Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



Genealogies are of great importance in Hawaiian social life since no one can claim admittance to the Papa ali‘i or ranking body of high chiefs with all its privileges and prerogatives who cannot trace his ancestry back to Ulu or Nanaulu, sons of Ki‘i and Hinakoula. Chiefs of Maui and Hawaii generally trace from the Ulu genealogy; those of Kauai and Oahu from the Nanaulu. Both lines are respected alike. Both stem from Wakea and Papa and follow approximately the same succession down to the name of Ki‘i as twelfth in line from Wakea. It is to be observed that on the Ulu line three Nana names follow those of Ulu and his wife Ulu-kou, and others occur down the line.

This association of names is also found in the Moriori genealogy, where the names Tiki, Uru, Ngangana follow those of the gods Tu, Rongo, Tane, Tangaroa, Rongo-mai, Kahukura as given in Tregear's Maori Dictionary (page 669) quoted by Stokes. In Maori, Uru-te-ngangana (Ulu-and-Nanana) heads the list of the family of gods from Rangi and Papa taught in the Whare-wananga or House-of-learning, and presides over the Whare-kura temple situated at the place where man was first taught the doctrines of Tane and where occurred the creation (naming) of land and sea plants and animals. In Tahitian chants Uru is called the canoe bailer of Tu and Ta‘aroa. Nana is one of the artisans who shapes the man child Tane of Ta‘aroa. Uru-o-te-oa-ti‘a is the son of Ti‘i, the first man, and Hina-te-‘u‘ti-mahai-tuamea, the two-faced first woman. Three others are born of the same pair and from these descend chiefs and commoners (manahune) of Tahiti. 

From these comparisons it may be inferred that the names of Wakea and Papa as ancestors of the Hawaiian people derive from old tribal tradition. In the South Seas, Wakea or his equivalent is god of light and of the heavens who "opens the door of the sun"; Papa is a goddess of earth and the underworld and mother of gods. The name of Wakea appears in the Hawaiian word for midday, "awakea." "Papa" in Hawaii is "a word applied to any flat surface," especially to those foundation layers underseas from which new lands are said to rise--perhaps related in a figure to the successive generations of mankind born out of the vast waters of the spirit world and identified through their family leaders with the lands which they inhabit. Papa-hanau-moku (Papa from whom lands are born) is her epithet. Stories and genealogies connect the Wakea-Papa line with the myth already noticed of a marriage between a high chief from a distant land and a native-born chiefess. A struggle is implied between an older line and a new order which imposes the separation of chiefs from commoners and of both from a degraded slave class, and establishes religious tapus, especially as related to women, by which so powerful a weapon is placed in the hands of the new theocracy, chiefs working in harmony with the priesthood, as to control conduct and effectually to subordinate the people to their ruling chiefs.

Wakea, from whom all Hawaiian genealogies stem as the ancestor of the Hawaiian people, "both chiefs and commoners," is regarded as a man in Hawaiian tradition, not as a god as in southern groups. Stokes thinks him a duplicate of Ki‘i, twelfth in descent from Wakea, husband of Hina-Koula, and father of Ulu and Nana-ulu. The southern equivalent of Ki‘i is Ti‘i or Tiki, the first man, generally coupled with the story of the birth of the first woman out of a pile of sand impregnated by Tiki, a tradition which Stokes sees reflected in the Hawaiian euphemistic version of Wakea's infidelity to his wife Papa and marriage with the young daughter Ho‘ohoku-ka-lani (The heavenly one who made the stars). The name indeed suggests that from this marriage descended the chiefs, since stars are ascribed to chiefs in Hawaiian lore.

Wakea is called the son of Kahiko-lua-mea (Very ancient and sacred) and his wife Kupulanakehau. To them are born Lihau-ula (Liha-ula, Lehu-ula) from whom are descended the priests (kahuna) and Wakea from whom come the chiefs (ali‘i). From a third son, Maku‘u, some say by another wife, come the commoners (maka-aina). In the fourteenth era of the Kumulipo chant occur the names of Wakea, Lehu-ula (Lihau-ula) and Makulukulu-kaee-au-lani (Makuu) in connection with the name Paupani-a(wa) kea, a name applied either to Wakea alone or to the whole family group named above.

