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The Woman Who Sat Sideways

IN THIS second half of the Kumulipo chant, called the Ao, the period of living men, three myths of parenthood of mankind from the gods are blended. The first is the myth of La'ila'i who became mother of gods and men through her relations with the god Kane and the man Ki'i. The second is the myth of Haumea and the god Kanaloa, of Haumea's children born "from the brain" and her strange renewals of youth to become mother and wife of children and grandchildren. The third is the myth of Papa and Wakea; of Wakea's affair with his daughter and the consequent quarrel with Papa; of his fishing up an underseas woman, from whom sea creatures are born, a woman whose son usurps the normal succession upon the family line. In many ways these stories overlap as if they were variants from a common source. It is possible that they represent the way in which different branches on the family line have inherited from their masters of song the story of beginning traditional with their stock.

The. first four sections of the Ao period tell the story of La'ila'i's relations with Kane the god and Ki'i the man. Kane is the word used for "man" in his procreative function, equivalent to our word "male"; Ki'i means "image." So in the Hebrew Scriptures man was created in the "image" of God. Kanaloa, listed as third in the trio of males born with the woman La'ila'i at the dawn of human life, disappears from the action altogether after his birth in the body of an octopus is anonunced {sic} in the eighth ode. This eighth section must be regarded as a kind of synopsis of the next three,

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although the harmonizing of the four is so extremely uncertain as to be best left to the intuition of the reader in the light of whatever information or suggestion can be gleaned further from native sources to clarify particular obscurities.

In the ninth chant La'ila'i seems to live successively with Kane and with Ki'i. A period of intermarriage follows among her posterity: literally, they increase "by forty thousand and by four thousand" (he kini, he mano) corresponding to the sacred numbering of the lesser gods invoked in temple prayers. The chant closes with the birth of the same three offspring of La'ila'i as were named in the eighth ode when she lived "as a woman" in the land of Lua, here called "part of the family of that woman mentioned above" (la). The gist of the story seems to be that the woman left the land of "the gods in the heavens" and life with her legitimate mate to wed a mere mortal on earth, whose offspring, half-god, half-man, are known as the ruddy-faced, bearded stock traditionally known as "children of Ki'i" and today connected with the family of the volcano goddess Pele, who thus becomes a fourth in the variations upon the part played by mother Eve in the Hawaiian genesis drama.

Two aphorisms used in this chant to describe the part played here by the "woman who sat sideways" of the eighth chant clearly refer, the one to the function of sex to insure family survival, the other to the freedom of woman in sex matters. The line reading No ka aunaki kuku ahi kanaka is an allusion to the common method of starting a fire by means of two firesticks. One, the hard-grained aulima, is held upright in the hand (lima) and rubbed back and forth upon the hollowed surface of the other, the softer aunaki, to produce the spark, the action being a perfectly understood sex symbol among Hawaiians. Hence the line is to be literally translated, "From the female firestick comes the fire that makes man." In other words, woman, impregnated by the male, nurses the spark of life that develops into a living man.

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The second aphorism reads I hohole pahiwa ka lau koa and is rendered by Kawena: "She stripped the dark leaves of the koa tree." The allusion is to the branch of the forest koa tree, the native acacia set up on the altar in a school of the hula dance as a prayer for "courage" (koa). The symbolism depends upon word play. Koa is the Hawaiian word for a soldier, used with the same intent. Call him that and he will be courageous; upon this principle a belief in word magic works. Courage in a woman depends upon her meeting successfully the challenge of sex relations, and it was hence the power to excite erotic emotion that marked the triumph of a hula dancer. Kawena Pukui recalls an old custom in Ka-u district of forbidding a dancer to refuse a kiss at the close of a hula performance, however distasteful the person offering the tribute-doubtless a survival of more intimate advances once encouraged in the name of the lustful divinity supposed to be directly inspiring the successful dancer.[1] It was this element in the hula tradition that shocked even a foreigner like Vancouver and made the hula dance a taboo pastime under missionary influence. With the revival today of the art, the aim is to merge the erotic element in the aesthetic.

