Old Hawaiian Culture
Before European influence over the islands became widespread, old Hawaii had a very sophisticated culture. Some say it had the traits of an emerging early complex society or civilization, complete with a large population, political and religious authorities, specialists in crafts, an agricultural foundation, and monumental architecture (large temples).
A Spiritual Land
The old Hawaiians worshiped a large number of gods (akua) that represented a variety of natural and abstract forces. These gods were believed to be active, and so people tried to appease them or seek their intervention through prayers, rituals, and sacrifices. There were four chief gods that were common in much of Polynesia (although with variation in names): Kane; a warrior god, Ku; a fertility god named Lono; and a sea god, Kanaloa. Gods, both male and female, had various different manifestations that were recognized and addressed. In Hawaii, a couple of other gods took on special prominence. In a land where volcanoes were still active, the goddess Pele represented these awesome natural forces. The god Maui, too, is prominently featured in folklore as a hero and trickster. One myth tells how he snared the Hawaiian Islands and pulled them up out of the ocean.
The volcano goddess Pele is often referred to with respect as Madame Pele, and some people claim that they have seen her in the form of a beautiful young lady or an old woman.
Plenty for All
There were also hundreds of lesser gods ('aumakua), some of whom were related to various activities or professions or who presided over specific places. Some were deified ancestors who had assumed animal shapes. Individuals could pray to various gods at home or at local shrines, where priests (kahuna) presided over special rituals. On a larger scale, temple platforms (heiau) were built on which various rituals, including human sacrifices, would occasionally take place. Spirituality permeated much of old Hawaiian culture. Some aspects — such as the ancient healing arts and old hula — continue to be practiced by some.
Today, nearly every brand of religion is represented in Hawaii. There are all brands of Christians and a respectable number of Buddhists as well. A few people continue to worship the Hawaiian gods, and you might spot recent offerings left for the deities at sacred sites.
There are many sacred sites in Hawaii. Even if you don't believe in the gods of old, it is always a good idea to show proper respect in such places. Many temple platforms (heiau) and other sacred sites are kapu and off-limits. Check for notices in the vicinity to be sure.