I luna nā maka, i lalo nā kuli.
Eyes up, knees down.
— ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #1230

Having a rough day? Saying a pule (prayer) may help you feel better. Having a great day? Saying a pule to give thanks acknowledges the spiritual forces that may have helped. From ancient times, Hawaiians have been a spiritual people. Religions and beliefs may change and evolve, but our strength in spirituality has remained constant.

How were pule given?

What our kūpuna prayed for long ago is similar to what we pray for today—knowledge, skill, health, success, protection. But the way in which we ask for these things has changed.

Before, families would have an altar called “pōhaku o Kāne.” It was a stone monument where the men of the ʻohana would give food and prayers to the gods. Precision and order were of great importance in these ceremonies. At the pōhaku o Kāne, forgiveness was asked for any wrongdoings of the ʻohana. The pōhaku o Kāne was also considered a place of rest and refuge to speak with the gods. Ti and other plants would be grown around the pōhaku o Kāne.

Prayers and ceremonies for the prosperity of the nation would be given at heiau. Heiau are traditional places of worship, often made of stone. A kahuna pule (spiritual leader and prayer expert) would say the pule, and the aliʻi would preside over the ceremony. The aliʻi would say the closing “ʻĀmama,” which means the pule is finished. During the pule, no sound—human or not—was permitted. Otherwise the pule would be broken and would not be heeded by the gods. 

What are traditional pule like?

Pule were spoken or chanted. Some were formal, memorized chants that were composed and handed down from person to person. These pule could not be altered at all. Formal pule had to be recited perfectly.

[Kalo farmer] Photo by Ruben Carillo.

For example, when Hiʻiaka was restoring Lohiʻau, she said that if her pule was done correctly and perfectly, Lohiʻau would live. If the pule was wrong or imperfect, he would die. (Just for the record, the prayer was perfect, and Lohiʻau lived!)

Some memorized chants praised a specific akua (god) and recited the akua’s history. A light rain or breeze was a sign from the akua that the pule was accepted.

A spontaneous, informal pule may ask for forgiveness for taking something from nature. The appropriate akua is addressed, asked for forgiveness, and notified of the intentions of the person giving the pule. For example, if palaʻā ferns are being picked for a hula performance, a dancer may pule to Hiʻiaka and ask for forgiveness.

Traditional pule often had these elements:

  • Formal acknowledgment of the akua, which may include their name and kinolau
  • Statement of what is desired and the intended result
  • Offering
  • Closing

A farmer may request rain from the cloud forms of the god Lono. The result would be a fertile garden in which his plants would grow. These plants would feed him, his family, and the akua he is praying to. The farmer may offer ʻawa or a plant or fish form of the akua. Or, he may promise an offering to be given when the result of the request is obtained. For instance, once the farmer’s plants grow, he can offer his first fruit to the akua.

What are some different types of pule?

There are many kinds of pule. Different types of pule have different names. Here is a list of just a few types of pule:

Examples of pule

When newly planted kalo grew three or four leaves, the farmer would say a pule to the akua:

E kūlia e ikūmaumaua e ke akua Pause and receive thanks, O god
E Kāne, e KāneikawaiolaO Kāne, O Kāne-of-lifegiving water
Eia ka lūʻau, ka lauʻawa mua o
ka ʻai a kākou
Here is lūʻau, the first leaves of our taro
E hoʻi e ʻai ke akuaTurn back, and eat, O god
E ʻai hoʻi koʻu ʻohanaMay my family also eat
E ʻai ka puaThe pigs eat
E ʻai ka ʻīlioThe dogs eat
E ola hoʻi iaʻu i kō pulapulaGrant success to me, your offspring
I mahi ʻai, i lawaiʻa, i kūkulu haleIn farming, in fishing, in housebuilding
A kanikoʻo, haumakaʻiole, a pala
lau hala
Until I am bent with age, blear-eyed as a rat, 
dried as a hala leaf
A kau i ka puaaneane And reach advanced old age
ʻO kāu ola kā hoʻi ia This is the life that is yours to grant

(Kamakau 1976, 35)


To ask for protection over the house, a pule like this might be given every morning and night:

