In Hawaiian religion, the deity Lono is associated with fertility, agriculture, rainfall, music, and peace.

In one of the many Hawaiian stories of Lono, he is a fertility and music god who descended to Earth on a rainbow to marry Laka.

In agricultural and planting traditions, Lono was identified with rain and food plants. He was one of the four gods (with Kū, Kāne, and Kāne’s twin brother Kanaloa) who existed before the world was created. Lono was also the god of peace.

In his honor, the great annual festival of the Makahiki was held. During this period (from October through February), war and unnecessary work was kapu (forbidden).

In Hawaiian weather terminology, the winter Kona storms that bring rain to leeward areas are associated with Lono. Lono brings on the rains and dispenses fertility, and as such was sometimes referred to as Lono-Makua (Lono the Provider).

Ceremonies went through a monthly and yearly cycle. For 8 months of the year, the luakini (temple) was dedicated to Ku-with strict kapus. Four periods each month required strict ceremonies. Violators could have their property seized by priests or overlord chiefs, or be sentenced to death for serious breaches.

Lono and Captain Cook

Some Native Hawaiians may have misidentified Captain James Cook as Lono’s incarnation, which may have later caused Cook’s death.

It is uncertain whether Cook was mistaken for the god Lono, or one of several historical or legendary figures also named Lono-i-ka-Makahiki.

It was traditionally held that the god Lono had appeared as a human who then established games and the annual taxing. Before departing to “Kahiki“, he promised to return “by the sea on the canoes ʻAuwaʻalalua“. An unidentified queen identified it as a “Spanish man of war“, recalling the alleged arrival of a Spanish galleon.

Mary Pukui interpreted this as “very large double canoe“, from ʻAu[hau]-waʻa-l[o]a-lua. However, Pukui may have been referring to the Portuguese man o’ war, which Hawaiians called ʻAuwaʻalalua.

Other Lonos

Better known to the Hawaiian mythology is an earlier Lono-i-ka-makahiki from the ʻUmi line of ruling Hawaii Island aliʻi.

This Lono was born and raised near the graves of Keawe and his descendants, which were near the place of Captain Cook’s monument. This Lono may have cultivated the arts of warfare and puns as well as riddle games and spear-dodging games for the Makahiki.

However, it is unlikely either late ruling chiefs on the ʻUmi line was the mythological Lono who departed to Kahiki. Both chiefs were born in Hawaii, and no legend tells of either of them sailing away with a promise to return.

A more plausible candidate for the god Lono is the legendary Laʻa-mai-Kahiki (i.e., the “Sacred-one-from-Tahiti), who purportedly lived several centuries earlier. Laʻa came as a younger member of the Moikeha family of North Tahiti, older members of whom had settled earlier in the Hawaiian archipelago.

He brought with him a small hand-drum and a flute for the hula. Upon his arrival, the locals heard his flute and the rhythm of the new drumbeat, believing it was the god Kupulupulu. Kupulupulu was worshiped as god of the hula, who also took the form of the flowering lehua tree as well as the god of native fauna that sustained early Polynesian settlers.

Especially on Oahu, this Laʻa-mai-kahiki took wives in various districts. Oahu Island was the stronghold of Lono’s worship, where many families claimed descent from La’a. He seems to have sailed back to Tahiti at least once before his final departure.

This traveler of a great Tahitian family, who appeared like a god, enriched the New Year festivals with games and drama, ultimately influencing the Hawaiians into believing he was a god.

Hunter S. Thompson

The late Gonzo writer Hunter S. Thompson wrote that he believed himself to be the resurrected Lono while on assignment in Hawaii for Running magazine with artist and friend Ralph Steadman.

In a letter included in the book The Great Shark Hunt, Thompson describes his arrival to Kailua Bay in 1981:

The word traveled swiftly, up and down the coast, and by nightfall the downtown streets were crowded with people who had come from as far away as South Point and the Waipio Valley to see for themselves if the rumor was really true – that Lono had, in fact, returned in the form of a huge drunken maniac who dragged fish out of the sea with his bare hands and then beat them to death on the dock with a short-handled Samoan war club.

Thompson’s writings on the experience have been compiled into a book, The Curse of Lono, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. As Lono, Thompson is shown as wearing the head of marlin as a mask, with his eyes doubling as the eyes of the fish.

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