Celestial events such as meteors, solar and lunar eclipses and comets are connected to the supernatural by many early cultures. Hawaiian culture is no different.
Meteors have been painting the Hawaiian sky long before the first Hawaiian Island was created. Because of the total lack of what astronomers call light pollution, each meteor shower then was much better visible than it is today. Combine this with the periodicity of meteor showers and the (then) mysterious origin of these fireballs in the sky, and you have a good recipe to make a few myths and legends.
Hawaiian words for Meteors
There are several words that can signify a meteor or comet in the Hawaiian Language. These words are compositions that are made out of the word for ‘star’ (hoku), ‘fly’ (lele), and ‘god’ (akua).
The following word related to shooting stars can be found in “A dictionary of the Hawaiian language. Rev. (1922, source)”
- Koll (ko’-li), n. A meteor.
- Akualele (a-ku’-a-le’-le), n. [Akua, god, and lele, to fly.] A meteor;
- Hokulele (ho-ku’-le’-le), n. [Hoku, a star, and lele, to fly; literally, a flying star.] A meteor.
- Welowelo (we’-lo-we’-lo), adj. Floating; streaming: hoku welowelo, a blazing star; a meteor; a comet, so called from its tail.
- Leiepio (le’-le-pi’o), v. [Lele, to fly, and pio, an arch.] 1. To fly, as a meteor through the sky; to move along, as a comet showing its tail; to appear, as a supernatural sign in the heavens. 2. To jump or fly in a curved line. 3. To fly in defeat.
Meteors in Hawaiian Mythology
Celestial events such as meteors showers, comets and solar and lunar eclipses played different roles in Hawaiian culture and legends. They may be seen as forms a god can take or signs gods give, but their biggest role is that of omen.
The coincidence of celestial events with birth or circumcision were often seen as a measure of future power. The bigger the event, the larger its influence on the later life of that person.
For example, a Hawaiian legend foretold that a powerful king would unite all Hawaiian islands. The sign of his birth would be a comet according to the priests. The first king that united all Hawaiian Islands was king Kamehameha. He was born in 1758, the same year Halley’s Comet made an appearance over Hawaiian skies.