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Kumulipo & Pōhāhā I Ka Lani

The Hawaiian Creation Chant and it's inspiration for Pōhāhā I Ka Lani


Pōhāhā comes primarily from Ka Wā Ekolu (The Third Era) of the Kumulipo.

The Kumulipo is the expansive creation chant that speaks of the birth of all things & life on Earth, describing the sequence and pairings of life that our ancestors passed down orally for generations.


There are multiple written records of the Kumulipo, with King David Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani being the most prominent. American folklore scholar Martha Warren Beckwith also published a translation of the Kumulipo based on Kalākaua's text.

Below are excerpts from Ka Wā Ekolu of the Beckwith translation of Kalakaua's text where the term pohaha is used, either as an action (verb) or name.

Ho‘ohaha ka po-niuauae‘ae‘a, O ho‘oulu i ka lau palaiali‘i, Hanau ka pua a ka Haha

Leaders growing in the dawning, sprouting forth many shoots from Pōhāhā

 0273. O kane ia, o ka wahine kela

A male this, the female that

0274. O kane hanau i ke auau po-‘ele‘ele

A male born in the time of black darkness

0275. O ka wahine hanau i ke auau po-haha

The female born in the time of groping in the darkness

0276. Ho‘ohaha ke kai, ho‘ohaha ka uka

Overshadowed was the sea, overshadowed the land

0277. Ho‘ohaha ka wai, ho‘ohaha ka mauna

Overshadowed the streams, overshadowed the mountains

0278. Ho‘ohaha ka po-niuauae‘ae‘a

Overshadowed the dimly brightening night

0279. Ulu ka Haha na lau eiwa

The rootstalk grew forming nine leaves

0280. Ulu nioniolo ka lau pahiwa

Upright it grew with dark leaves

0281. O ho‘oulu i ka lau palaiali‘i

The sprout that shot forth leaves of high chiefs

0282. Hanau o Po-‘ele‘ele ke kane

Born was Po‘ele‘ele the male

0283. Noho ia e Pohaha he wahine

Lived with Pohaha a female

0284. Hanau ka pua a ka Haha

The rootstalk sprouted Hanau ka Haha

(From Martha Beckwith's, "The Kumulipo: a Hawaiian Creation Chant")

Paʻa ka honua i na keiki manu a ka pohaha, He au pohaha wale i ka mu-kā,

The dawning light spreads forth, fledglings flying into the dawn

0365. O ka leina keia a ka manu o Halulu

This is the flying place of the bird Halulu

0366. O Kiwa‘a, o ka manu kani halau

Of Kiwa‘a, the bird that cries over the canoe house

0367. O ka manu lele auna a pa‘a ka La

Birds that fly in a flock shutting out the sun

0368. Pa‘a ka honua i na keiki manu a ka pohaha

The earth is covered with the fledgelings of the night breaking into dawn

0369. He au pohaha wale i ka mu-ká

The time when the dawning light spreads abroad

0370. O ka hahu ‘ape manewanewa

The young weak ‘ape plant rises

0371. O ka holili ha‘ape lau manamana

A tender plant with spreading leaves

0372. O ka manamana o ka hanau po

A branching out of the nightborn

0373. O po wale kela

Nothing but darkness that

0374. O po wale keia

Nothing but darkness this

0375. O po wale ke au ia Po‘ele‘ele

Darkness alone for Po‘ele‘ele

0376. O poni wale ke au ia Pohaha, ka po

A time of dawn indeed for Pohaha

0377. Po--no

Still it is night

(From Martha Beckwith's, "The Kumulipo: a Hawaiian Creation Chant")  

Po-haha, from pohā, "to break forth, to appear suddenly"

"Pōhāhā ka lani, said symbolically of the perpetuation of the intelligent class, perhaps originally of the chief class."

The generating agents Po-ʻeleʻele, “Dark-night,” and Pohaha, “Night-just-breaking-into-dawn,” again suggest the idea of a constant approach to “light” in successive stages of the worldʻs growth. The name Po-haha, from the word pohá, “to break forth, to appear suddenly,” continues the play on the key word. In common use are the sayings Pohá mai ka la, “the sun breaks forth,” said of the first ray of the sun at dawn; pohakea for the place where it shows itself; pohaha ka la, said of its habitual rising; poháhá ka lani, said symbolically of the perpetuation of the intelligent class, perhaps originally of the chief class.

(From Martha Beckwith's, "The Kumulipo: a Hawaiian Creation Chant", Chapter 12, "The Winged Life", pg. 68)  

Pōhāhā I Ka Lani

Linguistic Definitions of Pōhāhā I Ka Lani

pō : 1. nvs. Night, darkness, obscurity; the realm of the gods; pertaining to or of the gods...; formerly the period of 24 hours beginning with nightfall (the Hawaiian “day” began at nightfall, cf. ao 1.)

pō- : Time of, state of

hā : 2. nvi. To breathe, exhale; to breathe upon, as kava after praying and before prognosticating; breath, life; 4. nvs. Stalk that supports the leaf and enfolds the stem of certain plants, as taro, sugar cane; layers in a banana stump. Cf. ʻohana. (PPN faʻa.

hāhā : 1. vt. To grope, feel, as with the hands.  (For. 6:111.) Kahuna hāhā, an expert who diagnoses, as sickness or pain, by feeling the body. (PPN faafaa.); 2. Same as hā, stalk [such as kalo]

i : 1. Part. marking direct and indirect object, agent, source (indefinite), instrument, causation. To, towards, at, in, on, by, because of, for, due to, by means of.

ka : 1. Definite singular article...usually translated ‘the’

lani: 1. nvs. Sky, heaven; heavenly, spiritual.

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