common man could do, but of indulging in the pleasure, the cultivated indulgence, of 'awa drinking, of having it prepared by servants, of drinking it in company with others, of having it served copiously, and according to one's rank, and then of bearing proudly before the eyes of the world the marks of one's rank and privilege, the scars of indulgence. This conclusion is borne out by testimony of Kawena Pukui, as stated by Handy (26, p. 204): “The distinction between the awa drinking of alii and commoners was one of manner and purpose of using the drink. The alii class drank for pleasure largely, the kahuna class ceremonially, and the working class for relaxation after labour. There was an abundance of awa for everyone.


Awareness of the presence and the power of the gods, and the necessity of procuring their help, characterized the religious concept of the Hawaiians. The gods had control over evil as well as good deeds, and it was necessary to propitiate them whatever one's purpose might be. Communication was constant; the feeling of nearness and active force of the gods permeated life. Religious practices were greatly detailed, and the details were of the utmost importance. Much of the record of this practice is lost, - 139 but much remains, through which we may thread our way to find the value of 'awa in religion and sorcery.

The ruling chiefs had both political and religious power. Subject to them were the priests, whose function it was to establish communication with the gods. Priests were experts of religious practice, their knowledge including details of what to offer, what prayers to use, what interpretation to place on portents. In all matters of importance their service had to be engaged. Individuals, both chiefs and commoners, made offerings to the gods also, especially the lesser gods and on lesser matters. From the personal gods ('aumakua), within their reach, assistance was needed and applied for. The routine of living included the offering of food and drink to the gods before partaking, and the gods were imagined as consumers of these offerings, though of the essence only.

The food of the gods included a wide variety of offerings. Pigs, dogs, coconuts, bananas, the choicest foods of the choicest quality, and special kinds for special appeals, were the fare of the gods. The following statements tell of the pre-eminence of 'awa as an offering. Kauea (48g, 1/5/1867) says: “There are many things offered to the gods, such as the hog, the fowl, the dog, the fish, the awa, and so on. The awa was the best of them all. If other things were given, awa came first.” Fornander (21, V, p. 610) says: “Awa was supposed to be the favourite of the gods, hence an acceptable offering on all occasions . . .” and (21, Vol. 3, p. 70) “awa was religiously taught as being the most essential offering to propitiate the favour of the gods.” Kamakau says (48e): “Over the awa cup were laid the kapus of the chiefs, the kapus of the gods, the oaths sworn . . . to gods and men, and the . . . offerings for sins . . .” And Pukui corroborates this by saying that 'awa was so important that if only one thing were offered, it must be the 'awa.

Evidence is found frequently in descriptions of Hawaiian culture that objects were dedicated to a certain use, and to change their use was a sacrilege. One tale shows that this custom was carried to the extent of growing special 'awa for the gods. In the legend of Manuwahi, by Rice (51, p. 113), it is stated: - 140

“At Laie lived Manuwahi . . . his grandson . . . and his great-grandsons . . . These men were the keepers of the akua at Laie. Manuwahi and his children were hairless and were possessed of supernatural powers.
“Manuwahi planted black and white awa far up in the mountains for the use of akua (gods). Every awa root planted was given one of these names, Kaluaka . . . Kumumu . . . Kahiwa . . . or Kumulipo . . . This was done so that Manuwahi, when sending one of his sons for a piece of awa, could designate the exact one he wished.
“When the awa was given to him, Manuwahi would prepare it, and then summon the akua from the north, south, east and west, as well as from above and below, to drink of it . . .”

The favourite 'awa of the gods have already been noted (p. 111 herein). Root, beverage and leaves were all suitable offerings. One exceedingly powerful offering was a “complete” 'awa ('awa lau)—that is, a plant with one root, one stem and one leaf. A long search would sometimes be necessary to find such a plant. Even in modern times, Kawena Pukui remembers such plants being sought, and bringing as high a price as five dollars. Very often a whole 'awa root was necessary for an offering to the gods or a gift to a chief. The term for this whole, uncut root was pu 'awa. Usually a small part of the stem was left on with the root. Hawaiians seemed to have provided for such calamities as not being able to get the correct offering needed by stipulating a substitute that would be proper to offer instead, the popolo (Solanum sp.), with its blossom and fruit. Especially potent was the forest variety, the popolo-ku-mai. Any plant used as an offering had superior potency if found growing by itself rather than in a mass of growth.

Certain sacred ceremonies demanded the rite of 'awa-iku. According to the Andrews-Parker dictionary (2, p. 15) this was:

“The rite observed in the handling of awa for the purposes of worship, or as an offering to the gods. This began with the digging of the awa root. He who did this had first to purify himself by a bath in the ocean - 141 (kai kapu), followed by an ablution in fresh water. The purification was completed by a priest sprinkling the suppliant with water containing olena, or turmeric. Then having arrayed himself in a clean malo, he knelt with both knees on the ground and tore the root from its bed. Rising to his feet, he lifted the awa root to heaven.”

Great care had to be taken of the 'awa for the gods. An unsigned article (48d) states:

“In the houses of all the keepers of the gods, it is kapu to step over anything, or to walk to and fro when the awa is being chewed. When the awa is strained, it is kapu to utter a sound except by the one who responds to the one uttering the prayer. If one wishes to go outside or come in, a ti leaf shield is put where the awa container (kanoa) stands. Then the kapu is freed . . .”

In describing the temples of the Hawaiians, Thrum (55, p. 57) tells of the household shrines (ipu-o-Lono heiau):

“The ipu olono temple that is always maintained by the people is the mua house, the first of the group of several of this and that householder, and in that first house of every man is a calabash . . . inside of which is placed food and meat, and on the outside is attached . . . a piece of awa. That gourd is termed the gourd of Kuaaha, or the gourd of Lono, and sometimes the gourd of guardian spirits (aumakua). Every morning and evening the people paid devotional exercises to the god and offered prayer thereto; then the man would take the gourd . . . and bringing it to the threshold would take the piece of awa attached thereto and pray . . . then he would suck the piece of awa, open the gourd and eat a portion of the food therein. That calabash . . . is holy and sacred to the god.”

Religion being an integral part of living, and 'awa being the important offering, we are not surprised to find it mentioned in the “house of the keepers of the gods,” the expert priests, but also in the household shrines, offering places closest to the common man.

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Instances of how offered, when, and for what particular reasons follow to show the varied ways of obtaining rapport with the gods.


1. Kauea (48g, 1/5/1867) says: “It is the custom of the awa drinkers to offer a prayer to the gods before drinking awa, like this:

O Ku, O Kane, O Kanaloa, na'li'i,
Na 'aumakua i ka po,
Na 'aumakua i ka ao,
Eia ka 'awa.
E ola ia Kamehameha,
E ola no hoi ia makou pulapula,
A kaniko'o, a pala-lauhala,
A kolopupu, a haumaka'iole,
O ka ola ia e ke akua
A hiki i ka puaneane.
O Ku, O Kane, O Kanaloa, the chiefs,
To the 'aumakua of the night,
To the 'aumakua of the day,
Here is 'awa.
Grant health to Kamehameha,
Grant health to us, thine offspring,
Till the (time of the) sounding cane, the sprawling on the lauhala (mat),
The hitching along, bent with age, with eyes heavy and wrinkled as a rat's,
That is the life from (dealt out by) the gods,
Till breath gradually fades away.
After prayer, the 'awa drinker dips a finger into the 'awa, and snaps it upward, saying ‘This is yours, and this is mine.’ Some people did it differently.”

This flipping of a few drops of 'awa to the gods may seem a small offering. According to Kawena Pukui, offerings of every sort made to the gods were symbolic. The expression was “The shadow (or essence) is yours, the substance ours.” (Ke aka ka 'oukou, ka 'i'o ka makou.)

