|Since the time of the ancients, Hawaii has always been a spiritual place. Virtually every aspect of life in ancient Hawaii was intimately related to religion. The gods and goddesses of the land were honored deeply and actively worshipped by its people, as ancestors and as guardian spirits, and the mana, power, of the chiefs was thought to derive directly from the divine.The vast number of deities led Hawaiians to speak of ka lehu o ke akua, the 400,000 gods and goddesses. Each one had his or her adherents. There were prayers, protocols and proprieties which had to be observed, to some degree, by even the most powerful of the chiefs. There were many kapu (taboos), often punishable by death that were strictly enforced by the priesthood.
By the time Kamehameha III came into his majority and took over the ruler ship of Hawaii, however, many members of the chiefly classes were feeling restricted by the old kapu (taboos) and wanted to change things. They persuaded the young king to break the old kapu, to overturn the power of the priesthood and overthrow the temples.
For most of the Hawaiian people, this was a distressing turn of events. When the gods were lost to them, the people were lost as well, not knowing their place anymore in a world gone strange. Into this confusion came the first American missionaries — members of the Congregational churches of New England. They were welcomed when they arrived in 1820 by many of the Hawaiians as a way to reconnect to their accustomed spiritual way of life.
The first missionaries were soon followed by missionaries and priests from other sects, including Roman Catholic priests from France in 1827, all of whom built schools and churches. Workers who were brought in to work in the sugar and pineapple plantations brought their own customs and religions as well. And as people continue to migrate to the islands, they bring their ways of worship with them.
Even today, the diversity and variety of religions continue to grow. New denominations of more traditional religions start churches and attract a following. New Age religions and services are available as well. There are many paths to Spirituality in these islands, and, in the Hawaiian tradition, most folks are tolerant of each other’s choices.