Feb 5, 2017

Pō and the Kumulipo

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 . With the expansion and natural chaos occurring on earth, this , this singular universe, inherently has its own conscience. 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 , from the consciousness of own self. With the birth of the gods, it no longer simply engages itself in a natural form. 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 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 .
We are Pō , the universe, trying to understand and perceive itself.

Hawaiian Ali'i and Western Architecture

There always was criticism about the houses and dress of Hawaiians in the 19th century particularly the ali'i. I have heard Hawaiians say "Oh they wear haole clothes" and "Oh they live in haole houses". Statements such as that are totally poho and po'opa'a. In this century, we live in a time that Hawaiians can wear a malo during a graduation ceremony at UH. But the mentality back then a century ago was sharply different due to political, social, and cultural pressures. Hawaiians were a recognized nation and one of the last Pacific countries to avoid colonialism. Tahiti and Aotearoa's colonization had directly impacted the minds of many of the Hawaiian ali'i. Hawaiians were being --yes even during the Kingdom era--to become "civilized" (read Westernized. That was not only true of Hawaiians, but also of Japanese, Chinese, Turks, and Thais. There was a long period of time in the 19th and 20th century where the Japanese Imperial Family and the Thai Royal Family was rarely ever photographed or painted in their national attires. Japan and Hawai'i in particular pursued a strong and deliberate national policy of internal-Westernization in order to cope with the traumatic changes emanating from Europe and America as a result of the Industrial Revolution. The motto of the Meiji government at that time was "Western Technology, Japanese spirit". In Hawaiian newspapers there's tons of comments about being "civilized". 
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Queen Emma's pili grass hale

The ali'i were constantly being pressured to adopt English, to behave as proper English aristocrats, and to be well versed in European history and law in order to project to the major powers that Hawai'i was a country that the West could do business with on equal terms. There was also the mana'o of many Hawaiians that we needed to adopt these ideas, ways of living and technology because it would improve the lives of the people (i.e. hospitals) and would put Hawai'i on an equal footing with other powers. But the ali'i were still Hawaiian. Queen Emma lamented on her travels to England how she missed fish and poi. The photo attached is a photo of Queen Emma's pili grass hale that one stood at Hanaiakalama. This is where she would relax, talk in Hawaiian with her staff and be Hawaiian All of the ali'i were like that. All of them felt more comfortable in the traditional Hawaiian ways than what they were being pressured to adopt. Western clothes did not make a Hawaiian ali'i less Hawaiian. It is only when a Hawaiian has decided against maintaining their ancestral ties to the land, turns away from his/her kuleana to the community and has adopted values alien to Hawaiian culture such as unbridled consumerism that the Hawaiian has lost touch.

The Queen's Protest in Hawaiian and English

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Hawaiian Hairstyles

In sketches from John Webber in the 1770s, both Hawaiian males and females were depicted with long and short hair. An argument could be made for or against long hair in the cultural sense as both had a place in pre-Contact Hawaiian society. For example, the cut known as 'oki mahiole is known to be a cut used for those in mourning and those who are practictioners of certain akua. Shoulder length hair or braided hair tended to be associated with Kū. The depictions of Kū and of Kanaloa tend to actually depict braids. Dyed hair, particularly reddish or white, and long flowing wavy hair tended to be associated with Pele practitioners. In a person's life, these styles tend to change. Often, due to the influence of Christianity, we tend to think that Kanaka Maoli simply stuck with one or a two akua for their life. But in actually, devotion to one akua tended to shift. Kamehameha for example was a devotee of Pele and once unification was achieved, he shifted to the mo'o sect of Kihawahine. Sometimes this shift was marked with a new haircut.
In the Hawaiian mourning cycle, cutting one's hair was highly symbolic and ritualistic. Chiefs ritually cut their hair when they lost a battle. Chiefs also ritually cut their hair in specific forms to show their mourning. ʻAko poʻo ʻōʻū (to cut off all the hair at the back of the head and leave hair only in front) was a mourning haircut often associated with chiefs who lost a child. The papa.ʻiole, an irregular "rice bowl" type of haircut, was a cut often associated with chiefs who were in mourning for comrades. The ʻoki kīkepa, cutting or shaving one side of the head, was also a ritual haircut for mourning. The ʻoki pohe or crew cut was another ritual haircut done in times of mourning. These haircuts apply to both males and females.

One of the reasons why such haircuts were attached to such mourning rituals is the time and effort it would take niho 'oki (shark tooth haircut tool), niho pūpū or niho ʻā pele (obsidian or volcanic glass haircutting tool) to have one's haircut in accordance to the mourning rituals. Hawaiians of old deeply valued effort in general and such outward displays of mourning and affection showed such efforts.

