Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Hawaiian Deities of Canoes and Canoe Building

[Photos below: Ki'ikane and Ki'iwahine, or male and female ki'i (tiki or images) on Hokule'a]

The ki'i wahine, or female image, lashed to the manu or back-piece of the port hull on Hokule'a, is named "Kiha Wahine o Ka Mao o Malu Ulu o Lele." The ki'i kane, or male image, lashed to the back manu of the starboard hull is named "Kane o Hokule'a o Kalani." (Traditionally, the port, or left, hull of a double-hulled canoe is female; the starboard, or right, hull is male.) The ki'i were fashioned by master carver Sam Ka'ai of Maui. Ka'ai keeps the original ki'i under his protection; the duplicates on the canoe are called the traveling ki'i; they are in the keeping of Wally Froiseth. These ki'i embody the spirit of Hawai'i and watch over the canoe while it voyages. The female image has eyes that represents seeing and foresight; the male image represents knowledge; they work together to guide the canoe. Before the start of a voyage, the feet of the ki'i are wrapped with maile lei.

Hawaiians are traditionally a deeply religious and spiritual people. From ancient times the land and sea upon which they live belonged to their deities--the people are just the caretakers. The building of a canoe was (and is) a religious affair, and there are deities specifically associated with this activity. So too, when voyagers went to sea, they asked for protection from the god of the ocean, Kanaloa, and the god or goddess of the weather and winds, La'amaomao. The gods and goddesses of canoes and canoe-building included the following (from Tommy Holmes' The Hawaiian Canoe, p. 31):

Hina-ke-ka: Goddess of canoe bailers

Hina-ku-wa'a: Another name for Lea

Hina-puku-'ai: "Hina gathering food"; goddess of food plants; sister of Lea; took the form of an 'elepaio

Ka-pu-'a-o-alaka'i: Another name for Ka-pu-o-alaka'i

Ka-pu-o-alaka'i: Forest goddess; presided over the lines (pu) by which new canoes were guided as they were transported from mountains to sea; also "Ka-pu-o-alaka'i'

Kama-i-ka-huli-wa'a-pu: "God who aided in floating, righting and bailing out upset canoes"

Kanealuka: God of canoe builders

Ku'alana-wao: Ku of the upland offering

Ku-holoholo-pali: "Ku who steadies the canoe as it is carried down steep places"

Ku-kalanawao: "Ku who guides through the mountain wilderness"

Ku-kanaloa: (No data; Kanaloa was the god of the Ocean; his ocean form is the he'e, or octopus; his land form is the banana.)

Ku-ka-'ohi'a-laka: "Ku of the sacred 'ohi'a;" also Ku-maha-ali'i: "Ku who journeys in the canoe"

Ku-mauna: "Ku of the mountains"

Ku-moku-hali'i: "Ku who bedecks the island"; canoe builders chief god; husband of Lea; also Mokuhali'i

Ku-ohanawao: (no data; cf. Ku'alana-wao and Ku-kalanawao)

Ku-'ohi'a-Laka: Another name for Laka

Ku-olonawao: "Ku of the deep forest"

Ku-pepeiao-loa: "Ku of the long comb-cleats"; god of the seat braces by which the canoe is carried

Ku-pepeiao-poko: "Ku of the short comb-cleats"; god of the seat braces by which the canoe is carried

Ku-pulapula: "Ku with many offspring"

Ku-pulupulu: "Ku, the chip-maker"; god of the forests

Ku-pulupulu-i-ka-nahele: Another name for Ku-pulupulu

Kulauka: Another name for Ku-pulupulu

Laka: God of canoe builders; also Ku-'ohi'a-laka

Lea: Goddess of canoe builders; wife of Ku-moku-hali'i; sister of Hina-puku-'ai; she takes the form of an 'elepaio (a forest bird); also "Hina-ku-wa'a," "Laea," "Lea-ka-wahine"

Lea-ka-wahine: Another name for Lea

Moku-hali'i: Another name for Ku-moku-hali'i