Paupani-akea is said to have been born to Kupulanakehau when she lived with Kahiko, the very ancient sacred one. The name may mean "End of the closing up of light," or "Opening up of light," possibly through the extending of the priestly line to include the chiefs. Malo, who does not name the third son, says that in the genealogy called Ololo, Kahiko (ancient) is the first kanaka (man). Kepelino makes Kahiko an immigrant from Kahiki or "a descendant of La‘ila‘i, who is the mother of the race on the Kumulipo genealogy. In the chant of Kamahualele about the birth of the islands, Kahiko is spoken of as

O Kahiko ke kumu aina
Nana i mahele ka‘awale na moku.

"Kahiko the root of the land
Who divided and separated the islands."

The parceling out of the land among families of chiefs seems to be pointed to in this reference. Kamakau says that Kahiko-lua-mea was descended from Kane-huli-honua (Kane made out of earth) and Ke-aka-huli-lani (The shadow made of the sky) through their child Ka-papa-is-laka; that he was a devout chief under whom the land was blessed. To his son Lihauula belonged the "priesthood of Milipomea" and to his son Wakea the temporal rule. During the early years of settlement, reasons Kamakau, there were few people and each family governed itself. The kahuna class was first separated from the rest of the family line and it was not until some hundred years later that chiefs came to be set up over the land. Human sacrifices he thinks were unknown. According to Kepelino the chiefs eventually found their power restricted by that of the priests and they sought means of uniting the two offices under one line. Just how this was achieved is not made clear. Two Wakea legends are given which may or may not have reference to a struggle to unite the priestly office with that of ruling chief and to establish a closed class of chiefs who might claim the right to the sacred office through descent from the gods. Wakea's fight for the controlling power is one of these legends; his infidelity to his wife Papa and marriage with their daughter Ho‘ohoku-ka-lani is the other, out of which grow the stories of the birth of Haloa and of Waia who succeed Wakea on the genealogies.


Malo version. Kahiko at his death bequeaths the land to his elder son Lihau-ula "leaving Wakea destitute." Lihau-ula gives battle to Wakea the blond (ehu) against the advice of his counselor, who would not have him fight during the summer lest his men melt away. Lihau-ula is slain and Wakea takes over the rule. He fights with Kane-ia-kumu-honua and is defeated and obliged to take to sea; but as they are swimming about his kahuna bids him form a symbolic heiau and its sacrifice with his hand (described much like our own hand game of the church and the steeple), gather his people together, and offer prayer to his god, which done he renews the battle, is victorious, and wins the government (aupuni). Those who place the fight in Hawaii say that he was driven to the extreme western islet of Kaula and thence oversea; others say that he fought in Kahiki-ku. 


(a) Papa is the wife of Wakea. She (or some say the wife of his kahuna) bears a daughter Ho‘ohoku-ka-lani who grows to be a beautiful girl. Wakea desires her but finds no way to gratify his desire without arousing Papa's jealousy. His kahuna Komoawa suggests that he arrange tapu nights when husband and wife shall separate, and tell Papa that this is done at the command of the god. Papa is unsuspicious and consents to the tapus. On the second of the tapu nights when he takes Ho‘ohoku, he unluckily oversleeps, although the kahuna chants the awakening song, and Papa discovers the trick. Wakea and Papa separate, one spitting in the other's face as sign of repudiation. 

(b) Kumulipo version (twelfth era, translation after Daniel Ho‘olapa).

Great Papa bearer of islands,
Papa lived with Wakea,
Haalolo the woman was born,
Was born jealousy, anger,
Papa was deceived by Wakea,
He ordered the days in the month,
The night to Kane for the last,
The night to Hilo for the first,
The house platform was tapu (to women), the place where they sat,
The house where Wakea lived, . . .

and there follow a number of food tapus which further restrict women except of the highest rank.


