Kumu

It is likely fortunate that the fundamental language of creation seems to be one which (despite our efforts) we have not yet been able to speak or synthesise effectively.

Within the various myths and legends surrounding the origins of creation there are many examples wherein both the universe and the life that resides within it were, rather than being formed or forged, simply spoken into being. This idea - that reality is a story which is being told - centres language as the primordial tool of the demiurge, and is sometimes used to try and explain how various forms and practices in both magic and prayer can have a direct and measurable effect. Although it can be argued that these instances lend some measure of legitimacy to this concept of reality, even the most ancient of human languages is (and can only be) a crude and juvenile attempt to describe a totality wrought from an infinitely more profound and subtle tongue. In comparison, we would be like single-celled organisms attempting to describe the entirety of the world’s literary canon.

There is an associated theory (straddling the border between science and philosophy) that existence is a statement of information and not an expression of an underlying physical truth: That the universe is not the story of something, but something of story. A certain, more restrictive version of this idea - that our subjective reality is already contained within and defined by the limits of our vocabulary and the shared cultural mores encompassed within the languages we speak - is more broadly accepted, perhaps being more palatable because it doesn’t undermine the very foundations of the universe. Regardless, the truth does not wait for nor rely upon our comfort, and there are several incidents that provide compelling evidence that existence is not only a story, but one that can be rewritten or overwritten if one is able to access its basic lexicon.

Various names have been proposed for this language, from the simple and descriptive (Base, Pre-Primordial, etc.) to any number of more ornate and fanciful examples. Most, however, refer to it as Kumu. A Hawai’ian word whose meanings incorporate many of the meanings that other proposed names are intended to communicate, it is also apropos because Hawai’i is home to the oldest account of a person having potentially gained the ability to speak in reality’s most fundamental terms. Sometime in the mid-fourteenth century, long before European explorers and colonisers arrived on Hawai’i’s shores, Nalani - a mother to four children and a grandmother to their eleven - walked into the sea and was apparently swept away. It was over twenty years until she was seen again, standing in the dawn light and staring down a nascent hurricane on the same beach from which she had disappeared.

Even though some of her children had become grandparents in all the time she had been gone, Nalani’s family recognised her right away. Changed but not aged, she may have looked like the same person but she had been remade almost entirely: Her body altered so that its frail and mortal form could withstand the stresses of seeing and knowing the secret language of the universe and the vicissitudes of channelling its raw energies of creation and nothingness. Her skin crackled with vivid white-hot arcs of power as she stood at the edge of the ocean, unmoved by the violent winds. Then Nalani spoke, the language sounding not at all like her native Hawai’ian, and the hurricane was gone. The seas didn’t calm and the sky didn’t change, they were simply - instantly - as they would have been if the storm had never existed.

Her intent and will made real, unequivocal and absolute, Nalani turned towards the calls and entreaties of her family - both those whom she had known and loved and those she whom had not had the chance to meet. She looked serene, and powerful in her serenity, and her children’s confusion was blunted by their joy. They asked the sort of questions one would expect, but the new words in Nalani’s head had consumed the old and she could not speak to them in the same language (nor in the same voice) that they remembered: If her responses contained answers, they were lost amidst the transformative power of her words. Suddenly the entire family found themselves in the middle of a field, encircled by the most brilliant blooms of native flowers from all the islands of the archipelago. Nalani continued to speak, the Kumu bursting forth and becoming a song.

In the song the family history of the previous two decades was rewritten: Nalani had never disappeared, she had been there for the births of more of her grandchildren (and even a few of her great-grandchildren). She had lived well - and lived happily - until the morning of the hurricane that never was and, when she died, she died peacefully and surrounded by their love. The song ended and she was gone again: Nalani’s family were back on the beach, and there was neither mark nor footprint to prove that she had ever returned at all. Nonetheless, each one of them was left with both their new and original experiences of how the last twenty years had played out. Over the course of the next few weeks, with the vividness of recollection fading to match their more ordinary memories, the family told and retold their stories so that they would be passed down for generations to come.

It would be over five hundred years before this story was written down, longer still until a copy left Hawai’i. In the intervening centuries a handful of other people developed the ability to speak a language that could remake the world. As records and accounts of these rare events were brought together it became clear that the ways the affected people changed reality around themselves were highly specific and situational; creative and destructive by turns and not always in keeping with their prior behaviours and personalities. Although each of their lives and circumstances were quite different - none had gone missing in the same manner (nor for the same extended period) as Nalani - every instance appears to end with the Kumu-speaker disappearing abruptly. That element, along with shared similarities in descriptions of the new language they spoke, suggest a commonality that cannot be coincidental.

Oblique and necessarily imperfect, there have been several failed attempts to do what is likely impossible and transcribe Kumu. Transliterated into the various native alphabets of the witnesses, innumerable myths and historical records have been pored over and exhaustively searched for similar approximations, for any hint of aberrant and atypical linguistic elements that might be part or indicative of a demiurgic language. Frustrated with the imprecision of being forced to use existing forms of writing to try and reproduce Kumu, there is even a group of academics attempting to construct a new alphabet with which to codify and capture its essence and its power. Their script - though artfully designed - is nonetheless based on such scant source material that its utility is inherently limited, and it seems that the ability to reshape the world with only an utterance will remain metaphorical.

#Kumu #Hawaii #Language #Vocabulary #Primordial #Base

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