Aumakua is a Hawaii thing. Specifically, a Lanai and Molokai, and maybe someday, a Maui thing. I wrote Aumakua, a 45,000 word upper middle grade book, because I just had to.
I finished writing it yesterday, and I’ve even blown my own speed record by finishing it in nine weeks (hitherto, my record was four months for Stolen in Paradise, the upcoming Marcella Scott book.) I was inspired by the Hunger Games, and rather than doing research on YA books, symbolism, or any other rational nonsense, I just plunged into my “dystopian survival novel with a psychological twist.”
The psychological twist is, of course, the aumakua, a uniquely Hawaiian construct of culture, spirituality and psychology.
Here’s a handy definition from Wikipedia:
In Hawaiian mythology, an ʻaumakua ( /aʊˈmɑːkuːə/; often spelled aumakua) is a family god, often a deified ancestor. The Hawaiian plural of ʻaumakua is nā ʻaumākua ([naːˈʔɐumaːˈkuwə]), although in English the plural is usually ʻaumakuas. Nāʻaumākua frequently manifested as animals such as sharks or owls. Nā ʻaumākua were worshipped at localities (often rocks) where they were believed to “dwell”. The appearance of an animal one regarded as an ʻaumakua was often believed to be an omen (of good or ill). There are also many stories of nā ʻaumākua (in animal form) intervening to save their descendants from harm. It was extremely bad luck to harm a manifested ʻaumakua.
Nā ʻaumākua were thus animals, places or rocks, and people. Ancient Hawaiians would have seen no contradiction in a powerful spirit being able to appear as all three, switching from form to form as convenient—as is indeed seen in many stories of gods and demigods.
A symbiotic relationship exists between person and ʻaumakua, the personal guardians of each individual and their family and the ancient source gods from whom Hawaiians were descended.
ʻAumakua can manifest in nature. The form varies family to family. Whatever its form, the ʻaumakua is one specific shark, owl, etc. However, all members of the species are treated with respect of family members.
If family ʻaumakua, these manifestations were not harmed or eaten; in turn, ʻaumakua warned and reprimanded in dreams, visions, and calls.
“ʻAumākua are intimate members of the human family, spiritual relationships with them are especially close and their presence is sought for feast and festivity, as well as in time of crisis. They act as healers and advisors, counteracting troubles and punishing faults.” – J. Gutmanis
Being a writer is about pushing yourself, and growing—and sometimes, it’s about taking detours and chances. My whole writing career has been like that. (Those of you just discovering the Lei books—don’t worry, she’s going strong and I have many more books planned for her.)
But Aumakua was uniquely fun for me to write because it was all about things I know and didn’t need to research—alcoholic families. Home schooling. Disabilities. Subsistence living in remote locations. Courage, overcoming, beheading eels, building boats and, at the heart of it, a golden-eyed mo`o (Hawaiian water dragon) sent by a mother who died too soon and dispatched him to watch over her children. And it wouldn’t be a Toby Neal book without a romance—so there’s a sweet one of those too.
Aumakua was read in one gobble today by middle-school social studies teacher who has lived on Molokai and Maui and worked with our local kids for many years, and she says it hardly needs revising and thinks I might even get a movie deal out of this one. Ha! Cool!
I don’t think I’m going to get postbook depression this time. I’m too excited, because KIDS ARE READING MY BOOK (my niece and nephew, and some chosen specimens from this teacher’s contacts) and I didn’t quite realize how happy that would make me.
Here is an excellent article on Hawaiian mo`o dragons by Shannon Wianecki in the latest edition of Maui No Ka Oi Magazine. She's also graciously agreed to read Aumakua for me, and I'm dying to know what she thinks!
Keep an eye out for Aumakua of all sorts. They are all around us, family and personal spirits embodied in animals, plants, and even dragons— giving form and body to guardian angels.