Tag Archives: Polynesian
Kumu Kahi, First Beginnings: Astronomy and Ancient Architecture (PDF)
Astronomy and Cosmic Architecture in Ancient Hawai’i
Francis X. Warther
Kilauea, Kaua’i, Hawai’i, U.S.A.
Karen J. Meech
Institute of Astronomy, University of Hawai’i
Honolulu, O’ahu, Hawai’i, U.S.A.
As presented August 1993 at the
Fourth “Oxford” International Conference of Archaeoastronomy
August 23-25, 1993
Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
Kumu Kahi, First Beginnings:
Astronomy and Cosmic Architecture in Ancient Hawai’i
In this paper we propose to show, evaluate and discuss two types of solar astronomical alignments derived from two separate ancient “chants” that have been preserved through the unwritten memory of the Hula. The hidden meaning (kaona) when resolved gives the instruction for the solar alignments and cosmological purposes in the Hawaiian islands.
These chants, because of their directness and simplicity, would appear to have come from a classic poetic beginning during the formation of a cosmic view adapted to island living. They were also selected for their enormous informational and cultural content which we believe gives an insight of the mind and creative capacity of the ancients.
Later in this paper we will briefly explore this early creative past and outline what we perceive as a master plan designed by the ancient sea chiefs.
The chants belong to a vast collection of oral literature composed for use by Polynesians for many cultural purposes. The Hula, or Dance as reported by Adrienne Kaeppler (1983:8-14), and we paraphrase: has unique, distinguishing characteristics that separate the Hula in Polynesia from the dance in Melanesia and Micronesia. The Hula text or chant was basic, delivered with melody and rhythm, accompanied by a musical instrument and most of the time, with an interpretive “dance” — more a ritual of expressive movement—with strict, formal and stylized movements. The chants incorporated hidden meanings through metaphor and allusion and could be interpreted on more than one level.
Thus Polynesians began with a unique cultural chant-dance form which was developed by Hawaiians to a high art. We believe the word Hula presently meaning “dance,” originally meant “chant,” or “Word.” Old Hulas refer to “The Voice only the Voice” as the necessary action to gain entrance to the Hula School (Halau Hula). The Halau is the long house that enclosed the school of students, so its other meaning was hidden; so you could say, “The place of the hidden word.”
Since the chants we are concerned with here were the sacred, unchanging ones, we will stay within this frame.
The chanted poetry, called mele, had two types: mele oli, poetry not intended for dancing, and mele Hula, poetry meant to be accompanied by stylized dance movement. Teh two chants are mele oli, the sacred ones used for prayers and spiritual meaning: voiced without dance, music by percussion. We want to stress this distinction by quoting Mary Kawena Pukui (P.H.L. 1972:201), the principal Hawaiian authority.
“The hula dancer in training was dedicated to Laka, the hula Goddess. Hula training was a religious matter. Total dedication was needed. The student, man or woman, was kapu, or set apart.”
That is, ritual virginity was mandatory while in the Halau Hula until after graduation. It was, however, not a permanent kapu.
So the chants were conceived within institutional framework, a cultural form unique to Hawai’i and Polynesia, which are further united by one language and culture.
The familiarity of the “Tropics” in astronomy was covered very well in Ethnoastronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the American Tropic, edited by Anthony Aveni and Gary Urton who, with others, were contributors. We only wish to mention what certain aspects of the investigation have shown to be unusual and specifically Hawaiian.
It was David Lewis who pointed out the significance of “place” in the possible cohesion and originality of the art of thought patterns of these renowned navigators. He said Polynesians are the only people who travel and experience living equally on both sides of the equator with named tropic boundary lines. (The Maori of New Zealand behave as if they were still inside the tropics.)
Another art we discussed was the Polynesian ability to visualize island groups of unknown extent as if from above at a great distance, like the Rapa Nui “dream voyage flight.” Lewis contributes this art to the navigators’ facility during a voyage to instantly point to the direction of his home island. Tavake, the last Polynesian navigator, who died in 1970, used this ability.
The balance of two territories about the equator, which is a sewn seam or piko (navel), is like place with two north stars, a mirror image of events in wind current and time; of uphill and downhill; of left and right. We find this an extraordinary place to study; particularly the time reversal, where your calendar of six months summer, six months winter has to be turned 180 degrees when you cross the seam.
In Hawai’i, Kane, June 21 summer solstice, rises in the northeast, and Lono, December 21 winter solstice, rises to the southeast. In the Marquesas below the equator, Lono, winter solstice, stays at its geophysical location and rises in the northeast, and Kane, summer solstice, rises in the southeast. You see, in forming a concept of time, Polynesians had to reverse the months to give meaning to realities they experienced.
From these thoughts and descriptions of the Hawaiians, the Tropic bounded world of the Polynesians was not conceive of as a triangle, but a square approximately fifty (50) degrees on a side. Astronomically, it is a mana (life) space: the only space where the zenith and anti-zenith celestial events peculiar to the Tropic world can occur, and beyond whose boundaries shadow (death) is cast. To say it makes a difference if you believe the zenith event is the primal life force would be an understatement.
With this background we go directly to Chant One.
N. B. Emerson (1909:114) and M. Manu (1899 & Ms.).
Emerson gives no title other than Mele (Song), and says it is a “fragment of folklore.”
