Ceremonial rituals in Hawaii: Blowing the conch

Man blowing the conch shell--wikimedia commons

Man blowing the conch shell–wikimedia commons

It was a beautiful evening in Waikiki, with people gathered around waiting for the program and dinner to begin.  At the close of the day, and prior to the special occasion, visitors are welcomed with the blowing of the conch.  It is a ritual not uncommon, and with special meaning in various Asian and island cultures of the Pacific.  In Hawaii, the blowing of the conch shell has a ceremonial meaning associated with special events.  But are these types of ceremonial rituals important in a modern world?

Researchers have found mounds in the Middle East that reflect the ceremonial rituals associated with dying that occurred more than 15,000 years ago when man settled down in communities.  Rituals and ceremonies, and the artifacts used in their creation, are a vital part of human history.

In Hawaii blowing the conch takes place on important occasions, such as weddings or to announce to the community a special event, a luau or the gathering of people for announcements relevant for everyone.  In India and other places in Asia the blowing of the conch takes place as part of a religious ceremony, used as a trumpet to rid the environment of negative energy and welcome the good, the kind of vibrations that are said that can cure diseases.  It is an important ritual with both scientific and religious significance.

In Hinduism the conch shell is blown to announce religious ceremonies to honor the gods.  It is considered a major element of prayer.

But the most predominant reason for blowing the conch can actually be heard if one listens inside the shell itself.  For as it is said to rid the environment of negative energy and diseases, one can hear the ocean sounds, the sounds of nature when one listens through the shell.  Believers consider this cosmic energy is part of the natural vibration of the earth, and that blowing it can help release the negative effects that man infuses with his corruption of the environment.

The Pu conch shell is one used at Hawaiian ceremonies.  Blowing on it announces the beginning of something.  It is a call to the divine, with a protocol that represents specific meanings.  For the most part these have been secret, but the highlight of blowing the Pu conch shell is to highlight the comings and goings of members of the community and the rituals involved in those actions.  For example, it can mean the hello and goodbye at sunrise and sunset.

But are these rituals necessary?  Hawaiians believe these symbols and rituals help maintain their culture and their place in it.  Social scientists tell us rituals also help to build and maintain community.

A valued spiritual leader and educator, Reverend Alalani says this:

“If you blow pure and clear then it invokes goodness and is therefore respectful to the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures.” She tells us we must always be respectful.”

The conch is often used at the outset of a luau that many visitors to the islands attend.  But few understand the meaning of blowing the conch.  So the next time you hear the conch shell blow, you will know it is a special time that brings you with it in that same sense of community and with aloha.


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