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Prologue to the Night World

T0 ILLUSTRATE, how the slant upon the meaning of a text may affect translation of a passage, here is the Prologue to the chant of the first section, to be followed by the various renderings already published or suggested by my interpreters. The lines read:

O ke au i kahuli wela ka honua
O ke au i kahuli lole ka lani
O ke au i kuka'iaka ka la
E ho'omalamalama i ka malama
O ke an i Makali'i ka po
O ka Walewale ho'okumu honua ia
O ke kumu o ka lipo
O ke kumu o ka Po i po ai
O ka Lipolipo, o ka lipolipo
O ka lipo o ka La, o ka lipo o ka Po
Po wale ho-i

Bastian, who knew the text from the manuscript alone, was the first to attempt its analysis. His translation into German gives a poetic turn to the thought. The first six lines give him the picture of a burnt-out world just taking shape again out of the mists of night under the first faint light of the moon. The next four stress the idea of remoteness, at the very roots where darkness begins, far from the sun, far from the "night." Bastian is thinking in terms of a European concept, that of a world conflagration out of which a new world rises. He gets his start from the word wela, meaning "hot, fiery." It is, however, doubtful whether this Old World concept

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had any place in Polynesian cosmic philosophy. Bastian writes:

Hin dreht der Zeitumschwung zum Ausgebrannten der Welt,
Zurück der Zeitumschwung nach aufwärts wieder,
Noch sonnenlos die Zeit verhüllten Lichtes,
Und schwankend nur im matten Mondgeschimmer
Aus Makalii's nächt'gem Wolkenschleier
Durchzittert schaftenhaft das Grundbild künft'ger Welt.
Des Dunkels Beginn aus den Tiefen (Wurzeln) des Abgrunds,
Der Uranfang von Nacht in Nacht,
Von weitesten Fernen her, von weitesten Fernen,
Weit aus den Fernen der Sonne, weit aus den Fernen der Nacht,
Noch Nacht ringsumher.[1]

Rock translates:

The wheel of time turns to the burnt-out remains of the world,
Back again, then upwards,
Time is as yet sunless with a dull light,
And only floating in the dim moonlight
From Makalii's awful veil of cloud
Tremble through in shadowy fashion the outlines of the future world,
The beginning of darkness from the depths (roots) of the abyss,
The primordial beginning of night in night
From far away, far, far away,
Far from the remoteness of the sun, far from the remoteness of the night,
Still night all around.

Here again the thought is European. The wheel was unknown in Polynesia; still less could the idea of time as a revolving wheel be a genuine native concept. Nor did the Polynesian poet stand off and view his world in Miltonic form as trembling "in shadowy fashion" through "an awful veil of cloud." He thought of it, if at all, as a land mass up heaved from primeval waters out of a kind of pit leading to underworlds whence life sprang and to which it might return; arched above also by an equivalent number of sky

[1. Bastian, p. 70]

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worlds inhabited by ancestral gods. In short, neither Bastian nor his translator has contributed to our understanding of the possible meaning of the lines with which the Kumulipo chant opens.

With Queen Liliuokalani the case is different. Her literal rendering keeps fairly within native thought. As an educated Hawaiian of chief stock, she had ample opportunity to consult those still living who knew something of the old chant. She was also herself a composer of charming songs turned in the symbolic style familiar to Hawaiian mele. Her translation pictures the rise of earth out of slime at the time when the first light begins to dawn out of darkness before the sun was. She retains the stylistic features of the original--formal repetition as a mnemonic device and a play of opposites, in this case the idea of earth (honua) as opposed to heaven (lani); of darkness (po) used here with the contrasting word la, meaning the light of day or "sun"; of illumination, ho'omalamalama, used in contrast to "deep darkness" or "depth of darkness," lipo, lipolipo. Emphasis upon the dawn of light bringing heat to earth is conveyed by the word wela, meaning "hot" or "fiery," upon the light itself by such specific words as "sun" (la), "moon" (malama), and in the word aka signifying "the first faint light of the rising moon." These words the queen generally renders by some more neutral phrase. The native idea of the word lipo is of "dark from the depth of a cavern, or from the depth of the sea." It implies a space concept and at the same time one of degree of shade as applied, for example, to the change in color of the ocean as one gets away from shore into deep water. As a cosmographic term it describes the ocean bottom where lies the slime (walewale) out of which life emerges. Its makeup from the words (u)li po, "darkness of (the) depth," has already been suggested. The queen writes:

At the time that turned the heat of the earth
At the time when the heavens turned and changed

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At the time when the light of the sun was subdued
To cause light to break forth
At the time of the night of Makalii [winter]
Then began the slime which established the earth,
The source of deepest darkness,
Of the depth of darkness, of the depth of darkness,
Of the darkness of the sun, in the depth of night,
    It is night,
    So was night born.

By smoothing out some rough phrasing and allowing for the running of the seventh and eighth lines into one line, we get a quite reasonable version from the cosmic point of view, a character implied also in the reiteration of the word kumu, read as "source," and ho'okumu, read as "established." The relation of "night" to the establishment of earth is not, how ever, made clear.

The Aloha translation from Kukahi's text follows the same train of thought. The first lines--

The time when the earth was hotly changed
The time when the heavens separately changed--

suggest the Polynesian myth of the forcible separation of Earth and Sky to admit the light of day, but I do not know by what authority the idea is read into the word lole, which means "to turn inside out" and is the basis for the cataclysm of world forces read into the text by some commentators, as well as for the idea of the seasonal return of the sun north ward at the opening of the new year, as in the queen's rendering. The next lines read:

The time when the sun was rising
To give light to the moon,

but it is doubtful whether Hawaiians knew that the light of the moon came from the sun, and if they did so believe, they were too good observers to represent the sun as "rising" to give such light. In the sixth line walewale is changed to welawela, meaning "intense heat" or "strong emotion" and

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good from the point of view of the link with wela of the first line but ignored in translation, where the line reads:

Then was the creating of the earth.