1 Hiki mai, hiki mai ka La, e. 1 It has come, it has come; lo, the Sun!
2 Aloha wale ka La e kau nei, 2 How I love the Sun that’s on high;
3 Aia malalo o Ka-wai-hoa, 3 Below it swims Ka-wai-hoa,
4 A ka lalo o Kauai, o Lehua. 4 On the slope inclined from Kaua’i to Lehua.
5 A Kauai au, ike i ka pali; 5 On Kauaui met I a pali,
6 A Milo-lii pale ka pali loloa. 6 A beetling cliff that bounds Milo-lii,
7 E kolo ana ka pali o Makua-iki; 7 And climbing up Makua-iki,
8 Kolo o Pu-a, he keiki, 8 Crawling up was Pua, the child,
9 He keiki makua-ole ke uwe nei. 9 An orphan that weeps out its tale.
A brief explanation per line:
[See illustrations, Figures 1 and 2.]
Line 1The sun is rising, east.
2 The sun rises to its zenith.
3 Ka-wai-hoa, a small peak; zenith on a four-year cycle (plus or minus four from July 13,1989).
4 We stand on Ni’ihau island, sun reflected down from Kaua’i island.
5 Look toward Kaua’i; see the cliff.
6 A big cliff that bounds Milo-li’i valley.
7 The sun climbing up the cliff named Makua-iki.
8 Pua is Kane-a-Pua, the “Baby Sun.”
9 Alone, it takes five days to return, or eventually climb the cliff and return on its six- month trip to the south.
This chant and the tradition of when first used comes from Moses Manu (1899 & Ms.) and is given in “Hula,” B. P. Bishop Museum (1980:8,9). It tells the story of the visit to Ni’ihau isaland and Chief Halali’i by the Hula Goddess Kapo’ula-kina’u, or Kapo for short, in which she takes possession of the chief, causing him to chant. Then, turning to her younger sister, Kewelani, Kapo takes possession of her, also. Kewelani proceeds to chant and dance the mele above. This occurs, of course, on a June 21 solstice rise and return date of Kane, principal god of procreation, or the return of Lohiau, the symbolic Kane of the Pele-Hi’iaka Hula cycle.
The cliff Makua-iki, which lies approximately 29 kilometers (18 miles) away, besides being the mountain peak around which the Tropicbirds of Kane circle is also the peak from which Pele’s flaming fire sticks are sailed out over the ocean. This ritual was possibly performed to encourage the return of the summer sun, the source of fire.
There is, we believe, another hidden meaning embedded in this chant: a parallel alignment. If we move one mile north from Kiha-Wahine on Ni’ihau island to another platform called Ka-Uno-ka-Ha, we obtain the June solstice rise against Makana cliff, which is 45 k. (38 m.) away and over Ka-Ulu-a-Paoa heiau with the platform Ke-Ahu-a-Laka. This altar of Laka, Goddess of Hula, the most famous and oldest Halau Hula on Kaua’i island, has been the place for graduation ceremonies in accord with tradition.
We quickly have several interesting things happening: Makana (The Gift) peak towering above Ahu-a-Laka is the other peak from which the fire stick ceremony is performed. This alignment would ritually link the two first Hula platforms on two separate islands in a simultaneous ritual in vast spatial time related to the rising June sun. It is a counter alignment, also, since Ka-Ulu-a-Paoa Heiau on Kaua’i isalnd receives the June solstice sunrise, and from this place you could also clearly observe the December solstice set. This alignment then gives Ni’ihau island a futue, and Kaua’i island, a past. It is an interesting conjecture, and somewhere in the chants we should hear the echo of this alignment.
Before the theory of refraction comes up, note that in Hawai’i on some days before the sun rises or after its setting, the laws of earth curvature seem to be suspended. To illustrate, we have stood at Ka-Ulu-a-Paoa Heiau on Kaua’i and have seen Lehua crater; which “should be” below the horizon, loom up as if it were only 8 k. (5 m.) away instead of the barely visible 45-k. (38-m.) distance it is actually.
This heiau-to-heiau alignment at the time of the June solstice is particularly interesting in that from this selected location the horizon sunrise may be observed only for the five-day standstill, whereas sunrise will not have been seen for at least four months prior to this time. This is because the greater mass of Kaua’i island effectively blocks the sunrise from a Ni’ihau island perspective for 35 degrees out of the 50 degrees total. This design feature makes the standstill of the summer solstice rise a very selective window, indeed.
It is an interesting conjecture that the June 21 solstice rise is a Hula festival of importance, and also a clear example that one of the purposes of the sacred Hula was to record and reveal the ritual cosmic alignments, and including the full cycle of festivals.
Note that the Hula was controlled by goddesses. Starting with Pele, whose red lava line creates the islands, Hi’iaka, younger sister, a seer, prophet and spirit catcher; Haumea, the Mother Goddess of the sea with her world sea tree of life; Laka, principal Goddess of the Hula, whose altar in the halau faces to rising sun and the elder patroness mentioned above, Kapo, “The rich darkness of all possibilities with the red stain.”
Laka and Kapo are a duality: La here is sun and life; Po is eternity and underworld. Both, together, are symbolic of the Ku Kuahu, the upright principal that joins heaven to earth.
When we recognized this chant as astronomical on it kaona (hidden) level, similar references were then recognized in other chants which had lacked the hidden level of translation.
