Universal among human cultures is the concept of origin, man's emergence from the void. Hawaiians find the story of their own emergence in epic creation chants that trace life to a cosmic night.
The Kumulipo, the source of life, is an ancient Hawaiian mele oli, or chant, consisting of over 2000 lines. The ancient Hawaiian kahunas, or priests, would memorize every word and recite the oli at important events such as the festival of the god Lono. This is the oli that tells of the origin of the Hawaiian people.
"At the time when the earth became hot, when the heavens turned inside out when the light of the sun was weakened causing the moon to shine, the time of the rise of the Pleiades, the time of night darkness, the realm of Gods, the time of Po...
The slime was the source of the earth, the source of deep darkness, the source of the darkness born of darkness, the depth of darkness, darkness of the sun, darkness of the night. Nothing but darkness.
The Birth of Man and Woman
The night gave birth. Born in this night was Kumulipo, the source of life - male. Born was Po`ele, night blackness - female... "
Night followed night and born into the darkness were the eternal spirits. This was the beginning of the earth...
The Creatures of Earth
Born were the plants...born were the fishes of the sea and the animals that swam the air. Born were the creeping things, the birds and the crawlers...
Still, it was night. For such was the time of Po, where it was still dark. Tranquil was the time as night pressed...
"It was calmness then when the wombs gave birth. So was born the ancestor of the race and well formed was the child. The first chief of the dim past who dwelt in the cold uplands. This was the time when men multiplied, when men came from afar, born of woman, of man and of gods. They were born in the hundreds and in ever-increasing numbers. It was the time of Ao. It was day."
Evolution Before Darwin
It is an amazing fact of history that in their remarkable intimacy with nature the Hawaiian people, over a century and a half before Charles Darwin wrote the Origin of the Species, had already concluded that all life forms had derived from the simplest to the most complex. The concept of biological evolution was understood and firmly established in their oral traditions.
The Kumulipo is divided into two distinct time periods. The first time period is called "Po" - the age of the spirit world. Everything is in darkness and it is in this era that lower living forms come to be. Life forms develop and ultimately the first mammals are born.
The second time period is called "Ao". This period begins with the coming of light. The evolution is now of one form of life into another. This is where the world of men and women explodes onto a living earth. This is also the era where reason appears.
The genealogy continues to the late 1700s. The last royal child born can be traced back to the very beginning of time when gods were still on earth and the first human being was born.
The Universe as a Whole
As Hawaiian historian, Herb Kawainui Kane states in the PBS series, The Hawaiians, "The entire universe was an orderly, fixed whole in which all the parts were integral to the whole, including man, himself. Man was descended from the Gods but so were the rocks, so were the animals, so were the fish. Thus man had to regard the rocks, the fish and the birds as his relatives. It's an ecological point of view which western man is only beginning to discover now."
One of the last times that the full Kumulipo is known to have been solemnly recited was in 1779. That was in honor of Captain Cook who arrived at Kealakekua Bay on January 16, 1779. The Hawaiian natives thought that Captain Cook was the god Lono returning to Hawaii. They could not have been more incorrect.