Coral Cultural Connections

Coral reefs are a foundational animal in Hawaiian culture and society. Providing habitat for the majority of fish consumed by Hawaiians and bracing the greatest impact of incoming waves, corals  are featured throughout Native Hawaiian stories and poems. Coral and Hina-opuhala-koa, the goddess of coral, played a major role in the creation of the Hawaiian islands. Before the islands existed, Hawaiian legend tells of the god Maui creating a powerful fish hook made from coral, or Hina-opuhala-koa. Maui then went fishing in the open ocean with his brothers and the magical hook, and was able to pull up the Hawaiian islands due to the strength of the coral hook.


In the Hawaiian origin chant, the coral polyp is the first animal born. This is in the 15th line of verse.

Hānau ka ʻukukoʻakoʻa, hānau kana, he ʻakoʻakoʻa, puka
Born was the coral polyp, born was the coral came forth

Important to note is that Hawaiians knew that corals were animals centuries before scientists in Europe, who were debating if corals were a plant, rock, or mineral up until the 18th century. Corals play a major role in Hawaiian stories, and there are a great variety of Hawaiian proverbs relating to corals. Here are a few:

1. He poʻi na kai uli, kai koʻo, ʻaʻohe hina pūkoʻa
Though the sea be deep and rough, the coral rock remains standing

2. He pūkoʻa kū no ka moana
A large rock/coral standing in the sea

3. Hao mai ka makani kuakea ka moana; hao mai ke kai ku ke koʻa I uka
When the gales blow, the sea is white-backed; when the sea rises, corals are washed ashore

4. ʻIno ka moana ke ahu mōkākī nei ka puna i uka
The sea is rough, for the corals are strewn on the beach

(all proverbs from Edith Kanaka’ole Foundation Ku’ula Resource Management Project)


Can you see how these proverbs highlight the strength of corals, as well as the power of the sea?

Now that you have read all about corals, go on to the next activity, where you get to listen to coral reef rap made specifically for this course.