To illustrate this relation, one twenty-seven line chant called Mele Ho’ala (no ka Hula Pele), Emerson (1909:196), ends with the lines:
“Awake, ’tis day, ’tis light;
The sun stands over Wai-hoa,
Afloat on the breast of ocean;
the iwa (Tropicbird) of Leinoai is preening
On the cliff Maka-iki-olea,
On the breast of naked Lehua.
Awake thee! Awake!”
The poetic reference on its kaona level may be read as zenith and rising sun against the cliff.
One of Pele’s brothers, a navigator named Ka-Moho-Ali’i, has a kino lau (body) form of a dark cliff, and Kaua’i island, which has many of these cliffs that plunge into the sea, has Ka-Moho-Ali’i as its first chief and patron. A younger brother named Kane-a-Pua (“Baby Sun”) climbs the cliffs of his older brother; thus “Pua the child” finds a place in chants from the ancient oral tradition such as the first chance cited, line 8. Pua always visits Kaua’i island and his brother where rank on rank of cliffs abound.
The place on Ni’ihau island where Kapo and Kewelani performed this first Hula with its implication of sun alignment looking toward Kaua’i island would appear to be a walled heiau (sacred space) called Kiha-Wahine on a point of land called Pali-Koa’e. This is situated on the western edge of a vast, sun-baked, flat plain of 2,024 hectares (5,000 acres). Pali-Koa’e means “Cliff of the (white) Tropicbird” of Kane (The Sun).
The opening from lines of another chant (Emerson 1909:67) begin,
“Haunt of white tropic-bird and big ruffled owl,
[the cliff on Kaua’i].
Up rises the first-born child of the pali. [cliff]
He climbs, he climbs, he climbs up aloft,
Kaholo-ku-‘iwa, the pali of Ha’i.”
This is interesting for it gives a new name for the cliff and area on Kaua’i island. A facet of the Hawaiian way of naming is that the person or object named may carry many different names, all correct, carefully chosen for inherent meaning, and used at different times or for different purposes because of inherent subtleties. This fits with the oral poetic tradition—the true bardic tradition in Hawai’i—complete with metaphysical level.
Another chant in its last eight lines expresses the rising sun as:
“Love returns to Ni’ihau
To the secret waters of the pa’o’o fish.
The breadfruit fruiting at ground level
And the black stalked sugar cane at Halali’i.
There is Nihoa further back,
A tiny islet in the sea.
The hot sun beats upon the plains.
Turn and face Kaua’i.”
Again, metaphor and allusion mixed with physical alignments. To truly “read” this chant, you must either know the place or be able to project yourself into it by way of the map. You must know the culture, the references, the sun-roundness of a breadfruit and the out-of-place character of it fruiting at ground level; you must know this black-stalked sugar cane, and its properties and uses; relatedly, you must know the nature, also, of the lake of Halali’i, and in which months it disappears, and how this relates to the mentioned cane; you must know the inherent meanings of the lake name, which is the same as the chief possessed by Kapo in Chant One of the Hula.
We give all of these related chants to show the importance given to this specific time and place alignment by the Hawaiian composers of the Hula, the realities and significance of the rising solstice sun and its zenith.
Chant Two describes six setting suns, five from one point.
This comes from Roberts (1926:265 No. 122) Hula ka-la ‘au; oli oli; by Akoni Mika, 1865.
1 “He moku Ka-ula, Nihoa ame Ni’ihau 1 An island is Ka’ula, Nihoa adjoining Ni’ihau
2 I ka ulu la ‘i a ka Waihoa a Kane 2 In the calm rests the water produced by Kane
3 O Kaulana a ka la i Halali’i 3 The sun rests over Halali’i
4 Hala ka la kau ma kua o Lehua 4 And in passing rests over the back of Lehua
5 Kau ka LehuLehu o ke ahiahi 5 Then the dusk of evening begins
6 Moe e no, Kaua’i i luna ka la e 6 Kaua’i goes to sleep while the sun is yet up
7 E o ana no o Lehua i ke kai.” 7 While Lehua is still visible in the sea.
1 Ka’ula island is southwast, Nihoa is northeast.
2 The clam is a west sun space.
3 Halali’i is a wet season lake, and an anciet chief of Ni’ihau island.
4 Lehua’s “back” is to the west.
5 Dusk = sun is setting/has set.
6 Kaua’i is dark while the sun travels on westward.
7 Lehua is not only visible, but measured as by a (sun) path implied in the word, ana, to measure; so it can be understood that you as viewer are standing on Kaua’i observing the four named islands.
Question where you are standing, exactly, in this chanter’s scene, and what solar events you are seeing in the cycle. You are, of course, observing setting suns which are associated with the departing spirits of deceased Hawaiians; so the place to stand will be a leina, a jumping-off place from which to take the leap into the mystic sea of Po into eternity.
[See Figures 3 & 4.]
The procedure is to determine the back-sight from the islands called off, so, starting with Ka’ula island, which is 32 k. (20 m.) southwest of Ni’ihau and about 80.5 k. (50 m.) from west Kaua’i island, we try to measure the December solstice sunset line back to Kaua’i. We put aside Nihoa island as it is not in order. Moving north, Halali’i lake is next, but we suspect it is an anti-zenith, or nadir alignment. Since we do not have yet any observation point for this on Kaua’i, we select Lehua island and center a due west 270 degree equinox set back-sight on Lehua and bring it back to Kaua’i, which intersects with our December solstice line on a 270 degree equinox sunset back-sight on Lehua and bring it back to Kaua’i, which intersects with our December solstice line on a ridge called Kauna-lewa; now we have a “point.”