(a) Naua society version. Ho‘ohoku-o-ka-lani's first child by her father Wakea is born in the form not of a human being but of a root, and is thrown away (kiola) at the east corner of the house. Not long after a taro plant grows from the spot and afterwards, when a real child is born to them, Wakea names it from the stalk (ha) and the length (loa). 

(b) Lyman version. The child of Papa is born deformed without arms or legs and is buried at night at the end of the long house. In the morning appear the stalk and leaves of a taro plant which Wakea names Ha-loa (Long rootstalk) and Papa's next child is named after this plant.  

According to Kepelino it is with this second Haloa that the union between chief and priest takes place, Haloa having assumed the three natures of god, kahuna, and chief. His nature as god may perhaps be represented by the spirit of the unformed child which enters into him with the taking of the name of the plant which grows out of its body. It was an assertion of his power as a god that gave a chief the right to perform the sacred offices in the heiau which seems previously to have belonged to the kahuna alone.

Of Waia, child of Haloa according to the Nanaulu line and of Ho‘ohokukalani according to the Ulu, tradition has nothing good to say. He is called a corrupt and evil ruler.


In his time appeared a portent in the heavens in the shape of a head which spoke, commending Kahiko as a just ruler and reproving Waia because he had failed to keep up religious observances, to be courageous, to care for his people's welfare, but took thought for his own pleasure alone and for the acquiring of possessions. "What king on the earth below lives an honest life?" asks the head, and the people answer "Kahiko!" "What good has Kahiko done?" "Kahiko is well skilled in all the departments of government; he is priest (kahuna) and diviner (kilokilo); he looks after the people in his government; Kahiko is patient and forbearing." "Then it is Kahiko who is the righteous, the benevolent man," says the head, and again it asks, "What king on earth lives corruptly?" and the people answer with a shout "Waia!" "What sin has he committed?" "He utters no prayers, he employs no priests, he has no diviner, he knows not how to govern," answer the people.

To the cruel chief Hakau, who is said to have been so eager over shark fishing that he would chop a hand or a foot from one of his followers for bait, was given the sobriquet of Waia and the chant runs:

Harsh was Waia in cutting off hands
Of his companions at Mokuhinia,
He burnt the noses of the old men,
Cut off the hands of lovers,
Of women also who were weak,
The heels of those who served,
His sport was fishing,
He consented to the lusts of his favorites,
To the evil counsels of his friends.

A pestilence is said to have come in his day, called Ikipuahola, leaving only twenty-six persons alive. When the sickness called Oku‘u came in the time of Kamehameha, the medical kahuna Kama told his chief that this was the same disease that visited the land in the days of Waia. The Wakea and Ho‘ohoku legend is important on the one hand because of its connection with the establishment of the social order. It dates the regulation of the calendar with reference to tapu nights and the setting aside of certain foods as tapu to women. Kamakau even goes so far as to assert that until the time of Wakea plurality of wives was unknown. Certain it is that the keeping of tapu nights and food tapus would necessitate the building of separate houses and the cooking in separate ovens of food for men and women, as the tapu upon intercourse during the period of menstruation led to the women's occupying at such times a separate house called the pe‘a. The dedication of the tapu nights to the gods necessitated a strict calendar system based upon the phases of the moon, and as the priests alone kept these calculations, their influence was greatly increased at this time. 

The relation of the story to the introduction of social classes is left obscure. A legend ascribes to this period the introduction of the slave (kauwa) class through one of Papa's liaisons in revenge for Wakea's infidelity.


After Wakea deserts Papa for Ho‘ohokukalani, Papa lives with Wakea's kauwa Haakauilana and their son is Kekeu. From his wife Lumilani comes Noa. Noa lives with a second Papa and has Pueo-nui-weluwelu, who lives with Noni and has Maka-noni and another child. From this line spring the true kauwa and if any member of another class has a child by a kauwa, that child belongs to the kauwa class. 

