Over the recent weeks with the advance of Covid-19 across the globe, I have found comfort and strength from my husband, Jim, and almost daily phone calls with our two children, James and Kathryn. I’ve also found reassurance in taking time to ‘count my blessings’ and find myself quietly reciting a few common prayers learned as a child in Sunday School at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. And although I am not a regular attendee of formal religious services, I know I have a deep faith. In part, I have recognized this through the research I've done for Emma Prince Kaua'i Mysteries.
Beginning with A Telling of Ancestors, I introduced the concept of Hawaiian faith. My research made it clear that Emma’s mana had to be keenly tied to faith, mana‘o‘i‘o, and prayer, pule, since both have always played a critical role in Hawaiian life and ancient traditions.
When Emma remarks to Piakalike, “I’ve never been prayerful or faithful, Piakalike”, the wise auntie tells Emma, “We can help you, but it will be your prayers and your mana that will prove most powerful. Remember, part of your mana rests in prayer, pule. Your emotions, thoughts, and awareness of your surroundings will guide you in how to use prayer for good.”
And as Piakalike also tells Emma in Ancestors, “While you may believe you are not a prayerful person, Ema, I would wager at some time or other you wished for something by reciting words to request your wish to come to fruition.”
Kaua‘i was not only the peaceful kingdom, as professed in an ancient chant, Maika‘i Kaua‘i, hemolele i ka mālie — ‘Beautiful Kaua‘i, peaceful in the calm’. But it was also known as Kaua‘i pule o‘o—‘Kaua‘i of strong prayers’.
In truth, the Hawaiian people have always been spiritual and prayerful, no matter what those with so-called 'good intentions' might have believed. The ancient Hawaiian people were governed by many deities, akua, to whom they prayed, sending mana to the gods in the hope of producing a favorable outcome. It was believed that if a person failed to pray daily to the akua or the ancestral guardians, ‘aumākua, they would lose all or part of their inherent power, known as mana. Therefore, even today, a strong tradition exists in the Islands where prayers to the gods, akua, are still found in every aspect of daily life, even if prayers and faith from other religious traditions, such as Christianity, are also embraced.
On Kaua'i, as well as the other Islands, where the present is always deeply rooted in an ancient, mythic past, the powerful energy of mana still remains strong and yields to a higher divinity found in such things as prayer. Prayer was powerful to the mana of Kaumuali‘i and his mother, Kamakahelei, and he frequently sought counsel from the akua and his ‘aumākua through prayer.
“... it will be your prayers and your mana that will prove most powerful. Remember, part of your mana rests in prayer, pule. Your emotions, thoughts, and awareness of your surroundings will guide you in how to use prayer for good.” Piakalike, A Telling of Ancestors
Formal prayers in a temple, heiau, could only be performed by a kahuna pule, a prayer priest, on behalf of the chiefs, ali‘i, or commoners, maka‘āinana. Such traditional prayers were expertly memorized, always recited without changing any words, often in one breath, and passed down to the next generation of priests. A kahuna would end a prayer with the words, Amama ua noa, ‘the prayer is now free or flown’, signaling the moment when the spiritual power generated by the prayer flew to the akua. Then, everyone waited to see if the prayerful request was heard and a favorable response given.
Yet, it is notable that anyone could pray at any time, for any purpose, and it was always much more than mere words. These prayers were usually spontaneous, resulting from a need or desired outcome during a critical juncture. This was a prayer that was perhaps more conversational than formal, and comprised the deepest, innermost thoughts or needs felt at the time. This is always the nature of spontaneous prayers, when direct communication took place between the people, maka kanaka, and the gods, akua. But one was advised to never wait until face-to-face with death before beginning to pray.
In ancient Hawai‘i, it was believed women did not pray. And while there isn’t much known about the spiritual lives of wahine, women were always believed to be just as prayerful as the kahuna and ali'i. There were women kahuna, known as kahuna wahine, and female prayer experts, called kahuna pule wahine, who were always of the chiefly class and sometimes prayed in heiau. There were also women prophets or seers, known as kāula wahine, although it is uncertain if they were also recognized as kahuna.
It is clear to me that women clearly possessed faith, whether they prayed for assistance from the gods or ancestral guardians in private or in a 'place of comfort', Hale o Papa — the 'House of the Goddess Papa' — a 'goddess temple' built by families on land believed to be sacred and used for worship by female chiefs or women of high rank who weren't permitted to enter a sacred heiau.
Emma Prince comes to embrace the ‘sacred essence of life’ and a ‘renewal of lost faith’ found in the blessings of family, ‘ohana, love, aloha, faith, mana‘o‘i‘o, humbleness, ha‘aha‘a, truth, ‘oia‘i‘o, honor, ho‘ohanohano, tradition, mo‘olelo, people, maka kanaka, and peace, malu.
My own faith is more keenly aligned with that of Emma Prince and the essence of the spontaneous prayer traditions of Hawai'i. It is more conversational than formal, humble and resolute, and comprised of my deepest, innermost thoughts about the blessings in life or a particular need felt at the time — including prayers for a world in trouble during this challenging time of Covid-19.
In this vein, I offer thanks for the gift of life, for ‘ohana, and aloha. I pray with all maka kanaka of the world that this horrid, worldwide pandemic ends soon.
Amama ua noa, ‘the prayer is now free or flown’.
I hope there will be a good outcome to my prayerful request.