Ancient Hawaiians enjoyed sports and games throughout the year, men and women and all ages playing at any time except specific kapu days. The highlight of the sporting year was Makahiki, the four-month harvest festival that took place from mid-October to mid-February. Makahiki honored Lono, the god of rains and fertility, and sports competitions complemented the season's general mood of celebration and the kapu on warring activities and field and fishing labors.
Most Hawaiian sports emphasized individual competition over team athletics. An important function of ancient games was to train warriors. Games that built strength, stamina, agility and facility with weapons such as spears and darts developed skills that were basic to the battlefield where hand-to-hand combat prevailed. Hawaiian games in general emphasized skill over luck. Ali`i as well as maka`ainana (commoners) competed. The most skilled athletes competed against the champions of neighboring districts or the top athletes of other islands. Some games and their terminology varied from island to island, but tournament sports were played by common rules. Chiefs set aside large fields where they hosted competitions, the borders marked with colorful banners. Large tournaments could attract more than 8,000 spectators.
Wagers and gambling were often important components of Hawaiian competition. Ali`i bet on the athletes they sponsored, risking great wealth or even personal freedom or life on the outcome.
While many sports honed skills used in everyday life, hunting and fishing – with a very few exceptions – retained their purpose of providing food and were not pursued for sport. Rats were shot with bow and arrow and sharks were speared, hooked or snared. These two activities were the closest ancient Hawaiians came to hunting purely for sport.
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