One must remember that in pre-Contact Hawaiian society, mourning was not simply a private matter of grief, but a public display of affection and loyalty complete with kanikau (wailing), temple rituals, ritualistic hair cuts, ritualistic meals, and specific kapu. It was thought that such displays of affection, ritual, and loyalty in the practical sense helped mourners in the grief process and to affirm ties of community. It can also have a cleansing and therapeutic effect, as it is still common among modern people in many different cultures today to have their hair redone after a messy break up or a traumatizing death in the family. In the Hawaiian spiritual sense, it helped the departed know that his/her life was appreciated and that it's okay for them to rejoin their ancestors in Pō.
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Picture: Tikhanov's of King Kamehameha the Great (1818) sporting a cut known as the 'oki mahiole when he went into formal morning.

While some arguments through Hawaiian culture could be made for keeping the hair long or for cutting in the ʻoki huelo (short hair), I personally think that schools including Kamehameha Schools should allow Hawaiian children to either grow their hair long or to cut it because both outward expressions can be found in Hawaiian cultural norms.

Kamehameha And His Foreign Advisers

I read a comment of someone on Facebook diminishing King Kamehameha's accomplishments because of his use of foreign advisers. Every country of that era utilized denizens (foreign nationals) as advisers, teachers, and bureaucrats. Mary Queen of Scots had an Italian advisory. Catherine the Great Empress of all the Russias had French and English advisers. The Wanli Emperor of China had Father Matteo Ricci, an Italian, as an advisor. In Polynesia, the Royal Families of Tonga, Samoa, and Tahiti all had foreign advisers in the 19th century. Race and nationality itself in those days was much more fluid than it is in modern times with border controls, passports and immigration check points. Furthermore, many rulers had foreign advisers because foreign advisers could be dismissed easily and owed their allegiance to the king himself rather than an inherited position or long standing wealth. Today, it's somehow a big deal. Kamehameha's use of foreign advisers, which was pretty normal for it's day in most parts of the world, yet it is used to attack Kamehameha but also to imply a certain negative racial undertone about Hawaiians in general. There is also an assumption that these foreign "advisers" merely were involved with warfare. Some were. But most were involved in economic and agricultural activities. Some also served as teachers, land managers, merchants of government monopolies and translators. Hawai'i's economy had drastically changed after Captain Cook and there was a need to acquire new skills, new perspectives, and new technologies from the outside world and Kamehameha was not afraid of change and listening to the ideas of others. Kamehameha also knew that Hawai'i could either be overwhelmed with the new changes from the outside world or Hawai'i could try to manage and direct it. He chose the latter.
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Jacques Arago: The Baptism of Kalanimoku aboard the Uranie
Between the years 1778 to 1820, on average over 72 foreign ships annually had docked in Hawai'i and that number doubled between the years 1820 to 1850. The esteem Papa I'i had noted that commoners had acquired guns from these foreign ships and the chiefs were acquiring canons and other foreign weaponry. If commoners were acquiring guns, how much more a Hawaiian chief? If one imagines King Kalaniopu'u's troops marching against Kamehameha's troops with spears, one would be mistaken. Kalanaiopu'u's troops had muskets and canons. Some of the canon marks can be seen even till this day at the Nu'uanu Pali. But these weapons were no match for Kamehameha's innovative use of the floating canons--English canons mounted on Hawaiian lava sleds known as hōlua. Kamehameha often is remembered as a warrior but the islands ultimately were united simply by warfare, but by diplomacy and marriage. King Kaumuali'i ceded Kaua'i twice to Kamehameha (1810 and 1816) and he would eventually enter into a conjugal union with Ka'ahumanu I.

We also know that Kings Kaumuali'i and King Kalaniopu'u also had their own foreign advisors. We know more about Kamehameha's advisers because Kamehameha ultimately won the war and specifically we know a great deal about John Young and Isaac Davis. We know about Davis and Young because they married ranking Hawaiian ali'i women and their hapa descendants would be history makers in their own right such as Queen Emma. But there were others. There was Francisco de Paula Marin, who served primarily as an agricultural advisor to King Kamehameha. We also know that Kamehameha's court included at least 8 Japanese who had been shipwrecked in 1806 and served the king. We also know that by 1790 there were also a few Chinese who had originally served under Kalaniopu'u (hence why they left on O'ahu) but then ended up serving under Kamehameha the Great after the later was defeated. They probably were other nationalities who had also served under Kamehameha such as Mexicans and South Americans who were part of the Spanish Empire at that time and hence the Hawaiian name "Paniolo" (likely from the words "La Española" and Español) for cowboy. But as our history books privileges English language primary sources, especially those written by American writers, in Hawaiian history, we don't know a lot about these other peoples. But the roots of the multi-ethnic society that Hawai'i enjoys today goes back to Kamehameha's times.

