A time for peace
For countless generations, the tradition across Polynesia was to mark the year’s harvest with a time of celebration, rest, and peace. The rising of makalii, the Pleiades, marked the beginning of the four-month Makahiki season. Conflict and war were set aside, and unity and peace prevailed as the people paid tribute to the god Lono.
With the harvest completed, everyone rested and let the land lay fallow. They offered food in tribute to their chief and to Lono in thanks for their wise stewardship. Without wisdom, the land would become barren, and the people’s life and culture were tied to the land.
While almost no one among us could afford to stop work for an entire quarter of the year, Makahiki stills serves as a reminder of the values that should guide us. Appreciation for the things we are given by our culture, our efforts, and our fates. The abundance that marks so many of our lives. And the wise stewardship that the best among us offer.
Even in a place that enjoys a year-round growing season, it is difficult to fathom allowing productive fields lie unused through four long months. Simple math tells us that ancient practitioners could have increased their annual yields by a quarter just by keeping fields in use. Yet the concept of fallow fields is critical to understanding true stewardship.
A fallow field is not wasted space; it is land in renewal. The period where a land remains unplanted allows the soil to replenish it moisture and nutrients. It regains the texture that provides roots with air. Decaying matter slowly develops into a loamy compost that shows its strength with the next planting.
Today, when every moment is consumed by meetings and activities, when we cannot stop checking our Blackberries and iPhones or worrying about cellular coverage, we seldom stop to replenish. It’s a drive-through, satellite-fed, multi-tasked life. The only fallow time we have is while we’re asleep, unless we dream about work, too.
And then there’s peace. We should marvel at a society where everyone accepted that whatever was happening the day before Makahiki, no matter who was arguing with whom, what group was set upon the defeat of what faction, it all stopped. Four months of peace. I would guess that enemies did not necessarily celebrate together, but the fact that they were celebrating separately instead of fighting on the same battlefield is pretty remarkable.
On November 20, 2008, the State of Hawai‘i observed its first Makahiki Commemoration Day. It wasn’t a holiday, so you probably had to work. Still, it stands as a reminder of what Makahiki was, and how our sometimes more-civilized ancestors made the best use of their time.
Even if you missed Mahakiki Commemoration Day, remember that Makahiki lasted four months. There is still time for all of us to reflect on the many blessings we have been given, slow down, let our minds lie fallow for at least a little while, and offer each other peace. Happy Makahiki, everyone.