2. Handy (26, p. 205) has recorded evidence, again from Pukui:

“The drinker took his cup outside, dipped his right index finger in three or four times, each time passing his hand back over his right shoulder and flipping - 143 (pana) the drops of awa up and backward. While doing this a prayer was said to the family gods (aumakua), ‘Here is food for the gods,’ continuing with whatever requests (for health, long life, and so forth) the drinker had in mind. He then came back into his house, sat down and drank his awa, topping it off (pupu) with a sweet banana or stick of sugar cane to take away the bitter taste . . .”

A note by Kawena Pukui may be inserted here. Any man offering 'awa and praying to his gods had to be sure to pray for the chief under whom he lived. An omission, noticed, might reach the ears of the chief, and the man's loyalty come under suspicion.

According to Kawena Pukui, anything unpleasant repels the gods, and conversely, anything pleasant attracts them. An instance of an act supposed to be pleasing to the gods appears in the tale of Hainakolo (481). “Because he was a kahuna and a prophet, he took a small awa root, chewed it, spewed the juice in the palm of his hand and rubbed his hair and face with it. After this was done, he prayed. He asked his god to tell him what this fearful object was that lay in his way. He also wanted to know whether he would be killed or not.”

3. Personal gods received a great deal of attention. There is the story (33, Ch. 9, pp. 26-27) of a famous shark that helped fishermen, and to whom 'awa was offered. “There died a man only recently, in 1849, who used to chew awa and give it to this shark to drink,” and (ibid, pp. 32-33):

“Then the owners of the body and the keepers of the shark brought sacrifices and offerings, such as a pig and awa root as the important offerings . . . When the awa and the pig were brought out, it rose to the surface of the sea and opened its mouth to receive the awa, pig, banana, and other offerings . . . (A long explanation follows of how the body of a loved one changed into a shark and became a protector.) If the relatives were bathing or fishing in the sea it would come around and they would all recognize the mark of their own shark. It became their defender in the ocean.”

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4. Mana (21, V, p. 608) advises:

“Again, if you have sinned against your guardian spirit, with the root of the awa you could be forgiven, then the anger of the guardian spirit would be appeased. If you have a house to move into, do not forget the awa root . . . Again, if one has sworn not to talk to another, and later they wish to make up, they must use some awa root. There are other things where awa root is needed and used. Another thing, it is not proper to eat food before drinking the awa—drink awa first, then eat the food, then one becomes intoxicated . . .”

5. Kamakau too tells (33, Ch. 7, p. 11) of the offerings needed in making atonement to the person with whom one had quarrelled, and to the god before whom the oath had been made. He would “take a pig, two bunches of awa root, and awa plant with the leaves, a garment, a red fish, and many a sacrifice of every kind and place them before the one against whom he had sinned.” Another formula for making atonement (ibid, p. 2) is for a family. They prepared an imu “in front of the stone of Kane” (a place of refuge for each family, from generation to generation), brought the proper offerings to the god, prepared food, and “chewed awa in silence, without going to relieve nature or doing any other defiling thing, and without moving until the awa was chewed and covered with the fibre (for straining). Then the kapu was over and they would eat the food and drink the awa, and offer a prayer for forgiveness, and confess the sin . . .”

6. A suggestion of gaining detachment from mortals, and communication with the gods is present in the legendary tale of Ke-au-nini (58, p. 211): “Lono-kai . . . went out early in the morning, took a cup of awa to the temple nearby and chanted his genealogical mele (chant).”


1. Ceremonial eating and drinking by a company of people is described by Hoke (48c):

“At the close of the prayer ceremony, the king announces its success. All the people bow alike before the altar, after which the king takes a portion of the pig, perhaps from the snout, the hoof, the tail, and - 145 the liver. When he has eaten this and drank the cup of awa, with the prayer to the god, Kane, for his preservation, and that of his chiefs and retainers, for victory over his enemies . . . when the priest has blessed the sacrificial pig, then the remaining chiefs and chiefesses, the counsellors, the priests and all honourable people of the land eat alike of the pig and drink the awa of the heiau (temple) with thanksgiving . . .”

2. Cook (10, Vol. 3, p. 161) gives a valued contribution:

“Amongst their religious ceremonies, may be reckoned the prayers and offerings made by the priests before their meals. Whilst the awa is chewing, of which they always drink before they begin their repast, the person of the highest rank takes the lead in a sort of hymn, in which he is presently joined by one, two, or more of the company; the rest moving their bodies, and striking their hands gently together in concert with the singers. When the awa is ready, cups of it are handed about to those who do not join in the song, which they keep in their hands until it is ended; when, uniting in one loud response, they drink of their cup. The performers of the hymn are then served with awa, who drink it after a repetition of the same ceremony, and if there be present one of a very superior rank, a cup is last of all presented to him, which after chanting some time alone, and being answered by the rest and pouring a little out on the ground, he drinks off. A piece of the flesh that is dressed is next cut off without any selection of the part of the animal; which, together with some of the vegetables, being deposited at the foot of the image of the Eatooa (akua) and a hymn chanted, their meal commences. A ceremony of much the same kind is also performed by the chiefs, whenever they drink awa between meals.”

3. There is a hint of this ceremony in an incident of hula teaching in the tale of Ke-au-nini (58, p. 207). Lono-kai, a child of the gods, has come “modestly, like one of the common people” to Nuanua for instruction in the hula. By the rainbow colours that surround him, and by other signs, it is evident that Lono-kai is related to the gods.

- 146
“(Nuanua) then took a piece of wood from the hula altar which was covered with leaves and flowers, and, putting it in a cup of awa, shook it, and looked, and said to the boy, ‘This is the best I can do for you. Now the gods will take you in their care.’ Then he poured awa into cups, passing them to all the people as he chanted incantations, all the company clapping their hands. Then they drank. But the boy's cup was drunk by the eepas of Po (gnomes of the night).”

In the schools of learning—hula, chanting, and so forth—there was a daily offering of 'awa to the gods who were the particular deities of that art or learning. (Pukui, personal communication.) Emerson (18, p. 30) in describing the hula school says: “. . . the ordinary penalty for a breach of ceremony or an offence against morality was the offering of a baked porkling with awa . . .”

Further details of procedure are provided in the Tale of Kamiki (48n, 7/12/1911):

“The graduation ceremony (for those who had been in training for the sports of wrestling, running, and so forth) was like all such ceremonies, with roasted pig, red fish, awa, and so on. This was done under the instruction of Puuohau, who had the pupils constantly taking little drinks of awa up to the time of graduation.
“After the awa drinking and graduation exercises . . . the sports began for all those who had finished their training . . . Many were selected to chew the awa, to tend to the kukui candles—those who were adept in the work. These were set apart as assistants for the graduates.”


Haleole (21, VI, p. 68) lists the orders of priesthood. One of them is that of the healing priests, the kakuna lapa'au. We have already noted how 'awa was used in medicine. But the medical priest had to understand signs and omens and plan his treatment, in fact, determine whether he could give treatment before prescribing any medications. Sometimes the treatment was without the use of medications. Instances of this practice follow.

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1. Kupahu (48i) notes:

“In sickness after due ceremony has been observed, the priest will say, ‘Take some of the pig (already cooked), and the cup of awa, and reaching the shore, throw out the awa cup, but don't look backwards, for if you do the shark will not accept the pig nor the cup of awa, nor will the sick recover . . .” [The shark here is a personal god.]

2. Kauea tells us (48g):

“The messenger bore the awa in his hands and gave it to the kahuna, saying, ‘Here is awa from the patient so-and-so, to you, the kahuna. A gift to your gods, from the sunrise to the sunset, from the heavens above to the earth beneath, from zenith to horizon.’ The kahuna took the awa root and used divination to see whether the patient would live or die, whether he could be treated or not. He chewed the awa, strained it, poured it into a cup and stood up to pray . . . Should the kahuna discover that the sickness was caused by an aumakua, then he would say to the messenger, ‘Go home and appease your aumakua, then come back for treatment.’ The messenger would go home and consult with the relatives of the patient . . . They would take an awa rootlet, a young taro leaf, a mullet spawn, or the pua'a grass, and pray to the aumakua . . . This was done five times, then it was finished . . .”

