Nalowale kānaka i loko o kā kākou kalo lā
The kalo shall grow big enough to conceal a man
— from a prayer to Kūkeolowalu, god of wetland farming

Who’s the man? Kū is the man. That is, he is the akua for the kuleana and work of males. The role of Kū is to protect and provide for ʻohana and the community. With such a large role, Kū has many manifestations. For every type of work that kānaka might perform, there is a form of Kū to worship.

What is the role of Kū in everyday life?

There are different forms of Kū for fishing, farming, and caring for family. Kū’s forms preside over the works of birdcatchers and woodcarvers. Some Kū forms are called upon when gathering medicine and building canoes. Other Kū forms are asked to bring rain. Still other forms of Kū are invoked to build, strengthen, and maintain the government and the aliʻi’s control over the government.


Some kinolau of Kū

Kū appears in various kinolau. His animal forms include a kanaka, ʻio (hawk), ʻīlio (dog), and moa (chicken). Plant forms of Kū are found from the uplands to the seashore and include niu (coconut), ʻōhiʻa lehua, ʻulu (breadfruit), and noni.


Kū and Hina as partners

In Hawaiian culture, things are often paired with a counterpart—a partner or opposite. For night, there’s day. For small, there’s big. For hot, there’s cold. And for Kū, there’s Hina.

Kū is the male and Hina is the female. The right side of our bodies corresponds with Kū, the left side with Hina. You may see this idea being applied at Hawaiian ceremonies, where the males gather on the right side, and the females on the left.

Kū and Hina also correspond with position and posture. Kū means upright, standing, or rising. Hina means leaning over or fallen over. It is said that there are two types of ʻulu (breadfruit) tree. The ‘ulu kū grows upright and is considered male. The ʻulu hāpapa is thought to be female. It has low, spreading branches that lean over.

Kū is the rising of the sun. Prayers to Kū are directed to the east, where the sun rises. Hina is the setting of the sun. Prayers to Hina are directed to the west, where the sun sets. Together, Kū and Hina are the father and mother figures that are invoked in pregnancy and childcare.


Kū has many faces

[Hala] Photo by Ruben Carillo. © Kamehameha Schools.Because the domain of Kū is so vast, there are many forms of Kū to attend to specific works. This group of Kū gods all have names that begin with “Kū.” Imagine a hala fruit, with each little “key” of the fruit being one form or one part of Kū. All the keys together make up Kū.

Some of the well-known Kū gods are:

Kūmauna—Kū of the mountain, a rain god of Kaʻū, Hawaiʻi

Kūkaʻōʻō—Kū of the digging stick, god of farming

Kūkeolowalu—Kū of wetland farming

Kūʻulakai—Kū of the abundant sea, god of fishing

Kūmokuhāliʻi—Kū, god of canoe builders

Kūnuiākea—Kū, god of government

Kūkāʻilimoku—Kū, snatcher of islands, a feathered war god

Kūwahailo—Kū, god of sorcery

 

Here are two versions of a story about Kūmauna, the rain god. The first story comes from the footnotes of Pele and Hiiaka, A Myth From Hawaii, by Nathaniel B. Emerson.

Kūmauna, a rain-god of great local fame and power; now represented by a monolithic bowlder about thirty feet high, partly overgrown with ferns and moss, situated in the lower edge of the forest–belt, that lies to the south and Kaʻū of Mauna Loa, deserves more than passing mention. The region in which this rock is situated is declared by vulcanologists to have been one vast caldera and must have been the scene of tremendous disturbances.

Up to the present time the Hawaiians have continued to hold Kūmauna in great reverence mingled with fear. The following modern instance is not only a true story and interesting, but also furnishes an illustration of the attitude of mind of the Hawaiian people generally—or many of them—towards their old gods.

During a period of severe drought in the district of Kaʻū, Hawaiʻi, a gentleman named S, while hunting in the neighborhood of the rock that bears the name Kūmauna, took occasion to go out of his way and visit the rock. Standing before the rocky mass and calling it by name, he used towards it insulting and taunting epithets, professing to hold it responsible for the drought that was distressing the land. He concluded his tirade by discharging his rifle point blank against the face of the rock, resulting in the detachment of a considerable fragment.

The vaqueros in the employ of Mr. S., who were assisting in the hunt, horrified at the sacrilegious act, at once put spurs to their horses and made off, predicting the direst consequences from the rash act of Mr. S.

Now for the denouement: Within about ten days of this occurrence, the valley, on one side of which Mr. S had his residence, was visited by a violent rain-storm—such as would in popular speech be termed a cloudburst. There was a mighty freshet, the waters of which reached so high as to flood his garden and threaten the safety of his house, which he saved only by the most strenuous exertions. The land which had been his garden was almost entirely washed away and in its place was deposited a pell-mell of stones.

Needless to say, that, by the natives, this incident was and is regarded to this day as conclusive evidence of the divine power of Kūmauna and of his wrath at the audacious person who insulted him. Special significance is attached to the fact that as part of Kūmauna’s reprisal the place that had been a garden was turned into a field of rocks. The only wonder is that Mr. S got off with so light a punishment.

 

Another version of the story appears in Hawaiian Mythology by Martha Beckwith.

Visitors to the valley [where Kūmauna stands] are warned to be quiet and respectful lest a violent rainstorm mar their trip to the mountains.

The story told of Johnny Searle has become a legend of the valley and a warning to irreverent foreigners. About the year 1896, while Johnny Searle was manager of Hīlea sugar plantation, there occurred a prolonged drought and one evening as he was riding home down the valley with a party of Hawaiian goat hunters he raised his gun and shot at the Kūmauna boulder, exclaiming, “There, Kūmauna! Show your power!” The shot broke off a piece from a projecting elbow, which some say he took home and threw into the fire. His companions fled. That night (as the story runs) a cloud-burst rushed down the valley and flung great stones all over the back yard of the plantation house, where they may be seen today as proof of the truth of Kūmauna’s power.

Some ‘ōlelo no‘eau concerning Kū

Hāna i ka iʻa iki
Hāna of the litte fish
Hāna was once known in ancient times as the land where fish were scarce. Believing slanderous tales about Kūʻula and his wife, Hinahele, the ruling chief of Hāna ordered them destroyed. Having mana over the fish of the sea, the two caused a scarcity until their son ʻAiʻai brought them back to life. Kūʻula and Hinahele were worshipped as deities by fishermen. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #451)

E pale lauʻī i kō akua ke hiki aku i Kona.
Place a shield of ti leaves before your god when you arrive in Kona.
A message sent by Kaʻahumanu to Liholiho requesting him to free the kapu of his god Kūkāʻilimoku. Kaʻahumanu was at that time striving to abolish the kapu system. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #370)