In ancient Hawaiian mythology, the Kumulipo is a chant in the Hawaiian language telling a creation story.[1] It also includes a genealogy of the members of Hawaiian royalty.

Creation chant

Many cultures have their own beliefs on how the earth came to be created. He Kumulipo means "A source of darkness or origin".[1] In some cultures, children are brought up thinking that the dark is a bad place, one to avoid. Ancient Hawaiians thought of it as a place of creation.

In the Kumulipo the world was created over a cosmic night. This is not just one night, but many nights over time. The ancient Hawaiian kahunas and priests of the Hawaiian religion would recite the Kumulipo during the makahiki season, honoring the god Lono. In 1779, Captain James Cook arrived in Kealakekua Bay on the island of Hawaiʻii during the season and was greeted by the Hawaiians reciting the Kumulipo. Some stories say Cook was mistaken for Lono, because the type of sails on his ship and his pale skintone.[2] In 1889, King Kalākaua printed a sixty page pamphlet of the Kumulipo. Attached to the pamphlet was a 2 page paper which on how the chant was originally composed and recited.[3]

Years later Queen Liliʻuokalani described the chant as a prayer of the development of the universe and the ancestry of the Hawaiians.[4] Liliʻuokalani translated the chant under house arrest in Iolani Palace. The translation was published in 1897, then republished by Pueo Press in 1978.[5]

The Kumulipo is a total of 2012 lines long, in honor of Lonoikamakahiki, who created peace for all when he was born. There was a lot of fighting between his ʻI and Keawe family, who were cousins so his birth stopped the two from feuding. The Kumulipo is a cosmogonic genealogy, which means that it relates to the stars and the moon. Out of the 2012 lines, it has 16 "wā" which means era or age. In each wā, something is born whether it is a human, plant, or creature.[3]


The Kumulipo is divided into sixteen , or sections. The first eight wā fall under the section of (darkness), the age of spirit. The Earth may or may not exist, but the events described do not take place in a physical universe. The words show the development of life as it goes through similar stages as a human child. All plants and animals of sea and land,earth and sky, male and female are created.[6] Eventually, it leads to early mammals.

These are the first four lines of the Kumulipo:

Hawaiian language English

O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua
O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani
O ke au i kukaʻiaka ka la
E hoʻomalamalama i ka malama     

At the time when the earth became hot
At the time when the heavens turned about
At the time when the sun was darkened
To cause the moon to shine[3]

The second section, containing the remaining eight wā, is ao and is signaled by the arrival of light and the gods, who watch over the changing of animals into the first humans. After that is the complex genealogy of Kalani‘īimamao that goes all the way to the late 18th century.

Births in each wā

The births in each age include:[7]

  1. In the first wā, the sea urchins and limu (seaweed) were born. The limu was connected through its name to the land ferns. Some of these limu and fern pairs include: 'Ekaha and 'Ekahakaha, Limu 'A'ala'ula and 'ala'alawainui mint, Limu Manauea and Kalo Maunauea upland taro, Limu Kala and 'Akala strawberry. These plants were born to protect their sea cousins.
  2. In the second wā, 73 types of fish. Some deep sea fish include Nai'a (porpoise) and the Mano (shark). Also reef fish, including Moi and Weke. Certain plants that have similar names are related to these fish and are born as protectors of the fish.
  3. In the third wā, 52 types of flying creatures, which include birds of the sea such as 'Iwa (frigate or man-of-war bird), the Lupe, and the Noio (Hawaiian noddy tern). These sea birds have land relatives, such as 'Io (hawk), Nene (goose), and Pueo (owl). In this wā, insects were also born, such as Pe'elua (caterpillar) and the Pulelehua (butterfly).
  4. In the fourth wā, the creepy and crawly creatures are born. These include Honu (sea turtle), 'Ula (lobster), Mo'o (lizards), and Opeopeo (jellyfish). Their cousins on land include Kuhonua (maile vine) and 'Ohe'ohe bamboo.
  5. In the fifth wā, Kalo (taro) is born.
  6. In the sixth wā, 'Uka (flea) and the 'Iole (rat) are born.
  7. In the seventh wā, 'Ilio (dog) and the Pe'ape'a (bat) are born.
  8. In the eighth wā, the four divinities are born: La'ila'i (Female), Ki'i (Male), Kane (God), Kanaloa (Octopus), respectively.
  9. In the ninth wā, La'ila'i takes her eldest brother Ki'i as a mate and the first humans are born from her brain.
  10. In the tenth wā, La'ila'i takes her next brother Kane as a mate after loing interest in Ki'i, she then had four of Kane's children: La'i'olo'olo, Kamaha'ina(Male), Kamamule (Male), Kamakalua (Female). La'ila'i soon returned to Ki'i and three children are born: Ha'i(F), Hali'a(F), and Hākea(M). Having been born during their mothers being with two men they become "Po'olua" and claim the lineage of both fathers.
  11. The eleventh wā pays homage to the Moa
  12. The twelfth wā is very important to Hawaiians because it honors the lineage of Wākea, whose son Hāloa is the ancestor of all people.
  13. The thirteenth wā is also very important to Hawaiians because it honors the lineage of Hāloa's mother Papa.
  14. In the fourteenth wā Li'aikūhonua mates with Keakahulihonua, and have their child Laka.
  15. The fifteenth wā refers to Haumeanui'āiwaiwa and her lineage, it also explains Māui's adventures and siblings.
  16. The sixteenth wā recounts all of Maui's lineage for forty-four generations, all the way down to the Mo'i of Maui, Pi'ilani.

Comparative literature

Comparisons may be made between marital partners (husband and wife often have synonymous names), between genealogical and fauna-fauna names, and in other Polynesian genealogies.[8]


External links

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