Translation of the tenth chant is involved in considerable difficulty. Pokini Robinson interpreted it as a prayer for the building of the house in which a young couple were to start housekeeping together, and this seems plausible, although the exact bearing of each line upon this general background is not always evident. According to Pokini, Hawaiians call the prayer used at each stage of a house-building the Pokinikini, the name here given to the parent of Kane in his reproductive energy, Kane of the Night-of-multltudes. The three children born to La'ila'i by Kane in the lines following, whose names appear also on the Kamokuiki genealogy, are invoked, says Pokini, as protectors in applying the thatch-grass

[1. Pukui, California Folklore Quarterly, II, 219.]

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to complete the house. Kawena translates the names by such suggestively amorous terms for the girls as "Coquette" and "Fondly-recalled," with "Fair-haired" for the male of the family.

On this basis, the doubtful opening lines take on a clearer meaning. As written in the text they name Maila, born to La'ila'i when she lived as a woman in the land of Lua; but, if read O mai la, where O replaces the regular e before an imperative, they would summon to a place in the interior of the new home the gods of procreation, the god Kane of the Night-of-multitudes and La'ila'i, the goddess who "sat sideways" to become mother of mankind. This would be in keeping with Polynesian thought, although we have no confirmation of such an idea in Hawaii. Firth tells us that in Tikopia "structural members of a building" are regarded as "actual embodiments of deity"--hence the fixed positions in the house which were assigned to members of the household. At the house post sits the male head of the house with his sons and male guests whom he would honor, since the god is considered to be actually present in the stone upon which the post rests, while the women range along the opposite wall.[2] If this is true for Hawaii, where is the place of Ki'i ka mahu in the structural setup? The word mahú with the accent on the last syllable is applied to a hermaphrodite; it is also given the sense of "quiet." Firth tells us that the Tikopians had gods regarded as double-sexed, not in the physical sense but in the sense that, like the Indian god Siva, they were able to show themselves in either a male or a female body. A curious Tahitian chant gives to the god 'Atea such a shift of sex, a shift that would, if accepted in Hawaii, explain how Wakea, further on in the Kumulipo chant, lures a water maiden to shore by setting up images (ki'i), or why the god Kauakahi, in a folktale from Hilo district on Hawaii, is described

[2. Firth, Work of the Gods in Tikopia, p. 64.]

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as hiding behind an image of a girl until the unsuspecting water nymph of whom he is amorous comes within his grasp.[3] It is possible that Ki'i, as "image" of the god, has the power of appearing in either sex, but I am without evidence that Hawaiians regarded Ki'i as double-sexed or whether, if they did so regard him, they would give the name mahu to such an attribute. The queen's translation,

Maila, with Lailai for protection
And Kane of Kapokinikini was support, Kii was helpless,

seems to imply that Ki'i, perhaps representing the danger to a young wife of a misalliance, is one of the evil spirits to be conjured into helplessness. On the other hand, the word mahu, unaccented, may apply to a smoldering fire and it would then be possible to think of Ki'i as personifying the fire of sexual passion, with a place in the interior of the house at the oven kept smoldering for quick rekindling, were it not for the fact that Hawaiians built their ovens out of doors and had no need of house fires for heating. The problem hence remains for further investigators, and I take refuge in the more general of the suggested readings.

After the birth of offspring "at Kapapa," La'ila'i returns to Kane the god and bears to him the three deities who guard. the thatching of the house. The last half of the chant takes: up the quarrel for the succession. Kamaha'ina, "First-born" on earth, will take precedence over Hakea born in the heavens. Ki'i the man, through this first-born, will establish the long line of chiefs of the forest uplands enumerated in chant eleven. Again comes the problem whether La'ila'i herself or the daughter Maila is involved in the scandal. The phrase lae punia at line 698 is said to apply to a father-daughter union like the traditional Wakea-Papa affair, and the 'ape which La'ila'i gives to Ki'i rather than to Kane, to

[3. Firth, We the Tikopia, p. 470; Henry, p. 372; Beckwith, Hawaiian Mythology, pp. 540-41.]

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refer to the young daughter rather than to the mother. There is no doubt a historical allusion that escapes us.