3. Haleole (21, VI, p. 70) states that 'awa was one of the revealing substances of the divining priest (ho'omanamana). Westervelt gives an example (58, pp. 164-165): “I will lift the cover and if the awa is there I am at fault; if the awa has disappeared, I am correct (in prophesying the sex of a child). And again (ibid, p. 199) the movement of the bubbles in the awa cup was the sign watched for: “If while I chant, the bubbles on the awa come to the left side we will find Haina-kolo. If they go to the right, she is fully lost. Let all the people keep silence; no noise, no running about, no sleeping. Watch all the signs, and the clouds in the heavens.”

4. Among the orders of priesthood listed by Haleole (ibid, p. 112) there were three that were particularly dreaded—the 'ana'ana (those who prayed victims to death), - 148 the ho'opi'opi'o (sorcery), and the ho'ounouna (the sending of evil spirits on errands of death). Of these the last named used 'awa exclusively. “A priest of this class had only one remedy, which was the awa,” (ibid, p. 110) says the author, and adds:

“Supposing that the . . . hoounauna priest was called to heal a patient, he would go only to ascertain the nature of the complaint, and discovering it, he would declare that awa was the first thing to be sought; that when the awa was obtained the hoounauna priest was the only one to drink thereof, for the proper performance of his work. The following was what some people said: “Drink the awa that the ancestral spirits (evil spirits) may be pacified.” Then the hoounauna priest, before he drank his cup of awa, would enjoin his gods to go and heal the patient . . .”

5. Kauea writes of sorcery (48g, 1/12/1867):

“There were many ways of doing the kuni (burning) sorcery, some requiring awa and some not. Those who used the awa in the kuni sorcery did thus—when the parents of the deceased brought to the sorcerer something that had belonged to him (the intended victim), they brought also some awa, chewed, strained and poured into a cup, and the kahuna uttered a prayer in this manner:
“Ka Ho'olua ke pa mai,
Ka Moae ke pa mai, pa mai, pa mai, pa mai,
Ke alo lolohi, lolohi, lolohi, lolohi,
No-no-pa, no-no-pa, no-no-pa,
Aia-la, aia-la, aia-la a pau i ka
'Oki'oki i ka 'ohe kapu a ke akua o Kane,
A-la, a hala a pa i ke kua au ai la.
“O strong Hoolua wind, blow,
O Moae (trade) wind, blow,
Blow! Blow! Blow!
Blow slowly, slowly, slowly,
Gustily, gustily, gustily,
There! There There! Till all is cut by the sacred bamboo knife of the god, Kane,
Awake! May the prayer and the food be acceptable to the god.”

6. Alexander (1, p. 8) describes the kahuna ho'onoho: - 149

“The practice of the kahuna ho'onoho strongly resembled those of modern spiritism. The medium was called the kahu or ipu of the spirit, which was often called a makani, or wind. Sometimes the spirit descended upon the kahu, and sometimes it spoke from the roof of the hut. [Alexander suspects ventriloquism.] The necromancer always demanded awa before commencing operations. ‘E inu i ka awa i ikaika ka makani.’ (Drink the awa to make strong the spirit.) After drinking awa the wind descended upon the kahuna, and showed him the cause of the sickness, whether the patient had been bewitched by a sorcerer, and by whom . . .”

7. Mana (21, V, p. 608) contributes this:

“When the god (Hawaiian text word is ho'onohonoho akua) comes on a visit and sits on one, awa is quickly gotten ready for the deity, it is hastily chewed, prepared and drank up. And every time the god visits, 6 the same process is gone through until one gets inflamed . . .”

8. There was one fearful god, Kahoali'i, who had a craving for a human eye for an aftertaste to his 'awa. 7 Kamakau (33, Ch. 7, p. 14) states that sometimes in an assembly, there would be a Pu'u-koa-maka-i'a announcement. “Someone's eye was wanted to be eaten with the awa. They (the medium and his attendants) would come to a man whose eye was wanted and scoop it out as a relish with a cup of awa.” From this decree there was no appeal, says Kawena Pukui.

9. Emerson (17, pp. 2-3) described the dreaded unihipili, the familiar spirits of a kauna (sorcerer). These spirits were the actual creations of the sorcerers. The body of a deceased child or other near relative was kept secretly, the bones and hair removed and gathered into a bundle and then presented with “two malos . . . a single sheet of kapa . . . an awa cup ('apu 'awa), a red fish properly salted and dried, a choice awa root (pu 'awa hiwa), and a small cala- - 150 bash of poi.” The spirit had to be fed regularly, and at each meal invoked with the following prayer:

E Puhi, e ho'i mai, Return, O Puhi,
Eia kou ai, Here is thy food,
Eia kou i'a, Here is thy fish,
Eia kou kapa, Here is thy kapa,
Eia kou 'awa, Here is thy 'awa,
Eia kou malo, Here is thy malo,
E ho'i mai a 'ai a ma'ona, Come and eat thy fill,
A hele a pa'ani a lelele, Then go, play, leap about,
Amama, ua noa. Amama, it is freed.
No Puhi, ka 'uhane kino wai lua, kino 'uhane. (For Puhi, the disembodied spirit, a ghost. Retranslated by Kawena Pukui.)

Helpful in understanding the nature of these familiar spirits is the note offered by Kawena Pukui that they had to be taken care of by their creator without let-up. They took on the character, good or evil, which was cultivated for them by their creator, and became so active that unless directed constantly they would direct their powers to the keeper of their own accord, with uncertain and probably unfortunate results.

10. Kamakau (33, Ch. 9, p. 51) tells how a chief might be dedicated to his gods. The body, or bones, were carefully prepared, wrapped in yellow tapa, a feast prepared and 'awa, “the all-important 'awa” made ready to feed to the fearful 'e'epa beings, when the kahuna prayed.

11. A prized god was a poison god, Kalai-pahoa, whose image was made of the wood of a certain tree on Moloka'i. To get immunity from the poison of this object, there was a ceremony for the caretaker of the god, whose duty it was to handle the deadly wood. A scraping of the poison was put into his 'awa cup—his alone—and when his eyes became glassy and his breath short, he was quickly given another cup of 'awa with a bit of the bark of the Mai-ola tree, the only antidote. After that he might touch the image without harm. (58, p. 109, also 33, Ch. 10, pp. 15-21.)

The gods and lesser spirits were usually exacting, tyrannical, powerful, but they would grant requests of priests, chiefs and commoners when sufficiently catered to. Religious practice had to follow prescribed formulas, offerings were necessary, 'awa was sometimes the only acceptable one, and was always appropriate. Though no - 151 Hawaiian has made the statement, the evidence seems to point, as reason for this high place held by 'awa, to its unique power to transport man out of his physical world—to some bridge-like span where, temporarily at least, he approaches the locale of the gods.

The urge to explore the metaphysical regions has been a universal one from ancient times, and man has used whatever edible substances he has found in his area that performs this miracle of taking him out of reality. Among such widely known and used plants as opium and hashish in Asia and Egypt, tobacco and peyote in the Americas, and the areca nut in Melanesia and Indonesia, 'awa takes its place as the representative from Oceania. Whether the healing, or pleasurable, or mystic, or potent quality that each plant had, or man supposed it had, was the primary one made use of is a fact buried too deep in antiquity to be known. What effect did the special qualities, the possibilities and limitations, of these various plants have on the development of individual personalities and culture groups? Would the Hawaiians have had different attributes of personality if their narcotic plant had been tobacco or opium, for instance, instead of 'awa?


Besides sensing their relationship with the great company of powerful gods who pervaded all things, all places on earth, the underworld, and the realm of the sky, the Hawaiians pictured the gods as having lives and desires of their own, largely after the mortal pattern. The four principal gods were Ku, Kane, Kanaloa and Lono. Confining ourselves to the interest of the gods in 'awa, we find little association between Ku and this plant. Beckwith (3, p. 13) states that Ku was “a god worshipped to produce good crops,” so we can assume that a prayer went up to him whenever 'awa was planted.

