In the world of the Hawaiians, man and nature were intimately related and all things reflected the presence of the gods. The origin of man was tied to the origin of the islands, with land forms, plants, animals and humans finding expression as individuals in a larger family of life and creation.
The beginnings of island life as told in the Kumulipo
creation chant parallel modern scientific explanations. Living as close to nature as they did, Hawaiians depended on keen observation and a thorough understanding of how that world worked. In the Kumulipo
, a universe of darkness moves steadily toward light and completion. Land rises from the ocean, lower life forms gather on the shore, and larger creatures begin to appear: fish, insects, birds, amphibians. This and the growth of forest plants and food plants precede the appearance of gods and men.
Elements of the Kumulipo
are common to many Polynesian mythic traditions: the sky father Wakea and earth mother Papa giving birth to the islands, the gods Kane and Kanaloa, the demi-god Maui playing the role of usurper. In the lists of genealogy which form the bulk of the chant, chiefs are related to the stars and mankind has strong ties to mankind's brother Haloa, who takes form as the kalo, or taro, plant. In this way, a web of lineage links Hawaiians of the present moment to Hawaiians of the past, to the plants and animals of their environment, to the land itself, and to planets and stars in the sky. It's a vision of the universe as a united whole.
Mana, or spiritual energy, suffuses every aspect of the Hawaiian world. The mana of every human, rock, spring, bird, flower or god expresses the essence of that being. In humans, evidence of mana - inborn or acquired - might take the form of intelligence, skill, prestige, or leadership ability. Through prayer and intention, the mana of things, places or gods could be increased and nurtured.
Hawaiians acknowledged the powerful forces of the natural world in their worship of the akua (gods) and `aumakua (ancestors). The akua represented different aspects of nature - Kanaloa as the god of the sea, Lono as the god of growing things - and evidence of their presence took many forms in nature. For instance, the kinolau, or alternate forms, for Kamapua`a, a god of fertility and agriculture, were a hog, a handsome man, a common weed, or a fish.
The worship of `aumakua, or ancestral figures, linked the current generation to generations past, continuing back to the very origins of the world. In this way, Hawaiians wove their individual stories into the larger fabric of the culture. The stories of Hawaiian gods and `aumakua contain infinite variety but all reflect the core values of the society: respect for the land, sea, waters and one another, care and stewardship of plants and animals, and striving for balance, structure and unity.