In lines seven and eight the word kumu is translated by "reason" in place of the usual "source" or "beginning," and the lines are written with inverted commas as if quoting a popular saying,

'The reason for the deep, to get depth,
The reason for night, to get darkness.'

Poepoe's explanatory notes attached to his roughly penciled text give an even more explicit cosmic meaning to the lines. The first two he thinks tell of "the coming of fire from the inside of the earth and leaving in confusion (inside out) the heavens and the earth." The word Kuka'iaka is "the moon," called "the sun that lighted the period called po." Makali'i is "the first month of the year," and he adds, "at this time these materials were made." The phrase wale ho'okumu honua he refers to "the beginning of the earth because of the melting together of the earthy material and water. They were mixed this way and that, became melted, and are called the Kumulipo, the slimey beginning of the earth." Poepoe is here bringing to bear upon the text the scientific knowledge acquired through foreign culture. He reads into the lines the formation of earth as a factual process without recognizing such spiritual forces as become explicit in Tahitian chants and could hardly have been absent from the thought of ancient Hawaii.

Thus far the cosmic interpretation alone has been illustrated. In the Honolulu Advertiser for November 12, 1936, Theodore Kelsey, born in Hawaii and familiar with the language, although not himself of Hawaiian parentage, printed a "combined literal and symbolic interpretation." Without quoting his whole paraphrase, I wish to point out some ideas it contains that may throw light upon the underlying meaning. {p. 47} He distinguishes the literal interpretation--that of the creation of light and life on earth--from the symbolic, to be found also in the story of the first man Kumu-honua ("Source-of-earth") and the first woman, Lalo-honua ("Earth-beneath-the-surface"), the two called in this chant Kumu-lipo ("Source-of-profundity") and Po'ele ("Darkness"). What is here symbolically pictured as the "earth" (honua) is to be interpreted as "Hawaii's original royal line, hot with fiercest tabu--kapu wela." Makali'i is the season when seeds sprout, fish spawn, and the Pleiades (the Makali'i) appear with other stars high in the heavens. At this time the sun was "like a vital fluid of generation that produced life." As the line of Wakea's descendants increased in number, its beginnings stretched far back into the past and this past grew more and more dim in memory. The poet therefore proceeds to explore back into the profound depth of the past for the beginning of the royal ancestral line. Kelsey has here a definite conception of the symbolism under the literal wording of the lines. Life on earth is engendered by the heat of the sun. As the sun symbolizes the procreative power whence life proceeds, whose source is the god of generation in the spirit world, so a chief descended from the god and "hot with fiercest taboo" carries on through procreation the continuity of the family line. "Darkness" Kelsey applies to distance in time rather than in space. The pit idea is absent and attention fixed upon a genealogical beginning of the chief stock in a time so remote as to be lost to memory.

Kupihea, keeper of the king's fishponds, rejects the Prologue altogether. He thinks Kalakaua himself exchanged it for the original two lines with which the chant opened--

Hanau ka po i ka po, po no,
Hanau mai a puka i ke ao, malamalama--

to be translated,

Things born in the night are of the dark,
Things born from and sprung up in the day are of the light.

{p. 48} Dark and light, po and ao, he would refer to the intellectual faculties in man as opposed to plants and animals. The first seven sections of the chant represent the generation of the gods in the bodies of beings without the light of reason. With the eighth section man emerges, and the period of the Ao has to do with the children of men, who multiply on the earth from the first birth of the god of procreation in the body of man. With man dawned the rational powers. The Ao is peopled by creatures endowed with power to develop arts and crafts, all cultural activities; the Po, by creatures "controlled" by gods alone, that is, born not through man kind but through the gods. The Po is a spirit world, the Ao a world of living men.

Still more specific is Pokini Robinson's interpretation of the Prologue. Her fresh approach, uninstructed save by long familiarity with chant practice in chief circles, gives her opinion special interest. She believes, like Kelsey, that the lines herald the birth of the divine child whose stages of development are followed in the succeeding sections of the chant. He is called a "fire" (wela) because of his taboo rank, "heavenly one" (lani) as a customary mark of honor. The word walewale names the seven-day purification period for the mother after childbirth as well as the "slime" whence the divine seed sprouted. The shining of the "sun" (la) she refers to the dim opening of the child's eyes to the light. Thus the child is born in the first line, "turns over" in the second, "opens its eyes" in the third. The birth takes place during the month of Makali'i, when the sun returns north ward and the season of growth begins.

I am not sure whether Pokini would push the symbolism back to an Adamic birth, origin of the race, or give it a more immediate reference to the birth of the child for whom the chant was first composed, whether Keawe's or another. If she would actually refer it to the time now lost to memory

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when the first Lono was born as a taboo chief on earth, the lines might be paraphrased something like this:

The time of the birth of the taboo chief,
The time when the Heavenly One pushed his way out,
The time when the bright one first saw the light,
At first faintly like the light of the moon,
At the season of Makali'i in the far past.
From the slime of the mother the stock began,
Began in the spirit world,
Began in the time of the gods in a world of gods,
In the far distant past lost in remoteness;
Long ago was the coming of the bright one into the world of the gods,
    A world still peopled by gods alone.

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Next: The Refrain of Generation