Blackness is Life in Hawai‘i and Oceania

Joyce Pualani Warren

O ke au o Makaliʻi ka po

O ka walewale hoʻokumu honua ia

O ke kumu o ka lipo, i lipo ai


He Pule Hoʻolaʻa Aliʻi He Kumulipo No KaʻIʻimamao a ia Alapai Wahine

At the time of the night of Makalii (winter)

Then began the slime which established the earth,

The source of deepest darkness


An Account of the Creation of the World According to Hawaiian Tradition


Black Lives Matter in Hawai‘i and Oceania. That is a simple fact. What is less simple is understanding how and why they matter through Kanaka Maoli and broader Oceanic worldviews and experiences. This understanding must be reclaimed from the centuries of settler colonial attempts to erase our rich histories and relegate us to inferior and dependent positions within our own homelands. One way to understand how and why Black Lives Matter in Hawai‘i and Oceania is to remember the many ways that Oceania has always constructed blackness and darkness as rich sites of creation, kinship, and potential.

The Kumulipo, a Kanaka Maoli creation chant, tells us that the world, the environment, the gods, and humanity come from the deep, generative darkness of Pō. The many forms of Pō mate and birth and from them come all of existence. Included in this genealogy of and from darkness are Papahānaumoku, Wākea, and their descendants. Thus, an understanding of the fecund and relational elements of darkness and blackness adds another layer to the many ways Kānaka Maoli mediate their relationship to the sacredness of Mauna a Wākea. Darkness, blackness, is the source from which life springs and the source that maintains our kinship ties to the land, to the gods, and to each other.

Black Lives Matter here because blackness matters here. Because blackness is life here. We know that we are nothing without the kinship ties that root and feed us—so what would we be without that most formative and lasting kinship engendered by Pō? Rooted in Kanaka Maoli understandings of Pō as life-giving and relational, we can then look across Oceania and ask how blackness and darkness can help us be in better relation with our Oceanic and diasporic relatives.

This section of the Mauna Kea Syllabus is dedicated to discussions of Indigenous Oceanic constructions and experiences of blackness, to recentering the many forms of blackness that have always already existed in our waters, skies, lands, and peoples. I use the word blackness to emphasize how our understandings of a body move beyond the limiting confines of race, and extend to all of the genealogical, cultural, material, and environmental forms and relations which come to bear on how that body exists. For example, in the way darkness traditionally ordered our understanding of time in Hawai‘i, as in nā pō o ka mahina, the nights of the month. Or metaphoric; as in the word pōmaika‘i, which constructs the blackness of pō as an expression of blessing or abundance. Blackness has also functioned as an expression of radical Indigenous politics and nationalism, as with the formation of the First National Black Women’s Hui in Aotearoa, the Australian Black Panther Party, and the Niugini Black Power Group. And before the metaphoric and political understandings, Oceania must remember and uplift those whose Blackness is inextricable from their Indigeneity: iTaukei, Papuans, Kanaks, and the many others who inhabit the solwara, or the region some call Melanesia. The various ways that Indigenous Oceanic peoples experience and understand blackness also offer us a way to encounter the many Afro-diasporic bodies that may not be Indigenous but have made their homes throughout Oceania. They offer Pacific Islanders and Black people a way to recognize and support each other outside of the settler colonial process of racialization that dispossessed and displaced both groups.

From the deep darkness of Pō, which birthed the world, the gods, and all of humanity, to the many peoples whose Blackness is Indigenous to Oceania, to the communities of Afro-diasporic folks who have made their homes in Oceania: Black lives have always mattered here, because blackness is life here.

Guiding Questions

1) How can Kanaka Maoli and broader Oceanic traditional understandings of blackness and darkness guide our relationships in the 21st century?

2) How can movements for Indigenous sovereignty and Black liberation sustain each other?

3) How are blackness and/ or darkness expressed and experienced in the languages and worldviews of specific nations and communities throughout Oceania and its diasporas?


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Black Nationalism and Black Power in Oceania

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Oceanic Responses to Black Lives Matter

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Blackbirding and Indentured Labor in Oceania

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