I also would add that Kamehameha also ensured that the foreign advisors and teachers knew their place and respected both Hawaiians and Hawaiian culture--which is different from what happened later on in the 19th century when a few foreign advisers (and their grandchildren) would eventually impose their own culture, poltiical system, legal system, etc.

On Being Maikaʻi

Most people know the term "maikaʻi" in the Hawaiian national language and they know the term as meaning "good" or "fine" in English. Maikaʻi, however, is a term that actually does not translate well in English because there is an entire concept behind the term. Maikaʻi is actually more of a state of being, specifically of being in good health, fine disposition, living up to one's moral compass and of good appearance. In other words, the total package of "goodness".

The Hawaiian dictionary gives some examples. He wahine maikaʻi loa ke nānā aku, a woman very good to look at. E ʻai ā pau maikaʻi ka iʻa, eat until the fish is completely finished. One might scratch one's head to understand why maikaʻi in one context refers to a beautiful woman and in another context, to a fully eaten fish. This is because in Hawaiian, nani refers to outward or physical beauty whereas maikaʻi can compliment not just a woman's looks but her disposition, her character and her manners. In the fish context, the underline thought is that the fish was completely eaten--as it should be. Kanaka Maoli of old in particular only cooked exactly enough for what was required and throwing away food was seen as not only not pono, but insulting to the fishermen and to the akua themselves. So it is right and proper that one should eat the food given to you completely.

For Thanksgiving, the Hawaiian translation is "Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi". Hawaiians used the term maikaʻi rather than mahalo because as a verb, maikaʻi means to recognize, praise and congratulate the goodness of another person. Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi means more like "day to recognize goodness".

Next time someone asks you "Pehea 'oe?" and you are about to reply "Maikaʻi nō" (as is taught in Hawaiian 101), take a moment to take a deep breath and reflect upon one's health, one's character, and one's total goodness

Researching Hawaiian Traditions

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Hula dancers as depicted by Louis Choris in 1816

When I'm trying to verify certain Hawaiian traditions, I always try to look at the concept and see if it matches the framework of other Hawaiian traditions as well as having religious and linguistic cognates in Polynesia and in the larger Austronesian speaking world. For example, the idea of kapu is not unique to Hawai'i. In fact it seems very ingrained and probably goes back three or four thousand years back to our early maritime ancestors as its so universally practiced with our side of the world. Kapu, tapu or taboo was an intricate social, economic, political, and religious method of organizing both society and natural resources throughout Polynesia. Some of the kapu imposed were also due to sanitation and health for example the prohibition against drinking or mere touching of the blood of menstruating women, the blood of newly circumcised males, dead corpses, and the drinking or touching of the blood of pigs .

In my research on Marquesan society, one of the things I learned about their kapu or tapu system is that while the haka'iki (high chief) could impose (kahui) a tapu, manahune (commoners) and villages could also kahui a tapu on their own private homes, plants and live stock. The tau'a or kahuna and the haka'iki, however, were the only ones who could kahui on a place, on other chiefs, and enforce such a tapu.. The Marquesan term kahui and the Tahitian cognate lahui is also related linguistically to the Hawaiian term lāhui. While we think of lāhui as being a racial or national group, that term also means to impose a kapu. In the Marquesan sense, kahui not only does kahui mean to impose a kapu, but to impose an order or to set things in order as part of the larger process of organizing. Sacredness was therefore linked to having an organized society. We should take note of this especially with Hawaiian politics---sacredness was linked to being in an organizedm well managed and efficient society.

Within the larger Austronesian speaking world, I'm sure similar ideas must have existed in pre-Islamic SE Asia. Madagascar, which only Christianized itself in the 19th century, the ideas of kapu and haumia/hewa would be familiar. Malagasy have the idea of fady (kapu/tapu) and maloto (haumia). The Malagasy term for "please" or "excuse me" is azafady, literally translating as "may it not be fady to me". In Hawaiian, we have a similar idea when we say "e kala mai iaʻu" which literally means "may your forgiveness be upon me" though more accurately what it implies is that may you free/untie me from any potential error or haumia.

Did Hawaiians think of Captain Cook as Lono?

