Friday Essay – Interspecies Relationships and the Kumulipo

Phylogenetic tree suggested by biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1866

Phylogenetic tree suggested by biologist Ernst Haeckel in 1866

I attended a great poetry workshop about two weeks go.  It was facilitated by a lovely poet and artist, Taylor Leedahl.  Her Master’s degree is an examination of the work of Winnipeg artist, Aganetha Dyck, an artist whose work includes collaborative sculpture with bees.  So, Ms. Leedahl is interested in artistic collaborations between artists and other species.  Most recently, Taylor collaborated with her hibiscus plant to create a work of poetry – Hybrid Hibiscus – published by JackPine Press.  It is fascinating stuff!  I can’t say that I have actually collaborated with another species when writing but I am certainly inspired by other species.  Often the species that inspire me are not animals.  The one poem I wrote – Poem for Gaia – that was really influenced by other species was inspired by soil.  Soil is amazing!  It isn’t just ‘dirt’.  It is life; full of bacteria and fungi, minerals, water, animals, insects.  Given the proper conditions soil will turn detritus into food.  It’s amazing!  In any event, the discussion at the workshop meandered and wove, it was very organic.  We chatted about bees, werewolves, the Milky Way, metaphor, collaboration.  Somewhere along the way I was reminded of the Kumulipo – the Hawai’ian genealogy song/poem, I first heard at the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo, Hawai’i.  What I find most fascinating about this song/poem is that it is described as genealogy as well a creation story.  Beginning with the birth of water and land and slime and animals and plants and gods and goddesses the song draws the lineage of all Hawai’ian people and animals and gods.  This is more than a creation story that describes a God creating all things, the Kumulipo is a genealogy delineating the ancient and fundamental relationships between people, animals and the elements. The Kumulipo is particular to Hawai’ians, their culture and their environment and it is not that different from how the theory of evolution describes the beginnings of life and the relationships between species. I studied taxonomy in my grade eleven biology class and remembered that much of the classification is done through branching, like family trees.  In my mind it isn’t too much of a stretch to attach my family tree to the family trees of bears and sharks and mushrooms and macadamia nut trees and igneous rock. In fact, someone has already done it!  In doing a bit of internet research for this blog post I found this site – Evogeneao – that had done just that.  Check it out!  All the known living creatures are plotted on an enormous family tree!

I’m not certain how I’m going to collaborate with other species on my next poem or another kind of art project, but I do know that I am seeing myself more closely related to everything on the planet, possibly in the universe!

Be Lovely To Each Other,