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).



  1. Zynfia 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing! I always wondered why the rocks up in Pupukea Heiau were wrapped in a ti-leaf, (some actually have a penny in it).

  2. I was also curious about these rocks. Iao Valley was full of them. It does not seem far fetched that an underlying custom exists – while I agree its possible that its simply a romanticized hoax that got out of hand. I am curious about your authority on the matter?

    • Author
      Leigh Anne Crocco 7 years ago

      Hey David, thanks so much for your interest! It took me a while to track down some information on this subject, as there really isn’t too much written about it. I was so curious that I actually ended up going to the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center of Hawaiian Studies to talk with some of the professors there. I talked with a few of the older Hawaiian mentors there, and they gave me their insight on the matter. But as for written proof, I am still on the hunt!

  3. Phillip 6 years ago

    I like this.. do you know of have heard of places in Hawaii to make offerings for increasing one’s karma/ good luck etc? Just curious? Thanks

  4. Joe 4 years ago

    First, in response to Phillip’s post, traditional beliefs and customs do not really consider “karma” but they focus more on mana, effectively spiritual power. Many such places to give offerings or pray (called Heiau’s) exist though through the years many of the older ones have been removed or worn over time, I would start with a search for heiau in google and go from there though in many family lineages any fish pond is a spot worthy of praying to the god Ku for good catch and health. I would also look at any texts by Margaret Beckwith as she recorded a wealth of tradition.

    Secondly, thanks Leigh Ann for taking the time to post this article, this was a good read! While not full blood Hawaiian I was raised by my grandfather who is and have spent my life studying and practicing as much tradition as possible. I appreciate the efforts that you have gone through and can empathize on the difficulties. After the introduction of western religion (Catholicism, Christianity, etc.) to the islands many of the pacific island customs and traditions vanished. I would direct you to read multiple translations of the Kumulipo, as well as the Beckwith texts, and as you compare and study understand that the origins of Hawaiians were of a non native nature (the islands were never originally inhabited due to the volcanic creation, they were migrated to primarily from other Polynesian roots like Tahitian and such).

    The original Hawaiians were made up of many families each with it’s own traditions which makes it tough to discern a single “faith” as we westerners like to see. The one commonality that I have found in my studies is that traditionally the “who” created us is not as important as the “how” we survive. Most stories told now have a slight western tilt, primarily the catholic “adam and eve” scenario. With a close eye it becomes easy to pick these stories out. To further muddy the waters the islands were a gateway so we end up with a large amount of influences from Portuguese, Maori, Guamanian, Japanese, Chinese, etc….. the list goes on and on. I myself have traced back to find out I’m Hawaiian with Portuguese and Chinese descent. While I myself find prayer to Ku and the reverse Hina as my spirituality many others find newer god(esses) such as Pele, etc. to be the path. It’s an interesting but windy road!

    While not an expert, I do find myself a traditionalist. The fact that I am mentioning Ku in a post in the evening is considered taboo!! Oh well, I guess I was just so happy to see someone post an article abandoning a westernized version of an age old tradition I could not help myself.

    Mahalo Nui Loa


  5. Mason 4 years ago

    Just went to manana trails to see the waterfall and i seen to stones wrapped in to leaves, i was confused on why it was there. I was considering to remove them but i was unsure if that was the right thing to do. But now i know what it actually means.

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