Certainly the gossips are set in motion. If all the world loves a lover, all the world and their wives love a scandal, and a Hawaiian audience is particularly susceptible to this form of erotic titillation. The reaction upon outsiders and then that upon the injured husband is indicated by playing first upon the k sound to express precise forms of inarticulate disapproval in the head-shaking and kluck-klucking of the court gossips, then upon sounds in m combined with u to give the mood of sulky silence preserved at first by the husband when he begins to suspect the truth of the matter. The passage is impossible to render in English, certainly not literally. The fact seems to be that children are born but by whom Kane is ignorant. He suspects the woman of giving "the sacred 'apé" to Ki'i, an expression equivalent to Eve's forbidden apple and here perhaps symbolizing the importance placed upon virginity for the wife of a taboo chief whose child is to become his heir.

As a matter of fact, the quarrel turns, not upon the proper jealousy of a husband for the honor of his wife, a quite unusual situation it would seem in Hawaiian court life, but upon this question of primogeniture. Kane sees that his own son will serve the son of Ki'i:

His descendants will hence belong to the younger line,
The children of the elder will be lord [?].

Thus the house-building prayer lays final stress upon a rule of utmost importance to family standing and to political security, the rule that gives precedence to a wife's first-born. The story of the "woman who sat sideways" may have been told at this point as a warning to the young wife not to lose for her offspring the rank she might preserve for them, but to give her first-born to the husband with whom she has been properly mated. It is altogether possible, however, that

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the symbolism here has been deflected to this practical conclusion from an originally more mythical ending.


Still, trembling stands earth
645. Hot, rumbling, split is the heaven
This woman ascends to heaven, ascends right up to heaven
Ascends up toward the forest
Tries to touch the earth and the earth splits up
Children of Ki'i sprung from the brain
650. Came out, flew, flew also to the heavens
Showed the sign, the ruddy tint by which they were known
Showed the fine reddish hair at puberty [?]
Showed on the chin a reddish beard
The offspring of that mysterious woman
655. The woman of 'Iliponi, of within 'I'ipakalani
"From the female firestick comes the fire that makes men"
That woman dwelt in Nu'umealani
Land where the gods dwelt
"She stripped the dark leaves of the koa tree"
660. A woman of mysterious body was this
She lived with Ki'i, she lived with Kane
She lived with Kane of the time when men multiplied
Forgotten is the time of this multitude
A multitude the posterity of the time of child-bearing
665. She returned again upward
Dwelt in the sacred forest of the gods in Nu'umealani
Was pregnant there, the earth broke open
Born was the woman Groping-one [Haha-po'ele]
Born was Dim-sighted [Hapopo], a woman
670. Last born was Naked-one, 'Olohelohe
Part of the posterity of that woman
    It was Day


Come hither, La'ila'i [to] the wall [?]
Kane of Kapokinikini [to] the post; Ki'i be quiet
675. Born was La'i'olo'olo and lived at Kapapa
Born was Kamaha'ina the first-born, a male
Born was Kamamule, a male
Kamakalua the second child was a girl
Came the child Po'ele-i [Midnight]

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680. Came the child Po'ele-a [First-light]
Wehi-wela-wehi-loa [Opening-to-the heat, opening wide]
La'ila'i returned and lived with Kane
Born was Ha'i, a girl
Born was Hali'a, a girl
685. Born was Hakea, Fair-haired, a male
There was whispering, lip-smacking and clucking
Smacking, tut-tutting, head-shaking
Sulking, sullenness, silence
Kane kept silence, refused to speak
690. Sullen, angry, resentful
With the woman for her progeny
Hidden was the man by whom she had children
[The man] to whom her children were born [?]
The chiefess refused him the youngest
695. Gave the sacred 'ape to Ki'i
She slept with Ki'i
Kane suspected the first-born, became jealous
Suspected Ki'i and La'ila'i of a secret union
They pelted Kane with stones
700. Hurled a spear; he shouted aloud
"This is fallen to my lot, for the younger [line]"
Kane was angry and jealous because he slept last with her
His descendants would hence belong to the younger line
The children of the elder would be lord
705. First through La'ila'i, first through Ki'i
Child of the two born in the heavens there
    Came forth

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