Pō and Ao

Pō and Ao

Pō and ao are places, eras, and concepts crucial not only in Hawaiian cultural astronomy but also in Hawaiian cosmogony, epistemology, and ontology. In Western sciences and social sciences each of these is a separate category of knowledge. They are not separate, however. They are deeply intwined, interwoven, and permeable.

Every day has its ao and pō. Ao is the period of daylight/sunlight. Pō is the night.

Cosmogonically pō is the eras of darkness in which increasingly complex forms take their places on land, in the sea, and in the sky. Ao is the era of light and the living, the era in which we live.

Ontologically, ao and pō represent living (ao) and death (pō). Ao and pō affected/affects which activities take place in the day and which take place in the night. Those activities can be human, in the Western sense of human, such as ceremonies and rituals and story-telling. They can also be not-human, again in the Western sense, such as meaningful and/or productive dreams, insights, intuitions, visits from ancestors, experiences of sight and/or sound and/or sensation.

Ao and pō are not separated by an impermeable wall or boundary. They interact, intersect, intermingle, entwine. The past continues to exist in the present. Both ao and pō inform the present.

Terrestially ao is the region between the Tropic of Cancer, at 23.5° north, and the Tropic of Cancer, at 23.5° south. This is the region of the Tropics, the region of the limit of the sunʻs annual travels – from the June solstice at the Tropic of Cancer to the December solstice at the Tropic of Capricorn. North of the Tropic of Cancer and south of the Tropic of Capricorn are the regions of pō.

ao and po 3 from hokulea dot org

The terrestrial pō regions donʻt mean that those regions are either unknown or dark. They are, rather, the regions outside of the sunʻs/Kāneʻs travel boundaries, and thus, from the point of view of Hawaiʻi, beyond the region in which the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding from Kāne is easily or immediately accessible, especially at the sun stations – the solstices and equinoxes which take place in all regions, and the solar zeniths and solar nadirs which only take place within the Tropics.

Pō is the realm of the deceased, ancestors, spirit, mystery, the unknown, and the not yet born. Ao is the realm of the living, of light and enlightenment, of knowledge and teaching, counsel and advice.

These realms arenʻt completely separate. Knowledge, whether from insight, from deity, from an ancestor, or some other unknown source, is knowledge/epistemology. Thus the realms of ao and pō inform one another and create and deliver knowledge through any number of phenomena experienced by the living.

Knowledge thus experienced, thus gained, is testable. There are several ways to test such knowledge. Among them are:

  1. Cultural consistency of the knowledge
  2. Consultation/discussion with elders and community
  3. Cultural functionality of the knowledge
  4. Concordance with mo’olelo, moʻoku’auhau, etc.
  5. Research in archives, both written and pictorial
  6. Quantitative data, in the case of astronomical knowledge, from planetarium programs and other mechanical and techonological tools such as compasses, theodolites, maps, GPS, ground-penetrating radar, lidar, and so on.

Ao and Pō are very much part of precontact Hawaiian astronomy. Castor of Gemini, for example, is the keeper of the opening into pō. Pollux of Gemini represents/symbolizes birth, how an infant leaves the pō of its motherʻs womb and enters the ao of the living. Stars that signal the solar nadirs indicate pō – notably Sirius, Antares, Aldebaran, the Southern Cross, and Mercury.

(For more on Hawaiian and Oceanic epistemology see:

– David and Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo, “How We Know”: Kwara‘ae Rural Villagers Doing Indigenous Epistemology,” The Contemporary Pacific, Volume 13, Number 1, Spring 2001, 55–88, downloadble free at https://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/13317/v13n1-55-88.pdf?sequence=1.

– Meyer, Manulani, with Meyer, Meleanna (editor), Ho’oulu: Our Time of Becoming, Honolulu: Ai Pohaku Press, 2004.)