E oʻu mau kiaʻi mai ka pō maiO my guardians, from remote antiquity
2E nānā ʻia mai ka hale o kākouWatch over our home
3Mai luna a laloFrom top to bottom
4Mai kahi kihi a kahi kihiFrom one corner to the other
5Mai ka hikina a ke komohanaFrom east to west
6Mai ka uka a ke kaiFrom (the side facing) the upland to the (side facing the) sea
7Mai loko a wahoFrom the inside to the outside
8Kiaʻi ʻia, mālama ʻiaWatch over and protect it
9E pale aku i nā hoʻopilikia ʻana i ko kākou nohonaWard off all that may trouble our life here
10 ʻĀmama, ua noaʻĀmama—(the prayer) is freed

(Handy and Pukui 1998, 141)

The pattern seen in lines 3–7 is a poetic feature often seen in traditional pule and oration. It is used to achieve completeness. In this way, everything related to the house is blessed—every corner, every side, every inch, inside and out.

What is the relationship between akua and kānaka?

[Hale pili] Ma uka of Kahiliwai, ca. 1890. Photographer unknown.

Kānaka (people) and akua have a special relationship. Kānaka depend on akua for guidance and for life’s necessities, like water and soil to grow food. Akua also depend on kānaka, but for a different kind of sustenance—spiritual sustenance. Pule and offerings “feed” the akua. In this way, the relationship between kānaka and akua is symbiotic, or mutually beneficial.

In pule, when a perfect prayer and offering are given, there is an expectation that akua will reciprocate by granting the request. In this way, the relationship is also reciprocal—both sides give equally.

What is pule like today?

A lot has changed over the years. Since the arrival of foreign missionaries starting in 1820, many Hawaiians have converted to Christianity. In the 1800s, ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi was the language of the people and the government. The missionaries learned to speak ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi to give their sermons. They worked with Hawaiians, including historians such as Ioane Papa ʻĪʻī, Davida Malo, and Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau, who helped to translate the Bible. Hymnals were translated, and many new Hawaiian hīmeni were also composed.

[Ioane Papa ʻĪʻī, Davida Malo, and Samuel Mānaiakalani Kamakau] Portrait of Malo by A. T. Agate; other artists unknown.

Today, many of us still pray at home, before meals, bedtime, and for various occasions. Men, women, and keiki may say the pule for the ʻohana. Community worship often happens at a church, although some people have found other places of sanctity, like the ocean or a loʻi kalo. Although pule today are mostly based on the Christian tradition, some people include their kūpuna and ʻaumākua in their pule. With the resurgence of Hawaiian culture and language, Hawaiian religion is also being reawakened, and some pray to the Hawaiian akua. Some ʻohana never stopped praying to their akua.

Elements of traditional Hawaiian pule are still part of today’s Hawaiian pule. Here is an example of an informal pule to bless food:

[Hawaiian food plate] Photo by Ruben Carillo.

E pule kākou
ʻAuhea ʻoe e ka Makua Lani
Eia mākou kāu poʻe kauā, ke mililani aku nei iā ʻoe
Ke nonoi aʻe nei iā ʻoe e hoʻopōmaikaʻi
   i kēia meaʻai e ola ai ko mākou mau kino
E hoʻopōmaikaʻi nō hoʻi i nā lima nāna i hoʻomākaukau
E kau iho nō i nā pōmaikaʻi ma luna o mākou
ʻO nā mea pono ʻole, nāu nō e ʻoki hoʻokaʻawale aku
Ke noi nei nō hoʻi mākou, ʻo ʻoe pū me mākou
ʻO ʻoe ma mua, ʻo ʻoe ma hope, ʻo ʻoe ma loko, 
   ʻo ʻoe ma waho, e kiaʻi mau mai ana
ʻO ia kā mākou leo pule haʻahaʻa i mua ou
Ma ka inoa o kāu keiki hiwahiwa ʻo Iesū Kristo

Let us pray
Dear Heavenly Father
We, your humble servants, come before you to give thanks
We ask that you bless this food for the nourishment of our bodies
And bless the hands that have prepared it
Bless us as well
Do away with all misfortune
We also ask that you be with us
Be in front, be in back, be inside, be outside, always protecting us
These things we ask humbly before you
In the name of your precious son, Jesus Christ


Similarities between old and new kinds of pule give us comfort and grounding. No matter our beliefs or deity we pray to, we share a foundation of pule and spiritual life that helps us to be accepting, respectful and strong for generations to follow. ʻĀmama, ua noa.

