The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: The Ancient Traditions of Makahiki Was the Olympic Games for Hawaiians

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continually publishing magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s look back at May 1936.


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Paradise reflects on the ancient traditions of Makahiki, the new year celebration of Hawaiians. During the reign of Kamehameha I, Makahiki was practically like the Olympic Games for Islanders, and boxing was the prime-time show. “Around the boxing ring as many as ten thousand persons might gather,” says Paradise. “The boxers’ fists were bare, and they struck with a full swing of the right arm, aiming at the head only. … The effect of the blows was frequently fatal.”


SEE ALSO: The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: The Success of Maui-Born Sumo Wrestler Jesse Kuhaulua in 1970


We would be remiss if we didn’t mention surfing—the sport that is supposed to debut at the Tokyo Olympics this summer. Surfing was a way of life for Native Hawaiians and a major part of the festival. Paradise writes: “It was usual for a whole village to assemble on the beach at some time during the day to enjoy surfriding. Names such as ‘non-breaking’ and ‘terrible, curling, death-dealing,’ were applied to various types of waves. … The Hawaiian surfers often raced, the first man to pass a buoy near the beach being the winner.”


That’s some serious board game.


SEE ALSO: Carissa Moore Won the Surf World Title and Nabbed an Olympic Games Slot at the Lululemon Maui Pro


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Learn more about the evolution of covers in HONOLULU Magazine and Paradise of the Pacific: 125 Years of Covers, available available at


Find more photos from Honolulu’s past every Thursday on Instagram @honolulumag.