(c) Copyright 2003, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D. All rights reserved

It is well known that ethnic Hawaiians place great value on the bones of their ancestors. Even if a particular living ethnic Hawaiian has no idea whether a set of ancient Hawaiian bones belonged to one of his own lineal ancestors, those bones command reverence and zealous protection. It is strongly felt that all persons of Hawaiian ancestry are related as members of a single family, and that the spirits of the ancestors are still connected to their bones. The words for great-grandparent, great-great-grandparent, etc. refer also to the bones of one's own spinal cord from top to bottom. Thus the saying, "This is my homeland because the bones of my ancestors are here, and their spirits are constantly present to me." The powerful word "kulaiwi" is translated "homeland" or "native land." But the derivation of the word comes from 'Iwi" which means "bone," and "kula" which means "place" or "field" or "source." Thus kulaiwi, the homeland, is literally the field of bones, the place where the bones are buried, the source from whence the bones originally emerged.

All evidence points to the fact that no humans occupied Hawai'i until more recently than 2,000 years ago. Archeological evidence regarding bones and fishhooks, linguistic patters, and ancient stories passed down through oral tradition indicate that the first people of Hawai'i arrived from the Marquesas Islands, perhaps around the year 400. A thousand years later a wave of invaders came from Tahiti and imposed the hierarchical ali'i social caste system and a warrior culture. One thing all ethnic Hawaiians agree upon is their great pride in a history of voyaging canoes relying on navigation by the stars. That skill has been revived during the past 25 years in a series of modern-day voyaging canoes, headed by the Hokule'a which has traced the Polynesian triangle through thousands of miles of ocean voyages, navigating by the stars.

But despite the evidence, and the popular belief, that the first Hawaiians came to Hawai'i on voyaging canoes, some ethnic Hawaiians also hold contradictory beliefs in creation myths which would have the gods creating humans out of the sands on the beach at Mokapu, or perhaps Wai'anae. The word "myth" is not being used here in any negative way. Rather, it is used in the manner of Joseph Campbell, whose books and television series on the power and universality of myth are well known.

The first two lines of "Hawai'i Aloha" refer to both the "sands of my birth" and "kulaiwi." For those who know the language, it is surprising and inappropriate when people not born in Hawai'i and lacking Hawai'i ancestry sing these lyrics, although it is "politically correct" to sing along anyway.

E Hawai'i e ku'u one hanau e
Ku'u home kulaiwi nei

O Hawai'i, sands of my birth
My native homeland (place of my ancestral bones)

The most popular Hawaiian creation myth, which has gained almost universal belief among Hawaiian cultural practitioners and political activists, is the Kumulipo. It may or may not be consistent with the evidence that Hawai'i was discovered by voyaging canoe less than 2,000 years ago. Some scholars who have counted the generations described in Kumulipo place the timeframe for human beings at 2,000 years. Some believe Kumulipo is a story that accounts for only ethnic Hawaiians; others say it has a wider scope of all Polynesians; others say it is the story of all mankind.

Kumulipo was translated, with extensive commentary, in a book by Martha Beckwith, published in 1951, entitled "The Kumulipo: A Hawaiian Creation Chant." Because the copyright to Beckwith's book was not renewed, its massive full contents are available on the internet at:
The full text of the Kalakaua version of Kumulipo (about 2100 lines) can be seen as appendix 1 at:
Of special interest regarding the origins of mankind is chapter 21, in which Beckwith discusses the Kumulipo in relation to sky-father Wakea, earth-mother papa, and their children.
A presentation of Kumulipo with a line-by-line translation into English can be seen at:

The interpretation favored by Hawaiian cultural practitioners and sovereignty activists goes like this (tremendously shortened): Sky father Wakea mated with earth mother Papa. As a result of those matings Papa gave birth to the Hawaiian islands. Later they mated again and produced the goddess Ho'ohokukalani (she who placed the stars in the heavens). Later, Wakea had a sacred ni'aupi'o mating with his own daughter Ho'ohokukalani (a normal cultural practice among high-ranking ali'i for the purpose of preserving genealogical power), but their baby Haloa was deformed and stillborn. They buried it, and from that source grew Kalo, the taro plant. Wakea and Ho'ohokukalani mated again, and produced a perfectly healthy baby, to which they gave the same name Haloa; and he was the first Hawaiian from whom all other Hawaiians are descended.

The question of greatest concern for Hawaiian sovereignty is: was Haloa the first Hawaiian, or the first Polynesian, or the first human being? The sovereignty activists interpret the myth to mean that Haloa was the first Hawaiian, and the entire Kumulipo took place in Hawai'i. Therefore the gods, the Hawaiian islands, and the ethnic Hawaiians are all related as members of a family. The highest seniority and rank in this family belongs to the gods; later comes the land itself; later the taro plant; and later the Hawaiian people. Hawaiians owe greatest loyalty and service first to the gods, then to the land, then to their elder brother the taro plant, and finally to each other. Creatures higher on the scale have a responsibility to feed and take care of lower creatures, while those lower on the scale owe loyalty and service to those higher on the scale. Among the Hawaiians, some are more closely related to the gods than others, having a genealogy which can be traced more clearly and directly. Thus there is a natural, inborn hierarchy among Hawaiians placing some as high-ranking ali'i, some as lower-ranking ali'i, some as maka'ainana (commoners, literally "on the land" or "looking to the land"), and some as kauwa (outcast slaves). The concept of pono is understood in this context -- pono is not merely justice, or righteousness, but more fundamentally it is the balance of nature in which everything has its proper place and functioning. Kapu (taboo) is a set of rules for maintaining pono. Breaking kapu disrupts the stability of the whole family, threatening the security of each person and the productivity of the land. Pono can only be restored through some form of sacrifice.

Behavior considered normal today was regarded as a serious breach of kapu in precontact times. For example, women were forbidden from eating banana or coconut, because those were the kinolau (embodiments) of the male god Kane -- the shapes of bananas and coconuts are clearly suggestive of the male ule (penis) and the male hua (testicles). Stepping on the shadow of a high-ranking ali'i, or touching his clothing, was considered an infringement on the chief's sacredness which could result in a loss of the chief's mana (spiritual power) and therefore would have negative effects on the chief's ability to maintain pono between people and the gods. Men and women were forbidden from eating together. Women were required to live separately from the rest of the community for several days each month, at the time of their menstrual flow. A person who breaks the kapu (law) disrupts pono and thereby threatens the whole society. It is appropriate that the lawbreaker be killed and his body be placed on a lele (raised platform) in a heiau (stone temple). If things in general seem to be going badly, or there's a famine, then clearly human sacrifice must be made to restore pono. The severity of the problem determines the number and rank of the humans to be sacrificed; and it is possible that a high-ranking ali'i or even a king might need to be sacrificed. For further explanation of the relationships among kapu, pono, and mohai kanaka (human sacrifice), see a book by Valerio Valeri entitled "Kingship and Sacrifice."

There was also a hawaiian-language essay published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin on this topic: "No PapahŠnaumoku me WŠkea," by Leilani Basham, on Sunday May 11 2003:


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