Today, with the breaking down of class barriers, members of the slave class are indistinguishable from the ruling classes, but formerly the kauwa were carefully segregated on lands of their own, forbidden to mix with others, especially by intermarriage, and, when no criminal or captive was at hand for sacrifice to the gods, were drawn upon for such offerings. The term kauwa might, however, be used to show respect to a superior, as we say "your obedient servant," or to show affection, as of an older relative to a younger. 

It is likely that the Wakea-Papa marriage is meant to represent, either in these two themselves or in their parents, the highest marriage relationship of a marriage pair, that of brother and sister in a high-chief family, called moe pio (sleeping in an arch), whose offspring took rank above either parent, that of a god (akua). So in archaic Japan, brother-and-sister marriage was the common practice until broken up by Chinese influence. Ka-hanai-a-ke-akua, the boy brought up in Waolani on Oahu by the gods Kane and Kanaloa, is represented in Westervelt's romance of Ke-ao-melemele, perhaps patterned upon the Wakea-Papa episode, as married to his younger sister, whom he deserts for Pele's rival, Poliahu.

As in that romance and in the legends of Papa's prototype, Haumea, the scene of the Wakea-Papa adventures is laid on Oahu. Wakea is born at Waolani on Oahu and he finds Papa in Ewa district on Oahu, and there on Oahu the daughter Ho‘ohoku is born. Kamakau states that "the children of Wakea, up to the time of the disappearance of Haumea, lived between Halawa and Waikiki and for the most part in the uplands and valleys." The land called Lalo-waia (and hence the name of Wakea's son Waia) was a fertile land. Wakea (or perhaps his descendants) returned and lived there up to the time of Kamehameha. Some of his descendants emigrated to Kahiki and some peopled the other islands of the group. The story then resolves itself into that of a chief of god-like rank, attached to the Kane and Kanaloa family of gods in Waolani, who weds a daughter of a closely related Ewa family living in the land, and unites the priestly office with that of ruling chief. The chief later neglects his wife's family, who eventually disappear from the land, and unites his interests with some other ruling line. The pattern occurs too commonly in Hawaiian romance to give it special significance in this connection.

Two chants in which the island births of Papa are made the theme for an enumeration of the islands of the group are so similar as to be certainly drawn from a common source. Both date from the time of Kamehameha and are hence not very early. Of the composers, Pakui is called the kahuna of the heiau of Manawai on Molokai and Kaleikuahulu is described as a native of Kainalu on Molokai, son of the ruling chief Kumukoa and grandson of Keawe, whom Kamehameha appointed to teach to some of the chiefs his knowledge of genealogies. 


(a) Pakui version.

Wakea son of Kahiko-lua-mea,
Papa, called Papa-giving-birth-to-islands, was his wife,
Eastern Kahiki, western Kahiki were born,
The regions below were born,
The regions above were born,
Hawaii was born,
The firstborn child was the island Hawaii
Of Wakea together with Kane,
And Papa in the person of Walinu‘u as wife.
Papa became pregnant with the island,
Sick with the foetus she bore,
Great Maui was born, an island, . . .
Papa was in heavy travail with the island Kanaloa (Kahoolawe). . .
A child born to Papa.
Papa left and returned to Tahiti,
Went back to Tahiti at Kapakapakaua,
Wakea stayed, lived with Kaula as wife,
Lanai-kaula was born,
The firstborn of that wife.
Wakea sought a new wife and found Hina,
Hina lived as wife to Wakea,
Hina became pregnant with the island of Molokai,
The island of Molokai was a child of Hina.
The messenger of Kaula (Laukaula) told
Of Wakea's living with another woman;
Papa was raging with jealousy,
Papa returned from Tahiti
Bitter against her husband Wakea,
Lived with Lua, a new husband,
Oahu son of Lua was born,
Oahu of Lua, an island child,
A child of Lua's youth.
She lived again with Wakea,
Conceived by him,
Became pregnant with the island Kauai,
The island Kama-wae-lua-lani was born,
Ni‘ihau was an afterbirth,
Lehua a boundary,
Kaula the last
Of the low reef islands of Lono. . . . 

