Pōhaku of Hawai‘i
In Hawai‘i as well as other parts of the Pacific, our islands are composed of an igneous rock called basalt. As a resource so readily accessible at our fingertips, it isn’t surprising that a lot of historic materials found in our islands are made of this type of rock. These materials can range from the rock in its natural state to stones shaped specifically to fit a certain need or purpose.
Piko stone in which an infant’s umbilical cord (piko) was placed, found in Mililani, O‘ahu. Made of basalt. In certain chiefly families the piko, along with other bodily items like hair or nail clippings, were of the utmost importance. Care of the piko fell into the hands of a child’s parent. The umbilical cord of the child was taken to areas like Kūkaniloko; a hole would be created in a rock like this one, the piko would then be placed in and the hole would be covered by a small rock that would be pounded into place. In the morning, if the umbilical cord was gone, this insured the child would have a long life.
In its natural form, pōhaku is used in masonry or can be used to create a ki‘i or an image. Most popular is its use in uhauhumu pōhaku, or dry stack masonry. To construct a house or place of worship, different sizes of stones would be carefully selected and then arranged together through uhauhumu pōhaku. No cement was ever needed, because the positioning of the small stones filled gaps between larger stones that allowed gravity to hold the walls or foundations in place. Temples, dwellings, and even loko i‘a (fish ponds) were made using this long-lasting technique. Images like pōhaku o Kāne are uncarved stones, but their long or tall shapes were believed to be connected to the god Kāne. Pōhaku can also be used as a medium: by altering its shape, numerous items can be created, such as symbolic representations for other akua or gods, weaponry, or mea pa‘ahana, things used to do work.
Pa‘ahana is the process of firmly and continually doing work; this includes working to meet our four basic human necessities, one of which is collecting food and water. Used to flavor or preserve dishes, pa‘akai or salt is an abundant resource used in Hawaiian cooking. Salt pools or basins called kāheka are made from pōhaku and vary in size. Salt water from the ocean is collected and left out to dry. During this process, the water evaporates and the salt crystallizes. This salt harvesting process has been practiced in the islands for hundreds of years and is still seen today on a larger scale, in places like Hanapēpē, Kaua‘i. Two types of Hawaiian salt are common today. The plain, or white, salt is often referred to as pa‘akai, but mixing pa‘akai with ‘alaea (red ochre) makes pa‘akai ‘ula‘ula (“red salt”). Salt is also used in ceremonies as a way to cleanse or purify. Mea ku‘i (pestles) are objects that resemble ku‘i ʻai pōhaku (poi pounders); however, mea ku‘i have a more slender shape. Like pa‘akai, which is incorporated for its cleansing properties, mea ku‘i are used in lā‘au lapa‘au (herbal medicines) to grind plant parts and also to grind dyes associated with making kapa (barkcloth).
Aside from firmly doing work by building shelters (dwellings), making clothing to keep warm, and gathering food to nourish ourselves, there is one more human necessity that helps to relieve the stress of constant work: recreation, as seen in hana pā‘ani (sports and games). In the game of ‘ulu maika, the disk-shaped stone is used to roll down the kahua maika (course). Several variations of this game exist: in one, the stone is rolled between two stakes called pahu hopu; in another, opponents attempt to roll their stone the farthest in a game of distance. Another Hawaiian game of skill is called kōnane, sometimes referred to in English as Hawaiian checkers, although the rules and goals of the game are very different. Many boards that have been found were made of stone (papamū), but the game could also be played on a wooden board. A full-size papamū would be big enough to see 64 ‘ili‘ili (game pieces) used during play, half being ‘ele‘ele (black beach pebbles) and the other half being ke‘oke‘o (white coral pieces). Unlike checkers, jumping can be towards either player, or left and right, never diagonally. The object of the game is to maneuver the other opponent into a position where they are unable to complete a move.