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Every Hawaiian scholar has a take on this though it's really not a "Hawaiian" issue per se. There's a couple of things that we need to consider when we think about this question. One, the way that Hawaiian scholars and writers for the last two hundred years have had to use the medium of English and the Judeo-Christian framework in order to even explain aspects of the old Hawaiian religious system. Two, how in the minds of non-Hawaiians Cook still remains a figure of importance while in the minds of most Hawaiians, Cook was not even the first European to set foot in Hawai'i. Historically, Vancouver was more important (and more beloved) than Cook for Hawaiians except for that the toxic seeds of depopulation began with Cook. However, Cook's arrival during the Makahiki did play into the existing internal politics of Hawaiian society particularly between the nobility and the sacred professional (kahuna) classes--and both exploited Cook's arrival. Third, Cook's own stature in Britain and the world could not accept that Cook was going to be killed at some point on his third voyage. His own men wanted to mutiny. The chiefs of Tonga, Tahiti and Samoa were preparing to wage war against him. But for Britain and British colonial settlers in Australia and New Zealand, Cook remained an icon of the English Enlightenment and of the rising sun of the British Empire. His "discoveries" paved the way for British claims over indigenous lands throughout the Pacific.
I will not deal with the latter two but I will deal with the first.
Within the Hawaiian religious system, there are concepts and terms that simply do not translate well into a Judeo-Christian framework nor translate well into English. Many Hawaiian concepts do fit into certain ideas of Hinduism, Taoism, and other Eastern philosophies but most Hawaiian scholars and writers until recently have largely written to and for audiences (including other Hawaiians) who grew up within that Western religious experience and had to use language (and at times adjust) to relate to that framework. Whether or not Lono was considered a "god" is one case where the answer reveals how Hawaiian religious system is being forced to be seen from that Judeo-Christian framework.
In Hawaiian thought, the right answer is that Hawaiians did venerate Cook as a god and at the same time did reject him as a god. Both answers are correct but singularly are incorrect. Two correct answers seemingly contrary of each other may seem odd but that's completely logical within the Hawaiian framework because both answers together form the correct perspective.
Hawaiians believed that the ali'i were manifestations of their akua (gods) in the same way certain trees, birds, winds, rains, etc were manifestations. They were manifestations of the same 'ano lani, the same eternal and mystical mana that illuminated the akua. But Hawaiians also knew that their ali'i were also mortal and although they commanded respect, they were only human and when they erred (hewa), they were spiritually polluted (haumia) and needed to be corrected or overthrown. The people invoked ke'ehi (rebellion). Many are the chiefs that were overthrown and their names no longer spoken on the lips despite they being manifestations of the akua. For Hawaiians, not having namesakes or having their names recited in genealogical chants was the ultimate death for when names are spoken, the bones live once more.
Ancient Hawaiians also believed in the concept of kino lau, similar to the Hindu belief of avatara, where a deity can "ride" within a certain animal or natural form, normally to interact within this realm. The concept of 'aumakua may be derived from this. The state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a for example is a kino lau of Kamapua'a. The kukui nut tree is another kino lau of Kamapua'a, except for the nuts. This does not mean that Hawaiians of old literally believed that Kamapua'a lived in the body of the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, but he could "ride" in that form to interact with this world. The setting of these kino lau also had another effect: it re-enforced the kapu system's resource management. People would not over fish, over hunt or over harvest in the fear that in doing so, it would upset one or more of the akua.
Related to that is the Hawaiian concept of noho akua, where an akua could be invoked or ride within a human, again, to interact within this realm. For example, my family generations ago venerated Kiha Wahine (often translated into English as "Dragon or Lizard Woman") whose specialization was the ritual of haka noho akua, an act where females put on special masks and special regalia and went into a trance to invoke the spirit of the Dragon Lady, perhaps similar to the Tibetan Bon oracle ritual. With the masks and regalia, they become Kiha Wahine, they become the avatar or vessel of that female god. But they were still humans and everyone knew that.
The same with Cook. While the Makahiki was on-going, some though perhaps he was a manifestation of Lono or maybe a being used as a noho akua for Lono, but they also knew he was a man. In addition to that, the Hawaiian mentality on chiefs were that they were to be respected until they did hewa or wrong. Once they committed hewa, they had become haumia (unclean) and as mentioned before, Hawaiians were not afraid of putting chiefs in place. The divine status did not exempt them from becoming haumia. Quite the opposite. The people expected their chiefs to be kūpono (upright) because of their status. They should know better because they have that 'ano lani within them. When Cook failed to act kūpono and when Hawaiians had become aware of the cloak of death that was covering the land due to the new diseases, the Hawaiians invoked ke'ehi, the stamping of the foot and setting of rebellion to remove the haumia from the lands--as they had done with chiefs before. Cook had thought that as a god, he was divine and infallible. But infallibility has no concept within Hawaiian thought and divinity has its limits--as does human patience.
So yes, did some Hawaiians venerate him? Yes within the Hawaiian religious context. Did Hawaiians see him as a man? Yes, within the Hawaiian religious context. Both answers are simultaneously correct and both answers support each other within the Hawaiian religious context.