Hawaiian creation story


This story comes from Hawaii, where it was part of the Kumulipo, a chant recounting both the origin of the world and the genealogy of Hawaii’s reigning family. The Kumulipo is a work of poetry with many shades of meaning and plays on words, and it also contains many subtle parables and parodies of rivals of the royal family.

It is difficult to render the native Hawaiian word-play and rhyme into English prose, and while this version tries to maintain some of the juxtaposition of organisms with similar names, it can do so only in a limited way. In each section of the story, shades of darkness, each of which have their own names in Hawaiian, progress toward daylight and give birth to the life of the world.

When the earth first became hot and the heavens churned and the sun was dark, land emerged from the slime of the sea. The deepest darkness of caverns, a male, and the moonless darkness of night, a female, gave birth to the simple lifeforms of the sea. The coral that builds islands was born, and the grub, the sea cucumber, the sea urchin, the barnacle, the mussel, the limpet, and cowry, and the conch and other shellfish.

Born was the seagrass, guarded by the tough landgrass on land; born was the Manauea moss of the sea, matched by the Manauea taro plant on land; born was the Kele seaweed, and the Ekele plant of the land.

Next the deep darkness of the deep sea and darkness broken by slivers of light in the moonlit forest gave birth to the fish of the sea. The porpoise was born, and the shark, and the goatfish, and the eel, and the octopus, and the stingray, and the bonito, and the albacore, and the mackerel and mullet, and the sturgeon.

Born was the Kauila eel of the sea, matched by the Kauila tree on land; born was the Kupoupou fish of the sea, and the Kou tree on land; born was the A’awa fish of the sea, guarded by the ‘Awa plant of the land. Trains of walruses and schools of fish swam past the coral ridges, still in the darkness of night.

Next darkness of night and night that just barely breaks into dawn gave birth to the flying creatures. The caterpillar was born, and the moth to which it leads; the ant was born, and the dragonfly that it becomes; the grub was born, and the grasshopper that it becomes.

The snipe was born, and the turnstone and the mudhen, and the crow and the rail, and the albatross and the curlew, and the stilt and the heron. Born was the sea-duck of the islands, and the wild duck that lives on land; born was Hehe bird of the sea, matched by the Nene goose on land.

Next, as the sea advanced onto the land and passed back and forth across it, the light of earliest dawn and half-darkness produced the crawling creatures that come from the sea. The rough-backed turtle was born, and the horn-billed turtle and the dark-red turtle. The lobster and gecko were born and the mud-dwelling creatures that leave their tracks in the sand.

Born was the Wili sea-borer of the sea, and the Wilwili tree on land; born was the Opeope jellyfish of the sea, and the Oheohe bamboo of the land. Thus the crawling animals were born in the night, creeping and crawling onto the land.

┬áNext were born the animals of the land, including the dog and rat. Then, in the stillness as the light of dawn came across the land, were born La’ila’i, a woman, and Ki’i, a man, and Kane, a god, and Kanaloa, the octopus.

From the union of La’ila’i with Ki’i and Kane came humanity, waves of people who came from afar. Born was Hahapo’el, a girl, and Ha-popo, another girl, in the upland valleys whence chiefs arose.

Born were humans, spreading across the earth, and now it was day.