#135 in the Moʻolelo series
Makahiki is often called the season of peace, and it’s true there was no war during this season, but the makahiki games were training for war. The ulumaika, for example, were tripping stones. Another important competition during makahiki was mokomoko – boxing – which prepared warriors for hand-to-hand combat. Other competitions included holua sledding, noʻa (guessing the location of a hidden object) and paheʻe (dart sliding).
In Malo’s description of makahiki:
None of the people nor the aliʻi carried out the regular haipule rites to their gods. All they did was to offer vegetable food [ʻai]. The ruling aliʻi certainly did no work during the days of makahiki. All work was set aside for during those days. For four days everyone rested at home, having supplied themselves with everything needed for living without working.
When the four days of rest were over, then everyone went to farm and fish, but only at their own places [not in the farms of the chiefs?], because the makahiki was not made not [free or unrestricted] because there were four months within the ʻoihana makahiki [makahiki ritual]-one month of Kauwela [summer] and three of hoʻoilo [winter].David Malo, 2020, vol. 2, 221.
Makahiki was, of course, the season dedicated to Lono, during which Captain Cook famously arrived. Cook’s arrival during this period may have led to his being thought to be Lono (see the Sahlins-Obeyesekere Debate video on the Moʻolelo Channel).
As a distance runner myself for many years, the event that always interested me most was kukini, the footrace. But in modern renditions of makahiki the footrace is nearly always done incorrectly (in fact it would be somewhat difficult to do it correctly today – youʻll see why). Modern renditions of kukini are usually either a normal footrace or a relay race. The actual event was much more interesting, and weʻll see how it also applies to warfare. Kukini was a race to a flag placed at some unknown distance on a large field – it could be half a mile or more. This required a keen sense of depth perception combined with an ability to pace oneself to reach the flag first (one could not just sprint all-out).
This is quite different from a 100-yard dash, and it develops skills that would have been useful on the battlefield – an ability to charge without arriving at battle completely spent. Then a warrior could employ hand-to-hand combat, also developed in makahiki games. Because of technology like GPS, this kind of race would be difficult to hold today.