The Kihawahine is the oldest Aumakua or spiritual helper in Polynesia. She is the life energy of fresh water. Her movement is symbolized, in tattoo and Kapa designs as a wave line punctuated with a period or dot in each dip of the wave.
Polynesian designs are symbolic rather than representational. They reveal the function or physics of the spiritual energy that the design evokes. The Kihawahine depicts the power of the knowledge of the integration of dualism (conception). She brings the spiritual and earthly realms together through the heart. In Christian tradition, her power is the Hieros Gamos or Mystical Union.
Her Kinolau or animal form is the lizard or Mo’o. Every island has a Mo’o, but only Maui has the Kihawahine. In Moku’ula, a 13 acred pond site situated at the base of the West Maui Mountains, a 36 foot black lizard appeared periodically with the cycles of the Moon. She became manifest through rituals and was last seen in the late 1800s. Thousands witnessed her appearance, including missionaries, sailors, and other Europeans who doubted her existence.
This Mo’o or Lizard took on the name of Kihawahine, or fresh water spirit, because the royal family of monarchical Hawai’i dedicated the spirit of a deceased princess to this Mo’o. From then on, the Lizard and the Princess were one, which is why the image of Ki’i has the form of a beautiful young woman. Moreover, only women can conceive.
Metaphorically, the Kihawahine in the pond is representative of the fetus in the womb, which is another reason that Polynesians revere her. Each vertebrae of the long lizard spine represents a generation. The tail is the ancient ancestors.
The Hawai’ian language also illustrates the significance of the Mo’o. a chat of one’s genealogy is a “mo’olelo”. A favored grandchild is the “Mo’opuna.”
The spiritual and cosmological power that this Ki’i, or image, represents is awesome and fierce. She holds the power of generations or of generating. The great warrior, King Kamehameha, could not conquer the Hawai’ian Islands until he obtained (improperly) the power of the Kihawahine. Using the Kiha, he took the image of her and placed it on his altar with his war God and married a woman from the Lizard Clan. Through this misuse of the sacred feminine, he succeeded in dominating the islands and overpowering the original earth and feminine spirituality. After becoming King over the islands, he went to the most powerful priests of the islands, those from Molokai. He asked them to lift the effects of what he had done with the Kiha. They refused and prophesized that because of his violation his line would die out which it did. the devastation generated by Kamahameha’s actions have had long term effects including the neglect and repression of the ways of the Kiha.
Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the pond site of the Kiha was held in such high regard that common people were not allowed on the small island at the west side of the pond. Dropping any kind of rubbish in the area was such a serious offense that one might pay with one’s life. After the European and American colonization of the islands, the last Kamehameha retreated from the capitol at Honolulu to the small island in the pond to renew. But as prophesized, it was the end of the dynasty. Yielding to political pressures, he returned to the city of Honolulu. The pond and Kiha were forgotten. About a hundred years ago, the sugar cane plantations covered the island and pond wiping out all traces of her. Lahaina, once referred to as the Venice of Hawai’i, became semi arid.
Today, facing global catastrophe, people are seeking ways to connect with and heal the deep wounds of patriarchy and geocide. Here on Maui we are remembering the beautiful, wonderful Kihawahine. We are working to restore the pond. At Pakala, our home and a Goddess Conference Ceremonial Site, Apela’s husband, Keola Sequeira, Kahuna Kalai Ki’i, or master wood carver and spiritual practitioner, has recreated the image of the Kihawahine, which has been held in the Berlin Museum since the late 1800s, for local ceremonial purposes. The Maui Goddess Conference is an historic event, the first of its kind to shed light upon and to rekindle the reverence for the Goddess Kihawahine.