Hawaiian “Baby’s Firsts”

ʻahaʻaina māwaewae

The rituals start with the baby’s birth. ʻAhaʻaina māwaewae is the celebration 24 hours after a child’s birth—so what happens in this one is that… it’s like whereas the ʻahaʻaina palala (one-year celebration) is a physical celebration of the child surviving, the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae is more of a psychological celebration. This is where you decide the pathway for the child, and decide to take the responsibility of its safety and welfare. This is also when you dedicate the child to the ʻaumakua, and the reason for this is so that the child won’t be high strung and unruly; so that the child follows the traditional values of the family and their belief system. ʻAumakua is a family guardian that can take shape in the form of animals or plants or elements.



Hiapo is the first born. Doesn’t matter what gender, it’s just the first born child. The reason why hiapo is so important is because that’s who the elders are gonna look toward for responsibilities and to perpetuate the traditions and to prepare and teach the younger siblings and the younger generations when they come. That’s why the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae is so important, especially with the first child, because they need to be nurtured and they take so much time.

When a woman finds out she’s pregnant, her husband will start raising a pig for the ʻahaʻaina māwaewae, and then as soon as the child is born, there’s special seafood that’s secured—these foods are like symbols of the child to be like. So… they’ll get a crab/fish (ʻamaʻama and/or āholehole) because these are the `aumakua of the area, and these are mainly specific to the families that grow up in Kaʻū because a lot of these peoples’ guardians (`aumakua) is this animal…

So the ʻamaʻama crab and the āholehole fish are the `aumakua—so they (the family) eat it to pay homage to him (the guardian), and that’s like a form of dedicating the child to the `aumakua… and then they also have lūʻau leaf (taro leaf) because kalo (taro) is the plant form of Lono, and Lono is the god of harvest and fertility. And they also have mahiki, which is a kind of shrimp, and mahiki literally translates to “peel off,” like fish scales… that one is meant to peel off as in peel off the bad; you want your baby to be “clean,” like they don’t want him sheathed in bad things.

Then they have kala, seaweed, and that word means “to loosen or set free.” Like you’re literally separating the child from his mother and that child is now independent in a way, and now, with the support of his family, is going to learn what he needs to, grow up and survive and eventually actually be independent from the family. And at the same time, they’re going to eat ʻaʻama, because that means to paʻa … “to stay close with the family,” because although the child is going to learn to be independent and learn to take care of himself, he is also going to remain close with the family and understand that he needs to take care of them. Because the Hawaiian way of thinking is that you can’t have any… there’s no rogues—everyone belongs somewhere, you are a part of a family unit and it’s uncommon if you aren’t. If you’re not, that means you did something very wrong. Family is the most important thing.

They also have mele inoa and mele maʻi that they have at the different `ahas… `aha `aina is like a party, it’s like a pa`ina… so a mele inoa is a name chant—pretty much self explanatory; a chant about your name. But when you get your name depends… Some people will go to a kahuna (priest), and they’ll ask the kahuna to dream—that’s how a lot of people get their names, through dreams. Someone will dream it up. There’s other ways you could get it, you could be named after a grandparent or an elder. You could have an inoa hoʻomanaʻo (a name in rememberance of a person or an event), relating to a past event or mostly to recognize a person or event close to the time of your birth. Queen Liliuokalani, her middle name is Kamakameha (“sore eye”) because when she was born her aunt had an eye infection. The names don’t need to be pretty, they’re to remember people.

I have a friend, Mahue Matekino (he’s from New Zealand), his name is an inoa hoʻomanaʻo and his name means “the one forgotten”—‘mahue’ means forgotten, and ‘matekino’ means death/dead, like a body… it relates to cancer, and he was named that because two weeks before he was born, his grandpa died of cancer, so he was the forgotten grandchild because he didn’t get to meet his grandpa… It’s really sad, but to Mahue it’s not sad, because you get to remember the best—the name physically ties you to that person.

And we have inoa pō, and the inoa pō actually kind of relates to having a dream, but not strictly. It doesn’t necessarily need to come in a dream, but this name is in honor of the `aumakua, and can sometimes be given by the `aumakua in the form of a dream.

There’s a lot of names in Hawaiian that are not pretty, but nowadays everybody just wants fricken’ pretty names… (less legit)

Then there’s ‘mo ka piko,’ and this name is given in contempt to anyone who has been rude to the family or rude to one of the chiefs. And, I guess that because they strongly believe that what your name entails are the traits you’re gonna inherit—it’s very common if you have this name to be very protective of the family or chief (inoa kuamuamu). ‘Inoa aloha aliʻi’ is “to remember a beloved chief.” Ākeamakamae (my sister) almost had an inoa aloha aliʻi.

The other chant, a mele ma`i, is a “genetalia chant,” as weird as it sounds, and that one is for the main purpose of procreation—a lot of ali`i (chiefs) would have it, would have one done for them—to spiritually influence them to procreate. And for the child, a mele ma`i explains how you came about and that this is what you need to do and why it’s important. It’s not so much the numbers of people that’s important, but they need the tradition to keep going, that’s why it’s important. When one kupuna (grandparent) dies, they need a baby to be born to “counteract” it, in a way.


ʻahaʻaina palala

This is the celebration after the child’s made one year, counted from birth (not conception). And then this is a celebration of the child surviving, which doesn’t have as many embedded traditions other than the physical ceremony where everyone celebrates the child passing the critical year mark. Usually this celebration is a lūʻau, a huge family gathering with traditional food, dance, music, and chants. A lot of preparation goes into the lūʻau and literally everyone comes because the first birthday is such a big deal.


How did you come across this folklore: “I’m in a Hawaiian Studies class called Hawaiian `Ohana, and we learn about the traditional family system from a particular area on the Big Island, and we chose this place because there’s a lot of history and traditional values that have been maintained from ancient times, which isn’t common around the rest of the islands in the state.”

Other information: “This is one of the most important ceremonies and traditions in the collection. When you’re born is a huge event, but coming of age—it happens when people have their baby’s first lu`au—it’s a ceremony that comes with it. Your first year is critical if you’re gonna make it, so it’s a big deal. That’s when the baby’s diet changes, when you start accepting that the baby’s gonna grow and be part of the community and stuff… but birth, naming, taking responsibility, etc. is a related ceremony all by itself.”

These ceremonies ritualize the transition from gestation to birth, and from birth to infancy in the life cycle. As my informant mentioned, even though the child is very young, this is kind of like a coming of age ceremony, when the baby essentially becomes a real person and therefore part of the community. Naming the baby officiates his/her presence in a family, which is marked by other parts of the ceremony, such as dedicating the baby to the family ‘aumakua, and is when parents/family members decide to acknowledge the baby and to take responsibility for him/her, to nurture and care for him/her.