Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



In the Hi‘iaka myth Pele's messenger is represented as an expert in sorcery and the hula, arts of which the Pele family as gods of generation are special patrons. The whole Pele and Hi‘iaka cycle of stories is rehearsed episodically in the hula dance. Even the smallest incident may furnish a theme for the dance. The hula songs are not composed by mortals but taught by the Pele spirits to worshipers of Pele. Those who learn the dances are supposed to be possessed by the spirit of the Pele goddess of the dance. An error in the step shows that the patroness has rejected the dancer. Since Hi‘iaka is the supreme patroness of the hula, all prayer chants for the hula ceremonies are "named under" Hi‘iaka, even those dedicated to Ku and Hina. A chant that is "named" to a person becomes that person's property, no matter if it was composed in honor of another person, just as any other piece of property may be passed on to another. All prayer chants (mele pule) dedicated to Hi‘iaka are prayers of the ancients.

Training in the hula does not include the whole art of sorcery but every hula master must know the prayers to ward off sorcery (pule pale) and each pupil learns such a prayer for his protection. Even as late as Kalakaua's time kahunas were educated as priests of Pele. Some who wished to study sorcery would stay for a year or more at the volcano, make sacrifice, and dream a chant. This chant they would dedicate to Pele or Hi‘iaka. In offering sacrifice the kahuna must get all four gods to "work" with him by invoking each in prayer. He must include also the ancestral gods (kumu-akua), the guardian gods (aumakua), the deified gods (unihi). He would call upon "All the original ancestors of chiefs" (Na kumu-ali‘i a pau loa o ka po), "The descendants of chiefs" (Na-lala-ali‘i), "The chiefs who were last of their line" (Na-welau-ali‘i). 

Dance motives are directly incorporated into the Pele and Hi‘iaka story. One such is drawn about the figure of Hopoe, the beloved girl friend of Hi‘iaka.

Hopoe is first seen by Hi‘iaka dancing a hula beside the sea Nanahuki in Puna district. Hi‘iaka takes her for a favorite. For her Hi‘iaka plants the forests of red and white blossoming lehua to be found in that region. A flowering lehua tree is hence her emblem. When she is overwhelmed by Pele's impatient wrath she becomes changed into a rock, which used to stand balanced like a dancing figure just as the girl was caught by the lava, but is now fallen and lies near Keaau in Puna. 

Another dance incident is that of the maimed spirit who inspired the affection of Wahine-omao, a scene represented in the hula mu‘umu‘u (cut off). A third is the reference to Kilinoe, the famous hula teacher of Kauai whose "unike, or sign of an expert," is essential to one who would dance the hula in public on Kauai. Rice makes her the sister of Lohiau, Emerson connects her with the sirens who steal away Lohiau's body. A Malo note gives the name to a (male) god of cliffs.

The most complete of these dance motives is to be found in the episode at Pele-ula's home in Nu‘uanu valley where the two women compete in dance and chanted improvisation for the possession of a lover. The land of Pele-ula on Oahu has been placed by McAllister where Vineyard street crosses the Nu‘uanu stream. The soft rain that comes down the valley only as far as the present Judd street is still called "the rain of Wa‘ahila of Nu‘uanu" (ka ua Wa‘ahila-o-Nu‘uanu) after a chiefess whose name is commemorated in a hula in which she excelled and which was a favorite of Pele-ula. The competition is represented as taking place during a kilu game, a popular pastime of chiefs comparable to our own kissing games but a step more erotic, and including exhibitions of dance and song which called for the highest development of skill in these arts. The scene is placed on Oahu during Hi‘iaka's return trip after the restoration of Lohiau in Kauai, but there is reason to suppose that it belongs actually after Pele's outburst of anger and the second restoration of Lohiau, and represents Pele's final effort to win back her lover from her younger sister. This supposition is supported by the fact that in Rice's version Hi‘iaka and Lohiau meet at Pele-ula's home on Oahu after Lohiau's second restoration to life. Originally perhaps the incident belonged to Kauai, where Pele in her spirit body competes with his sister Kilinoe for the embraces of her lover while her human body lies in trance. It may be that a shift of interest in the characters of the story has brought about the change of scene and actors.

As for the scene itself, there is no doubt that it was drawn from life. Malo gives a detailed description of the games of ume and kilu as practised in upper-class circles, ume a frankly sexual game in which two lovers are sent out by the master of ceremonies to satisfy their desire; kilu a sort of quoits in which a gourd is spun to hit a stake in the form of a wooden cone placed in front of the desired lover among the players of the opposite sex, as they sit ranged, one on one side, the other on the other side, of the space cleared for the game. A score of ten hits entitles the player to the favors of the lover for the night unless bought off with a gift of land or other coveted commodity. This form of courting was, we are told, a great favorite in the circles to which the chiefs belonged, but from which all not members of the chief class were carefully excluded.

