Wākea was the eldest son of Kahiko ("Ancient One"), who lived in Olalowaia. He is the ancestor of the aliʻi (nobility of Hawaii), the ruling class that make up the aristocracy known as the noho ali'i o Hawaii (ruling chiefs of Hawaii). Wākea is the grandson of Welaahilaninui. The priests and common people come from his brothers, one of whom was called Makuʻu.
Wākea means expansive space, zenith, or heaven and Papa means foundation or surface; together, they create a symbol of land and sky or heaven and earth.
Wākea's first high priest was called Komoʻawa.
When Wākea was on Earth in ancient times, he was a High Chief.
In one legend, Wākea lives in Hihiku and marries Papahānaumoku, who is a princess of Olalo-i-mehani and a granddaughter of Princess Kaoupe-alii. The Hawaiian Islands were created by Wākea and Papahānaumoku. Their daughter was Hoʻohokukalani, who was a mother of Haloa by Wākea.
In the genealogies, Wākea and Papahānaumoku are 37th in the Kumuhonua genealogy, and 28th in the Kumuʻuli. Kumuhonua, the ancestor of the Kumuhonua genealogy, was believed to be the first man in one tradition.
After having incest with his own daughter, Ho’ohokukalani, she gave birth to Haloa-naka, meaning elder child. It was a stillborn baby, which they later planted and became the first kalo or taro, a staple of the Hawaiian diet. After Haloa-naka, Ho’ohokukalani gave birth to another child named Haloa, meaning younger sibling, and he became the first kanaka or Hawaiian person.
The relationship between Haloa-naka and Haloa describes the balance of relationships between the land and the people that live in it. Haloa-naka, the land or kalo, takes care of the kanakas or Haloa by providing them with food and nutrients. In return, Haloa or the people would treat and take care of the land like their own family.
In one tradition, the first person on Earth was the woman Laʻilaʻi. She and her husband Kealiʻiwahilani are the parents of Kahiko, the father of Wākea. Wākea made the land and sea from the calabash or gourd (‘ipu) of Papahānaumoku. He threw it up high, and it became the heavens. He made the rain from its juice and from the seeds he made the sun, moon, and stars.
Wanting to sleep with his daughter, Wākea made a bargain with his high priest, Komo’awa, to make Papahānaumoku go away for four nights. In her seclusion, it was kapu or restricted for her to eat certain foods; a tradition known as ʻaikapu, which was a sacred eating arrangement established by Wākea. The purpose of the ʻaikapu was to separate the women from the men. In traditional Hawaiian society, men were responsible for cooking.
Examples of some foods that Hawaiian women could not eat:
- Red colored fish
- Certain seafood
- Atea, Marquesan god of light
- Vatea, a god from Mangaia in the Cook Islands
- Rangi and Papa, primordial parents in Māori tradition
- Prince Kalaninuiamamao and his daughter-granddaughter Alapaiwahine (case similar to Wākea and his daughter)
- Marshall D. Sahlins, Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities : Structure in the Early History of the Sandwich Islands Kingdom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1981), 15, 31.
- Kapu: Gender Roles in Traditional Society by Malcolm Nāea Chun
- Lilikalā Kame’eleihiwa, In Native Lands and Foreign Desires: Pehea Lā E Pono Ai? (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1992), 19-44.
- Tregear 1891:28–29, 392
- Malcolm Nāea Chun, No Na Mamo : Traditional and Contemporary Hawaiian Beliefs and Practices (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011), 289-293.
- E.R. Tregear, Māori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Lyon and Blair: Lambton Quay), 1891.