The Kumulipo ("Beginning in deep darkness") is the sacred creation chant of a family of Hawaiian ali'i, or ruling chiefs.  Composed and transmitted entirely in the oral tradition, its two thousand lines provide an extended genealogy proving the family's divine origin and tracing the family history from the beginning of the world.  (M. Beckwith)

A Hawaiian Creation Chant



A Hawaiian Creation Chant

by:  Martha Warren Beckwith

The Prose Note

THE Hawaiian Kumulipo is a genealogical prayer chant linking the royal family to which it belonged not only to primary gods belonging to the whole people and worshiped in common with allied Polynesian groups, not only to deified chiefs born into the living world, the Ao, within the family line, but to the stars in the heavens and the plants and animals useful to life on earth, who must also be named within the chain of birth and their representatives in the spirit world thus be brought into the service of their children who live to carry on the line in the world of mankind. To understand such a family chant, it is necessary to know what we can of its social and political background, how it came to be composed, the part it played in the ceremonial life of a chiefʻs household, its importance as a perquisite of rank.

Some of these questions are answered on the title-pages of the published text and the queenʻs translation, others in the prose note affixed to the Kalakaua text, amplified from the original Hawaiian manuscript by the insertion of a paragraph, the third, explaining more fully the family connection of the child to whom the chant is said to have been dedicated. “A prayer of dedication of a chief, A Kumulipo for Ka-ʻI-amamao and (passed on by him) to Alapaʻi-wahine (woman),” reads the title-page of the Kalakaua text. Queen Liliuokalani is more specific. “An ancient prayer for the dedication of the high chief Lono-i-ka-makahiki to the gods soon after his birth,” she writes, a discrepancy in name explained in the note itself, and she adds the date 1700 for the time of its composition and the name of Keaulumoku as its composer. The prose note as translated under the direction of Mrs. Mary Pukui and checked with the queenʻs rendering of certain passages reads as follows:

Hewahewa and Ahukai were the persons who recited this chant to Alapaʻi-wahine at Koko on Oahu. Keʻeaumoku was lying on his deathbed. The Lono-i-ka-makahiki mentioned in the chant was Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamao. Lono-i-ka-makahiki was the name given to him by his mother at his birth. She was Lono-ma-ʻI-kanaka. It was Keakealaniwahine [his paternal grandmother] who gave him his new name at the time when he was consecrated and given the Taboo, the Burning, the Fearful, the Prostrating Taboo, at the time when his naval cord was cut at the heiau of Kueku at Kahaluʻu in Kona, Hawaii. Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamao was the correct name. That was the true name Keakea gave the child, but the composers of the chant “Kekoaulikoʻ-okea ka Lani” called him by the name of Ka-lani-nui-ʻI-ʻi-mamao. The “Lani-nui” was just inserted by the composers; Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamao was the correct form. The meaning of the word [mamao] is this. When Keawe lived with Lono-ma-ʻI-kanaka, a new strain was introduced into the family of ʻI the father of Ahu and grandfather of Lono-ma-ʻI-kanaka; as if to say that this ʻI was greater than all the other ʻIʻs. This was the meaning of the word “mamao” [“far off,” hence “removed,” that is, high in rank] added to the first half of the name.

Before his banishment by the commoners of Ka-u for his evil deeds, [because of] his sleeping with his own daughter, with Kaolanialiʻi, he was called by the name of “Wakea.” It was under this name that he went with his kahu, Kapaʻihi-a-Hilina, to Kauai, to Kalihi-by-the-sea and Kalihi-by-the-streams, and to Hanalei, and he went to the bush country of Kahihikolo and became demented and wandered about in the uplands.

This was not the Lono-i-ka-makahiki who riddled with Kakuhihewa. A number of different chiefs were called Lono-i-ka-makahiki and they lived at different times. There were three Lono-i-ka-makahikiʻs. The first Lono-i-ka-makahiki was the son of Keawe-nui-a-ʻUmi; another was Lono-i-ka-makahiki the humpbacked. His time came later. He was the son of Kapulehuwaihele by Makakaualiʻi. The Lono-i-ka-makahiki whose prayer this was, that Lono-i-ka-makahiki was the son of Keawe-i-kekahi-aliʻi-o-ka-moku by Lono-ma-ʻI-kanaka. That was the Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamao here mentioned, the father of Ka-lai-opuʻu and the grandparent fifth removed of the King Kalakaua now on the throne and grandparent fifth and fourth removed of Ka-piʻo-lani the present Queen Consort.

This chant of Kumulipo is the chant recited by Puʻou to Lono (Captain Cook) as he stood while a sacrifice of pork was offered to him at the heiau of Hikiau at Kealakekua.

The priest had said at the time of Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamaoʻs death that Lono would come again, that is, Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamao, and would return by sea on the canoes ʻAuwaʻalalua.

That was why Captain Cook was called Lono.

Besides explaining the dedication of the chant under two different names, the prose note seems to connect it with the consecration of Keaweʻs son in the temple at the time of his birth, as well as with two other occasions at which its recitation is definitely stated. The first of these recitations was at the ceremony in the temple for Captain Cook when he was received as the god Lono; the second was at the time of Keʻeaumokuʻs death. The sacred character of the chant is thus clearly established. In two instances it was apparently connected with a religious ceremony within a heiau. In the two instances in which the reciters are named they are priests and two in number, since a chant of such importance could not be intrusted to the memory of a single individual and the technical effort involved must have been of an exacting nature. The reciters seem also to have been priests of rank. Of Hewahewa who chanted as Keʻeaumoku lay dying, we are told that he claimed lineal descent from the priest Paao whom tradition claimed to have migrated to Hawaii before intercourse with southern groups had ceased and to have introduced reforms on that island at a time of decay of the chiefship. After the death of Kamehameha, who had striven to retain ancient religious practices, and the acceptance by the chiefs of Christianity, Hewahewa himself is said to have been active in demolishing the images that embellished the old temple structures.

The death of Keʻeaumoku, dated 1804 by Hawaiian chronology, like that of Captain Cookʻs landing on Hawaii in 1779, falls well within known history. Keʻeaumoku was uncle and supporter of Kamehameha and father of his favorite wife. The lady Alapaʻi the queen identifies with the child of Ka-ʻI-ʻi-mamao by his own daughter, “a woman chief of the highest rank then at Koko, Oahu.” The alliance had earned for the chief the joking sobriquet of “Wakea” in allusion to the myth that the original ancestor of the race was child of the Sky-god Wakea by the daughter born to him by the Earth-mother Papa, but this does not appear to have been one of the “evil deeds” for which the chief was banished, such unions seeming to have been accepted among persons of rank. A younger woman of the same name, granddaughter by his daughter Kauwaʻa of that Alapaʻi who was at one time ruling chief of the island of Hawaii, married John Young the younger, later premier under Kamahameha III. It may have been a last honor paid to her dying relative by the chiefess to whom it already belonged, or the younger Alapaʻi-wahine may have been the final inheritor, to whom the family chant was at this time dedicated, or “named,” as the Hawaiians say. To understand what such a chant contributed to the prestige of a family of rank, it will be necessary to know something of the terms upon which a ruling chief held his title to control over land rights and ultimately over the lives and activities of his followers.

To read the full Kumulipo edited and translated by by Martha Warren Beckwith click on image below

It's believed one of the first places the Kumulipo was chanted

was in Maunalua at Koko.