Aumakua are the guardian ancestral spirits of Hawaii. The word derives from Au, meaning “far traveling,” and Makua, meaning “ancestors.” In Hawaiian cosmology, Akua are presiding spirits while Aumakua are specific ancestral spirits. A spirit may be an Akua, an Aumakua, or both. Thus Pelé is an Akua (spirit) but also an Aumakua for those who are her descendents.

• There is an actual family lineage involved with Aumakua.

• An Akua is a spirit for everybody, but an Aumakua is only an ancestral spirit for those who are their descendents.

Veneration passes from generation to generation. Aumakua and their descendents are bound with sacred ties. Aumakua are sometimes described as guardian angels. They guide and protect living family members and have, on occasion, been known to resurrect the dead. Aumakua will engage in ritual possession, speaking through a medium’s lips.

Traditional Hawaiian religion was abolished in 1819 but active veneration of Aumakua survived. Devotion to Aumakua was private, secret, and esoteric. Rituals and knowledge were restricted to family members and so were difficult to suppress.

Aumakua sometimes serve as Night Marchers, psychopomps who meet newly dead souls, offering protection and escort service to the beyond. Many claim to have heard the flutes and chanting voices that signal their presence. It is dangerous to encounter Aumakua in their guise as escorts of the dead. If you can’t avoid them, the traditional remedy is to remove all clothing, fling yourself on the ground, lie faceup with your eyes closed, and be very still. Whatever you do, don’t make eye contact.




Aumakua are shape-shifters who appear as animals, insects, wind, mist, and rainbows, as well as humans.


Aumakua are traditionally represented by stone or wood Tiki carvings.


  • Akua
  • Ancestors
  • Kamohoali’i
  • Kanekua’ana
  • Kihawahine
  • Kua
  • Kukauakahi
  • Pelé
  • Psychopomp


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.

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