Genealogy and Traditional Mo‘olelo

Hawaiian Monk Seals in Genealogy and Mythology

Hawaiians have also expressed contestation to the monk seal as a Native Hawaiian species over an inability to locate reference to the monk seal in the Kumulipo, a popular Hawaiian creation chant. Conversely, there is reason to believe that the monk seal does appear in the Kumulipo.

The applicable section of the Kumulipo reads:
Ka Wa Eone [sic] Chant Six

0539. O kupukupu kahili o Kua-ka-mano
0540. O kuku ka mahimahi, o ka pihapiha kapu
0541. O ka holo [a]na kuwaluwalu ka linalina
0542. Holi [a]na, hoomaka, hoomakamaka ka ai
0543. Ka ai ana ka piipii wai
0544. Ka ai ana ka piipii kai
0545. Ka henehene a lualua
0546. Noho poopoo ka iole makua
0547. Noho pupii ka iole liilii
0548. O ka hulu ai malama
0549. Uku lii o ka aina
0550. Uku lii o ka wai
0551. O mehe[u] ka akiaki a nei[a] haula
0552. O lihilihi kuku
0553. O peepee a uma
0554. He iole ko uka, he iole ko kai
0555. He ‘iole holo i ka uaua
0556. Hanau laua a ka Pohiolo
0557. Hanau laua a ka Poneeaku
0558. He nenee ka holo a ka iole uku
0559. He mahimahi ka lele a ka iole uku
0560. He lalama i ka iliili
0561. Ka iliili hua ohia, hua ole o ka uka
0562. He pepe kama a ka po, hiolo i hanau
0563. He lele kama a laua o ka po nee aku
0564. O kama a uli a kama i ka po, nei la
0565. Po–no
Many new fines of chiefs spring up
Cultivation arises, full of taboos
[They go about scratching at the wet lands
It sprouts, the first blades appear, the food is ready] [?]
Food grown by the water courses
Food grown by the sea
Plentiful and heaped up
The parent rats dwell in holes
The little rats huddle together
Those who mark the seasons
Little tolls from the land
Little tolls from the water courses
Trace of the nibblings of these brown-coated ones
With whiskers upstanding
They hide here and there
A rat in the upland, a rat by the sea
A rat running beside the wave
Born to the two, child of the Night-falling-away
Born to the two, child of the Night-creeping-away
The little child creeps as it moves
The little child moves with a spring
Pilfering at the rind
Rind of the ‘ohi‘a fruit, not a fruit of the upland
A tiny child born as the darkness falls away
A springing child born as the darkness creeps away
Child of the dark and child in the night now here
Still it is night (Beckwith, 1951).


Genealogists believe that the reference to ioleholoikauaua is the Hawaiian monk seal.

A Kumu Hula interviewed on Maui notes that mo’olelo speak of `Īlioholoikauaua-a-Lono, and therefore the monk seal is associated with the god, Lono. This mo’olelo is also found in the Legend of Hawaii-loa:

After Light had been created or brought forth from the Po (the darkness or chaos) the gods looked upon the empty space (ka lewa) and there was no place to dwell in. They then created the heaves for themselves. Three heavens did they create or call into existence by their word of command. The uppermost heaven was called “Lani-Makua,” the one next below was called “he Lani o Ku,” and the lowest was called “he Lani o Lono.” The first man, generally called Kumu Honua, had a number of names – already mentioned; he was a tall, handsome, majestic looking person, and so was his wife. He was along upon the land for about one century (kipaelui or kihipea) before his wife Lalo Honua was created. Among the animals enumerated in the legend as dwelling in peace and comfort with Kumu Honua in Kalani i Hauola were: Ka puaa nui Hihimanu a Kane (the large Hihimanu hog of Kane); ka ilio nui niho oi a Kane (the large sharp-toothed dog of Kane); ka ilio holo i ka uaua a Lono (the dog running at the voice of Lono); ka puaa maoli (the common hog); ka ilio alii a Kane (the royal dog of Kane); na moo (lizards)… (Fornander, 1919).

References to ka-ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua-a-Lono are rare. Only the reference in Fornander’s has been found to date. The association with Lono, rather than Kane, is also interesting. Dogs are typically associated with Kane; many other ocean animals are associated with Kanaloa.

Another possibility may be that the `īlio hā was in fact a monk seal. The `īlio hā appears in The Epic Tale of Hi`iakaikapoliopele (Nogelmeier, 2006). As Hi`iaka travels through O`ahu on her way to Kaua`i, Hi`iaka describes an area near Ka`ō`io Point: “there is a plain on the inland side and dangerous waters seaward, a place renowned in the saying, `Lie calmly in the sea of your chief.’ As we go along we will reach Makaua, land of the Ma`akua rain. That is where the `īlio h of Kāne dwells, named Kauhike`īmakaokalani, an uncle of ours” (Nogelmeier, 2006).

