Ancient Hawaiian Hakoko (Wrestling)

Hakoko was an ancient Hawaiian form of upright wrestling in which the goal was to score a fall on the opponent. Because the sport fell out of practice in the 19th century, very little is known about it, with firsthand accounts of its practice not going into great detail. Such records reveal that it was a basic grappling sport, particularly favored among ancient Hawaiian royalty, and was quite popular as a spectator sport.

It is likely that hakoko matches typically featured gambling, as this was the case for most other traditional Hawaiian sports – for example, mokomoko (boxing) and pahee (javelin-throwing). However, accounts of this wrestling sport don’t specifically mention wagering as part of the scene. This may be an oversight on the part of these witnesses’ writings, or, though fairly unlikely, it is possible that betting was actually not an aspect of this Hawaiian form of wrestling.


History

As Hawaii had no written language prior to European contact in the 18th century, there is no recorded history of hakoko before this period. As such, it is unknown at what point in time that this wrestling sport began to develop. As the settlement of the Hawaiian Islands likely began around the 4th century AD, hakoko could theoretically date to a similar period, though this is speculation. Hakoko dates back to the 18th century at the latest, as Captain James Cook (1728–1779) and his crew witnessed the sport after their discovery of Hawaii in 1779. It would not be unreasonable to assume its practice stretches back a few centuries prior, following a similar timeline of ancient surfing and he’e holua (lava sledding), though, again, this is speculative.

Hakoko fell completely out of practice sometime in the 19th century, overlooked in the late-19th- and early-20th-century revitalization of some of the traditional Hawaiian sports (such as surfing, most notably). Traditional Hawaiian culture underwent somewhat of an undoing in the 19th century, due primarily to the natives’ affinity for Western culture. As Western sports and games rose in popularity, attention was drawn away from traditional sports such as hakoko. Further, Western missionaries of the period heavily discouraged many traditional Hawaiian practices that they considered pagan, dangerous, or generally unproductive. The combination of gambling, danger, and polytheistic worship present among most Hawaiian sports of the time resulted in their targeted suppression. This led to the decline, and in some cases the extinction, of the majority of traditional Hawaiian sports, with only a select few undergoing a revitalization later on.

It should be noted that several of these traditional Hawaiian sports have been rekindled (and likely reinvented) after a period of complete extinction. Though these sports may be practiced under the same names, they may not accurately reflect the original sports that they are based off of. Such sports include pahee (javelin-throwing), ulu maika (a bowling-like game), and hakoko.


How to Play

Very little of the hakoko match itself was recorded before the sport’s extinction in the 19th century. Davida Malo, in his 1903 Hawaiian Antiquities, reports (retrospectively – the sport was already out of practice by the time of writing) that the crowd would form a circle in the middle of which the athletes would meet. When ready, they would grab each other and try to throw the other to ground, primarily using trips and sweeps. No form of ground wrestling is mentioned; when one man lost his footing and hit the ground, the match was over. Aligning with accounts of other ancient Hawaiian sports, it appears that the winner (and whoever placed bets in his favor) boasted pompously after the match was called to and end.

Bibliography

Malo, D. (1903). Hawaiian antiquities (Moolelo Hawaii). Palala Press.

Handy, E. S. (1965). Ancient Hawaiian civilization: a series of lectures delivered at the Kamehameha schools. Tuttle Publishing.