From these two intersected lines we project out towards Halali’i lake on Ni’ihau island at an estimated 2º02’ to 3º00’ north of 245 degrees. What we discover is that the south mountain range on Ni’ihau prevents moving the nadir line any more north than 248 degrees, and the line does cross Halali’i lake. It is a boxed-in alignment not capable of being moved off Halali’i lake if we were to observe a horizon set of the anti-zenith (nadir) suns.
This quite remarkable fact suggested an ancient astronomer had enjoyed himself with this one. Obviously what was being manipulated was the location of observation point on Kaua’i, and this helped to confirm what we are finding about the structures called heiau, commonly translated as “temples,” but actually denoting sacred space(s), and therefore “points” to stand.
We let this alignment rest for a bit because Nihoa island from the intersection was not on the 295 degree summer solstice set and was not known as a jumping-off place for spirits, so why was it included? Later we ran the anti-zenith lines on the chart for December 2 (90) at 21º52.9’ and the January 11 (90) at 21º52.6’. Amazingly, these two anti-zenith lines intersected the alignment projected over Halali’i lake and to sunset and the face of the cliff as in the chants. We are not quite sure how this had been achieved.
The Nihoa island included in the chant resolved itself by three pieces of information. The first came from Emerson (1917:XXVII) “Pele’s Account to Kamoho-ali’i of the Departure from Kahiki.” Briefly, Pele sails toward the islands with passengers including two brothers. When they stop at Nihoa island, Kane-a-Pua, the “baby sun” we met in Chant One, is landed, then the rest sail away to Lehua islet of Ni’ihau island. Unexplained, the navigator Kamoho-ali’i returns and picks up young Kane-a-Pua, and they return to Ni’ihau to the south.
The next two items are that when Hi’iaka, the prophet Goddess, is on Kaua’i island’s west coast, she chants.
Emerson (1909:258-259, lines 9-13):
“Out there with the floating Sun,
Where cloud forms rest on Ocean’s breast,
Uplifting their forms at Nihoa,
This side the base of Lehua;
There is the water of Kane.”
And the third is Pukui, Elbert, Mo’okini, Place Names of Hawai’i, 1974:165 and 148.
“Nihoa, See Mauloku,” the ancient name.
“Mau-Loku. Leaping place for souls, Nihoa Lit. continuous falling.”
Note that the falling of the soul into havai’i, the opening of the underworld, is a continuous-cyclical-circular motion of returning. So, of course, Kane-a-Pua was let off at Nihoa for five days for the June solstice set period and was picked up later when he could move south; and Nihoa is a leina, leaping place for souls; and the place to stand has to be between Pu’u ka Pele Heiau and Makua-iki alignment on Kaua’i island.
We propose that Nihoa just had to be included to complete all the solar set events: December solstice set; two anti-zenith sets; two equinox sets; and one June solstice set. The six setting suns, then, are referenced in a seven-line chant. Beyond being quite amazing, you wonder how long it took to gain the viewpoint and understanding to set this solar knowledge in language symbols. This is observed from Kauna-lewa ridge, the name of which means “The Square (or Four) Floating” and suggests that the six suns set into four pits in the floating western sea horizon, which is what they actually do.
Halali’i lake gains support as a place for departing souls to pass over or into from the chant referenced previously that mentions “the black-stalked sugar cane of Halali’i.” Checking Pukui & Elbert dictionary (1986:51), we are enlightened by “Halali’i, Ni’ihau, where a famous sugar cane once grew on the sand dunes. This cane was used in ceremonies for remission of sins.”
Kauna-lewa ridge, a high plateau now in sugar cane, started off an investigation into an unknown area. There is not a heiau there, or a recorded one, but the chant highlights a meaning besides “sacred,” i.e. the root word “hei” is “snare,” and “au,” a segment of time; so a good translation that fits is “a structure to mark a place that snares sacred time.” A consultant Kumu Hula (Source Teacher of Hula) said there had to be a chant about Kaunalewa, and one was found. So we will know more about this area in the future.
The accuracy of the alignments was first plotted on charts, then by visual and compass check in the field. On Ni’ihau island, privately owned, this was not possible. By checks at Makua-iki, the cliff splitting the sun was verified, and back checks from Ahu-a-Laka were made for the December solstice sunset. However, this was not considered satisfactory, therefore two Garmin G.P.S. units have been acquired and associate Karen Meech will be conducting surveys that will be possible for even out of line-of-sight alignments, of which there are quite a number overthe 1167-k. (725-m.) length of the twelve islands.
This will remain an ongoing investigation; the prospects opened up are endless and exciting.
As shown, the two main chant examples together—rising sun, settings suns; both oli oli sacred Hula without dance—reveal some astounding information. Both had to be composed by astronomer-navigators who had a thorough knowledge of their islands’ positions even out of sight, but not impossible to locate. We are not dealing with traditional poetic understanding of chants as prayers, name chants, love poems of people and places; instead, we have direct reference to the celestial events that are ritually incorporated and part of the Hawaiian belief systems.
In one nine-line and one seven-line verse we are made aware of past knowledge of all the solstice, equinox and zenith-nadir events of the Tropic world.
