The Hawaiian Supreme God

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Io- The Hawaiian Supreme God 

Abraham Fornander and Peter Buck are the most quoted sources in Kikawa's book Perpetuated in Righteousness (Fornander, An Account of the Polynesian Race, Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities; Folk-lore by P. Buck, and The Coming of the Maori; Vikings of the Pacific).  I will cite quotes from these men’s work that Kikawa quotes from and from other works of these same authors. I will also refer to others who have expertise in this field.  Abraham Fornander, Best, E. The Maori As He Was. Handy, The Polynesian Religion. Buck, Vikings of the Pacific, Vikings of the Sunrise. Kepelino's Traditions of Hawaii. History of the People of  lsrael by Ernest Renan (A Mormon publication Utah: Genealogical Society, 1961.) Watahoro, Memoirs; The lore of the Whare wananga; Beckwith, The Kumulipo and more.

This idea of syncretism needs to be addressed because I see the same philosophy used to evangelize Muslims (used by YWAM and others). This however, is more concerning because of its implications to people in the culture. This methodology of redeeming the culture is becoming a popular trend, it all comes from this kind of syncretism. Maybe it will be China next. In fact one could connect the dots to nearly every culture if they strip it down to the bare minimum and shuffle enough stories and names around. And this is what is implied by his book.

The ends do not justify the means and though something can seem to yield results (temporarily) it does not mean it is founded on the truth. We often think  if we see any kind of result it must mean it is right or God given. This is not necessarily so, in this case it certainly is not. Kikawa calls “Mighty 'Io the Creator of All Things.” “Io the Eternal.” Kikawa calls Io Yahweh and yet he writes “At one time The Hawaiians believed and worshipped one God comprised of three equal beings in natureThese three gods were called Kane, Ku, Lono. They were worshipped as one under the grand and mysterious names Hika po-loo, Oi-e signifying Most Excellent, Supreme and Ku-kauhai, meaning the one established.6the one established.6These names were probably titles of the One True God, his true name being, ‘Io” (p.27 Perpetuated in Righteousness 2nd ed.)

So sure is Kikawa on God’s name being 'Io and known to the Hawaiians that he changed his probably, and insists: “The Hawaiian trinity was worshiped as one under many grand and mysterious names. As Wilhelm Schmidt describes, in many cases periphrases are substituted for the name of the Supreme Being. Some of these names in Hawaii were Hika po-loo, Hika of the Long Night; 0i-a signifying Most Excellent Supreme; Ili-o-mea-lani meaning The Reflection of That Chiefly Someone; Kue-manuai-lehua, literally The Beak That Feeds on Lehuas but meaning The Power of Death; Uli meaning Eternity, Beyond vision and Ku-kauhai, meaning The One Established.“The Hawaiian trinity was worshiped as one under many grand and mysterious names. As Wilhelm Schmidt describes, in many cases periphrases are substituted for the name of the Supreme Being. Some of these names in Hawaii were Hika po-loo, Hika of the Long Night; 0i-a signifying Most Excellent Supreme; Ili-o-mea-lani meaning The Reflection of That Chiefly Someone; Kue-manuai-lehua, literally The Beak That Feeds on Lehuas but meaning The Power of Death; Uli meaning Eternity, Beyond vision and Ku-kauhai, meaning The One Established.21`* These names were titles of the One True God, his true name being too sacred to mention; his name was `Io. (p.55 Perpetuated in Righteousness 4th ed.)

Yet he says ‘Io “dwells in the uppermost of 12 heavens” (p.28 Perpetuated in Righteousness 2nd edition) which is in direct contrast to the Biblical revelation of only 3 heavens existing. What  are these other heavens? There are a number of important details about 'Io that conflict with the Bibles record of God. But few of the details matter when you are gleaning what you want from these books on Polynesian history.

 Nelsons Bible Dictionary states “In time an elaborate system of beliefs in such natural forces was developed into mythology. Each civilization and culture had its own mythological structure, but these structures were often quite similar. The names of the gods may have been different, but their functions and actions were often the same.” (from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary). That similarity was a supreme god among many other gods, often they represented nature or were nature.

One of the results of this book; is the proposition that the supreme God was known by various names in the different cultures, so there are those who pray to the Hawaiian God Io claiming he is the same God of the Bible. I don’t agree at all… and I will prove why.

Kikawa writes, “In the book, History of the People of Israel, Vol.1 Ernest Renan states in the chapter The Name of lahveh Yahweh, Jehovah), that this holy name became contracted Into lahou or Io! 26 Renan was not a Christian nor did he have any knowledge of Polynesian Religion. The Theological wordbook of the Old Testament confirm Renan, saying that name of Yahweh was shortened to yho and yo when used in names” (p. 66 in 4th, pp.32-33 in 2nd ed. Perpetuated in Righteousness)

Dr. Fruchtenbaum comments on page 33: “The author's lack of knowledge of the Hebrew languages comes out rather clearly here. The author is misreading the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament when he claims that it confirms Renan who says that Yahweh was shortened to yho. Enclosed is a copy of the paper he cites (210) and you will notice there is no such inference.

Kikawa goes to make the case that “The Yo or Jo sound can only be pronounced in Hawaiian as “Io.” Dr. Fruchtenbaum points out his inability in using The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, which deals with the Hebrew language more than just this one instance. Something to consider as Mr. Kikawa makes leaps and bounds into the languages to prove his theory[s].  He writes of himself, the author does not profess to be an expert in the Polynesian languages. Therefore, in this book he simply relays the meanings of the words given by the experts.” But does he do this correctly? This becomes disturbing after one sees how many of the references he selectively quotes in part or inserts his own meaning.

Consider that within the same page Kikawa quotes from the book History of the People of Israel by Renan to prove that Iahveh is Yahweh contracted into Io (as in the Polynesian descent),. Renan also says: “…the supreme being, may have been called Iahwa. This name was more especially used when speaking of the god who presided over the greatest of nature's phenomena, the thunder. The Semite herdsmen, it seems, were much struck by this, and came to regard Iahoua as synonymous with El or Elohim.

“it is also very possible that Iahveh was the local god of Sinai or the provincial god of Palestine. Of all the obscure questions in these ancient histories, this assuredly is the most hopeless. These proper names of Iahveh, of Chemosh, which the SyroArabian peoples gave to their supreme god, are quite an insoluble problem. “It may be regarded as a step in advance, too, when these elohim, unified in one single Elohim, acted as one single being. But it was a step backward when they had a proper name, such as -…Camos, Iahveh, Rimmon, and constituted for each people a jealous, egoistical, and personal god. The people of Israel alone corrected the defects of its national god, suppressed his proper name, and brought it to be only a synonym of Elohim…. The religious progress of Israel will be found to consist in reverting from Iahveh to Elohim, in modifying Iahveh, and in stripping him of his personal attributes and leaving him only the abstract existence of Elohim. Iahveh is a special god, the god of a human family and of a country; as such he is neither better nor worse than the other protecting deities. Elohim is the universal Gods, the God of-the human race. In reality it is Elohim and not to Iahveh that the world has been converted. The world has become deist, that is to say elohist, and not iahveist” (pp.71-72 History of the people of Israel Vol.1 Ernest Renan, Cole W. & Jensen) [emphasis mine].

Renan went on to say “Neither Christianity nor Islamism know Iahveh. It is a word entirely eliminated from pious use; it is the name of a barbarian and foreign god” [emphasis mine] (see 2 Kings 5:18 about Rimmon).  So Renan does not agree that Io is Yahweh. He certainly was not coming from a Christian viewpoint, his work was published by the Mormons.

I got very concerned when I heard Kikawa and others were praying to 'Io and teaching others to do so.  Leon Siu of Aloha Ke Akua participated in a praying to “Io” as Jehovah: “As we stood at the edge of Hale-ma'uma'u Crater, singing praises to 'Io (Jehovah/Savior), thoughts of what took place 171 years earlier on that very ground, were on the minds of all who came. Included in our present celebration were prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for Hawaii. ... Included in our present celebration were prayers of thanksgiving and intercession for Hawaii. There was also special music by Leon Siu and friends, and hulas by young Hawaiian Christians, telling of the historical event…Later in the day the celebration continued at “The Gathering Place” (Hilo New Hope).  'Io - Jehovah God- is indeed alive and well in Hawaii nei. ('Io.html).

One does not find the name Io in the Bible. Nor do the concepts, attributes or workings attributed to him support a convincing correlation to YHVH. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica ancient Io was a bride of Zeus. Io was regarded as the first priestess of Hera, the wife of Zeus. Zeus fell in love with her and, to protect her from the wrath of Hera, Zeus turned Io into the first cow. Of course Io to the Hawaiians is not the same but we do need to take into account its historical background. “The Io of Grecian mythology was the personified form of the moon, but was changed into a cow. She is the same as Isis of Egyptians myth. The Manual of Mythology tells us that Ioh was an early Egyptian moon-god; but this to is equivalent to Hina and Sina, the personified form of the moon, in Polynesia and New Zealand, and not to Io the supreme god” (p.49 God’s of the Maori by Best)

Kikawa tries to make the point of a foreign element that tainted the priesthood of Hawaii that was worshipping the supreme god. Referring to one of the most respected scholars of ancient Hawaiian culture, “She also says that, before Pa'ao’s arrival, the gods were benign” (p.57, Perpetuated in Righteousness(plural)

“However, these first Hawaiians had a belief in One True God who was benign and did not indulge in human sacrifice or cannibalism. This gives rise to the theory that these people left the Marquesas to remove themselves from these prevalent practices and to keep their religion pure” (p.83, Perpetuated in Righteousness ) (Singular) -this is pure speculation.

On p.91 The Menehunes settle with their benign gods for the next 700-900 years” (plural)

“Pa'ao’s Also changed the benign god Ku, into a vengeful and bloodthirsty god of war”(p.144, Perpetuated in Righteousness (Singular)

Yet Kikawa quotes “Archaeologist G. Smith found an ancient tablet in the ruins of Babylon that said "The building of this illustrious tower offended the gods” (p.88 Perpetuated In Righteousness)' So again I ask, where is the monotheism he says is apparent in all ancient cultures?

Which is it? Did they have God- singular or Gods- plural? It does not seem as if he knows for sure from these and the other statements he makes. The Menhunes worshipped benign gods for 700-900 years in Hawaii.  If the Menehune’s had gods, plural, then the fact is, they were not monotheistic no matter how kind or pleasant their gods were. 

How can he claim they as a culture worshipped the same one God the missionaries came to bring to them, when Kikawa states in his book correctly Io was secretive and only a few of the priests knew of him. “One authority says that the Io cult was confined to the highest order of priests, termed tohunga ahurewa. Moreover, the name of Io was so sacred and secret that it was never mentioned under a roof, but only in the open between the initiated. People of the `highest class' heard the ritual relating to Io only at the birth, sickness, death or exhumation of an important person” (p.251 The Lost Caravel by Robert Langdon)

“the cult of Io was the acme of the esoteric beliefs of the higher minds of the people. It was unknown to the majority of the people, being confined to the first order of priestly adepts and the superior families” (p.69,  The Maori as He Was)

Speaking of the Maori tribes “most priests of 'Io believed revealing this knowledge meant death!” (Perpetuated in Righteousness p.65) Why would turning people to a true worship have such a penalty, the fact is the Bible says the opposite about knowing the true God.

Kikawa explains the secret worship of 'Io “The priests of 'Io who would not to be corrupted they were either killed by the invader, Paao, forced to worship in absolute secrecy or flee the Islands. The commoners, on the other hand, didn't even know the supreme God's name! Most of the Hawaiian researchers' materials that the author has read shows that the Hawaiians had no knowledge of 'Io” (Perpetuated in Righteousness p.57)

Kikawa makes the assumption that their was a intentional wiping out because they knew 'Io, who was to be replaced by another god. How does he come to this conclusion? How can the Hawaiian people worship the supreme God YHVH (Io) if only the priesthood secretly knew about him? Yet he writes “Very little is known of this ancient triune God because most of the old priests were destroyed” (Perpetuated in Righteousness, p.57). Then how do they know so much? Kikawa is claiming a specific knowledge of a triune God- three persons as the one God by oral tradition? This is an admission it was not from the Bible. How did they receive this strict New Testament revelation? 

 How can he say they as a people worshipped this God if it was kept a secret and a caste system was practiced. One must consider that if the priests were worshipping truthfully why would they hide their God from the people, would they not tell them? Do we hide the true God from people allowing them to continue in false practices? Kikawa quotes Fornander to support his preposition. “I learn that the ancient Hawaiians at one time believed in and worshipped one god” Kikawa claims “these first Hawaiians had a belief in One True God. If only a certain very small portion of the people know of a supreme God as Kikawa claims, then you can’t say a culture or people worshipped him.   

Io’s name was never mentioned outside the inner circle of priesthood but this does not confirm him to be YHVH. For as many attributes and characteristics one can find that would may be relative to YHVH one can find just as many that would contradict. This is why noted Maori scholar-sir `Peter-Buck (te Rangi-Hiroa) was among those who found the Io cult impossible to accept in its entirety.

“The first European to learn about Io was one, C. O. Davis, a government interpreter and Maori linguist, who chanced on a few details in the 1850s which he published in 1876.5 However, the only detailed account of Io is that contained in a manuscript dictated by a Maori named Te Matorohanga and taken down by another, Te Whatahoro. The manuscript, with English translations, appeared in print in 1913 as The Lore of the Whare-wanaga or Teachings of the Maori College on Religion, Cosmogony and History” (The Lost Caravel by Robert Langdon p.250)

“Smith's volume on Io and the other lore of the Whare-wananga was enthusiastically received and accepted by Best and other Maori scholars of the time. But most scholars of recent years have tended to dismiss it as an unreliable compendium of ancient Maori knowledge and beliefs? 30 The noted part-Maori scholar-sir `Peter-Buck (te Rangi-Hiroa) was-among those who found-the Io cult impossible to accept in its entirety. (p.252 The lost Caravel by Robert Langdon). [emphasis mine].

In the book the Lost Caravel Robert Langdon says the only detailed account of Io are contained in a manuscript dictated by a Maori named Te Matarohanga to Christian Te Whatahoro. So what Whatahoro states would be key.

  Buck who Kikawa is quotes to support his theory stated Moreover, he and other scholars were suspicious of the fact that both Te Matorohanga and his scribe Te Whatahoro had become Christians before details of the Io cult were written down. Buck himself concluded that no authentic proof existed for the concept of a supreme creator named lo, Kio or Kiho in Eastern Polynesia before `dispersal to the various island groups took place (p.252 The Lost Caravel by Robert Langdon) [emphasis mine] 

What he was saying is that they were revisioning the stories, doing what Kikawa is now doing to reach their people.“ Matarohanga freely admits that he did NOT transmit traditions in their pure form but that much of the knowledge is lost and that he made changes and innovations” (World of the Maori, Eric Schwimmer p.114)

Yet Kikawa claims that the corrupted versions are of a purer ancient form. But how is one to know, since it is all passed down by oral traditions; not written, and it is very diverse. None of this can be verified and at best is speculation, and this is not something that is left to be pieced together by ones imagination despite any good intention for evangelism.

Kikawa speaking about Io as the parentless, the supreme being and quotes Elsdon Best in “The Maori as He Was.” Best was considered the most prolific collector of Maori traditions. In “The Maori as He Was” it says something very different: “In regard to the superior cult of Io, the Supreme Being, its ritual was resorted to, or practised, only in connection with what were considered highly important matters. It never became known to the many, but was jealously conserved and retained by the few, hence it was not affected by degeneration as were similar concepts in other lands. The Maori preserved the purity of his conception of the Supreme Being by means of withholding it from the bulk of the people, hence Io was never degraded to the level of a tribal war-god, as was the case with JahwehTo force monotheism on a barbaric people must necessarily result in a form of degeneration of a superior concept” (The Maori as He Was by Best, p.70).[emphasis mine]

His statement on monotheism gives weight to his belief  that Io was not part of a monotheistic belief system. Certainly this proves that Best did not consider Io the same God of the Bible who is Jahweh. For he also stated “Nor is there any resemblance between the Io of Maori myth and the somewhat truculent Jehovah of the Old Testament” (Maori Religion and Mythology by Peter Best p.47). Truculent means hostile, factious, in other words he considered Jehovah defiant. 

David Malo does not mention 'Io, but his Antiquities contains the chant for the girding of the image of Ku, inserted by the editor, N. B. Emerson (11, p.247), in which Io-uli is simply mentioned as a god. I do not know how long Mrs. Taylor and her mother were acquainted with the Maori cult of Io, but I suspect it goes back to 1920, when Maori Mormons first began coming from New Zealand to visit the Mormon Temple at Laia, Oahu. In the Annual Report of the Hawaiian Historical Society for 1920, it is worth noting the following “A number of Maoris from New Zealand were in Honolulu last Spring. It was interesting to watch some of the Hawaiians trace the race connection between themselves and the Maoris, and also to note the confidence with which the Maoris confused the ancient Hawaiki of Asia with the Hawaiian Islands” (Journal of the Polynesian Society p. 202 by Kenneth P. Emory).

