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The Refrain of Generation

THE Kumulipo chant opens with four sections or odes of identical pattern, each heralding the birth of a special class within the animal and vegetable world. Each class is governed by a parent-pair passing progressively from darkness toward the light, Kumulipo and Po'ele for the first class, Pouliuli and Powehiwehi for the second, Po'ele'ele and Pohaha for the third, Popanopano and Polalowehi for the fourth. Each ode opens with a poetic passage naming these generative agents, male and female, and setting the key word for the development of the pattern within each class. Each closes with an epilogue composed in similar cryptic style, generally descriptive of the world into which the new forms are born. Except for these two poetic passages, the ode consists in an enumeration of species paired one with another in monotonous sequence, tiresome in text translation but no doubt as pleasing in chanted recitation as our own memory tests in popular game formulas.

The pairing of species matching parent and child, plant and animal, or land and sea forms has no apparent rational basis but rather depends upon word-play between names. These names are not invented for mere rhyme value. Most were promptly identified with known species by one or another of my native informants or by Dr. Edmonson, zoölogist on the Museum staff, and Miss Neal in charge of plant collections. The punning names have in some cases a practical magical function. For example, in plant medicine the first food to be taken after dosing with a special medicinal herb is the sea-grown thing whose name matches with it. Thus, after

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dosing with the mint called 'ala'alawainui, the Plectranthus australis of herbariums, the Hawaiian herb doctor prescribes the edible seaweed 'a'alua'ula known to science as Codium tomentosum or adherens and still to be had in Honolulu fish markets. Such is the nature of the language that these lists may be extended indefinitely. Kukahi omits a number of pairs given in the Kalakaua text, and this suggests that the series may be used competitively like our own parlor games to test a knowledge of names within a given class, in our case generally arranged on an alphabetic basis rather than upon internal rhyming.

In each of the first four odes this simple listing of pairs is followed by their even more monotonous grouping within a six-line stanza, each introduced and concluded with an identical refrain, one line opening and three closing the couplet. This refrain gives the impression of a traditional formula and is undoubtedly old. No adequate interpretation has been offered for the lines as a whole, and a variation in the Kalakaua text from the manuscript form adds to the uncertainty. A typical stanza reads:

40. O kane ia Wai'ololi, o ka wahine ia Wai'olola
Hanau ka 'Aki'aki noho i kai
Kia'i ia e ka Manienie-'aki'aki noho i uka
He po uhe'e i ka wawa
He nuku, he wai ka 'ai a ka la'au
45. O ke Akua ke komo, 'a'oe komo kanaka

The words Wai'ololi and Wai'olola are applied in every day speech to a narrow entrance through which water passes with force and a wide one which receives them without a struggle. Thus Pokini says the first term is given to a narrow bay along the coast where the water carries the fish in with a rush, the second to a wide shore line where the surf rolls in without breaking. "The names of the waters that were applied to a male and a female," writes Poepoe, and adds a familiar saying, Ke uli mai nei, ke ola mai nei ka wai o ka hua,

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translated "The water in the gourd goes gurgle-i, gurgle-a." Kawena Pukui remembers a similar saying applied to sounds issuing from ventholes at the volcano: Ke uli, ola (or uhi, oha) mai nei o Pele. Kupihea illustrated by the gurgling sounds made in emptying a gourd filled with water according to the size of the aperture at its mouth, sounds which the pupil in the art of chanting was taught to imitate in order to gain control of the long vibration upon open or closed vowel sounds at the end of a phrase, an achievement considered the high point in a professional reciter's technique; but I do not know whether this is a universal practice. The line is certainly correctly referred to the parts played by the male (kane) and female (wahine) in the generative process. Bastian was no doubt well informed when he wrote, as translated by Rock,

And the male strong in generative power
And the female acquiescent.

This is a birth chant, and procreation is its theme. My informants read,

Man born for the narrow stream, woman for the broad stream.

The reference in this first line of the refrain is thus to the generation of life along shore as the waters meet the line of rising land.

The last line is an equally clear reference to the office of gods rather than man in the fertilizing process--

The god enters, man cannot enter--

hence the reverence with which Hawaiians approach nature, both animate and inanimate, filled as it is with powers beyond their control.

The way to the po for the god (Te ara ki te po no te atua)
The way to the ao for the man (Te ara ki te ao no te tangata)

is the Tuamotuan saying. In these different ways is expressed the separation between man and the natural world, for

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whose fructifying, so essential to the life of mankind, man must nevertheless wait upon the gods.[1]

For the third and fourth verses of the stanza as written in the Kalakaua text I have arrived at no satisfactory translation. Bastian, who had only the manuscript before him, which reads He pou he'e i ka wawa, refers the word he'e to the octopus and soliloquizes: "During this period of creation of the lowest forms of animal life . . . the octopus is present as observer of the process described. . . "; but, since my purpose is to interpret Kalakaua's text, unless clearly bungled, I follow Ho'olapa's doubtful rendering: "Darkness slips into light," where wawa is perhaps a misprint for waka, "a flash of light," rather than the "tumult" of the literal translation. In the second line of the couplet the word nuku is the difficulty. One would read "nest," others a "splash" or a "quarrel," still others take nuku for a diminutive and, ignoring the comma, translate "A little water [wai] is food ['ai] for the tree [la'au]." Emory proposes "earth" as the Polynesian opposite for "sky," correctly written in Hawaiian as nu'u and lani. This suggestion, although far from satisfactory, I have adopted as perhaps what the Kalakaua text was intended to convey, since in later sections where birds and reptiles are in question the words change to hua ("fruit") and 'i'o ("flesh"). The typical stanza pairing the tough edible seaweed called 'aki'aki, "living in the sea," with the tough stemmed manienie grass, "living on land," may thus be read,

Man for the narrow stream, woman for the broad stream,
Born is the 'Aki'aki seaweed living in the sea,
Guarded by the Manienie-'aki'aki grass living on land,
(Darkness slips into light,
Earth and water are the food of the tree,) [?]
The god enters, man can not enter.

[1. Henry, pp. 347-49; Journal of the Polynesian Society, XII, 223, ll. 5, 9, 10; 232, ll. 60, 61. Cf. Smith, Lore of the Whare-wananga, pp. 138, 139; White, I, 138, 142,143.]

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1 believe, however, that the manuscript gives the true form, shifted in the Kalakaua text either deliberately or through ignorance of the meaning. Firth finds in Polynesian Tikopia the word nuku used in erotic verse for the "place of particular sex interest" in the female.[2] If pou, meaning "pillar," refers by analogy to the male generative organ, the two lines would agree in symbolism with the first and last lines of the stanza. The word wawa might then be an elision for wa-(oei)wa, defined like wao as "a place of the gods." Together the whole would refer specifically to the process of fertilization and growth in the natural world of the i controlled by the gods. But, since I have no Hawaiian confirmation for this interpretation, I use the vaguer symbolism proposed by Ho'olapa. Such a birth chant with its refrain of generation carried through the first four odes of the Kumulipo seems to link together the whole series in a kind of magical incantation to promote fertility in plant and animal forms necessary to man but over whose procreation he has no control.

[2. Firth, Work of the Gods in Tikopia, p. 260.]

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