What is unique for the history of alignments, generally, is that the astronomer-site planners linked separate islands into a cosmic web, a simultaneous ritual alignment through space in the same time. This suggests a design strategy to create a master plan that would eventually link perhaps all of the islands in a ritual whole. This grouping was first done for the three-island group of Ni’ihau, Kaua’i and O’ahu, according to Kamakau (1964, Vol. 2, 14) and Hawaiian historian of the 1840s. He informs us that the three-island group had one astronomy with the center of learning being located on Kaua’i island at Waimea. Here astronomers called Po’e Kilo Hoku went to make their observations, kilo meaning stargazer or seer, and hoku, star.
Our researches suggest that through chants and tradition a concept of a oneness, a completeness called lokahi keeps recurring, and insistance that the family, the chiefs and the islands are “one” and the search is for a unifying system.
We find evidence of this in the composition of a Pele-Hi’iaka cycle, a chant journey through the islands requiring six months up and six months down. From zenith to nadir is also six months and binds the half year of growth to the half year of harvest.
What also needs thought is the vastness of the sea in which the navigators repeatedly sailed. The island are points, areas of rest, repair, recreation, until it is time to sail again. Haumea’s sea is the navigator’s homeland; the points of land are where family and relation are visited: blood relations are all over Polynesia.
The islands, themselves, are round like women’s breasts with a high mountain pyramid as a point of direction expressed in two ways: makai, seaward, and mauka, mountainward (away from the sea). The navigator is either going or coming. The other direction is around, direction defined by either the right or left shoulder being toward the mountain. The islands are clocks and the rising/setting sun changes position as you move circularly around the island in a constant changing juxtaposition of geological forms. They are unlike any other land form to live in—very different from places on continents.
We promised to discuss two chants of the Hula, but we can say that they endlessly multiply to include the twelve tropic islands of the entire Hawaiian chain: from Necker island or Moku Mana Mana, the “toe of Pele” on the tropic, to the island of Hawai’i with its active volcano of Kilauea, the “head” of the Pele figure. This we will have to leave for other papers to follow.
Finally, there is no question that we must follow the creative mind of the ancient astronomer-navigator. In these investigation, success, if any, is due to this newly-defined Hawaiian multidisciplinary system which all of you have done so much to create and which we call in Hawai’i “Astronomical Architecture,” a planning system founded on the navigators spiderweb of stars.
“Astronomical Architecture” is truly a search for archaic Hawaiian history embedded in the realities of ancient myth. This field of Archaeo-Ethno-Astronomy has opened up and expanded our understanding of the Hawaiian mind by finding reasons for this vast amount of public architecture and what it was used for, and what could have been seen and transacted inside these large ceremonial landscape complexes. We recognized the format as we began investigating from the island pie segments out from the mountaintop to the sea, circling to include the entire island, and as it revolves it includes in its sweep other islands that cross the spokes of the eight pillars of the solar cycle.
The ancients created an all-island ecological whole that was composed in a vast architectural plan. This plan selectively used land forms and structures that captured and dramatized the great cosmic events that they wished to “stop,” to “snare” in time. Thus, through this twelve-island ritual space they expressed their valued and molded tradition and beliefs.
For Hawai’i—all twelve of the islands of Pele—it is a Kumu Kahi, a first beginning into an ancient past, a knowledge still to be uncovered from the layers of literal meaning.
Francis X. Warther
Karen J. Meech
Applications of Indigenous Science: Mo`o Kiha Canoe Project (PDF)
Application of Indigenous Science ~ Mo’o Kiha Canoe Project
My husband Keola is a Kahuna Kalai Wa’a or, a Medicine Man of the canoes. In 1975 he built the Mo’olele, the first ocean going, double hulled voyaging canoe made in more than 150 years. The re-creation of the big sailing vessels triggered a cultural renaissance in the islands. The hundred years of colonization, missionization and plantation life destroyed 90 to 95% of the Hawaiian population in less than one hundred years. The rapacity of conquest left scant opportunity for preserving or perpetuating traditional ways. When Keola decided to re-create the voyaging canoe, he had only a sketch by an 19 century French artist to go by. There were no surviving models of the canoes not Elders who had ever built or seen one. Yet without canoes there would be no Hawaiians for the canoe brought them to the islands and shaped both their characters and societies.
The word for canoe is, ‘Wa’a’. ‘Wa’ refers to a segment of time and ‘a’ is the name for the Sirius star system – the origin of Hawaiian people. Interestingly, when Elders Hale Makua of Hawaii and Dr. Erick Gbdossou of Benin met, they discovered that their diverse cultures have the exact same words for the most ancient aspects of the culture. Both refer to the companion star of Sirius by the same name! Yet, western science only identified this star in our generation.
A few years ago, Keola and I visited Bella Bella, an Indian Reserve on the west coast of Canada. There we met a man who had been a Mason and was an expert in sacred geometry. He mentioned a geometric ratio called, the Golden Mean or Phi Ratio and recommended, ‘Serpent in the Sky’ a book on Egyptian culture and mathematics. It took a while but eventually I found a copy (this was pre-internet). I will never forget what happened when I gave the book to my husband. It was about 10:30 at night, we were in bed reading when suddenly he spoke in a very intense voice. “Apela, I got it. Listen to this, if the Phi Ratio is the mathematical formula for how life expresses itself then probably the Ancient Hawaiians who lived on the seas and in nature would think like that too. They wouldn’t have called it Phi, they might not have called it anything at all but they would have thought that way. Just think. This could answer the questions we could not find out about in the design of Polynesian canoes. A fish is made according to Phi principles. If I could design a canoe and apply the Phi ratio in as many design aspects possible then it could be possible to create a canoe that would be a perpetual motion ‘machine’. Once it got under way and was sailing, it would surf its own wave and would require no energy to keep going! Oh, fantastic,’ he said, throwing off the covers and padding downstairs and outside to his shop to put together a scale model to see how the application of Phi would change the design of the canoes he had made twenty years earlier.