Kane and Kanaloa, according to one source (21, VI, pp. 505-506) were responsible for the sacredness of 'awa. The “Prayer to Lono” 8 commences (retranslated by Kawena Pukui):

- 152
He Pule no Lono A Prayer to Lono
O Lono, o ka 'o'ili lani, O Lono of the heavenly region,
Mai loko mai o ka maha ulu lani, From out the rest of heaven's origin,
Ke mai o Kane o Kanaloa, Stood forth Kane and Kanaloa,
Iloko o ka eweewe-lani, From within the heavenly birthplace,
Puka mai o Kumuhonua a Kane Issued forth Kumu-honua, of Kane,
Me Lalo-honua, ka wahine. And Lalo-honua, the female,
Laha mai o Wakea me Papa nui hanau moku. Descended Wakea and great Papa, who gave birth to the lands.
No loko mai o Huli-honua From within the realm of the gods
Hanau mai na 'li'i The chiefs were born.
Mailoko mai o ka eweewe-lani. From within the heavenly birthplace
Ku mai o Lono. Lono stood forth.
Hana i ka i'a 'ula, He created the red fish,
Molia i ka niu hiwa, Sanctified the hiwa coconut,
Hana i ka i'a kea. Created the white fish,
Molia i ka 'awa-lau, Sanctified the growing 'awa,
He lau ka 'awa i kupu, By cuttings is it propagated.
I kupu i ka hanu'unu'u pali. It springs up at the ledges of the cliffs.
Ku mai o Kane, o Kanaloa. Kane and Kanaloa stood forth.
Hana i ka moa 'ula hiwa, They rendered the red cock sacred,
Molia i ka 'awa maka kea Sanctified the mahakea 'awa.
Hana i ka pua'a hiwa, Created the black pig,
Molia i ka 'awa hiwa, Sanctified the hiwa 'awa.
Hana i ka papa kea. Made the light coloured papa 'awa.
I poina i ka 'a'ahu Covered them over with the robe
Iloko o ka eweewe ka lani. Within the heavenly birthplace.
A'e Kahai i ka iwi kahi, 1.84 Kaha'i stepped over the first boundary,
O ka lewa-nu'u. Of the high place of earth.
O Hihi'o, o Laumania, The vision, the smooth place,
O Hano a lele ka lau o ka 'awa, In respectful silence, the awa slip is carried
I ka makani, In the wind
- 153
I kupu no a ohiohi To grow thriftily
I ka pae humu o ka moku. In the high places of the land.
. . . . . .
E ho'i e 'ai kapu a Kanaloa. line 80 Come and eat of the sacred food of Kanaloa.
Pakiki 'awa. Break up the 'awa with a stone.
Kanaenae no na kane 'a'a me na wahine As propitiatory offering for courageous men and women.
Eia ua 'ai he mohai leo. Here is the food, offer it up with a chant (literally, with the voice).

Beckwith (3, p. 62) characterizes Kane and Kanaloa as “cultivators, 'awa drinkers, and water finders, who migrated from Kahiki . . . said to have been worshipped with awa and aholehole (a white fish) on their arrival . . .”

Kamakau (33, Ch. 9, p. 11) gives a chant setting forth this belief:

Holo mai Kane mai Kahiki, Kane sailed from Kahiki,
Holo a i'a iloko o ka kai, Sailed like a fish in the sea,
Kekekeleau i ka moana, Cut through the currents of the ocean,
O Haumea ke kaikuahine, Haumea was the sister,
O Kanaloa ia me Kane, Of Kane and Kanaloa.
E ki'i e ka i'a kea i kai, Go get the white fish in the sea,
La'a i ku'e maka o Kane Sacred to the eyebrows of Kane
La'ahia i ke kanawai, Made sacred by the law,
He mau lawai'a i ka moana, Fishermen were on the ocean,
. . . . . .
E kaka ana i ka malie, Deep-sea fishing in the calm,
I ka la'i ku pohu malino, In the windless calm,
. . . . . .
Hukia i ka 'upena lu'elu'e, Drawing up the heavy net,
E ho'i kakou i ka uka, Let us go ashore,
E alana i ka pu 'awa hiwa, And offer the whole hiwa root,
Ha'awi i ke kaikuahine. Give it to the sister.
. . . . . .

Beckwith (3, p. 67) also quotes one author who pictures the gods in an Elysian land, where 'awa is plentiful:

“Kane and Kanaloa are represented as gods living in the bodies of men in an earthly paradise situated in a floating cloudland or other earthly sacred and remote spot where they drink awa and are fed from a garden of never-failing growth . . .”

- 154

Malo adds his testimony as to the 'awa drinking habits of these two gods in the following chant (41, pp. 172-173):

He miki 'oe Kane Active art thou, Kane,
He miki 'oe Kanaloa Active art thou, Kanaloa,
O Kanaloa hea 'oe? What Kanaloa art thou?
O Kanaloa inu 'awa, Kanaloa the 'awa drinker,
Mai Kahiki ka 'awa From Kahiki came the 'awa,
Mai Upolu ka 'awa, From Upolu came the 'awa,
Mai Wawau ka 'awa, From Wawau came the 'awa,
E hano 'awa hua, Homage to the frothy 'awa,
E hano 'awa pau'aka, Homage to the well strained 'awa,
Halapa i ke akua i la'au wai la! May the essence reach unto the gods!
Amama, ua noa, The tabu is lifted, removed,
Lele wale aku la. It flies away.

A vivid tale of Kane and Kanaloa is found in the tale of Kawelo (25, p. 113). The two gods have reached Hanauma Bay, Oahu, in their travels. Kanaloa complains:

“‘O Kane! we keep on going and we are dying of hunger! Let us eat.’ Kane looked about him and saw that there was no water for mixing their refreshment of awa drink. He struck the earth with his staff and water gushed forth. When the two had eaten, they started on again along the highway. They had not gone far when Kanaloa wanted to eat again. The country through which they were passing had no water. As he had done before, so Kane again struck the earth with his staff and water gushed forth. Wherever they stopped to rest, Kanaloa asked for food, and many were the waterholes made by Kane between Hanauma and Laeahi.”

The impetus for imagining this story may have been to account for the springs found in this dry region. For our purpose, it is valuable to note that the gods required 'awa as a “refreshment” before meals, just as did mortals. No other food is mentioned. Perhaps there was none. Though the gods accepted offerings of food, 'awa was food as well as drink. In the formula quoted by Handy (26, p. 205), the expression is, “Here is food for the gods”; and in a chant recorded by Beckwith (p. 155 herein) there is the line, “Here is the awa, O Kane, the Heavenly food.”

- 155

Kane and Kanaloa are linked together in exploits. In another legend, the story of Maluae (58, pp. 16-17), the two gods seem to value the offerings of their worshipper. The story is one of a father who loved deeply his carefree, happy son. The boy, in ignorance or thoughtlessness, ate some bananas which his father had put on the altar for his gods, Kane and Kanaloa, who punished the crime by killing the boy and taking his spirit to the underworld. The father makes no more offerings, but remains by his son's body, wishing to die, waiting for death. The gods miss the offerings of their worshipper, and regret their own haste.

“Kanaloa said: ‘He has been a good man, but now we do not hear any prayers. We are losing our worshipper. We in quick anger killed his son. Was this the right reward? He has called us morning and evening in his worship. He has provided fruits and vegetables for our altars. He has always prepared awa from the juice of the yellow awa root for us to drink. We have not paid him well for his care’.”

After many difficulties, Maluae gets back his son, and we assume that Kane and Kanaloa find again on their altar the good things—the bananas and 'awa.

