The Kumulipo is a Hawaiian creation chant.  It is probably one of the few recorded accounts about the earliest Hawaiian understandings regarding the origins and life-development in this world.

It is also a finely wrought ancient chant that links one family of ali’i, chiefs, to the Creative and to the pantheon of gods shared by other Polynesians.  It is about how our world was formed and the inter-connectedness of that world.

The ancient Hawaiian kahuna, priests, would chant the Kumulipo during the annual Makahiki season which honored the god Lono. In 1779, Captain James Cook arrived in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island (Hawai’i) during the Makahiki and was greeted by the Hawaiians chanting the creation chant.

Some stories say Cook was mistaken for Lono, because of the type of sails on his ship, which the natives called a “moving island.” It is said that the Captain’s pale skin echoed the legends of Lono, who was also supposed to have light-colored skin and who had promised that one day he would return from his travels.

Cook’s emergency return to the islands shortly after the Makahiki ended dispelled that illusion and had devastating consequences for him and his crew.

In 1889, King David Kalakaua, as part of his effort to preserve the most important of his people’s wisdoms, printed a sixty-page pamphlet with the words of the chant.

Attached to the pamphlet was a 2-page paper on how the Kumulipo was originally composed and recited.  The work was taken from a manuscript copy that the King had.  That manuscript is now in the Bishop Museum on Oahu.

Several later translations of the chant were made by various people including one by the King’s cousin, Queen Liliʻuokalani (Lydia Kamaka’eha Paki).  Her translation of the chant was published in 1897.  It was written while the queen was under house arrest at Iolani Palace after the overthrow of the Hawaiian government by a group of American businessmen.

The beloved Lili’u was the last queen of Hawai’i.   (Her translation was re-published by Pueo Press in 1978.)

However, none of the translations of the chant were available in English until American folklorist and ethnographer Martha Warren Beckwith also published a translation of the chant in 1951.  Beckwith’s Kumulipo has been a resource for students of Hawaiian culture ever since.

The point of all this is that through the years the chant and the native mindset from which it emerged was preserved for future generations.  The words of our ancestors are remembered.

In 2009, Brave New Voices champion slam poet  Jamaica Osorio performed her spoken word poem “Kumulipo” at a White House Evening of Poetry, Music, and the Spoken Word.  The piece was a many-layered lament in the style of the ancient Hawaiian master poets.

It was magnificent….


The featured picture in the header of this blog is a part of a 16-panel work by contemporary Hawaiian artist Carl F. K. Pao.  It is an interpretation of the Kumulipo chant and was featured in an exhibit at the Hawaiian Hall in the Bishop Museum on Oahu.

Here’s another poem.


I have often wondered

Why the others among us

Don’t seem to understand

That they are a part of

All the everything there is.

Today it hit me:

They think they were made

By some bachelor god

In the sky up high

Who took the mud from the earth

And mixed it all up and gave it breath.

So, all these other ones,

They think they are mud and spit and ashes

Made animate.

How sad.


Wakea and Papa and Hoku:

They are OUR parents.

Grandfather Wakea made the Universe

From the sacred gourd, we know.

Grandfather Wakea and Grandmother Papa,

From them was born this ‘aina,

The islands we call home.

Grandfather Wakea and Grandmother Hoku,

From them was born Haloa the elder,

Kalo, our brother.

From them was born Haloa the younger,

Man, our forefather.

We are not MADE things.

We are blood and bone of the gods,

And we are their pride.


Maybe that’s why these other ones do not understand.

by Netta Kanoho

[My friend, artist Phil Sabado, was going through his Hawaiian myths and legends period and we had a lot of fun exploring the mindsets encapsulated in these old stories together.  It helped my understandings of Hawaiian thought tremendously and sent me off in odd directions.  Wakea, Papa and Hoku are Hawaiian progenitor-gods.  The two Haloa brothers help explain the relationship between Hawaiians and the taro (kalo) plant, which produces our most important staple food.]

Picture credit:  Kumulipo:  The Creation Story in the Hawaiian Hall of the Bishop Museum by Wally Gobetz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



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  1. Can you explain what life-built poems are? I read your content and it is very interesting and intriguing. I get that it is art of some kind but how does it relate directly to life. Are the artists all creating based on life experiences or does life-built poems have to do with something else. Is it a category of art? Forgive me for asking, but just wanting to learn more because I have never heard of it.

    1. Hey Matty:

      Thanks for visiting and for your questions. I call my own poetry “Life-Built Poems” because I use the things that happen in my life and in my world to construct them. They are built by life and out of life, so to speak. I don’t suppose it’s a “category” of art since I made it up.

      My own poems explore life- and heart-things. Sometimes they are a celebration, sometimes they are a cry of pain and sometimes they are snarky. They are a way to explore my thoughts and feelings about life and the way I am walking as well as to look at the world as I am seeing it.

      In this thing I am doing, I encourage other people to join in the playing as well. It is a really cool way to get inside your own head and your own heart and a way to get to your own mana (personal presence and power) and to find out what is meaningful for your own self.

      I also encourage people to share the poems they make that have meaning and mana. It’s part of the process, being vulnerable and getting feedback help you learn how to make your poems better, I think.

      The thing is, my definition of “poetry” is fairly broad. I think “poems” can be constructed out of words or out of visuals and sounds and movement and ideas. To me, poems are piles of metaphors that allow you to see other worlds and other ways of thinking. Artists, artisans, musicians, dancers, storytellers, and performers of all sorts can all be my kind of poet. So can business-people and gardeners. It’s a matter of playing in the Creative — McGyvering the stuff all around you into something that speaks to other people from your own heart.

      Oops! Sorry….I do get carried away with this stuff. Thank you for asking, Matty. I hope you’ll come again….

  2. pennyDoth says:

    There’s something triumphant and powerful about standing up in front of an audience to not only tell your story but your family’s story. Then another’s story and so on. I admire people who do spoken word, because while on the one hand, I think it’s something I could never do (especially at the WHITE HOUSE), this way of poetry emphasizes something that we all can do. Even if we all can’t speak, we can express story and pass on history.

    I like how Jamaica stresses the importance of not forgetting and not letting Hawaiian culture, heritage and people be forgotten. It’s one thing for a culture to be overtaken and TOLD about origins that aren’t theirs, but then to be forgotten altogether? Roots indeed can’t be found on the internet. Those roots are a story and journey for PEOPLE to take. Thanks for sharing this. I will definitely come back to read up on more.

  3. Wow! I was really touched by the video, it gave me goosebumps. That young lady has a beautiful soul. I think it is very important for any culture not to be forgotten. I also believe that poetry comes from the soul just like songs except songs are put to music. She did a wonderful presentation at the White House, I applaud her. Thank you for sharing this I really enjoyed reading this article. I especially like the ones that move me like this one did.

    1. Hey Angie…

      Thanks for your visit and your comment.  I do appreciate it. 

      Please do come again.

  4. Jamaica Osorio’s performance at the White House is so energetic. I was able to understand some of the phrases.

    Of all the presidents, the one that would be most touched by the poem would be Obama. It’s impressive to see him staring at her just at the beginning of her performance.

    1. Abel, I do believe you are right.  Of our more recent presidents, it is quite likely that Obama would be the one best able to get into this poem.

      Please do come again….

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