Three days later the model was done. It was sleek stunning and did indeed alter the shape of the canoe. We were in love with it but then sad reality hit. There were no trees left big enough to make such a canoe and even making it out of modern materials would cost more than one hundred thousand dollars. Who would fund such a project? In a few weeks, Keola packed up the small model and put it away. Nearly two years passed.
Keola and I went for a ceremony with my Oneida people. During that ceremony, he asked the Ancestors and the Morning Star, permission to help heal his people. Within a few weeks of our return, people started showing up, volunteering their skills, others brought wood one was even a canoe maker from the Coast of Canada. Our dream project – to build a massive double hulled voyaging canoe – one that would incorporate modern features within a completely traditional design allowing the vessel to pass U.S. Coast Guard regulations and which could sail independent of a support vessel (which Hawaiians don’t usually have) had begun!
We started where we were at which is the first principle of Indigenous Science – everything we need is present in the nature around us. We began the construction in the garage – shop outside our house. Keola had made the first canoe, the Mo’olele or flying lizard, there in 1975 but ‘place and spiritual power’ are important aspects of Indigenous Science too and our house is built on a sacred site. My husband’s Hawaiian family has lived adjacent to a pond sacred to the great lizard later known as the Kihawahine – the spirit woman of fresh water, genealogy and conception. As recently as the 1800’s thousands of people witnessed the last appearance of this 36 foot black lizard in the pond. Because fresh water is so crucial for ocean people, the Kihawahine was revered. To even drop a piece of litter near this pond was punishable by death. When the Europeans arrived, the trashing of the site began and the last Holy Guardian of the site conducted the ceremony to call the lizard – probably in an effort to keep Hawaiians strong and to convince the Europeans of the efficacy and power of Hawaiian spirituality. The lizard came and received the traditional offering of awa – a sacred herb drink. The lizard rolled around in the water with delight! But this did not stop the colonizers from diverting the flow of water from the pond to their sugar cane fields. Subsequently, they land filled the pond. Since that time, water shortages have become common, people have forgotten their identity and West Maui, described as the ‘Venice of the Pacific’ became the semi- arid land it is now.
We did not know it when we began but Keola’s shop was the perfect place. Despite no funds and very limited space, we began to build a 62.5 foot long double hulled voyaging canoe that would take the community and future generations of Hawaiians throughout Polynesia and around the world. The people would no longer be isolated from each other or the global community. They would pick up where their Ancestors had left off!
We’re building the Mo’okiha (the doubly powerful Kihawahine) canoe in a totally voluntary way. In the first six weeks, we had 3,000 volunteer hours. Imagine the excitement. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the U.S. Most local people must work 2 jobs – all in the low paying tourist industry – the only employer on the island. Nothing like this has ever been seen, It isn’t only natives, we have tourists, people from every culture coming by to help, that’s how it’s catching on. Because of the unprecedented support, the State and the County turned over a small park, adjacent to the sacred pond and right on the ocean. The Kihawahine, fresh water spirit, is guiding and protecting us. She surely must. To get 13 acres of oceanfront property – some of the world’s most expensive real estate, would be impossible otherwise. As of today, we have
put 6,000 hours into the canoe- the hulls, one representing the male sun and the other the female moon are just about done. The bottom of the canoe hull is the ‘kua mo’o or backbone of the lizard. It also refers to a body of stars used in open ocean, non instrument navigating. Next we will start on the I’ako (the curvilinear supports that connect the two hulls and serve as a foundation for a central platform which is akin to the planet venus). As you can see, the canoe is not just a boat. The design embodies principles of star navigation, oral history and worldview and Polynesian worldview is very sophisticated.
Francis Warther, Hawaiian Archaeoastronomer, writes:
Where are we? Who are we? for the ancient Hawaiian, to answer the first question was to realize the answer to the second. The Ancient Polynesian considered a very select geographical area of our planet called the ‘Tropic Region’ almost entirely ocean – the largest in the world, a unique marinescape…. This region had a limit, 1600 miles north and 1600 miles south of the equator, called the “Navel of Wakea” and each half, the north called Kane, the south Kanaloa, WERE MIRROR IMAGES OF EACH OTHER IN TIME, SEASONS AND CALENDAR NAMES.
[Hawaiian Identity and the Tropic Skies, p.1 Warther, Francis]
Polynesia islands straddle the equator. The north and south regions are identical and opposite. Water, winds and weather move in opposite directions. Summer in the north is winter in the south. The canoe with it’s two hulls and central platform represent the tropic lines and the equator.
“Only within the Tropic property line limits will the sun climb to the Zenith (Lolopua) directly overhead twice a year for each Tropic island. The sun will be directly underfoot about twice a year at the nadir for each island.
This astronomical fact was the basis for the unity of Polynesian mythology and provided the cosmic connection, the imprinting as it were, of the Heavens to the Sea and its Islands. The belief of Mana, the cosmological generating power of life and renewal capable of infusing a person or thing with immortal sustenance, is I believe, directly connected to the position of place under Heaven and the primordial sea.
