Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

Written and Researched by Robert Manu Gay

First and foremost, there are only two names for the highest mountain in Hawai‘i. Maunakea is a compound word which literally means “white mountain” its poetic name is Poliahu. Maunakea was never called or known by the epithet, Mauna-a-Wakea.

Who was Wakea? Wakea was a Raʻiʻatean chief born in about the year 0 to 166 A.D. Wakea was the son of Kahiko (k) and Kupu-lana-kehau (w) circa 0 to 144 A.D. He married the Tahitian chiefess Papa.

The island of Tahiti was characterized by the saying “Tahiti-a-Manahune”. Manahune is the Tahitian equivalent of the Hawaiian term for maka‘āinana the commoners because Tahiti did not follow the stratified hierarchy of the Ra‘i‘aitean Ariki system and was populated without the strict hierarchy of the chiefs and priests.

The marriage of Papa to Wakea was a social and political arrangement to secure an alliance of peace between the two island chiefdoms. Neither Wakea or his wife Papa were the first progenitors of the Hawaiian people or race.

The Hawaiian story of Wakea is a cultural appropriation of an older tradition of the Ra‘i‘atea chief Wakea. He is the name sake of an even older Polynesian ancestor ‘Atea or Vatea. Wakea was never worshipped in Hawai‘i as an akua, kupua or ‘aumakua. Wakea and his wife Papa never lived or emigrated to Hawai’i, she died and was buried in Waieri on the island of Tahiti. The Hawaiian people left Tahiti centuries later than the period associated with Wakea and Papa. Therefore, we can conclude that there is no historical or cultural link to Maunakea and the Ra‘i‘atean chief Wakea. Hawai‘i was named after the ancestral homeland Hawaiki the island known as Ra‘i‘atea which in turn was named after the older ancestral homeland in Samoa the island of Savai‘i.

The Kumulipo chant was composed for and dedicated to the Ka‘u chief Kalani-Nui-I-amamao circa 1700 A.D. He was the father of Kalani‘opu‘u, Kahiwaokalani and Keouakupuapaikalaninui one of two reputed biological fathers of Kamehameha I. The Kumulipo myth was a local transformation, a borrowing of older Tahitian cultural material. In the Kumulipo Papa is said to give birth to the Hawaiian Islands. This concept is taken from the ancient cosmogonic tradition of the creation myths of the primordial pair one male and one female and is a late poetic modification, a localized Hawai‘i island Ka‘u revision composed to honor Kamehameha I grandfather Kalaninui‘iamamao who was born after 1700.

In the Kumulipo in the thirteenth section there is a brief mention of Wakea’s deception of Papa, and how and why the kapu were first created and imposed, and then the birth of Hāloa the first and his brother Hāloa the second the embryo Long-stalk and the living son Hāloa. At line 1951 Hāloa’s name is thrust into the list of grandchildren with whom Haumea “slept” (moe) fusing an older tradition of Haumea with Papa. Wakea plays an insignificant role in the Kumulipo in the final genealogical tradition of the Kumulipo. And in the final section Wakea and Papa do not appear there at all.

The story of Wakea is a transformation, a modification and borrowing of the Polynesian traditions associated with ‘Atea or Vatea an ancient genealogical myth. The Kumulipo is a relatively recent composition borrowing from older Tahitian traditions which were either lost or forgotten. Hawaiian religious and spiritual theological traditions are based on the concept of ancestral veneration and a cosmogonic origin. These spiritual and religious traditions are based on the ‘Oromatua cult worship associated with Ra‘i‘atea originally called Hawaiki. The story of Wakea and Papa are specifically associated with Hawaiki the island of Ra‘i‘atea not Hawai‘i.