Papa and Wakea: The Hawaiian creation story

Written by: 
Rebecca Sabalones ~ Multimedia Journalist

Wakea is the god of light and the heavens, and Papa is the goddess of the earth and the underworld, according to Mary Warren Beckwith in “Hawaiian Mythology.” Hawaiian legend tells us that Papa and Wakea are the first parents in Hawaiian history and creators of the earth and sky.

In Beckwith’s studies, their names are the earliest recorded in genealogies given by the Hawaiian people. “Father Sky and Mother Earth are the first parents of human life on earth as they are of plant life that springs living from the earth under the influence of sun and rain from heaven and of animal life that feeds upon it,” says Beckwith.

According to Beckwith, Wakea, from whom come the ali’I, Hawaiian chiefs, symbolizes the sky from which the sunlight and rain come to fertilize the earth. Papa, means “flat surface,” symbolizes the upper layer of the earth wherein lies the seeds to be fertilized, she says. The story goes that Papa gave birth to a calabash gourd, from which they made a bowl and cover. The different parts of the calabash were used to create the earth.

Beckwith says, “Wakea throws up the cover and it becomes the sky. He throws up the pulp and it becomes the sun; the seeds, and they become the stars; the white lining of the gourd, and it becomes the moon; the ripe white meat, and it becomes the clouds; the juice pours over the clouds and it becomes rain. Of the calabash itself Wakea makes the land and the ocean.”

This story, amongst other Hawaiian legends, illustrates how important the earth and nature is to Hawaiian culture. “It’s all about respecting nature,” said Paul Tovey, a resident of Laie, “It’s like stewardship in the gospel, you know? Take care of the land and it will take care of you.”

Nainoa Christian, a senior in finance from Wahiawa, said, “It shows the connection that the Hawaiian people had with every part of nature.”

Another story gives us more appreciation for the environment around us. When Papa and Wakea had their firstborn, he was born without arms or legs, says Beckwith. They buried him outside of their hut and when they went outside the next morning, there was a plant where they buried him. The child was reborn as kalo (taro) and was renamed Ha-loa, or “first stalk.” He became the staple food of the Hawaiian people.

When asked how the legends relate to the gospel, Christian said he liked to relate the story of Ha-loa. He said, “Kalo became their life-substance, and for me I think that has a deep connection to the gospel, and to Christ, and my connection with the Hawaiian culture.”