[Hawaiian Identity and the Tropic Skies, p.1 Warther, Francis]
These perceptions, singular to the members of the Tropic community have a profound influence on the thought process and values of the society and its regulatory rules….a distinct Polynesian logic has been shaped by this cosmic reality – that position in the world influences and directs ones concept of space and time and even more profoundly the logic of thought processes.
. [Hawaiian Identity and the Tropic Skies, p.4 Warther, Francis]
Roy Wagner shows how the canoe design emulates the inner workings of the ‘tropic philosopher’. “his apprehension of knowledge is dialectical rather than rationalistic.” The Polynesian philosopher creates and uses “ a tension of dialogue, like an alternation between two conceptions of viewpoints that are simultaneously contradictory and supportive of each other. As a way of thinking, a dialectic operates by exploiting contradictions, against a common ground of similarity rather than by appealing to consistency against a common ground of differences after the fashion of rationalistic or linear logic.”
Warther goes on to point out the limits of linear logic to resolve multi-faceted problems and notes that conflict resolution (Ho’oponopono) has been central to Hawaiian culture placing kin, community and leadership in a balanced relationship to cosmic and ecological cycles and who patterned their social, politic organization on what they saw as priorities of order of the astronomical heavens.
Warther concludes with the statement that the survival of humanity depends on our ability to become members of the “Tropic Club”. That is to respond adaptively to the “mental equations contained in the logic of non-linearity passed to us by the Ancient Hawaiian culture.”
As we build the canoe, we are also building identity. Elders like Francis Warther come to the new canoe Hale (house) to teach and to share their wisdom. Hawaiian Elder’s Auntie Mahilani Poepoe and Hale Makua stop by to offer cultural insights, encouragement and love. The more we work the more we are being integrated into the web of life – the Aloha of ancient Hawaii – and the more synchronicities occur. Two striking examples of this come to mind.
When Keola built the first canoes in the 1970’s he was fortunate to find the remains of a partially completed ancient canoe in an a shelter cave. The canoe was falling apart but to his trained eye, the aged pieces of wood were a university that told him how certain cuts were made, what lines to use and even answered critical design questions about ropes and how they were attached but some things could not be answered. Ancestors came to him in dreams. He would fall asleep with a design question and wake up in the morning knowing the answer. But some things could not be solved and he had to make an informed, ‘best guess’ – choices that haunted him. Keola had incorporated all the ancient design features he knew in his canoes. Often he was ridiculed as the features made no apparent sense. The Manu or upright tips at the ends of the hulls were a good example.
Keola and three other adults took a group of eight children out in the Mo’olele. Suddenly a 40 knot wind hit. Ocean swells rose to twenty feet – extremely dangerous. The canoe was moving so fast that she passed the crest of the wave and slid down into the trough. Water began pouring onto the hulls and pushing them down under the next wave. An ordinary canoe would sink in this situation. Suddenly the brilliance of the ancient design shone through. The curved, points of the Manu came slicing up through the waves bringing the rest of the hull along with it! The children and crew made it safe to shore and after that, no one ever again doubted the minds of their Ancestors.
Keola was determined to regain and incorporate even more of the traditional designs into the Mo’okiha and finding out about the Phi ratio provided a key to guide in the construction of elements where the traditional knowledge was absent. But what if this was not accurate? He posed this problem to Kauai archaeo-astronomer, Francis Warther who shocked us with his response. Not only did ancient Hawaiians know about Phi, but had built Malae, an entire pyramid dedicated to the teaching of both pi and phi. Warther then produced a diagram which he happened to have with him!
Incorporates the “cosmic proportion” of:
SIX = SPACE TIME and two = FEMALE
FIVE=CREATION Three = MALE
Six divided by Five equals 1.2
1.2 is Pi over Phi squared
Pi over Phi squared is 3.1416 over 1.618 squared
These two harmonic proportions drive the universe. Both are contained in the data bank of Malae.
Warther and Makua point out that the Malae also integrates astronomical information. In this case the site is oriented to the constellation Pegasus as well as heliacal rising and settings of various stars and planets.
Nearing the completion of the hulls raised the question of spacing. How close or far apart would the hulls have to be to conform to the Golden Ratio? Keola worked at this question in many ways including consulting with Elders. No one knew. We prayed and we worried. One day a young German man and wife stopped by the canoe house. They had lived in Fiji for six years because they were building a canoe and wanted to learn about traditional Polynesian canoe design. The Elders had refused to share their teachings so they built an essentially western canoe with obvious Polynesian design elements incorporated. They were very hurt and discouraged but sympathetic to the historic wounds which stood between themselves and the Fijians.
Keola, master canoe maker of Hawaii, shared openly with this young man as he does with all people but he also had a hunch. Sure enough. The next day, just hours before
departure for Europe, the German man appeared at our door. He confessed to Keola that as he prepared to leave Fiji an Elder took pity on him and passed on one traditional design secret. It was all this young man had and he wanted to keep it to himself. He said that after meeting Keola, and not sharing what he knew, that it kept him awake all night so he knew he had to pass on the information. What he said thrilled us – it was the ancient formula for joining the hulls and… it conformed to the Phi Ratio!
