Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



The genealogists of each island are said to favor a particular account of the beginnings of mankind and the ancestry of the Hawaiian people. The Kumuhonua tradition, according to which Ho‘okumu-ka-honua (Founding of the race), as his name implies, is the original ancestor, is recited on Molokai. Hawaii and Maui genealogists favor the O-puka-honua (Opu‘u-ka-honua) or Budding-of-the-race. Oahu and Kauai follow the Kane-huli-honua (Over-turner of the race) ancestral line. 

On the Kumuhonua genealogy a line of chiefs leads down from Kumuhonua, the first man descended from the gods, through Laka, or Kolo-i-ke-ao (Creeping toward the light), brother of Kolo-i-ka-po (Creeping toward the night), to Nu‘u (Ka-hina-li‘i) in whose time came the great flood known as the Sea-of-Kahinali‘i, and thence to Lua-nu‘u (Lu son of Nu‘u), called also Kane-hoa-lani, ancestor of the Mu and Menehune people; to Hawaii-loa, called Ke-kowa-i-Hawaii (The channel to Hawaii), and from him to Eleeleua-lani and from him to Ku-kalani-ehu and his wife Ka-haka-ua-koko, parents of Papa-hanau-moku the wife of Wakea. Malo calls Kumuhonua the father, through his wife Ka-mai-eli (The digger), of the root of the land (mole o ka honua), which may be interpreted as the rootstock of the race. An invocation for curing the sick begins:

O Kumuhonua of Mehani,
A spirit out of earth, a spirit out of heaven.

Te Mehani is the name in Tahiti of the famous mountain crater on the island of Ra‘iatea (called in old days Havai‘i) where souls of the dead congregate for their journey to the other world.

The Kumuhonua legend includes the story of the creation, by Kane and his associates, of Kumu-honua and his wife Lalohonua, of their placing in a fertile garden from which they were driven because of disobedience to the laws of Kane (which some say had to do with a "tree"), of the change made in his name to Kane-la‘a-uli as a fallen chief, and of his retreat to Pu‘u-ka-honua after his trouble with Kane. It is impossible to say just what the legend originally implied. Kamakau speaks of Kane-la‘a-uli as "a noted chief who respected the laws and proposed excellent reforms which he was unable to carry through because of the greed of chiefs and so died." Kepelino and Fornander papers make him responsible for the coming of death into the world. Kepelino is writing for the Catholic fathers and interested in interpreting genuine old tradition in the light of Christian teaching. Kamakau is a journalist, setting things down as he interprets them and unrestrained by foreign criticism and, it would seem, without access to either the Kepelino or Fornander papers. 

The Opuka-honua (Opu‘u-ka-honua) genealogy opens with the coming to Hawaii, after the islands are already peopled, of the chief Opukahonua and his younger brothers Lolo-mu and Mihi and the woman Lana, and leads down to Papa and thence to the Kamehameha line. According to the Opukahonua legend the islands were fished up out of the ocean by the great fisherman Kapuhe‘euanui (The large headed octopus).

Fornander version. Kapuhe‘euanui lets down his fishline into the sea from Kapaahu and fishes up a piece of coral, which the kahuna Laulialamakua advises him to throw back into the sea with prayer and the sacrifice of a pig, at the same time pronouncing a name over the coral, and for each piece he throws there rises an island, first Hawaii, then Maui, then Oahu, and so on.

The incident is referred to in the lines of the famous chant of Makuakaumana when Paao's canoe appears off Moa-ula-nui-akea to invite a chief to come and live on Hawaii-of-the-green-back:

A land found in the ocean,
Thrown up out of the sea,
From the very depths of Kanaloa,
The white coral in the watery caves
That caught on the hook of the fisherman,
The great fisherman of Kapaahu,
The great fisherman, Kapuhe‘euanu‘u. . . . 

The Kumu-uli genealogy, employed instead of the Kumuhonua on Kauai and Maui, is sacred to chiefs; to teach it to commoners is forbidden. The name is explained to mean "Fallen chief" (Ke-ali‘i-kahuli) from kumu meaning "chief" in poetic diction and (kah)uli, "fallen." It resembles the Kumu-honua up to a certain point, but differs in that it opens with the gods Kane, Kanaloa, Kauakahi, and their sister Maliu and wife Ukina-opiopio as ancestors of Huli-honua, and leads down through Laka instead of Pili to Wakea through Kahiko and his wife Kapulanakehau, instead of to Papa through her parents Ka-lani-ehu and Kahakauakoko. In the legend of Kuali‘i it is quoted as the genealogical tree which leads down to Kamehameha. It names Kane-huli-honua and his wife Ke-aka-huli-lani as the first parents after the group of gods named above. A variant on the twelfth branch of the Kumulipo says that at the close of the Ololo line were born Kumuhonua, Kane, Kanaloa, and Ahukai, the last three represented as triplets. Kahiko names follow among others, and the line closes with Wela-ahi-lani-nui (Fiery-hot heavenly one) the husband, Owe the wife,
Kahiko-lua-mea the husband, Kupulanakehau the wife,
Wakea the husband of Haumea, Papa, and Ho‘ohoku-ka-lani, Haloa. . . .  

The Kuali‘i genealogy, as it follows the Kumu-uli down to Wakea, is incorporated into a chant of 618 lines in praise of the famous Oahu chief of the northern district who is said to have ruled the whole island during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and descent from whom is claimed on the line of Pinea-i-ka-lani, wife of Liloa of Hawaii. The story of its composition illustrates the high position given to professional poets among a people depending wholly upon oral memorizing.

