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February 1997


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Hawaiian Temples - Heiau
(Part 2)

By Kihonua

Hawaiian Heiau or temples are, to the visiting Westerner used to images of great Egyptian or Central American temples, at first glance unimpressive. Simply a low stone wall around a rectangular space. However, it is just the quality of that space which is so important. These are sacred sites and have been worshipped in for hundreds of years and even today prayer offerings are still left in the temple walls in the form of stones wrapped in the sacred ti plant leaf or sometimes in the form of a small precariously balanced pile of stones.

It is worth studying the painting below to see just how the temple looked when the Hawaiian civilisation was still only marginally affected by Western culture and religious beliefs. A fact that escapes most casual visitors and indeed scholars is that the Polynesians were a great seafaring people and that the migratory journeys from Tahiti to the Hawaiian islands took months. Crucially, you have to take your gods and temples with you!

You do not stop worshipping just because you are in a double hulled canoe a thousand miles from land. The Hawaiian temples very simply and clearly reflect the shape of the vessels that was both home and temple to these great early voyagers. It was through the help of the Gods that the people were able to find and settle new lands in the vast expanse of the Pacific ocean. To a Hawaiian their temples were both places of worship and also a constant reminder of the reality of those early voyages.

In terms of their construction look at the tower as related to the mast of the ship, the small thatched huts as the shelter and the overall rectangular shape as resembling the outline of the canoe. The heiau acted as a profound link to both the Gods themselves and your own ancestors from the dim past and those who perhaps died during the long journeys.

What would it mean to you to be able to have that sense of connection with where you come from both spiritually and physically everytime you entered the temple of your faith?

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