Some ‘ōlelo no‘eau related to pule

Mai ka hoʻokuʻi a ka hālāwai. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2059)
From zenith to horizon.
An expression much used in prayers. In calling upon the gods in prayers, one mentions those from the east, west, north, south, and those from zenith to horizon.

Mai ka lā hiki a ka lā kau. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2062)
From the sun’s arrival to the sun’s rest.
Said of a day, from sunrise to sunset. This phrase is much used in prayers. Any mention of the setting of the sun was avoided in prayers for the sick; instead one referred to the sun’s rest; thus suggesting rest and renewal rather than permanent departure.

ʻO ke aka kā ʻoukou, ʻo ka ʻiʻo kā mākou. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2448)
|Yours the shadow; ours the flesh.
A phrase used in prayers dedicating a feast to the gods. The essence of the food was the gods’, and the meat was eaten by those present.

Alu ka pule i Hakalau. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #115)
Concentrate your prayers on Hakalau.
Whenever concentration and united effort are required, this saying is used. A sorcerer at Hakalau once created havoc in his own and other neighborhoods. Many attempts to counter-pray him failed until a visiting kahuna suggested that all of the others band together to concentrate on the common enemy. This time they succeeded.

E pule wale nō i ka lā o ka make, ʻaʻole e ola. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #374)
Prayers uttered on the day of death will not save one.
Said by Lohiʻau to Hiʻiaka.

I ka pule nō ʻo Lohiʻau a make. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #1196)
Lohiʻau was still praying when he died.
Said of one who waits until he is face to face with death before beginning to pray.

Mai ka piko o ke poʻo a ka poli o ka wāwae, a laʻa ma nā kihi ʻehā o ke kino. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2066)
From the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, and the four corners of the body.
An expression used in prayers of healing. The four corners are the shoulders and hips; between them are the vital organs of the body.

Pololei a ka waha o ke ʻahi. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2688)
Directly to the point.
Used in a fisherman’s prayers to the gods to take the hook and bait directly to the mouth of the fish.

He koʻe ka pule a kāhuna, he moe nō a ʻoni mai. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #699)
The prayer of a kahuna is like a worm; it may lie dormant but it will wriggle along.
Though the prayer of a kahuna may not take effect at once, it will in time.

E mānalo ka hala o ke kanaka i ka imu o ka puaʻa. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #351)
The wrongs done by man are atoned for by a pig in the imu.
When a person has committed a wrong against others or against the gods, he makes an offering of a hog with prayers of forgiveness.

He mea ʻao lūʻau ʻia ke kānāwai. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #814)
A law [of an ʻaumakua] can be removed with an offering of cooked taro leaves.
An ʻaumakua could be propitiated by offering taro leaves and prayers for forgiveness.

Molokaʻi pule oʻo. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #2195)
Molokaʻi of the potent prayers.
Molokaʻi is noted for its sorcery, which can heal or destroy.

E hānai ʻawa a ikaika ka makani. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #275)
Feed with ʻawa so that the spirit may gain strength.
One offers ʻawa and prayers to the dead so that their spirits may grow strong and be a source of help to the family.

Ka ulu kukui o Lanikāula. (ʻŌlelo Noʻeau #1624)
The kukui grove of Lanikāula.
Lanikāula was the kāula (prophet) of Molokaʻi. His fame was so great that it incurred the jealousy of Kawelo, prophet of Lānaʻi, who sought every means of destroying Lanikāula. His efforts were rewarded when he discovered where Lanikāula went to relieve himself. Kawelo made a hole in a sweet potato and filled it with his rival’s excrement. This he took back to Lānaʻi and with it prayed his victim to death. When Lanikāula saw that his end was near, he asked his sons to suggest a burial place. He found each suggestion unsatisfactory except that of his youngest son. So Lanikāula was buried in a kukui grove near his home. In the grave were placed his personal belongings, which, by the power invested in them by a kahuna, would bring harm to anyone who disturbed the remains. So Lanikāula rests in his kukui grove, famed in songs of Molokaʻi.