The household gecko brings good luck to a home and killing a gecko is to invoke bad luck. Hawaiians have much respect for the gecko not only because it eats its weight in insects, it bears a great resemblance to the powerful aumakua, the mo’o.
However, the Hawaiian guardian spirit, mo’o, refers to a much larger gleaming black dragon-like reptile found in ponds, especially fishponds, and sometimes in caves. Mentioned in Hawaii’s creation legends, this ancient animal ranks second to the shark or mano in importance as an aumakua.
It is mysterious and is deemed a capricious animal and while some mo’o are considered benevolent aumakua, there are many legends that paint them as fearsome and monstrous. Thus the mo’o were both revered and feared by the ancient Hawaiians. They are almost invariably depicted as female and benevolent mo’o goddesses bring bountiful offerings of fish to the fishponds and great prosperity to the village. In human form as seductress, the mo’o would eat or drown her lover, rather than share him with another woman.
They are shapeshifters and can appear as a large dragon measuring anywhere between 12-30 feet or the tiny gecko. The aumakua imparts its wisdom to its descendants through dreams.
Famous Mo’o Goddesses
There are some disputes as to who was the original Mo’o goddess whose lineage continued to both mo’o and humans. Some believe that it was Mo’oinanea while others think it to be Haumea. Whoever was the Mo’o matriarch, the importance is that she was the union of Wakea (or Father Sky) and Papa (or Earth Mother) and the Mo’o offspring represented the union of the energy and power or mana of the sky and the earth.
In another legend, Mo’oinanea also known as the Self Reliant Dragon came to Hawaii along with the migration of the Hawaiian Gods from their cloud island dwellings in the sky, which were called Nuu-mea-lani and Kuai-he-lani
Mo’oinanea was also in some traditions acknowledged to be the mother of Namakaokaha'i, who ruled the oceans; of Pele, Goddess of Fire and the Volcano; of the Hi'iaka sisters , rulers of the lava flows and the medicinal herbs that grew in new fertile lava, and Kapo'ulakina'u, Goddess of the prayers to bring about death and also to bring the dead back to life. Altogether, pretty powerful goddesses were descended from the Mo’o Matriarch.
Kihawahine is one of the more famous recent Mo’o goddesses. She was a 16th century princess who was deified as the Mo’o goddess of Maui when she died. It was believed she had supernatural or psychic powers and King Kalakaua or Hawaii’s Merrie Monarch and Queen Lili’uokalani were both descendants of the Mo’o Goddess.
Kihawahine wielded spiritual power and also political power. The great King Kamehameha worshipped her and had among his wives, three women who counted the Mo’o goddess as their ancestor. He was also believed to have carried an image representing the Mo’o goddess on his way to a pivotal battle. His victory allowed him to consolidate all the islands under his rule, making him the first king of a united Hawaii.
As a goddess, Kihawahine lived in a large ancient fishpond which surrounded Moku’ula, a little rock island on Maui. By making her home there, she brought luck to Moku’ula which became the center of political power for the island of Maui. The ancient fishpond eventually dried up and was covered to later become part of a baseball field. However, the site is now being restored as a sacred site and the ancient freshwater springs which fed her home will be uncovered and will refill the pond again.
Importance of the Gecko
To some who study Hawaiian mythology the gecko is a symbolism of the genealogy which connects the ancestor to the descendant.
The gecko’s prominent and flexible backbone is made of equal segments from head to tail. Therefore, its eyes represent future generations, the front feet are the children, the next segment stands for makua or the parents, the kupuna refer to grandparents and the elders. Next come the ka,’iwi or the bones of the ancestors and finally at the tail’s end the aumauka, or the family’s guardian spirit. Further, the gecko is seen as the intermediary between the human and animals, and between the human and the gods. It can also symbolize keeping an eye on the past and the other on the future. Adopted as an icon in Maui, the green gecko can be seen in t-shirts and other paraphernalia.
Symbolism of Mo’o
If Mo’o appears in your life, it is a message to look at your fears so you can dissolve them. Like Mo’o in the form of the monster, fears destroy your power and make you doubt your abilities and your dreams. However, when you face your fears, the Mo’o goddess will be benevolent and will, like she did with Kamehameha, make you a king, in this case, of yourself.