Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



The story of Hawaii-loa, called also Ke-kowa-i-Hawaii, belongs to the Kumuhonua legend and recounts the peopling of the group from the south under four brothers, sons of Aniani-ka-lani, named Ki, Kanaloa, La‘akapu, and Hawaii-loa. Ki peoples Tahiti, Borabora, Huahine, Tahea, Ra‘iatea, and Mo‘orea. Kanaloa peoples Nukuhiwa, Uapou, Tahuata, Hiwaoa, and the rest of the Marquesas. His wife comes from the man-eating Taeohae and hence come the man-eaters of Nu‘uhiwa, Fiji, Farapara, Paumotu, and the islands west. Hawaii-loa peoples the Hawaiian group, of which there were at that time but the two islands, Hawaii and Maui, but later the other islands "rose out of the sea."

(a) Fornander version. Hawaii-loa is born on the east coast of Ka-aina-kai-melemele-a-Kane (Land of the yellow sea of Kane). He makes long fishing excursions, sometimes of months at a time, with his chief navigator Makali‘i (Eyes of the chief) who is an expert in star lore (kilo-hoku), and on one of these they steer east and find a fertile land where coconuts and awa grow. Some time after their return he migrates to this land with his family and a great following, but as he alone takes his wife and children, the whole Hawaiian race is descended from the one stock. From time to time he voyages south to bring back mates for his children out of his brother Ki's family. He brings Ki's oldest son Tu-nui-ai-a-to-atua as husband for his favorite daughter Oahu, and their son Tu-nui-atea is born at Keauhou on Hawaii and the district of Puna named for the father's district, Puna-auia, in Tahiti. He brings Te-ari‘i-tinorua (-double-bodied) from Tahiti to become a wife for Tu-nui-atea; Ke-ali‘imaewa-lani (Kauai) is their son, from whom the Kona people are descended. The son and grandson of Tu-nui-atea, Ke-li‘ialia and Ke-mili-a, are born in Tahiti, but the great-grandson Eleeleua-lani or Ke-li‘i-ku is born on Hawaii. Ka-oupe-ali‘i is his wife. From a child of Eleeleua-lani and a chief brought from Tahiti named Te-ari‘i-apa (perhaps -oupe) are said to spring the Kohala people. Hawaii-loa's wife Hualalai bears her last child Hamakua and is buried on the mountain of Hawaii that bears her name.

Hawaii-loa discovers on one of his visits south that his brother Ki has abandoned the family gods Ku, Kane, and Lono and taken the man-eating god Ku-waha-ilo as his god. He therefore passes a law called Papa-enaena that communication shall be shut off with the islands to the south. He sails northwest with Iao as his guiding star and lands in the country of the "people with slanting eyes," travels west and north over the land, and brings back "some white men and marries them to native women." He voyages to Kapakapaua-a-Kane to teach his son Ku-nui-akea navigation and brings back two men whom he places under his young son Kauai as land stewards over the two rock islets of Lehua and Nihoa off Kauai, called after their names.

From Hawaii-loa's son Ku-nui-akea spring the high chiefs with the strict tapu (welo-ali‘i); from Makali‘i spring the commoners (welo kanaka). The kahunas belong to the chief class. In the time of Ku-nui-akea comes Tahiti-nui, a grandchild of Ki, from Tahiti, lands at the southwest point of Kahoolawe (Ka-lae-i-Kahiki), and settles East Maui, hence the name Kahiki-nui for a district of Maui. Thus the descendants of Ki and Hawaii-loa people the whole group.

(b) Kepelino version. Hawaii-nui is a fisherman from lands adjoining Kahiki-honua-kele. He knows the sea called "Sea where the fish run" (O-kai-holo-a-ka-i‘a) which used to lie where these islands now lie. He sailed from Kahiki-honua-kele and discovered these islands, first Kauai, then Oahu, then the Maui group, then Hawaii, which he named after himself. The other islands he named after his children, and various land divisions after his eight navigators who sailed with him, of whom Makali‘i was chief. To return to Kahiki they sailed west guided by the star Hoku-loa.

(c) