Sacred Hawaiian Custom or a Disrespectful Mistake?

Sacred Hawaiian Custom or a Disrespectful Mistake?
Waihe'e Falls

Hawai’i is a place rich in its history and culture, with its customs and traditions still valued and practiced today. The connection the Hawaiian people have with the islands is very spiritual and very sacred. Yet some have misunderstood these actions, or misinterpreted Hawaiian customs, and in doing so may be unaware of the mistakes they are making. It is important to learn what is acceptable, as to avoid disrespecting the culture.

Nestled along the trails of the islands, or perhaps placed before a majestic waterfall, hikers in Hawai’i may notice rocks wrapped in Ti leaves, as seen above in this photo from Hamama Falls. Many recognize this action as a prayer or offering, a sacred tradition of our island nation. They believe it to be a symbol of good luck, and a request for good fortune. But these rock offerings are highly controversial, and this practice which was commonly believed to be part of the island culture may actually be a very offensive gesture.

The Ti leaf is very sacred to Hawaii, and can be used in many different ways. But wrapping a rock in a Ti leaf and using it as an offering is actually a false custom. Hawaiians at times placed these rocks on top a traditional offerings in an effort to keep any rodents or bugs away, but they were not used as actual offerings themselves. But as time went on, visitors to Hawai’i misinterpreted this action and instead began to copy what they had seen, without fully understanding.

I have heard much debate on this topic, and, in an attempt to not offend anyone, I will share my own belief on this subject. I would like to explore this on two levels. The first, and most important thing to remember I feel, is that the traditional prayer offerings were made by those who were trained to do so. These practices are part of the Hawaiian culture, and these leaders and priests of the people were following their sacred customs. When used out of context and performed by someone who has not been trained, these offerings are seen as disrespectful.

The other argument I would like to make is based on sustainable environmental practices. As you know, here at Trails of Freedom we follow the Leave No Trace principles. We feel that interacting with the environment is great, so long as you can visit a place and leave it the way you found it. For this reason, I am against removing the sacred Ti leaves and using them for questionable practices. I feel it is best to just enjoy the time in nature in a way that will help maintain the environment. Leave the traditional offerings for those trained to do so, as to not offend or damage our beautiful islands or its culture.

(The photograph of Waihe’e Falls seen here may not be reproduced or distributed for any purpose without the express written consent of Trails of Freedom, LLC).