E. S. C. Handy who wrote Polynesian Religion and the Hawaiian cult of ‘Io investigated Matarohanga’s account of the name Io in some Hawaiian charts. He found that the name Io was applied to the Hawaiian Hawk because it cries with the sound ioio. He concluded it was specifically a bird cult primarily for the hawk and secondly for the owl. Handy warned against trying to establish Io as the supreme being in Hawaii. So to claim Io is God, we would have a bird speaking God’s name that is holy. Strange isn’t it-- that some men want to sanitize the myths of the indigenous people to make it compatible with Christianity so they can reach these same people.

Handy also wrote, “The Samoan and Tongan mythologies postulate the preexistence of Tangaloa, the Supreme Being and creator, as does the lore of the Society Islands that of Taaroa; but in Samoa and Tonga there is no suggestion of the name of Io or Iho. In Hawaii, on the other hand, are several instances of the occurrence of the name lo; but proof that this refers to the Supreme Being is lacking. In the Kumulipo chant is an intriguing line, the meaning of which is entirely- obscure, which reads, “Eggs and Io are life to birds” (146, p. 41). And in a prayer the name appears again, “Decorated at its ends is the malo of the bird-god Io-uli” (99, p. 248) If, as is possible, though to my mind not probable, Io here refers to a Supreme being (p.97)

Kikawa refers to Handy at least seven times in his book, yet. Handy is saying the opposite of Kikawa. The proof is overwhelming, but his reading of the same references he comes to a completely different conclusion. “At that time Handy pointed out that the combination of Io and Uli, in the name Io-uli, suggested a relationship between lo and Uli, “patron god of the priesthood of Hawaii.” While then expressing the opinion that the Maori cult of a supreme being, Io, was “truly an ancient feature of Polynesian religion” he cautioned that proof was lacking that this reference to Io in Hawaii was to a supreme being (5, p.97). Now, after his later findings which include several Hawaiian prayers in which 'Io is mentioned, he concludes that “the worship of 'lo in Hawaii is specifically the veneration of Buteo solitarius, the Hawaiian hawk [`io], and that 'Io and Uli are one and the same god, 'Io being his esoteric name.”

“I had come to the conclusion that 'Io (Hawk), would be a hawk-god as a result of perusing much of the same material. It seemed obvious that the hawk was named for its note: `io'io in Hawaii, and Iciolcio in the Tuamotus and the Cook islands, means to chirp like a chick. Kepelino, writing in 1859 (10, p.2G5) says of the hawk, “It is named for its cry.” The hawk, then, which does not occur elsewhere in tropical Polynesia, was named for its cry, and not for a god named 'Io. (Journal of the Polynesian Society, The Hawaiian God Io by Kenneth P. Emory)

Kikawa writes “Ahuena Taylor, a descendant of the priests of 'lo, said of the veiled names of 'Io was Uli” (Perpetuated in Righteousness,  p.94)

Yet researcher Craig Handy found something quite different “and the chant reveals Uli and Io-uli here as distinct gods. If they are distinct, 'Io and Uli in two chants Handy received from Mrs. Emma Ahuena Taylor (7, p.145) should not be treated as names of the same god, though it is possible that here 'Io is being likened to Uli, but more probable that Uli is being called, figuratively, a hawkIn the later case the two prayers given by Mrs. Taylor would be prayers to Uli. At the same time, there is nothing prohibiting two gods being addressed in the same prayer, one named 'lo, the other Uli”( ibid. Journal of the Polynesian society, The Hawaiian God `IO by Kenneth P. Emory, Bishop Museum, Honolulu)

Handy also states and makes it perfectly clear- Iho in Tahiti means the core of anything. Ihoiho would signify the “core of cores” or the “very core.” The giving of this name to the preexistent Supreme Being suggests that the ancient originators of the concept had in mind the idea of the Supreme Being's existing within, at the heart of creation, rather than outside as is indicated by his being said to exist in the most distant heaven above the earth.’

So this Io is pantheistic, found in creation itself.  Therefore it has no relevance to the God of the Bible who is transcendent, the beginner of creation and exists before creation and outside it, not inside it.

All this makes for a very confusing presentation of a supreme God called Io that is supposed to be YHVH according to Kikawa's research. While there may be a few similarities, to come to the conclusion they are one and the same is erroneous and quite flawed.

pt.3 Io, the trinity, and the gods



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