The American Astronomical Society is holding their 235th meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center from January 4-8, 2020. Among the public events is a public talk titled, “The Physics of Pō.”
The talk will be led by Larry Kimura, Associate Professor of Hawaiian Language & Hawaiian Studies, and Doug Simons, Executive Director of Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope. Their source material will be studies done on the first 11 lines of the Kumulipo (a Hawaiian creation chant that’s over 2,000 lines long) incorporating astronomy theories on the origins of the Universe.
“Throughout History humans have looked to the sky to navigate the vast oceans, to decide when to plant their crops and to answer questions of where we came from and how we got here,” notes the International Astronomical Union. “It is a discipline that opens our eyes, gives context to our place in the Universe and that can reshape how we see the world.”
The prelude to the kumulipo describes the formation of the universe and precedes an extensive description in the chant of the evolution of life forms on earth, through the establishment of the first humans. The kumulipo has been translated several times, but Dr. Larry Kimura’s unpublished translation of this chant’s prelude provides remarkable insights into ancient perspectives, some of which appear both counterintuitive and prescient.
The term pō appears over 100 times in the chant and is clearly an important element in the Hawaiian creation story. Understanding pō, a vast region of dark empty space from which everything emerged long ago, is essential to understanding Hawaiian cosmology.
Although we will never know the original meaning of pō with complete certainty, studying its many forms in the kumulipo through the lens of modern astrophysics leads to a deeper understanding of worldviews and knowledge systems. This also leads to important lessons from nature that transcend generations and help provide context for approaching some of the complex challenges we face.