Ancestress of the Hawaiian people. She was the earth goddess, queen of the underworld, and mother of the gods. Papa means ‘flat’ and may have referred to the submerged foundations on which islands were supposed to rest. She was called Papa-hanau-moku, ‘the one from whom lands are born’. A mortal ancestor, as opposed to this divinity, was Wakea, from whom all Hawaiian genealogies stem. Son of Kahiko-lua-mea, ‘very ancient and sacred’, Wakea ruled as a great chief and married Papa, who bore a daughter Ho'ohoku-ka-lani. It was Wakea's incestuous love for his daughter that aroused Papa's fury and led to the separation of husband and wife, not to mention the coming of death. Ho'ohoku-ka-lani's first child by her father was born in the form not of a human being but of a root, and was thrown away. It grew into a plant and so Wakea named their second child, a human one, Ha-loa, ‘long rootstalk’. Vegetable growth was regarded by Hawaiians with more religious awe than animal life because it seemed unrelated to a man.
The marriage of Papa and Wakea, probably a sister-brother union, reflects an ancient practice among noble families in Oceania. It seems likely that in Japan a similar custom was set aside through Chinese influence. The dissolution of the original marriage was used to account for the origin of the different classes in traditional Hawaiian society. From one of Papa's children by a second husband it was said the slave class descended. Apart from these legends, there also survives a miniature creation myth in which Papa gave birth to a gourd—a calabash and its cover. Wakea tossed the cover upwards to form the sky, the pulp the sun, the seeds the stars, the white lining the moon, the ripe white meat the clouds, and the juice the rain. Of the calabash itself he made the land and the ocean. The Maori version of creation is quite different: like the Greek Ouranos, Rangi was reluctant to have Papa's children freed from the earth womb.