The composer of a prayer to the gods cited by Beckwith (4, p. 186) speaks of 'awa as the “heavenly food.” (Revised translation by Kawena Pukui):


Haele mai—E ku i ke kala, Come ye forth, O Ku, the forgiver,
E Lono i ka ueke-e O Lono, the absolving one,
E Kane-i-ka-pohaka'a O Kane, the thundering one,
Ho'oka'alia mai ke alo o ka moku ia'u nei Let the front of the land be turned toward me, (Meaning: Let the land be made favourable for me.)
Ho'oka'alia mai ke alo ia'u nei Yea, let the face be turned toward me
E Kane-i-ka-wai-ola -e; Eia ka 'ai, O Kane, of the water of life, here is food,
Eia ka 'awa, e Kane, he 'awalani wale no, Here is the 'awa, O Kane, the heavenly food,
He 'ai na ka Kama-iki Food for a dearly loved one (more literally: for one we love as a dear child)
- 156
Inu aku i ka 'awa lau-lena Drink the yellow-leafed awa (awa from an old plant, mature, potent, the best)
I ka 'awa o Keahi-a-Laka . . . The awa of Keahi-a-Laka (a place in Puna, Hawaii) . . .
He 'awa no na wahine o ka lani Here is the 'awa for the celestial women (the goddesses Pele and Hi'iaka).
A pale aku, a palepale mai, Shift it one way, then shift it another way (referring to the chewing process),
Mu ka waha, holoi ka lima, Roll the water in the mouth, wash the hands,
E 'ali-'ali kapu, E 'ali-'ali noa. Finished is the kapu, finished, it is free.
Ua -noa ka 'awa -a, The 'awa is free,
Amama. Ua noa, a lele wale. Amen. It is free.

In the creation myth, Hawaiian version, translated by Liliuokalani (38, pp. 81-82), the exploits of the hero Maui are mentioned, and the implied meaning, which Kawena Pukui feels is in the lines, is that Maui partook of 'awa, offering it to the gods before he struggled with his adversaries.

(No Hawaiian text available.)

A brave child is born to Hina-a-ke-ahi (Hina of the fire).
It roused the anger of Kialoa and Kiaakapoko (Tall post and Short post)
They are Hina's brothers,
The two posts that guarded the low cave.
They fought hard with Maui and were thrown,
And red water flowed from Maui's forehead.
This was the first struggle of Maui.
They fetched the sacred 'awa bush of Kane and Kanaloa.
Then came the second struggle of Maui.
The third struggle was the working of the elbow for the 'awa (referring to the motions of the arms and elbows in straining the 'awa).
They drank to the dregs the yellow waters ('awa)
Of Kane and Kanaloa.

We have too the picture of Kane affected by 'awa as soothingly and deliciously as man in this well-known chant—a version supplied by Kawena Pukui.

Ua ma'ona o Kane ia ka 'awa, Kane has had his fill of 'awa,
Ua kau i ka keha i ka uluna, His head resting on the pillow (literally: he rested his hand, elbow on pillow)
- 157
Hi'olani a'e i ka moena, His body stretched out on the mat,
Kipu i ke kapa a ka noe. Fast asleep he lies, wrapped in a covering of mist.

The importance and sacredness of 'awa in the life and thought of the Hawaiians is well indicated in these references to the interest of their gods in that potent substance. There are statements or suggestions that 'awa grew, leaved, ripened in the realm of the gods, that they sanctified it, that it was dispersed, “carried in the wind, to grow thriftily in the high places.” It must have been dispersed widely, for it came from “Kahiki, Upolu, and Wawau”—old place names for ancient Polynesian lands. The great god Kane caused water to flow so that it might be available to use with 'awa, he and Kanaloa travelled about the islands and when they stopped for food it was 'awa they craved, their sustenance. All the gods demanded 'awa, lesser gods, male and female, personal, family gods, and hero gods, and 'awa had for them the same benign and blistful effect that it had for man—it stole over the spirit and brought rest.


Among material collections, it is disappointing to find so few utensils used for 'awa, and, from all sources, so little detailed data of just what they were. 'Awa vessels seem to have disappeared very soon after the islands' contact with foreigners. One reason for abrupt disappearance may be that the missionaries made war upon the 'awa custom soon after they arrived, recognizing that its use was integrated with beliefs and ceremonies of religion and sorcery. Another reason for non-survival of 'awa bowls is doubtless the dedication of them to a special use or occasion and their destruction after that use ceased. An instance of this is mentioned by Kamakau (p. 121 herein)—the 'awa bowl was broken after a course of drinking was run through to reduce weight. After a course of hula instruction in which libations of 'awa were offered to the gods of the hula the 'awa bowl was broken at the end of the course (Pukui, personal communication). The 'awa bowl was broken if its use lasted through a definite series of ceremonies for a stated purpose. However, for everyday use by chiefs and commoners the 'awa bowl was used from day to day, care- - 158 fully hung up out of harm's way when not in use. Any stepping over, sitting over or upon, or accidental use of another nature than that to which the object had been dedicated would be an offence to the gods, requiring propitiation, as well as destruction of the vessel. But to transfer an 'awa bowl to another use, such as holding food, was unthinkable.


The most commonly used fibre for straining was made of the 'ahu'awa (Cyperus javanicus), a sedge. The stems of the blossom-bearing stalks were used. The next choice was the aerial roots of the female Pandanus. If neither of these could be obtained, the fibres used were the blossom stems of another sedge, the puko'o (also called pu'uko'a, pu'uko'o, pu'uka'a, kilio'opu), the Cyperus auriculatus. The term for 'awa strainer (mau'u) is also the general term for grassy plants.

To make the strainer, the stem was finely split, and the fibre separated from the pulp by “combing it with two sticks” (19, p. 133), or it was pounded with a mallet. The fibres were then tied together at one end, washed clean of pulpy substance, or the pulpiness pushed off with the fingers or a small piece of wood held in the hand, and the fibres dried. After use, it was washed, dried and again ready for use. (Pukui personal communication.)


One gourd, labelled “strainer,” has been preserved in the collection of Bishop Museum (Plate 2). It is shaped like a beaker. If the label is correct, and the object was used as a strainer, the funnel must have been stuffed with fibres before the liquid was poured out. There is a generous coating of 'awa sediment on the inner surface.


One informant, Mrs. Makahonu Naumu, says:

“I have seen but one old kanoa patterned like those used by the ancients on Kauai. It was an old one which was highly prized by its owner. It was made of a short necked gourd cut lengthwise. The gourd was kept on its side while still attached to the vine to flatten it so that it would rest on its side without tipping. In cutting it lengthwise, half the neck was - 159 left on. The end was cut out to form a natural beaker through which the awa was poured into coconut cups. The outside was designed and coloured before baking it to keep the colour in.”

What this was like may be imagined by halving with the eye of gourds shown in Plate 3.


In Bishop Museum there is a rough block of basalt which has been called an 'awa bowl. The top has an oval depression which is identical with the surfaces developed by adze polishers for sharpening their tools (K. P. Emory, personal communication). It is shallow, the measurements of the depression being, roughly, 18 inches by 14 inches by 2 inches deep. Kawena Pukui suggests that it might have been used by 'awa chewers as a clean spot on which to place the chewed balls before mixing water with them. It seems even more likely that it was used for pounding 'awa, after the chewing habit ceased. Dr. Buck, in his description of 'awa pounding in Samoa (7, p. 152) states that:

“Since pounding on stone commenced, every household has selected some stone to serve as an anvil. Some are flat stones incorporated at the edge or corner of a terrace in the house platform. The most suitable of all, however, are large portable stones that were originally used for grinding stone adzes. The hollows formed by the grinding of the past furnish a convenient receptacle for the small pieces of kava root . . .”

Perhaps old, adze-grinding surfaces were put to the same use in Hawaii. This is the only kanoa of stone in Bishop Museum, and it seems possible to dismiss it from consideration as a container for the 'awa beverage. Kanoa were of gourd or wood.


In the remembrance of Paahana Wiggin, who was an 'awa chewer in her girlhood in Ka'u, 'awa bowls were anciently of wood. Gourd kanoa were a late introduction in her district. It may have been otherwise in other districts. Wooden kanoa were round or elliptical. If elliptical (holo wa'a), they were provided with a rounded notch at one end, from which the 'awa was poured into cups. At the opposite end, a hole was made for a cord to pass - 160 through, by which to hang the kanoa. If the bowl were round, there was no pouring factor, and the cups were filled by dipping them into the liquid. Asked how large a bowl might be, Mrs. Wiggin raised her hands about 18 inches above the floor, to indicate height, and held them about the same distance apart, to indicate diameter. The round bowl was hung up when not in use or, if too heavy to hang, lifted onto the rafters out of the danger of defilement.