Two brothers, Kapaahu-lani and Kamakaau-lani, desire to better their position by securing a powerful patron. They are kahunas and skilled composers. They compose a panegyric to Kuali‘i, then stir up a conflict between him and a weaker rival, join opposite sides, lead the two forces to a concerted spot, and at the moment of joining battle, one brother chants the hymn of praise from the opposing side and Kuali‘i, pacified, gives up the battle; whereupon the deluded chief against whom the plan is laid hastens to bestow upon his supposed savior lands and honors, which the chanter loyally shares with his younger brother. 

The Kumulipo genealogy (Kumu-[u]li-po, Beginning in the darkness of night, that is, in the spirit world) is contained in a long chant of 2,077 lines divided into two periods, the first that of the po or spirit world, the second that of the ao or world of living men; that is, of ancestors who have lived on earth as human beings. The first part tells of the birth of the lower forms of life up through pairs of sea and land plants, fish and birds, creeping reptiles and creeping plants, to the mammals known to Hawaiians before the discovery by Europeans: the pig, the bat, the rat, and the dog. The second period opens with the breaking of light, the appearance of the woman La‘ila‘i and the coming of Kane the god, Ki‘i the man, Kanaloa the octopus, together with two others, Moanaliha-i-ka-waokele (Vast expanse of wet forest), whose name occurs in romance as a chief dwelling in the heavens, and Ku-polo-liili-ali‘i-mua o-lo‘i-po (Dwelling in cold uplands of the first chiefs of the dim past), described as a long-lived man of very high rank. There follow over a thousand lines of genealogical pairs, husband and wife, broken by passages containing myths familiar to us from other sources, those of Haumea, Papa and Wakea, Hina, and Maui.

The chant is said to have been composed about 1700 for the young chief Ka-I-i-mamao, son of Keawe-i-kekahi-ali‘i-o-ka-moku, at the time he was dedicated in the heiau and given the burning (wela), honoring (hoano), and prostrating (moe) tapus which elevated him to the rank of a god. The child was born during the Makahiki festival and was hence given at birth the name of Lono-i-ka-makahiki. It is said that at the time of Captain Cook's arrival at Kealakekua bay in 1789 during the Lono festival, when sacred honors were paid him in the heiau of Hikiau as the returned god Lono, this chant was recitated by two officiating kahunas. It was given to Alapai-wahine, child by his own daughter, according to genealogists, of Ka-I-i-mamao and from her descended to the former king Kalakaua and his sister Liliuokalani who succeeded him. Kalakaua took an interest in genealogies and had the chant written down. When the German anthropologist, Adolf Bastian, visited the islands he studied the manuscript, recognized its importance, and made a partial translation into German which appears in his studies of sacred chants of Polynesia. In 1889 Kalakaua had his manuscript version printed, and this has become, in spite of many textual errors and alleged tampering with the original, the standard text for the Kumulipo. In 1897 appeared Liliuokalani's translation.

There is no doubt that the first division of the chant is a reworking from old material. The conception of the birth from one form of matter to another, and from one form of life to another, corresponds with the text of the Wharewananga or school of learning belonging to the east coast of New Zealand, and to chants of the coming into being of living forms of nature collected in Tahiti, the Marquesas, and the Tuamotus. In Easter island Métraux found a myth in which three males and a female called Ra‘ira‘i (identical with La‘ila‘i) people the island. 

The latter half of the chant from the dawn of light (ao), although phrased in chant language difficult to render with exactness into English, is nevertheless clearly designed to give the genealogical history of the family of Keawe to which the young chief belonged and from which the family of Kalakaua and his sister claimed descent. The first part must be regarded as originally a simple and literal story of the development of natural forms on the earth. The antithesis between darkness and light which forms the structural basis of the chant means, according to one Hawaiian informant (Kupihea), the division between the spirit world of the gods, which includes all natural forms, and the world of men with which the family history begins.

Hanau ke po i ka po, po no,
Hanau mai a puka i ke ao, malamalama.

"Things born in the dark are of the night,
Things born from and sprung up in the day, they are of the light,"

are the original opening lines, says Kupihea, which were replaced in transcription by the fine scene of tumult with which, in our present copy of the chant, begins the birth of form in the po.

It was the correspondence of the chant with the evolutionary theory of creation which interested early scholars. A Hawaiian friend (Mrs. Pokini Robinson) who was familiar with old chief language and who read the chant for the first time was convinced that the various stages of the po are so phrased as to correspond with the development of a child from birth to the time when the light of reason dawns and he begins to act otherwise than from impulse, and she points out expressions belonging to infancy and the ceremonies connected with that period. If this is true the chant has certainly been a good deal mishandled by later retouchings with a quite different theme in mind. Dr. Handy finds a parallel in a Marquesan chant in which the development of the child within the womb of the mother is somewhat similarly handled. Much interesting speculation is also possible in matching the progress of births into plant and animal forms with the growth and expansion of the race and with particular incidents in its history. This historical point of view has much in its favor. It implies a comparatively late reworking, perhaps several such, of a genuine old original with its simple conception of the birth of prehuman forms in the spirit world (po) up to the coming of man, the image (ki‘i, ti‘i, tiki), who ushers in the world of human beings (ao), to correspond with the actual genealogical history of the Hawaiian line of chiefs from which the divine child to whom the chant is presented claims direct descent.




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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