The Kumulipo in my opinion is one of the greatest Hawaiian narratives ever composed. Its metrics is seem designed to imitate the ocean waves with its high and low tides and its symbolism while appearing to be literal, hints at numerous philosophical points. One of the points I wanted to break down is on the Kumulipo’s emphasis on non-localized phenomenal existence.
In the beginning of the Kumulipo narration, there is an ever changing earth amid a singular universe expanding into the night, into the unknown realms, into Pō. With the expansion and natural chaos occurring on earth, this Pō, this singular universe, inherently has its own conscience. Pō begans to engage in a search for meaning.
So it breaks itself apart, first into binary parts—Kumulipo and Pō’ele. The name Kumulipo itself is composed of two words: Kumu in this case meaning source and lipo referring to an abstract image of a distant dark deep blue-black endless depth (as in a cave, the deep sea, or deep space). Pō’ele on the hand is often translated as dark or deepest black night. But there is also another meaning. ‘Ele also means embryo. So while Kumulipo suggests an endless depth, Po’ele suggests a deepness that can be imagined and has its own shape, like an embryo. These two juxtaposed together is similar to the two-soul concept of wailua and ‘uhane. The wailua is a projection of the ‘uhane and cannot exist outside of a body or shell because we cannot perceive such a conscious without some kind of form or shape similar to suggestion of Pō’ele’s name. But without the wailua, the ‘uhane could not be perceived. But both the ‘uhane and the wailua form a basis how we perceive the spiritual consciousness in the same way that the universe divided itself into Kumulipo and Pō’ele in order to understand its own consciousness. The universe then divides itself further into the various creatures on earth and then into deities and man, investing its own consciousness into every life form.
This is why in the Kumulipo chant, the akua are relevant only in the progress of the universe understanding itself. There are no creator gods nor is there a need for one (or more) in the narration. Nature emerges or is born from Pō, from the consciousness of own self. With the birth of the gods, it no longer simply engages itself in a natural form. Pō wants to be perceived. It wants to engage on an entirely different level. It wants to engage in the different levels of consciousness. It needs to evolve and wants to interact. But it also knows that it needs forms to engage other parts of its consciousness, hence the akua. This is why Pō is also “the realm of the gods” as well as the realm of the departed ancestors because our consciousness will return to the source, to Pō.
We are Pō , the universe, trying to understand and perceive itself.