The tale continues (as translated):

“Hey, dear friend!”

Wahine`ōma`o responded, “Yes?”

Then Hi`iaka asked, as her hand indicated a ridge of steep cliffs descending sharply to the read, “Do you see that line of cliffs overgrown with ti leaves?” Wahine`ōma`o agreed that she did, and her friend asked again, “Do you see that stone lying there, shaped like an `īlio, a dog, with the head, the body, and all the features of a dog?”

Looking carefully at the stone her friend pointed out, Wahine`ōma`o could make out a great strong that looked just like a dog lying down with its head up, facing inland of the cliff. When Wahine`ōma`o had spotted the stone, she said, “Oh Hi`i, I do see the stone you are talking about; it is like a great dog. But our dogs are tiny, and that one is huge. That is amazing. Was that rock craft like that by the people of this pace? What is the nature of that stone, my friend?”

“That is no stone carved by man, but rather the rock form of one of our uncles, one I mentioned to you. That is Kauhike`īmakaolani. He is the `īlio hā that Kane brought from Kahiki, and he is always seen yonder, at Ka`ō`io Point, that high spot before one reaches the flatlands on the way to Kāne`ohe. The third place where he’s often seen is at the mouth of Nu`uanu Valley, where one enters Kahaukomo.

As I told you, this `īlio hā belongs to Kāne, and his lineage is recited, for he is from Kumuhonua and his wife Polohina. His lineage chant is a prayer memorized by our ancestors. Just so you will understand, I shall show you a bit of that prayer, and here it is.”

And then Hi`iaka recited the prayer below, shown here by the writer as a hay in this version of the Story of Hi`iaka.


The supernatural `īlio hā rules the island
Born of the royal ones, Kūhonua
Polohaina as his wife
Royal ones made scared by Kāne

“And what is an `īlio hā?” Wahine`ōma`o asked her friend.

“Yes, replied Hi`iaka, going on to say, “There is much confusion among people about this thing, an `īlio hā. Some thought it was a form of mo`o, but that is not true. `Īlio hā is like saying “īlio kāhā, an oversized, hulking dog, the same way a pig can be oversized. It means it is huge, heavy, plump, and fleshy. But this dog-uncle of ours you see there has the body of a massive dog, and the largest expanse of his fur is on his head and neck …” (Nogelmeier, 2006).

While not speculated in this translation of the tale, this description would apply to monk seals. Therefore, it is possible that the `īlio hā may have been a monk seal.

There is also a story of a seal involved in a resurrection with a kahuna in a text published in 1948.

The kahuna contention that all things have shadowy bodies which are molds of their microscopic parts as well as of their full form and shape, applies to animals as well as men. (Also insects and inert objects such as rocks.)

Gambier Bolton had a peculiar experience. He had befriended and doctored a wounded seal at a Zoo, but the seal had died. Ten days after its death, at a seance with Mrs. Craddock, and with a number of men of science present, a seal—seemingly the one known to Bolton—materialized and flapped its way across the room, staying close to Bolton for several minutes. The spirits officiating at the seance were asked to explain this. They said, “Their actions (those of animals at seances where they materialize) are altogether independent of us. Whilst we are busily engaged in conducting our experiments with human entities who wish to materialize in your midst, the animals get into the room in some way which we do not understand, and which we cannot prevent; obtain, from somewhere, sufficient matter with which to build up temporary bodies; coming just when they choose, roaming about the room just as they please; and disappearing just when it suits them, and not before; and we have no power to prevent this so long as the affection existing between them and their late owners is so strong as it was in the instances which have come under our notice” (Long 1948).

There are no additional details about this event.

Kūpuna have noted that the monk seal is considered by some as aumākua. There are stories about families on Hawai`i island and O`ahu who acknowledged the Hawaiian monk seal that their family aumākua. Unfortunately, in one case, a potential participant passed away before the individual could be interviewed. In a second case, a potential participant has refused to be interviewed at this time.

Communities have conducted spiritual ceremonies for monk seals during which the monk seal is recognized as part of the ohana, or family. Again, participants asked the details of such activities be kept huna, or secret.

Finding Balance

Nā Mea Hulu is a project by Honua Consulting, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The goal is to find ways to protect the dwindling monk seal population without impacting the practices and livelihoods of Hawaiians and fisherman.



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