In Florence, in the Museo Nazionale d'Antropologia, there is a collection of objects from the last Cook voyage. The ethnological collection was described by Giglioli (24, pp. 57-101). He labels two bowls “Umeke o Apooava” (pp. 90-92), and pictures one of them (24, Plate 2, reproduced here as Plate 4). The first bowl he describes as (translation):

“. . . a little more than the half of a sphere; round the rim it shows a uniform thickness of 3 mm., increasing towards the bottom of the vessel; the opening, almost a perfect circle, has a diameter of 235 mm., from the centre of a tangent the depth reaches 100 mm. It is made of hard, brown wood, darker on the inside, perhaps on account of the contents, compact in structure and perfectly smooth inside and outside; it has been rudely perforated on one side, probably to hang it on the wall. This cup is without doubt a porringer for food, and very probably was used as a container for poi . . .”

However, poi bowls were never hung up by a cord passed through a hole. They were held in a net (koko), and hung by means of the net (Pukui, personal communication). It is possible that this was an 'awa bowl, for 'awa bowls were hung up out of harm's way.

The second bowl Giglioli describes is 200 mm. in diameter, with a thickness in the rim of 23 mm., and a depth of 74 mm. At one point in the edge there is a:

". . . semicircular notch having a diameter of 25 mm. and a depth of about 9 mm. on the inside and a little more on the outside; this notch is evidently to facilitate the pouring of the liquid contained in this bowl . . . on the outside, at the sides and below this notch, the edges of which are bright and smooth, are - 161 seen incased in the wood and held together with glue three human lower pre-molar teeth, which project slightly, with the grinding surfaces outward . . . (the bowl) has an amazing regularity of form; it also has been rudely perforated on one side. I believed at first that this bowl might be a sacred cup, used by the priests in their libations.

After “accurate researches” which he does not specify, Giglioli concludes that this vessel was the spittoon of a chief. He adds: “. . . the white sediment which is seen inside . . . reminds one perfectly indeed of the sediment that I have noticed on the bottom of wooden vessels used exclusively for the kava, from the Fidgi Islands and Tonga. But this does not exclude the fact that it was a spittoon.” What kept Giglioli from accepting this bowl as an 'awa bowl was doubtless the three human teeth. Teeth from the corpse of a conquered foe were sometimes contemptuously set into a slop basin or spittoon—there are several in Bishop Museum collections. Any object connected with death or a corpse was considered polluted for noble use. However, though Giglioli probably makes this the deciding factor in his determination, it is easier to believe that some chief made an exception to this rule (as evidently did Umi, or his artisan, for Umi “put the poi into a calabash decorated with the teeth of chiefs” (p. 136 herein).

Lahilahi Webb (personal communication) says that first teeth of favourite children of chiefs were sometimes so preserved in a food bowl. She knows of no 'awa bowl having been so decorated.

There is also the pouring factor. Mrs. Wiggin, who had never seen the illustration of the bowl in Florence, or heard of its existence, described the pouring feature of the long 'awa bowls of Ka'u, and the description tallied perfectly—a semicircular cut made in the rim, with no attempt at bevelling.

The general acceptance of the fact of Hawaiian migration from central Polynesia, in part, at least, by way of the Marquesas, gives permission for offering Marquesan evidence to strengthen Hawaiian evidence. Linton collected kava bowls in the Marquesas, and pictured some of them (39, Pl. 60, 61). They are of two types: (1) Round or elliptical, one a compromise between the two, with cord to - 162 hang by and without a pouring factor; (2) Ovoid, with a pouring factor at one end. These illustrations support Mrs. Wiggin's evidence even more than that of the actual bowl in Florence, which is the most conclusive material evidence extant. We must conclude that some variation was possible.

There is another type of kanoa, a bowl supported by human images. Cook (10, II, p. 246) reports that:

“Captain Clerke . . . received from him (Tama-hano) . . . a large bowl supported by two figures of men, the carving of which both as to design and the execution showed some degree of skill. This bowl . . . used to be filled with the kava, or ava, which liquor they prepare and drink here as in the other islands in this ocean.”

Cook also comments on the workmanship and finish of the 'awa bowls (ibid, II. p. 238): “their wooden dishes and bowls, out of which they drink their ava, are of the etooa-tree, 9 or cordia, as neat, as if made in our turning-lathe, and perhaps better polished.” Examples of this type are in Bishop Museum, Peabody Museum at Cambridge, the British Museum and the Vienna Museum. (Pl. 5.)

Dixon (14, p. 276) corroborates as to the use of carved figures supporting 'awa bowls. “Sometimes their ava dishes are supported by three of these little wooden images, and this I reckon a masterpiece in their carving.” In the British Museum is a bowl supported by three figures that may well be similar to that seen by Dixon. (Pl: 6 from Occ. Papers, Bishop Museum, I, Pl. 13, Fig. 54.)

Included in Bishop Museum collections are five other bowls purporting to be kanoa. None of them are adorned by carved figures, none are of the fine workmanship referred to by Cook and evident in many ancient objects. All came from the collection of Keelikolani (Princess Ruth; died in the other two bowls they are mere suspicions. The uneven-them have the slight unevenness to touch on the inside of the bowl that characterizes hand-made objects. It is not certain that they were made in ancient times however. They vary - 163 somewhat in size and shape, as shown in the following measurements (in inches):

Specimen Diameter Depth Diameter of base
555 12.75 4.25 6.13
556 12.88 4.5 6.13
557 15-15.75 4.88 10.88
558 15.38 5 8.5
559 9.38-9.75 4 8.38

In specimens 555, 556, and 558, 'awa traces are positive, in the other two bowls they are mere suspicions. The unevennesses in form make all measurements inexact except for the one point at which they were taken. Number 555 is illustrated (Pl. 8).


Cups for drinking 'awa ('apu 'awa) were of coconut shell. In Bishop Museum collections there are eleven that show unmistakable traces of 'awa deposit (B2677, 4219, 4221, 4223, 4225, 5374, C1117, C1118, 9311, 9313). A coconut of any size was evidently suitable, variation in the length of these specimens being from 4.5 to 7 inches. Less than half the nut is cut away to make the cup; the cut is lengthwise of the nut, the plane sloping away from the pointed end. Sometimes one of the eyes was cut through to make a hole for a cord by which to hang the cup. Only one specimen is highly polished, but it is likely that cups for the chief were always so treated. One specimen is rubbed to make the shell exceedingly thin. Capacity varies from about half a pint or less to about three times that amount. Plate 9 shows three of these cups.

Brigham (6, p. 147) states that cups for ordinary purposes were “cut at right angles to the vertical axis, while the latter (drinking cups used exclusively by the priests) were cut parallel to this determinant.” This statement does not meet with agreement by Hawaiians (Webb, Pukui, Wiggin, personal communication). Almost all the cups in Bishop Museum are of the long form, cut lengthwise. Another statement by Brigham (ibid, p. 149) that ordinary cups were called 'apu niu, and those for the use of priests called olo is also challenged by Pukui, who says that any cup was an 'apu; olo is the term for a gourd container for any purpose, not especially for 'awa. The term is used in the tale of Kamiki (p. 136 herein) in which he “chewed all the awa, filling several long gourds (olo).”

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When the chewing practice stopped, 'awa had to be pounded. Old adze-polishing surfaces may have been used, as suggested on page 159 herein, and another pounding apparatus was a wooden mortar made from a tree trunk. One of these was seen on Maui, in 1935, in a private collection, together with the necessary wooden pestle. Another mortar is in Bishop Museum (B 1169), Plate 9. It is a roughly hewn log, 10 inches long by about 9.38 inches wide, with a cavity for pounding of only 4.25 by 5.25 inches. The base is slightly rounded. The mortar seen on Maui was much deeper, and the pestle was at least a foot long.