The theme of the kilu game seems to have been a favorite with composers of romance and is frankly realistic in treatment. The Pukui version of the Hainakolo romance represents the sister of the abandoned Hainakolo winning back Keaunini to her sister in a kilu contest in which she competes successfully in dance with the girl who has charmed him away and in song recalls his mind to the scenes of natural beauty which he has shared with his former wife, phrased no doubt to include the erotic allusions so dear to Hawaiian ears but which escape the foreign interpreter. It is at a kilu game at the court of Kakuhihewa that Lono-i-ka-makahiki wins the companionship of the visiting chiefess from Kauai and turns the occasion to account by learning from her the chant called Mirage of Mana which he later asserts was composed as his name-song from childhood. Both Kawelo and Halemano, after finding the arts of fishing and farming, which their elders prescribe, insufficient to win the love of ladies, become experts in the hula and at a kilu game Halemano turns once more the heart of the much wooed beauty of Puna to her former husband. An episode in the romance of Laie-i-ka-wai shows the beauty of Hana, Hina-i-ka-malama, competing with a rival for her lover's favors.

A similar theme occurs in other groups. Stimson tells the story from Anaa in the Tuamotus of Gana, Huri-te-papa, and the princess Faumea, where Gana is the suitor of Faumea in Tahiti-nui, but Huri-te-papa wins her by his dancing. So in the story of Mehara the beauty is won by the best dancer. In Grey's story from the Maori, Kahureremoa comes as a stranger to the dance hall and awakens love by her dancing. Te Ponga wins an ally whose heart he has stirred by his graceful dancing. 

Such descriptions prove the popularity of the theme, in which both individual dancing and organized games with competitive dancing between experts are employed with the romantic object of arousing the passion of love or of winning back an estranged lover or one tempted to infidelity. The scene is drawn from life and gives an excellent idea of social life in upper-class circles in the old days. It must be observed that in every instance decorum was strictly preserved and a punctilious etiquette guarded the whole affair. No such scenes of general license occurred as are described as taking place at the mourning ceremonies of a chief.

The second element brought out in the episodes of the story, that of sorcery, is softened in the rationalized romance. Hi‘iaka has obtained from her sister all her powers and is able to compete with her opponents in magic, prophetic vision, and healing power. Peleula is a famous makaula or seer, but Hi‘iaka prevails over her. Waihinano, the pert sorceress who defies her on Maui, has been brought up by Kapo and Pua, but Hi‘iaka catches and crushes to death the soul of the Maui chief for which they both contend. The kahuna who sends after her to conciliate her she deceives by transformations. She sees through the sorcery of her opponents, like that of the false bridge. She has, besides, power to heal and to restore the spirit to the body. She works through the application of fragrant herbs and through chanting. Here the theme of communal religious dancing is brought out in the nine days during which the whole community take part in a hula ceremonial while Hi‘iaka is engaged in chanting prayers to restore the spirit to Lohiau's body.

A character whose part in the hula cycle is not very clear is that of Lohiau's friend Kaleiopaoa. Emerson makes him throughout a faithful friend and one to whom Lohiau's spirit flutters after death to acquaint him with the spot where his body lies and bid him go to Pele, presumably to induce her to restore his body to life. Paoa vows vengeance upon Pele and seeks her at Kilauea, where he finds an old woman surrounded by beautiful girls and pleases her by picking her out from among them by the heat of her hand. He avoids the poisoned food she offers. Pele becomes young and beautiful and the two become lovers. Rice's version, though briefer, tells a similar story but differs in conclusion. Pele gives Hi‘iaka to Paoa as his wife and he returns with her to Kauai, but during the marriage feast Lohiau, restored to life, reveals himself at the kilu game and claims Hi‘iaka, and Paoa casts himself into the sea for shame. The heiau with stepped platform whose ruins are to be seen at Kee, Haena, on Kauai, and which Emory calls "the famous court of Lohiau," is given by Thrum the name Kilioe and by Dickey that of Ka-ulu-o-Paoa. Paoa is the name of Pele's digging stick with which she makes so many fruitless (paoa) attempts to dig a pit for her island home. Emerson calls the paoa "Pele's divining rod." The name is singularly like that of the Kaleipahoa (Cut with a stone axe), the famous poison god fashioned from the supernatural trees on Molokai which were entered by the three Pele sorcerers Kane-i-kaulana-ula, Ka-huila-o-ka-lani, and Kapo. It is probable that Paoa once occupied a more important place than he holds today in the Pele legend.

