From stones, wood, coral, lava and other natural materials, people throughout Polynesia created games that tested their skill, strength and wit and provided them with hours of enjoyment. In Hawaii, this spirit of friendly competition was most evident during Makahiki (see sidebar), an annual period of rest and recreation.
On Nov. 9, Waimea Valley will host a Makahiki Festival in conjunction with Heiva Tu‘aro I Vaihi, a sports tournament featuring some 40 individuals representing Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa and New Zealand. During the tournament, men and women will be competing in wrestling, rock lifting, coconut tree climbing and a footrace that requires them to run while hoisting up to 20 pounds of fruit tied to a log.
Because Heiva Tu‘aro is a sanctioned qualifying event (winners will advance to the championship in Papeete next June), visitors can’t participate in it, but they can cheer their favorite athletes and try their hand at Makahiki games such as ulu maika (bowling) and oo ihe (spear throwing).
“These days, children spend a lot of their free time playing games on their computers and cell phones,” said Kimberly Anguiano, Waimea Valley’s events and marketing manager. “Our celebration shows that you don’t need technology to have fun or be mentally and physically challenged. For example, both adults and kids are surprised to find out how much skill is required to play moa pahee, sliding a wooden dart between two stakes. Even better, playing such simple games provides important insights into life in Hawaii long ago.”
Waimea Valley is a bastion of Hawaiian history and culture. This lush 1,875-acre ahupuaa (land division from the mountains to the sea) was chosen as early as 1092 A.D. as the home of kahuna nui (high priests), respected experts in fields as diverse as fishing, agriculture, healing and canoe building.
When Kamehameha the Great conquered Oahu in 1795, he recognized the significance of Waimea Valley and gifted it to Hewahewa, his trusted spiritual advisor. Around 1826, Hewahewa moved there from Hawaii island and became its chief. Upon his death in 1837, ownership of the ahupuaa passed to his granddaughter, Pa‘alua. It subsequently changed hands many times.
In 2006, Waimea Valley was purchased by a partnership comprising the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA), the City and County of Honolulu, the state Department of Land Natural Resources, the United States Army and the Trust for Public Land. Two years later, Hi‘ipaka LLC, a subsidiary of OHA, was established as a nonprofit organization and given title to the land to “preserve and perpetuate the human, cultural and natural resources of Waimea for generations through education and stewardship.”
The Makahiki Festival and Heiva Tu‘aro I Vaihi is one way Hi‘ipaka is fulfilling that mission.
“When you visit Waimea Valley, you’re in an ahupuaa where Hawaiians lived for centuries,” Anguiano said. “You’ll see fishing shrines, agricultural terraces, burial sites and restored houses and heiau (places of worship), including Hale O Lono, which was originally constructed around 1470 A.D. Waimea Valley is a living museum that sheds light on ka poe kahiko, the people of old — their traditions and values and how they lived, worked and played.”
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won several Society of American Travel Writers awards.