Hoʻi i ke Kumu: Kumulipo Revisited

#114 in the Moʻolelo series, I wanted to do more original research in this series and thought a good place to start was at the beginning by revisiting the topic of the very first post in this series – Kumulipo, a chant that has occupied a central position in my family’s lives over the decades.

Kamehameha Schools Kumukahi site notes:

Kumulipo is a mele koʻihonua, a chant that recites birth order … It has been kept and passed on orally for generations. Kumulipo is a cosmogony, a theory about the origin of the universe.

Kumulipo is also a genealogy for a chief of Kaʻū named Kaʻīamamao. He was also known as Lonoikamakahiki, the name given to him at birth. In its two thousand lines, Kumulipo traces the lineage of Kaʻīamamao and links him to the very forces of creation that gave birth to the world and all its life. The prophet and haku mele, Keaulumoku, is cited as its composer.


Perhaps the central messages of Kumulipo is that mana flows throughout all things, and that we have a familial relationship with all of creation. Many have commented on the chant’s congruence with evolution. Life begins in the sea and move onto land. First are coral polyps in the sea, then fish, later amphibians crawl onto the land. Humans don’t appear until the eighth wā (canto). (Before that is the era of pō – before humans there is no light.) But there is one exception to this congruence with evolution: after fish come birds, and only after that do land animals appear. This seeming contradiction is, in my view, evidence of migration and navigation: when navigating to an island, one sees birds first, then land.

Master orator, chanter and professor Kaleikoa Kaʻeo explains Kumulipo with Keola Akana – click on link below to view video


So rather than thinking of a plural set of origin myths, we can look to Kumulipo. The stories of Maui, Papa and Wākea, evolution and migration are all in the chant. This is despite the fact that it remains mainly a genealogy – a list of names. When thinking of comparable koʻihonua (creation chants), one that readily comes to mind is Kumuhonua. But recently I’ve found that Kumuhonua was a relatively recent effort by early Hawaiian Christians to synthesize (i.e., a syncretic effort) the Hawaiian and Christian accounts of creation. It thus loses its place, in my view, as a chant comparable to Kumulipo.

Liliʻuokalani estimated the date of Kumulipo at 1700 AD. But this is the date that the last name in the chant is placed – Lonoikamakahiki. Also known as Kaʻiʻimamao, he was the grandson of ʻUmi-a-līloa, so 1700 seems about right. But it is not the date of the start of Kumulipo, which goes back before Polynesian arrival in these islands, before Hawaiians that is. I understand Tahitians to have a chant, Tumulipo, and research needs to be done (and indeed may have already been done, but I donʻt know about it) on the similarities, or congruence, between them to see when they split off and become different – this would indicate departure for Hawaiʻi.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s