Glyph of the word 'ikopuku'.


  • (n.) something one is allowed to do
  • (n.) right
  • (n.) a wave of one’s hand

Au emimu uila emi takemi u iema poe takoiki oi pou ikopuku.
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Notes: Okay! The first sentence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is in the books. Huzzah!

Today’s word derives from kopuku (“to wave at” or “to allow”), which, in turn, derives from kopu (“hand”). As you can see, the word ikopuku doesn’t really mean “right” in the same way as English “right”. Rather, it’s seen as a kind of allowance. It doesn’t seem to me that the notion of “right” as it exists in the Western world really makes sense in Kamakawi. Certainly, one’s parents disallow one from doing certain things when one is young, but that’s because one is a child. There are a people that haven’t known slavery, or even oppression, and what one does and doesn’t do is governed by one’s ability, and social morae, not law. And while no group of people ever live in harmony, without true disenfranchisement, it seems like the idea of a “right” would never come to exist—or, at least, not with the same meaning as it has today.

Now that I’ve presented all the vocabulary found in the first sentence, let’s examine it. Here’s the sentence with an interlinear and a more literal translation:

Au emimu uila emi takemi u iema poe takoiki oi pou ikopuku.
/n.s.pl. person-inch. all person carefree s.s.pl. even by-def.sg. vanity and by-def.pl. allowance/
“All people come into being carefree and they are even with respect to vanity and allowances.”

For those trying to figure out the syntax, it’s important to note that takemi there is acting as an adverb. Hopefully that should make everything make sense.

The idea, then, is that all people come into this world without worries (take that original sin!), and that, all things being equal, they’re equally vain, and are allowed to do the same things. Naturally, this is not true, at least as it’s written. If one is born male, one will never carry a child in one’s womb (Hollywood fantasies notwithstanding). But understood on a universal level, it holds.

This doesn’t seem to me like something that the Kamakawi would come up with independently. The real sticking point is that word ikopuku. I think that’s what one has to translate “rights” as, but “rights” implies external—and opposing—forces. I’m not sure if the Kamakawi would phrase it that way. Rather, I think the Kamakawi would use the word itou: a modified version of tou, “ability” (dang. I haven’t done either of those words yet…). This focuses not on what one is not (or cannot be) prevented from doing (and, really, that is the focus of the word “right”, as well as ikopuku), but on what one can do (and no external force is implied). That, it seems to me, makes more sense in Kamakawi.

Okay! Tomorrow, we embark on a new journey: The second sentence! Lots of fun in that one… Just wait and see! ;)

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3 Responses to “Ikopuku”

  1. Ka kavaka Anateleu ti:

    What interests me is where Kamakawi culture differs from Pasifika/Polynesian culture. Kamakawi has words for things like bacon and coyotes which are not found in Polynesian languages without borrowing. (Pigs survived in some Polynesian settlements so there might be a word for bacon of which I’m not aware!) I hope you write a note on this some day.

  2. Ka kavaka David J. Peterson ti:

    Just wait till I get to the word for elephant!

    Seriously, though, Hawaiians have had pigs (pua’a) ever since they’ve been on the islands. They, of course, were not always there (see this article for a nice history), but pua’a have always played an important part in Hawaiian life.

    As for the other animals, I’m a big, big fan of animals, and sometimes I get carried away putting my favorites where, perhaps, they oughtn’t be. However, if deer can thrive in Jamaica, I’m pretty confident that the animals I’ve imported into the Kamakawi islands can thrive and live happily there.

    I should note, though, that not all of these words are pre-contact words. Coyotes, I imagine, came from the Zhyler (who, in turn, brought them for nonsensical reasons from the mainland). I like the idea of a protected herd of wild elephants roaming the inner plains of the larger islands, though… Perhaps smaller elephants that I could ride around on. That, I think, would suit me.

    Anyway, back to the point, the stage where Kamakawi is at is some time after there’s been quite a bit of contact with the outside world. Many of the animals present on the islands are not native, but are existing more or less happily.

  3. Ka kavaka Anateleu ti:

    New Zealand managed to stop short of introducing the mongoose, we have enough introduced pests: rabbits, weasels, stoats, possums, game show hosts, etc. If the Zhyler introduced coyotes then I’m not surprised!

    Our ancestors apparently ate all the dwarf elephants before they moved on from the Mediterranean basin. So it seems in keeping with the Kamakawis’ love of the absurd if they preserved a population of them. This would mean that they call Zhyler elephants ‘giant dwarf elephants’.

    The three domestic animals of Polynesia are dogs, pigs and chickens, with rats as a bonus prize. All are considered edible. The Maori arrived in New Zealand with dogs. The word for chicken was transferred to the giant rattite birds. Imagine their surprise!

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