The prayers used in the hula dance are seldom addressed to Pele, but to Laka as patron of the hula and to Kapo in her character as "Red eel-woman" (Kapo-ula-kina‘u) and "Red Kapo of the myriad gods" (-kini-akua) and Hai(Nina-ai)-ka-malama. Kapo is said to be the child of Haumea and the god of the sorcery kahuna, Kua-ha-ilo (To breed maggots in the back), equivalent to Ku-waha-ilo, and Laka is the child of Kapo, "not in the ordinary sense but rather as a breath or emanation." The two are "one in spirit though their names are two." Laka and Kapo therefore must be thought of as different forms of the reproductive energy, possibly Kapo in its passive, Laka in its active form, and their mother Haumea as the great source of female fertility. In Laka all the goddesses of vegetation reappear. She is invoked at the altar in the dance house as follows:

Thou art Laka,
God of the a‘ali‘i plant (deep-rooted),
Laka from the uplands,
Laka from the lowlands,
Bring the i-e vine that grows in the wildwood,
The maile that wreaths the forest,
Red-beaked kiele flower of the god,
The joyous rhythm of the dance,
In honor of Hina-ai-ka-malama,
The eel-woman,
Red Kapo the eel-woman,
Laka art thou,
God of the altar here,
Come back, come back, dwell here at thine altar,
Bring it good luck. 

According to Daniel Ho‘olapa, the prayer to the goddess Alalalahe is addressed to Laka, goddess of fruitfulness, represented (lines 12-19) as "the woman suspended in air, face upward, tossing this way and that, her limbs outspread, her voice choked. She is the fondled sacred one, the earth left over in the making. Her womb holds multitudes upon multitudes in the uplands and the sea. It is a single family that springs from her womb. She is the impregnated one, the fertilized, from whom descend generations of offspring, the family of Laka, fruitful as the stalk." In other words, Laka or Alalahe (Many-branching one) is the goddess of love, "the shining one" (alohi), the "beloved" (aloha). 

Kapo is said to have been born of Papa (or Haumea) while she was living up Kalihi valley on Oahu with Wakea her husband. Some say that she was born from the eyes of Papa. She is of high rank and able to assume many shapes at will. 

Poepoe version. Kapo-ula-kina‘u, Ka-moho-ali‘i, Pele-honua-mea are the three wonderful ones who came from Wakea and Papa. "A very sacred tapu of the gods rests upon her." Birds never sing about her tapu home up Kalihi valley. There at noon when the sun is shining brightly she may be seen on the hillside beyond the upland of Kilohana where stands her tapu stone into which she entered, shaped like a house in front, like a fish's tail behind. 

Kapo's power to separate her female sexual organ from her body gives her the name of Kapo-kohe-lele (Kapo with the traveling vagina) called also Kapo-mai-ele. 

When Kamapua‘a attacked Pele near Kalapana, Kapo sent this kohe as a lure and he left Pele and followed the kohe lele as far as Koko Head on Oahu, where it rested upon the hill, leaving an impression to this day on the Makapu‘u side. Then she withdrew it and hid it in Kalihi. When the Hawaiians dream of a woman without a vagina it is Kapo. Since Kapo does not like this part of the body, unless a medium possessed by Kapo wears a ti leaf protection she is in danger of having this part of her body torn at. 

As goddess of sorcery Kapo is worshiped principally on Maui where she acts as an akua noho or god who possesses the deified dead and gives commands or foretells events through their worshipers. Pua has a similar position on Molokai. These gods have power to bring diseases that can be cured only by placating the god or by appealing to a more powerful sorcery. In the legend of the Kalaipahoa, Kapo is one of the three gods who enter the trees out of which the poison god is carved. In the Hi‘iaka romance, she is living at Wailuku on Maui, and she is associated with Puanui in rearing Waihinano, the sorceress who is unable to defend her patron against Hi‘iaka, whom she has flouted; possibly to be identified with Waialani, daughter of Kaohelo, whom Pele has offended by giving her berries to eat which are the body of her dead mother.

The myth of the deification of Pele's sister Ka-ohelo tells how the ohelo berries which grow in profusion about the volcano became sacred to Pele and why no one plucks and eats them without first making an offering to her. The story starts with a version of the migration legend.


The four sisters Pele, Hi‘iaka, Malulani, and Kaohelo are born in Nu‘umealani but migrate to Hawaii after the arrival of Aukelenuiaiku. Malulani settles on Lanai, the other three go on to Hawaii. Kaohelo instructs her son Kiha to bury her when she dies "on the navel of your grandmother at Kilauea" and out of her flesh springs the creeping ohelo, out of her bones the ohelo bush; other parts of her body are thrown to Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and become ohelo bushes on those islands. The head Pele retains as the smoldering fire in the volcano and Kaohelo becomes one of Pele's gods.

