THE Kumulipo chant in its present form is evidently a composite, recast from time to time as intermarriage brought in new branches and a fresh traditional heritage. It seems to have belonged in Keawe's time to the Lono priesthood, perhaps brought from Oahu, where Lono worship was particularly active, to Maui, the genealogy of whose ruling chiefs down to Pi'ilani occupies the last section; thence brought into the island of Hawaii through the marriage of Pi'ilani's daughter Pi'ikea with 'Umi, usurping chief over that island after Liloa, with which marriage and its offspring the reckoning ends.
We have no proof that, as in the Marquesas and the Tuamotus, the birth of a son and heir to the ruling chief was celebrated in Hawaii by the recitation of the story of creation together with genealogies and songs of honor belonging to different branches along the family line, and that the Kumulipo chant served this function within the family to whom it belonged. Hawaiian accounts of ceremonies :at the birth of a royal child do not mention the chanting of a Kumulipo at a great tribal gathering as part of the rites on such an occasion, nor does the prose note offer evidence of such a recitation. But from its likeness to chants so used in the Tuamotus and the Marquesas and the queen's association of its composition with the birth of Keawe's first-born son, we may perhaps infer some connection with the ceremony.
Every birth of a niaupi'o child was in fact regarded as a repetition of the first human birth, that of the son Ha-loa to Wakea through his own daughter, from whom the whole race counted descent. So the Hawaiian Naua Society writes,
after telling the story of the "Lauloa taro" that grew from the buried foetus of Wakea's first child, after which the living child was named: "Now you must understand that the children born to Haloa these are yourselves. . . ." Every first-born of a ruling chief took, to quote Fornander, the name Wakea: O Wakea ka inoa, o ke kumu ali'i keia o Waloa, reads the text. The word Wa-loa I take to be a contraction of Wa'a-loa, "Long-canoe," and the whole phrase, left untranslated in Fornander, to mean that he is " male of the chief stock." The canoe is, like the plant stalk, a symbol in riddling speech of the male procreative organ. The epithet "long" in both cases emphasizes by means of a concrete symbol the long continuance of the stock down the ages from the first divine procreator, here memorialized under the name Wakea. In the child is born again an image of the divine parent, to insure continuance of the family line.
Not that the cosmic conception has no place in the poet's imagery. The rebirth of light each day, the annual return of the sun from the south to revivify earth, serve not only as symbols of this human birth but as that birth's direct pattern or even its determining factor in the perpetuation of the race. The priest celebrates the rebirth of day, the Ao, with the story of the emergence of plant and animal forms in perpetual continuity, calling each by name. He celebrates the birth of man with the history of the lineage of which the child is offshoot, rehearsing the names of ancestors by whom the perpetuation of the family line has been secured. The dawn of day, the annual turn of the sun, are not only symbols but the event itself to which the birth of mankind succeeds and upon the acknowledgment of which man depends for his own high claim to ancestry from the gods. As Wakea, the sky world, bursts the bonds of night and rises out of the womb of waters where it has lain in
[1. Fornander, Collection ("Memoirs," No. 6), p. 5.]
darkness, so the child bursts the sheath where it lay within its mother's womb and emerges into the light of reasoning human life.
Kupihea reasoned from the flow of water preceding childbirth that water must be the medium through which the god of generation "works." Whether this idea of water as the original fructifying element was traditional or was Kupihea's own idea I do not know. It is, however, clear that his thinking started with observed facts of human birth and proceeded by analogy to cosmic beginnings. In the same way the Polynesian creation story as a successive appearance of plant and animal forms leading up to man must be referred to some such factual observation. This was easily to be found in the life of the embryo from conception up to the time of birth, a course of development which must have been perfectly known to a people skilled in agriculture, expert also in the art of abortion, upon which also depend so many beliefs and practices connected with embryonic deities in animal form, and out of which the picture of an evolving cosmos might easily serve as prototype. The poet gave it expression in the two worlds of the Po and the Ao. Hawaiian tradition passed down the teaching in the story of the buried foetus out of which sprang the taro plant, to be followed by the birth of mankind, to whose genealogy is thus attached the creature world born not to man but to the gods, whose spirits inhabit the Po and manifest themselves on earth for man's harm or protection. "To what shall I apply my procreative power?" asks the first parent in a Maori birth chant. It was not by the dawn of light that the generative god made himself known but by the organ of procreation itself, through which was intrusted to the newborn male the preservation of the family stock on earth and its continued functioning in the spirit world of the gods. Not speculative philosophy about how the world came to be must have inspired the poetic symbolism,
but care for the sacred spark in man from its inception to its maturity into a divinity born as a human being on earth to carry on the family ruling line. The cosmos is thus the symbol, the sexual life and its fulfilment in the child the inner meaning, the kaona, of the Hawaiian creation chant.
We must read this ancient prayer chant in the light of Polynesian thought. Certainly it includes much that is ancient and pre-Christian. Additions may have been made from time to time, even up to that of its late transcription. Parts are undoubtedly omitted or altered from their original form. Old symbols may be applied in new directions. Such changes however cannot destroy the value of the text as a genuine example of the sacred creation story of a Polynesian people, true as it is to native poetic style not alone in its composition as a whole but in particular passages, and reflecting old Hawaiian social life and philosophy in its treatment of the birth of life on earth and the myths of the gods.