So this is a good example of the way Indigenous Science and the Ancestors work to help us when we dedicate ourselves to remembering who we are. Because colonialism is a global phenomenon, we find ourselves receiving guidance from diverse sources – books, guests from other countries, dreams, oral history – that is because our Ancestors always believed in sharing. This is another reason why gatherings such as Coumba Lamba are so important. As we meet, we begin to put together the pieces of the Great Knowledge that each of us has. In the Great Forgetting the Knowledge was disbursed so that no one tribe would have all of it and so that the only way to restore ourselves would be by coming together as was done in Ancient times.
Tonight at Coumba Lamba there will be a ceremony with water and your ancestors. It’s the same type of Spirit and way that has been guiding and empowering us. It is an African ceremony with it’s own unique cultural aspects but emanates from the same source. I encourage you to join us and to remember our indigenous science of relations, peace and Aloha – the turning of the face to God – our Ancestral Remembrance.
Choctaw Grandmother, Pokni, Mary Jones, will now close this session with a prayer.
Pokni Mary Jones
CONCLUSION; Grandmother’s Blessing
I can feel there’s something here, there’s power here. If it wasn’t the power and the Spirit’s power, we all wouldn’t be here. I am so glad that I know her (Apela). She don’t
know I know her but I do and I’ve been working with her for the last 11 years. It’s somebody I have never seen (before working together) and I didn’t even know who she was. But it was a dream that brought us together, it was a rock1 that brought us together, it was the Spirit.
A depiction of Marys Rock
I’m glad they did; I worked with her and worked with this indigenous science thing. I don’t know much about the science things, I’m not well-educated to know science, but I know my Choctaw science. So my science and Western science; we can compare and I still believe my science because things are just about the same – white people’s science and Native people’s science are just about the same thing. What I learned, I learned by spirit. I don’t learn from reading or nothing like that. I learn from traditional ways. So,
1 In 1990 I had a dream of a special rock. A few months later I visited Choctaw Chief Jerry Jackson in Louisiana. I related part of my dream to him. He interrupted and said we had to call his Aunt Mary as she was the Elder who knew of these things. When Mary came into the room I felt as if I knew her and she later said that she felt the same with me. I told her my dream and she was shocked. She said, ‘I can’t believe it. You just dreamt my rock’. We have been close ever since. Kowianukosha is a little person, a nature spirit with great powers. He is also a trickster who throws this sacred type of stone at people especially healers to help them in their work.
that’s the Spirit that’s with me and I’m so glad to be here with you all. I don’t know what I can do or what I can say but I hope and pray that the Spirit takes care of you all and bring you all back together and give you all what you want, what you all need to be here together today, this week, all this time that you all spend together. Something good will come out. It might not be next week, or next year, but something good is going to come out of this. And this day you all remember it for your next generation. I’m glad to be here with you all and bless you all. Somehow all this touched me and I know so I’m going to pray for you all, all of us together this evening.
(Prayer in the Choctaw language) This session is officially closed. Thank you.
Canoe joins tradition, technology (PDF)
Lahaina, Maui – The newest addition to Hawaii’s fleet of double-hulled voyaging canoes is three-quarters finished in a shed on the Lahaina waterfront. The Mo’okiha O Piilani will be the biggest such canoe in Hawaii and probably the most controversial in the Pacific.
What’s controversial about it is a fusion of Polynesian tradition and modern technology in a way that blurs the distinctions between the two.
For example, this canoe asks the question: Is it in the old Hawaiian tradition of conservation to hew a canoe from logs when logs are in critically short supply?
“Today you cannot waste 80 percent of a log lo make a canoe,” said Keole Sequeira, the canoe builder, “That takes too much out of the environment. “The Hawaiians took a log and carved away everything that wasn’t a canoe. We re laking a space and filling it with a canoe built of modem materials. I’m trying to combine the best of Hawaiian design with modem technology”
Sequeira makes another controversial companion between what’s traditional and what’s modern.
Hawai’iloa, built on Oahu of traditional wood logs, was funded as one activity under a $3 million federal grant to preserve Hawaiian culture.
The Mo’okiha O Piilani will cost only $200,000 in modern currency. It will be built of space-age materials, but most of the cost will come in traditional currency – at least I0,000 volunteer man-hours.
That doesn’t count half again as much contributions of volunteer help to put on benefit luaus and other fund-raisers.
Sequeira can even tell You how much traditional currency is worth. He said he built the smaller Mo’okiha in l975 tor $11,000 in cash and volunteer help. Today the canoe is appraised at $120,000.
The whole concept of Mo’okiha O Piilani seems to be a new way of looking at the ancient art of canoe voyaging. Or is it the other way around, looking at today through the eves of old Polynesia?
Mo’okiha O Piilani will be the first voyage canoe with jet propulsion engines. The engines run on diesel fuel that will serve the vessel a range under motor power of about 500 miles.
So what’s Polynesian about that? The ancients used paddles of auxiliary power. Sequeira points out that Hokule’a carries an outboard motor for safety when sailing among the treacherous South Seas reefs and that Hawaii’s voyaging canoes never go out without escort boats.
“Inboard engines are safer than outboards,” he said. Our canoe will be so safe we won’t need an escort boat .”
There will be state-of-the-art satellite navigation gear on board and a desalinization plant that can make 160 gallons of fresh water a day.
At what point does the Mo’okiha O Piilani stop being a Polynesian voyaging canoe and become a modern Yacht? that what the controversy will be about. More important, will she sail?