Being at variance with usage in western Polynesia, the mention of pouring 'awa into the cups is especially interesting. A few phrases already quoted furnish evidence: (p. 116 herein) “The 'awa was put into one mass, the juice squeezed out into a long gourd, the dregs strained out, the containers filled, and then poured into cups made of coconut shell . . .”; p. 120 herein) “. . . the cup handed forth, the 'awa poured in . . .”; (p. 146 herein) “Then he poured 'awa into cups . . .”; (p. 147 herein) “. . . he chewed the 'awa, strained it, poured it into a cup . . .”; (p. 159 herein) “The end was cut to form a natural beaker through which the 'awa was poured into coconut cups.” In two Hawaiian tales, the author omits mention of pouring: (p. 133 herein) “. . . take up the portions that are ready, strain them into the cup . . .”; (p. 135 herein) “. . . reached for the 'awa container and strained it into a cup . . .” From Mrs. Wiggin's statement (p. 161 herein) we are sure of the fact that from bowls that had no pouring feature, 'awa was dipped with the drinker's cup. Many questions come to mind. Was it done with any ceremony whatever; was pouring more elegant than dipping; was ceremony, religious or social, dropped from ancient days, or had it never existed?


Long use of any vessel for 'awa'apu or kanoa—left a coating on its surface. In the rough calabash kanoa (Fig. 1) this sediment is tawny in colour and dull in appearance. On a wooden or coconut surface where the vessel is rubbed - 165 dry the residue becomes a polished glaze. Buck has described this (7, p. 151) as a “pale, bluish patina. When no longer in active use the patina fades to a yellowish colour, and may even flake off in parts.”


The coming of foreigners to Hawaii tore into the fabric of customs, and the 'awa custom had been a strong and colourful thread in that fabric. 'Awa had been important in religion, but when the old religion was forsaken, the prestige of 'awa as an offering was lost. 'Awa had been important as the drink for pleasure, but the liquors of the haoles were more potent, and when they could be had, were eagerly sought. 'Awa was important in medicine, and persisted as a part of Hawaiian materia medica for a long time, but slowly the acceptance of other medicines came about. Some of these changes were abrupt, some changes came very slowly, especially in places far removed from the anchorages of the visiting ships, and from the commercial and missionary centres. Some old customs lived on with the new, and vestiges of the 'awa custom remain, to this day.

The record of the 'awa custom in early years of outside contact is sometimes faint or entirely missing. It is likely that 'awa was drunk more commonly as the tabus of the chiefs were shown up to be less fearsome, less sure rules to live by, for foreigners had no regard for them, no similar tabus, and death did not fall to them. It was therefore probable that missionaries saw Hawaiians—chiefs and commoners—overcome with 'awa quite frequently, and it was marked as a custom to eradicate. Complete proof of this has not yet turned up in the old records, but there is a tradition (Kawena Pukui, personal communication) that Kaahumanu, favourite and most powerful widow of Kame-hameha I, issued an edict against the use of 'awa when she turned from opposition to friendship and loyalty to the missionaries. Many foreigners were debased and unprincipled and plied the Hawaiians with liquors, taught them how to distil them, sold them liquors, and Hawaiians drank them as they drank the comparatively harmless 'awa, “copiously like the gods,” as one Hawaiian expressed it.

The evil effect of excessive indulgence in 'awa was probably as harmful in the missionaries' opinion as that of - 166 liquors. By 1842, the temperance pledge that children were urged to take was “Do you swear that you are determined to forswear always the intoxicants, such as rum, wine, awa, tobacco, and every other kind of intoxicant?” (48 v, 3/15/1842). In 1831, Meyen, a visiting German doctor, stated that 'awa “has been completely given up” (42). In 1844, a Hawaiian writes, “At Hana all good things are growing well, but the people cultivate much awa, and are shameless in this evil deed . . . Whose awa-growing lands are these? The chiefs who belong to the Temperance Union . . .!” (48 v, 5/6/1844). The missionaries had a difficult struggle to get the chiefs to give up 'awa. “Kalama, I think, will not like to be disciplined again, as she will be if she drinks awa, or trafficks in it in an improper way . . . As to the King not drinking awa, I would be glad to believe it is not true; but I fear it is and I feel kaumaha loa (heavy hearted) for him . . .” (37.)

Just when 'awa began to have commercial importance is not clear in the records, but its value as such an article was a new factor that complicated control of its use. Farmers who cultivated and sold it groaned at legislation against its use, strong adherents of the new religion and the Temperance Union decried permission for its sale. Sometimes its use was controlled by the governors of the islands, from whom permits had to be obtained for its use as medicine. The missionaries themselves recognized its value in medical practice, but wrote to Wyllie, Secretary of Foreign Affairs (36), that “its entire destruction would be a great national benefit” as it “produces intoxication readily, and sustains it for a much longer time than alcohol or opium . . . Awa is also intimately connected with the ancient idolatry of these islands, and those who use it at the present time are very liable to fall into some superstitious or idolatrous practices . . .,” to which opinion Wyllie agreed. However, for many years 'awa cultivation was permitted, and a tax on its use brought in a small revenue to the government.

In 1903, Emerson wrote (19: 139) that the use of 'awa was probably on the decrease and the use of liquor on the increase among Hawaiians, even though “against the raising and use of awa there is no law . . . Whatever laws there are on the statute book in regulation of the awa habit - 167 are put there apparently for the protection of the Government in the monopoly it holds for the sale of awa . . .”

In 1903 no Hawaiian went home from the Saturday market without an 'awa root tied to his saddle. In 1930 'awa was still to be purchased in the market; today it is not. Today the plant is scarce on Oahu except in a few areas deep in the forest. On the other islands there are more numerous wild patches, but outside of botanists, only the older Hawaiians know or care what it is, and only a few still have a taste for the old Polynesian drink once so important and so popular. When these pass away there will be no more of their kind to take their place and probably all use of 'awa in Hawaii will end.


In Hawaiian usage of 'awa there was a wide range in purpose and effect. Experts in knowledge used 'awa for medicine, for offerings to the gods in communal ceremonies and in direct communication demanding specific answer. Chiefs used it as a token of hospitality, a drink for sociability, a token of rank and a drink of pleasure. It was a plant that was cultivated and was therefore more readily available to chiefs than commoners. Commoners and chiefs used it to bring refreshing rest when fatigued, and to reduce weight and make the body fit. Personal gods were propitiated by daily offerings of 'awa from their devotees—both chiefs and commoners.

In Hawaiian thought 'awa figured in the lives of the gods. They craved it as a beverage and it had the same refreshing, soothing effect on them as on man. Also, they demanded it as a symbol of worship. To the gods were ascribed the origin and dispersal of 'awa.

Upon European contact the religious force was quickly disrupted, communal religious ceremonies therefore ceased and with them the religious importance of 'awa. More slow to die was the power of individual priests in sorcery practices, and here 'awa usage continued for several years. 'Awa was used medicinally and pleasurably for many years, though foreign (European) doctors and Hawaiian medical priests did not agree as to its medicinal value and missionary teachers fought against its use for pleasure or “idolatry.” The use of 'awa persisted sufficiently to make licensing of - 168 its sale a lucrative form of government revenue through about a hundred years of European contact. Usage of any kind has now almost ceased.

