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Kumulipo: Hawaiian creation chant

The Kumulipo, which contains over 2,000 lines, on its most literal level, traces the genealogy of a Hawaiian ruling Chief of the 1700's,  all the way back to the beginning of time. In its deeper levels, the Kumulipo traces the evolution of life and the emergence of man and the connection of man to all elements of the universe.​  The opening lines of the Kumulipo describe a change, a movement from the eternal stillness and darkness that existed until that moment when creation emerges.


                  'O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua                  Time was altered when the earth became hot

                  'O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani                         Time was altered when the sky turned inside out

                  'O ke au i kuka'iaka ka la                              A time when the days were dark

                  'O ka walewale ho'okumu honua ia              The earth originated in slime

                  'O ke kumu o ka lipo i lipo ai                        With its origins in darkness

The key element in these opening lines is the term Kahuli.  Ka-huli infers that the change or altering of time came from within, rather than the result of an outside agent.  Kahuli would require a conscious act of will. In Western thought, matter is incapable of thinking or willing. Only spirits have a consciousness (God or the soul of man) and are capable of thinking and knowing.  In the Hawaiian world view all matter, rocks trees man all have a consciousness and it is critical that the conscious aspects of matter interact and work with the consciousness of the spirit. The Kumulipo continues:

                   Po wale ho'i                                                       Engulfed in night

                   Hanau Ka Po                                                     The night gives birth

                   Hanau Kumulipo i ka Po , he kane                    Kumulipo is born a male

​                   Hanau Po'ele i ka Po , he wahine                       Po'ele is born a female

Through the process of birth the masculine and feminine essence of the universe emerge and when linked together form a whole. From this birth process the Corals are born the fish of the sea, the birds of the air the godly spirits of nature and then man.  It is through this birth process that all elements of creation are genealogically related.  It is important to note that man is not the focal point of this birth process but simply one of the stages in the process.

The Kumulipo describes how organisms living in the sea are linked to organisms living on land:


                   Hanau ka 'Ekaha noho i Kai                            The Black Coral gives birth, it is found in the sea

                   Kia'i 'ia e ka 'Ekahakaha noho i uka                   Guarded by the Birds Nest fern in the uplands


The linking of what are obviously very different forms of life further illustrates the connectedness of all things. This linking of what appears to be extreme opposites as if they are two sides of the same reality further describes how elements in nature work together.


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Duality in Nature



It was apparent to early Hawaiians that things in nature appear in paired opposites and that these opposites depend on each other to complete a function or create a whole. Some selected examples of the most basic forms of this dulaity are:

   Earth             Sky

   Darkness       Light​

   Wet               Dry

   Down            Up

   Hot               Cold

   Left               Right

   Weak            Strong

   Life               Death

These elements, in an of themselves do not possess a good or bad value.  They simply are. It is the balance or imbalance bewteen these natural elements that creates "positive" or "negative" conditions.  But this balance does not mean physically equal.  The most effective example of  this "unequal balance" is the Wa'a Kaukahi (single outrigger canoe).

The Ka'ele (Hull) of the canoe is much longer, wider and heavier than the ama (float). Yet the Ka'ele cannot float upright without the ama. It is the combination of the attributes of these totally different sized objects, that when joined together allow a canoe to not only float but carry people and cargo to where they need to go. 


 For man to flourish and thrive man must understand the dynamics at work between these "opposing forces" and work with them.  Knowing how elements in nature work together allows man to work with nature to his greater benefit.

Duality in Nature

So What Does This Mean?


Unfortunately these brief descriptions  of the Kumulipo and the Duality of Nature  can not begin to explain the depth and complexity of these concepts.  They do, however, illustrate three basic concepts that are at the center of Hawaiian World view and the design and function of the Hawaiian Canoe:

The universe and all things in it have a consciousness.

Nature is full of opposing pairs that depend on each other to form a whole.

Everything in the universe is related and connected. Action in one area does and will have consequences in other areas.

In understanding these relationships man can preserve and thrive in the delicately balanced  environnment he has come to live.


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