Another chanter called Ka-haku-i-ka-moana (The lord of the ocean) tells the story in a way to show that it is the ruling chiefs of each island upon whom his attention is directed.

(b) Ka-haku-i-ka-moana version.

Behold Great-broad-Hawaii,
Behold it emerge out of the underworld (po),
The island comes forth, the land,
The string of islands from Nu‘u-mea-lani,
The group of islands at the borders of Kahiki,
Maui is born, an island, a land,
For the children of Kama-lala-walu (Child of eight branches) to dwell in.
For Kuluwaiea, the husband of Haumea,
For Hina-nui-a-lana as wife
Was found Molokai, a god, a priest,
A yellow flower from Nu‘umea.
The chief, the heavenly one, stands forth,
Anointed (?) with the living water of Kahiki,
Lanai was found, an adopted child
For Keaukanai when he slept
With Walinu‘u of Holani (Oahu).
A sacred seed of Uluhina,
Kahoolawe was born, a foundling,
Uluhina was summoned,
Cut the navel cord of the little one,
The afterbirth of the child was thrown
Into the bosom of the wave;
In the froth of the billows
Was found a loincloth for the child,
The island Molokini
Was an afterbirth, an afterbirth was the island.
Ahukini son of La‘a stands forth,
A chief from a foreign land,
From the gill of the fish,
From the whelming wave of Halehale-ka-lani,
Oahu was found, the wohi chief,
A wohi chiefship for Ahukini son of La‘a.
From La‘a-kapu as husband, p. 304
La‘a-mea-la‘a-kona as wife, . . .
At the tapu temple of Nonea,
In the lightning on the sacred night of Makali‘i,
Kauai was born, a chief, an offspring of chiefs,
Of the families of chiefs of Hawaii,
Head of the islands,
Spread out by the heavenly one.. . .
Wanalia was the husband, Hanala‘a the wife,
Ni‘ihau was born, a land, an island,
A land like the navel string at the navel of the land.
There were three children
Born on the same day,
Ni‘ihau, Kaula, Nihoa, (then)
The mother became barren,
No more lands appeared. 

The conception of Papa-hanau-moku both as a human being--wife of Wakea and progenitress of the long line of descendants who form the common stock which peopled the group--and as a foundation land out of which islands were formed agrees with the Hawaiian belief that land forms arise as the material body of the spirit which informs them and which is in effect a god with power, in some cases, to take human form at will. It is this belief in the animate nature of land forms which gives poetic integrity to the conception and raises it above a mere poetic conceit. It is certainly with this double meaning that the chanters of Kamehameha's day composed their hymns of the birth of the islands upon the pattern set in the story which tells of Wakea and Papa and their loves and angers. The attempt to give it literal meaning is as foreign to the Hawaiian composer's thought as that to rationalize it as a mere metaphor. Kamakau would have us compare a current birth story, as follows:

Papa gives birth to a gourd, which forms a calabash and its cover. Wakea throws up the cover and it becomes the sky. He throws up the pulp and it becomes the sun; the seeds, and they become the stars; the white lining of the gourd, and it becomes the moon; the ripe white meat, and it becomes the clouds; the juice he pours over the clouds and it becomes rain. Of the calabash itself Wakea makes the land and the ocean.

This charming conceit is exactly in the mood of Hawaiian riddling speech and it would be absurd, says Kamakau, to take it literally. He thinks that the myth is a poetic way of telling the story of beloved ancestors (who presumably belonged to different branches tracing back to a common stock) who lived as chiefs and whose names were after their death given to the islands where their descendants settled and ruled. 