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  • 5. Bird, Isabella—Six Months Among the Palm Groves . . . London. 1876. (2nd edition.)
  • 6. Brigham, W. T.—“The Ancient Hawaiian House.” (Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Mem. II, No. 3. 1908.)
  • 6a Brigham, W. T.—“Report of a Journey Round the World . . .” (Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Occ. Papers, I:1-72, Pl. 1-19. 1898.)
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  • 10. Cook, James—A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean . . . 1776 . . . 1780. Vols. 1-3. London. 1784.
  • 10a Letter from Oscar P. Cox to Hon. Geo. R. Carter. Feb. 21, 1930.
  • 11. Cuzent, G.—“Du Kava ou Ava.” (Soc. Etudes Oceaniennes, Bull., Tome 6. 1939-40. pp. 240-245; 276-283.)
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  • 20. Fitch, G. L.—(Leprosy.) pp. 526-544, source?
- 169
  • 21. Fornander, Abraham—“Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities . . .” (Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Mem. Vols. IV, V, VI, 1916-1920.)
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  • 23. Frear, W. F.—“Hawaiian Statute Laws.” (Haw. Hist. Soc., Report No. 14. 1906. pp. 15-61.)
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  • 25. Green, L. C. and Pukui, M. K.—The Legend of Kawelo. Pough-keepsie. 1929.
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  • 31 Jarrett, L. H.—Hawaii and its People. Honolulu. 1933.
  • 32. Kaaiakamanu, D. M. and Akina, J. K.—Hawaiian Herbs of Medicinal Value . . . Honolulu. 1922.
  • 33. Kamakau, S. M.—“History of Hawaii.” ms. in Bernice P. Bishop Museum, translated by Mary K. Pukui, T. G. Thrum, John Wise and others.
  • 34. Kapeau, G. L.—“Letters and Reports.” ms. in Archives of Hawaii.
  • 35. Kotzebue, Otto von—A Voyage of Discovery into the South Sea . . . 1815-1818. Vols. 1-3. London. 1821.
  • 36. Letters: Asa Thurston and others to R. C. Wyllie; Wyllie to Keoni Ana, and to Thurston; Thurston to Kapeau. ms. in Archives of Hawaii.
  • 37. Letters: Richard Armstrong to Dwight Baldwin, June 6, and October 31, 1844. ms. in Hawaiian Mission Children's Society.
  • 38. Liliuokalani (Queen)—An Account of the Creation of the World . . . Boston. 1897.
  • 39. Linton, Ralph—“The Material Culture of the Marquesas Islands.” (Bernice B. Bishop Museum, Mem. 8, No. 5, pp. 263-471. 1923.)
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  • 42. Meyen, F. J. F.—“Reise um die Erde . . . Prinzess Louise . . . 1830, 1831 und 1832, Theil II.” Berlin, 1834-1843. Translation by W. D. Alexander, ms. in Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
  • 43 Minister of the Interior, Hawaii—ms. file of records in Archives of Hawaii.
- 170
  • 44. Minutes of the Legislature, Hawaii—ms. in Archives of Hawaii.
  • 45. Mouritz, A. A. St. M.—The Path of the Destroyer. Honolulu. 1916.
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  • 47. Portlock, Nathaniel—A Voyage Round the World . . . 1785-1788 . . . London. 1789.
  • 48. Pukui, M. K.—Translations; ms. in Bernice P. Bishop Museum:
  • a.—Against Awa. (Ka Elele, 10/6/1847; 2/16/1848.)
  • b.—A Book of Medicines. (Ka Hae Hawaii, 1/5/1859.)
  • c.—Letters, by Hoke. (Ka Makaainana, 2/3/1896.)
  • d.—Idolatry. (Ka Hae Hawaii, 4/25/1860.)
  • e.—Kamakau, S. M. History of Hawaii. (Ka Au Okoa, 11/25/1869.)
  • f.—Kamakau, S. M. History of Kamehameha. (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 12/1/1866; Ka Na'i Aupuni, 1/19/1906.)
  • g.—Kauea, M. On Awa. (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, 1/5/1867; 1/12/1867.)
  • h.—Kaualilinoe, J. W. K. The Evils of Awa. (Ke Au Okoa, 6/22/1871.)
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  • j.—Noted Places in Ewa. (Ka Leoa Kalaiaina, 7/1/1899.)
  • k.—On Awa Drinking. (Ko Hawaii Ponoi, 7/23/1873.)
  • l.—Tale of Hainakolo. (Hawaii Holomua, 3/8/1912.)
  • m.—Tale of Kalelealuaka. (Ke Au Hou, 7/27/1910.)
  • n.—Tale of Kamiki. (Hawaii Holomua, 6/12/1912; 9/25/1912; 10/2/1912; Ke Au Hou, 2/15/1911; 2/22/1911; 6/28/1911; 7/12/1911; 11/8/1911.)
  • o.—Tale of Kekuhaupio. (Hoku o Hawaii, 3/27/1924.)
  • p.—Tale of Kepakailiula. (Hoku o Hawaii, 11/20/1919.)
  • q.—Tale of Kihapiilani. (Polynesian, 12/19/1840. In English.)
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  • u.—Ka Nonanona, 3/15/1842; 8/3/1842; 7/25/1843; 4/17/1844.
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  • 56. Turnbull, John—A Voyage Round the World, in the years 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, and 1804 . . . 2nd edition. London. 1813.
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  • 60. Wyllie, R. C.—Answers to questions, proposed by R. C. Wyllie . . . and addressed to all the missionaries in the Hawaiian islands. Honolulu. 1848.
  • Plate 1.—'Awa in cultivation at elevation of 1,000 feet; a two year old plant, five feet high.
  • Plate 2.—Gourd object labelled “strainer.” Bishop Museum, specimen 4142. Neg. 3058.
  • Plate 3.—Decorated gourds in Bishop Museum collections. Negative 20519. 'Awa bowls were sometimes made of gourds such as these, halved lengthwise.
  • Plate 4.—Bowl in the collection of the R. Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale in Florence, from the Cook collection, 3rd voyage. (Drawing made by Yoshio Kondo, Bishop Museum, from Plate 2 of Giglioli's account of the collection.)
  • Plate 5.—(a) Bowl in Bishop Museum. Neg. 18736.
  • (b) Bowl in Peabody Museum, Cambridge.
  • (c) Bowl in British Museum. (Handbook to the Ethnographical Collection. London, 1910. Fig. 143.
  • (d) Bowl in Vienna Museum. B. M. neg. 20635.
  • Plate 6.—Bowl in British Museum. (See Bishop Museum, Occ. Papers, Vol. 1, Pl. 13, Fig. 54.)
  • Plate 7.—Bowl in Bishop Museum, No. 555, neg. 3025, 18759.
  • Plate 8.—'Awa cups in Bishop Museum. B. 2677 (175). Exterior highly polished, interior dull. Traces of 'awa (?) deposit on inside of cup.
  • 4223 (J. S. Emerson, 1227). Interior and exterior dull, very dark. Shell exceedingly thin throughout, especially at rim, which is smooth and bevelled. Two eyes are plugged, the rim cut so as to eliminate the third eye.
  • 4219. Exterior well polished, interior almost as smooth. Rim is bevelled smooth. The one eye probably used for passing through a hanging cord.
  • Plate 9.—'Awa mortar, modern. Side and interior views. Negatives 20886, 20887.
1   This name chant is not ancient, Maukaa, a Ka'u chiefess, having been born in early missionary days. However, the composer was evidently familar with ancient concepts.
2   “Straight-growing 'awa,” is the young 'awa before it has started to branch.
3   Kukuena, one of Pele's many sisters, made her leis and presented the 'awa cup to Pele.
4   Pele and her train were always considered later arrivals, perhaps a later migration of gods, and so were spoken of as “from foreign lands.” (Kawena Pukui, personal communication.)
5   This attempting to snatch the prerogatives of an elder brother was a common motif in legend as well as in tradition. If success against the personal adversary were won, the acclaim of retainers made it a fact—disapproval providing grounds for continuing the struggle (Pukui, personal communication).
6   This “visit” of the god meant possession by the god (Pukui, personal communication).
7   All through Polynesia, there seems to have been a liking for the eyeball—human, dog, pig, fish—as a delicious morsel of food.
8   This chant was probably a chant to a chief, Lono, but as was often done, the composer merged his apostrophe to the chief with one to the god, Lono. In various legends, Kaha'i was a hero who went to seek some relative. Kaha'i is identified with bringing back plants, such as the breadfruit, and here the 'awa, from his journeys. These lines speak figuratively of his travels. Kawena Pukui.
9   The etooa has been identified as kou, Cordia subcordata. (Emory, personal communication.)