Kaohelo's spirit forms a marriage with the spirit of the handsome Heeia on Oahu, who abandons her later for another woman. The little hills about the district of Heeia (the land division adjoining Kaneohe in Koolau) are formed by her from the body of Malulani, who has hanged herself out of grief for her sister. Kaohelo's spirit daughter Waialani comes to visit her relatives on Hawaii and is given some of the berries to eat which are the body of her mother. Blood flows from them as she eats and she vows never to see Pele again on earth. 


(a) Pu‘u-hele (Traveling hill) is a child born in the form of a bloody foetus to Ka hina li‘i, mother of Pele and Hi‘iaka. The sisters throw it away. The child crosses the channel of Alanuihaha between Hawaii and Maui and lands at Nu‘u in Kaupo in the form of a beautiful woman. She passes on without speaking to Nu‘u and makes friends with the beautiful Pu‘u-o-maiai. Manawai-nui recognizes her and calls her by name. Kanahaha sees her and falls dead and a spring gushes to this day from the hill of that name. Leho-ula follows her as she continues her route along the coast. At Wanana-lua Pu‘u-hele vows to remain. When Kai-hua-lele reproves her for trespass she dies and through her power as a god her spirit body lives on in the form of the hill Kauiki at the seashore. The spirit body of her opposer lives in the form of the hill Kai-hua-kala in the uplands above Kauiki. From the fact that it is generally covered with clouds, this hill is used as a sign of fair weather in the often quoted lines of the chant,

Fair weather on Maui
when Kai-hua-kala is clear,
Kai-hua-kala in the uplands,
Kauiki beside the sea.

(b) The child Pu‘u-hele is brought from Koloa, Kauai, by Lalawalu. She is peevish and bites at her nurse's breasts when a halt comes in the journey, until they reach Hana, where the child is satisfied to be left. 

Other stories occur which account for cone-shaped hills or rock islands of Maui as the bodies of members of the Pele family, often such as are transformed through the jealous wrath of the goddess.


The two hills beyond Maalaea bay on Maui are named Pu‘u-hele and Pu‘u-o-kali. They are mo‘o beings and their first child is a daughter born of Pu‘u-o-kali and named Pu‘u-o-inaina. She is placed on the sacred island of Kahoolawe, called at that time Kohe-malamalama. She becomes the wife of the two sons of the kahuna of Hua, Kaakakai and Kaanahua, who take the form of birds and retreat to Hana-ula when the great drought comes and there alone rain falls. Pu‘u-o-inaina takes Lohiau for her husband while he is living at Maalaea. Pele is angry and cuts her in two in the middle. The tail becomes the hill Pu‘u-o-lai at Makena, the head becomes the rock islet of Molokini. 

Northwest of Lahainaluna is the hill Pu‘u-laina, 647 feet in height. Pu‘u-laina is the son of Eeke and Lihau (names of the summit crater of West Maui and the high peak back of Olowalu). These two are husband and wife. Eeke falls in love with Lihau's younger sister Pu‘u-wai-o-hina from Kauaula and Lihau is about to kill Pu‘u-laina but he is saved by the father. The god Hina-i-ka-uluau places a tapu on the two lovers but they break the tapu and are changed into two mountain ridges. Lihau gives Pu‘ulaina to Molokini for a husband. One of Pele's younger sisters desires him and when Molokini refuses to give him up she changes Molokini into an islet. Pele in anger transforms both mother and son into hills. 


Source: http://www.sacred-texts.com


1. Coming of the Gods
2. Ku Gods
3. The God Lono
4. The Kane Worship
5. Kane and Kanaloa
6. Mythical Lands of the Gods
7. Lesser Gods
8. Sorcery Gods
9. Guardian Gods
10. The Soul after Death
11. The Pele Myth
12. The Pele Sisters
13. Pele Legends

14. Kamapua`a
15. Hina Myths
16. Maui The Trickster
17. Aikanaka-Kaha`iI
18. Wahieloa-Laka
19.  Haumea
20. Papa and Wakea
21. Genealogies
22. Era of Overturning
23. Mu and Menehune
24. Runners, Man-Eaters, Dog Men
25. Moikeha-la`a Migration
26. Hawaiiloa and Paao
27. Ruling Chiefs
28. Usurping Chiefs
29. Kapua Stories
30. Trickster Stories
31. Voyage to the Land of the Gods
32. Riddling Contests
33. The Kana Legends
34. The Stretching-Tree Kupua
35. Romance of the Swimmer
36. Romance of the Island of Virgins
37. Romances of Match-Making
38. Romances of the Dance
39. Wooing Romances
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