The names in Kahaku's chant are not those by which the islands were known to the earliest colonizers of the group. Wakea and Papa were not the first settlers on the islands, says Kamakau. They belonged rather to the middle period of colonization and it was after their day that the islands were renamed. Hawaii, the firstborn, Maui, and Kauai were children of Wakea and Papa. Hawaii was called Lono-nui-akea in old days, Maui was Ihi-kapalau-maewa, Kauai was Kama-wae-lua-lani (The middle of the circle of the sky). Oahu was named after the good chief Ahu, son of Papa and Lua; of old it was called Lalolo-i-mehani (Lalo-i-mehani), Lalo-waia, Lalo-o-hoaniani. The old name for Kahoolawe is said to be Kanaloa, although Emerson gives this name to Lanai. A chant name for Kahoolawe was Kohe-malamalama (Glowing vagina). Lanai was called Nanai or Lanai-kaula (Lanai the prophet), and a place on the island still bears this name. Both these islands were anciently inhabited by spirits alone and neither chiefs nor commoners ventured upon them.

Such is the story of Wakea and Papa, ancestors through Ki‘i of the Ulu and Nanaulu lines from whom all high chiefs of the Hawaiian group stem. What the actual history was of the settlement of this ruling class upon the islands still awaits analysis. It was a period of colonization and of organization under control of the priests and later under that of chiefs, a control united, according to the Wakea myth, in the person of Waia (compare Lalo-waia) or the still more mythical Haloa, son or grandson of Wakea, and follows a confusion of myths which tell of the creation of man out of black and red earth; of a flood which inundated the land; of a famous kahuna who at the command of his god led his son up to the hills for a religious sacrifice; of genealogies tracing back of Wakea and Papa "the first ancestors of the Hawaiian people, both chiefs and commoners" to mythical progenitors and to the gods; of stone and wood workers who live in the forest uplands and are called the Mu, the Wa, and the Menehune people; of the overwhelming of the first two by the last group and their final migration to a mythical land of the gods; of rival families of the gods (akua) and their struggle for supremacy; the demigods (kupua) who champion the cause of one or another overlord; the ancestral guardians (aumakua) venerated in the bodies of plants and animals or of physical nature, about whom and their worshipers the story cycles revolve. Out of all these elements the first period of Hawaiian history is compounded.

To the question of the meaning of the Papa and Wakea legend as it took shape in Hawaii no single answer can be given. Back of it is the Polynesian mythical conception of a dark formless spirit world presided over by the female element, and a world of form born out of the spirit world and to which it again returns, made visible and active in this human life through light as the impregnating male element. Back of it is also the actual picture of society in Hawaii, revealing a struggle for ascendancy among incoming settlers both in the Hawaiian group itself and in earlier lands--an ascendancy dominated by the idea of ancestry from a divine parent stock and hence of grades of rank as revealed in family genealogies.




Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com


1. Coming of the Gods
2. Ku Gods
3. The God Lono
4. The Kane Worship
5. Kane and Kanaloa
6. Mythical Lands of the Gods
7. Lesser Gods
8. Sorcery Gods
9. Guardian Gods
10. The Soul after Death
11. The Pele Myth
12. The Pele Sisters
13. Pele Legends

14. Kamapua`a
15. Hina Myths
16. Maui The Trickster
17. Aikanaka-Kaha`iI
18. Wahieloa-Laka
19.  Haumea
20. Papa and Wakea
21. Genealogies
22. Era of Overturning
23. Mu and Menehune
24. Runners, Man-Eaters, Dog Men
25. Moikeha-la`a Migration
26. Hawaiiloa and Paao
27. Ruling Chiefs
28. Usurping Chiefs
29. Kapua Stories
30. Trickster Stories
31. Voyage to the Land of the Gods
32. Riddling Contests
33. The Kana Legends
34. The Stretching-Tree Kupua
35. Romance of the Swimmer
36. Romance of the Island of Virgins
37. Romances of Match-Making
38. Romances of the Dance
39. Wooing Romances
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