Puka Mai He Ko‘a: The Significance of Corals in Hawaiian Culture

  • Toni Makani GreggEmail author
  • Lucas Mead
  • John H. R. Burns
  • Misaki Takabayashi
Part of the Ethnobiology book series (EBL)


As the indigenous people of an island chain in the middle of the moananuiākea (the expansive ocean) surrounded by coral reefs, Native Hawaiians have profound ancestral and spiritual connections to the coral. These connections between Hawaiians and coral manifests themselves in a multitude of diverse and pragmatic ways. Yet, the primary Hawaiian wisdom information is accessed and shared through chants, dance, and other daily activities as well as such immemorial forms as dreams and thoughts. Elements of the natural world are described as having intimate kin relations to the Hawaiian people as ancestral akua, or deities. The coral is no exception. Hawaiian people consider coral to be an akua, that provides birth and death to both the people and the islands, possessing much mana, the essence of spirituality. Corals are considered the beginning of life, and are thus the most ancient ancestors of all living things in Hawai‘i. In this paper, we use oral tradition, material culture, and indigenous ecological knowledge to present some of the most salient cultural symbolisms and pragmatic uses given to corals in Hawai’i. Our main objective is to use local perspectives and narratives to emphasize the biocultural, spiritual ecological, and, social relevance of coral to the Native Hawaiian people.


Coral Reef Reef Flat Soft Coral Hawaiian Island Reef Zonation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank our Hawaiian akua, kūpuna, kanaka, and generations that will continue to malama and aloha Hawai‘i.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Toni Makani Gregg
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lucas Mead
    • 2
  • John H. R. Burns
    • 3
  • Misaki Takabayashi
    • 4
  1. 1.Na Maka O PapahānaumokuākeaKawaihaeUSA
  2. 2.Planning DepartmentCounty of Hawai‘iHiloUSA
  3. 3.Biology DepartmentUniversity of Hawai‘i at MānoaHonoluluUSA
  4. 4.Marine Science DepartmentUniversity of Hawai‘i at HiloHiloUSA

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