Firewalking From the Inside




Ordained and Initiate Firewalker

A report on four firewalking performances in Honolulu, and a critical study of them from the point of view of the initiate firewalker instead of that of the onlooker.

Kahuna Preparations and Chants


Tu-nui Arii-peu supervised the preparation of the fire walking pit, the gathering of the stones, the cutting of the wood, and the securing of the coconut leaves. Each step was preceded with a prayer asking Tu and Hina for permission to take the materials. 

In seeking the proper ti-leaf wand, the Chief went alone into a grove, muttering an invocation as he did so. He stopped in front of the first two headed stalk that he saw, and while praying, deliberately broke off the stalk; then he stood perfectly still with the stalk over his right shoulder, and said another prayer. After this, he returned to his home, wrapped the ti-leaf stalk in cloth (originally this was done in bark cloth, made from hau fibers), and stood it up in his room. Originally, the ti-leaf stalk was taken to the marae (temple) of the firewalkers, and left on the altar overnight.

The men chosen as assistants saw to it that the selected materials were conveyed to the proper place. The pit was dug and the wood and stones placed in the prescribed way. This work was completed by the next afternoon, and plans were made to fire the firewalking pit in the morning following.

The Chief then settled down (to remain the night if necessary) beside the waiting firewalking pit and assumed a prayerful attitude. He had not been there long until he announced that he had seen what he had waited to see, the spirit forms of the deities “dancing upon the stones.” This was a good sign, for surely “his deities would be with him on the morrow” and crown his efforts with success.

Here are the invocations used during the selection and handling of the special materials used in the ritual. The cult of secrecy is still such that I am not allowed to give the prayers or chants which have been taught me by my mentor. But, as the material already long in print is almost a duplication in every respect, and as it covers exactly the same ground, I am giving that.



(Upon approaching Ti-plant)

1. Te hii tapua’e tahi !
2. Te hii tapua’e rua !
3. Te liii tapua’e teru !
4. Te hii tapua’e ha !
5. Te hii tapua’e rima !
6. Te hii tapua’e ono !
7. Te hii tapua’e hitu !
8. Te hii tapua’e varu !
9. Te hii tapua’e iva !
10. Te hii tapua’e tini !
11. Te Vahine-nui-tahu-ra’i e !
12. Poia !



1. Holder of the first footstep !
2. Holder of the second footstep !
3. Holder of the third footstep
4. Holder of the fourth footstep !
5. Holder of the fifth footstep !
6. Holder of the sixth footstep !
7. Holder of the seventh footstep
8. Holder of the eighth footstep
9. Holder of the ninth footstep !
l0. Holder of the tenth footstep !
11. Oh-great-woman-who-set-fire-to-the-skies !
12. All is covered !




(Before breaking Ti-plant)

1. E to Nu’u-atua! a ra, a tia i nia !
2. Te haere nei taua i te Umu-Ti ananahi !
3. E te Nu’u-atua e ! E haere oe i teie nei po !
4. E ananahi tatou atea ia !



1. O hosts of gods ! Awake, arise !
2. You and I are going to the ti-oven tomorrow !
3. O hosts of gods ! Go tonight !
4. And tomorrow you and I shall go.




(While placing Ti-plant in Marae )

(Before leaving the Ti-plant area)

1. Ae! e ara, e te Nu’u atua e !
2. To avae e haere i te Umu-Ti.
3. Te Pape e te miti, e haere atea.
4. Te to’e, ma to to’e tea,
5. E haere i te Umu ;
6. Te ura o te auahi, e haere ana’e ;
7. Na oe e haere, e haere oe
8. I teia nei po e ananahi o oe ia e o vau ;
9. E haere taua i te Umu-Ti.



1. Arise ! Awake, O hosts of gods !
2. Let your feet take you to the ti-oven.
3. Fresh water and salt water come also.
4. Let the cool darkness and the cool light
5. Go to the oven;
6. Let the redness and the shades of the fire all go;
7. You will go, you will go
8. Tonight, and tomorrow it will be you and I;
9. We shall go to the Umu-Ti.


The next day, after supervising the lighting o the fire in the pit, the Chief kept to a temporary shelter on the grounds, meditating until time for the firewalking to begin.

When the time came, he walked several paces from the fire-pit toward the sea, and facing the sea (which was some distance away), he uttered the third Invocation. (As just given.)

After this he turned around and walked slowly and deliberately toward the pit, reciting the first Invocation. 
Upon reaching the pit, he repeated the following Invocation, at the end stepping down to stand on the first (and cooler marginal) stone in the pit while slapping or brushing the stones quickly with theti-leaf wand which he had all this time carried over his shoulder. (He had more ti-leaves draped about him. See photographs.)


(Before Firewalking. *)

1. E na taata e tahutahu i te umu e !
2. A tapohe na
3. E to’e uri ! E to’e tea !
4. Te Pape ! Te Miti
5. Te a’ama o te umu !
6. Te ruirui o te umu !
7. A hi’i atu i te tapuae avae o te feia e haere nei,
8. A tahiri na i te ahu o te ra’i !
9. E te feia to’eto’e na,
10. E taoto anae tatou i roto i teie nei umu.
11. A mau na, e te Vahine-nui-tahu-ra’i, i te tahiri.
12. E haere na taua i te repu o te umu !


*From Miss Teuira Henry’s article in J.P.S., val. 12, p. 105, checked

by J. L. Young’s article in J. P. S., vol 34, p. 214-222.


At the end of the Invocation, and again shouldering his ti-leaf wand, the Chief walked slowly across the hot stones to the far end of the pit and stepped off to the ground. He continued to walk straight ahead for twenty paces, all the while not looking back. He paused and stood facing East while he recited the third Invocation again. Meanwhile the people had been following him across. 

Returning to the pit he repeated the first part of the performance in exactly the same way, again approached the fire, again brushed the stones, and again made the crossing. This he did four times over, followed by the people. After the fourth time he left the field.

It was announced that all were forbidden to try the firewalk after the Chief had retired. One young man tried the firewalk later, despite the warning, and was severely burned.

All four of the performances were given with the same preparations and the same steps, care being taken to perform the ritual in that exact way. During every performance a number of people walked the firewalking pit safely while a few were burned to some degree. No explanation was offered for the fact that these few were burned except that they probably had some lack of faith or some mental condition that prevented the protection from being given.

“O ka pule ka mea nui,” say the Hawaiians. “Prayer is the most essential thing.” The meaning is that prayer conditions a person to receive the blessings he seeks, and faith and understanding are the essential qualifications.

Thus, from the native’s point of view, the materials used, and the invocations uttered, impress his mind that every precaution has been taken care of and everything is in his favor.

He knows that his deities will come to his aid because he has taken care of them, for the life of thekahuna is the aumakua, and the life of the aumakua is the kahuna. Each needs the other to survive.

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