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Ka Po‘e Mo‘o Akua: Hawaiian Reptilian Water Deities

Tradition holds that when you come across a body of fresh water in a secluded area and everything is eerily still, the plants are yellowed, and the water covered with a greenish-yellow froth, you have stumbled across the home of a mo‘o. Leave quickly lest the mo‘o make itself known to you!

Revered and reviled, reptiles have slithered, glided, crawled, and climbed their way through the human imagination and into prominent places in many cultures and belief systems around the world. Ka Po‘e Mo‘o Akua: Hawaiian Reptilian Water Deities explores the fearsome and fascinating creatures known as mo‘o that embody the life-giving and death-dealing properties of water. Mo‘o are not ocean-dwellers; instead, they live primarily in or near bodies of fresh water. They vary greatly in size, appearing as tall as a mountain or as tiny as a house gecko, and many possess alternate forms. Mo‘o are predominantly female, and the female mo‘o that masquerade as humans are often described as stunningly beautiful. During an earlier period in Hawaiian history, mo‘o akua held distinctive roles and filled a variety of functions in overlapping religious, familial, societal, economic, and political sectors.

In addition to being a comprehensive treatise on mo‘o akua, this work includes a detailed catalog of 288 individual mo‘o with source citations. Marie Alohalani Brown makes major contributions to the politics and poetics of reconstructing ‘ike kupuna (ancestral knowledge), Hawaiian aesthetics, the nature of tradition, the study and appreciation of mo‘olelo and ka‘ao (hi/stories), genre analysis and metadiscursive practices, and methodologies for conducting research in Hawaiian-language newspapers. An extensive introduction also offers readers context for understanding how these uniquely Hawaiian deities relate to other reptilian entities in Polynesia and around the world.

by Marie Alohalani Brown

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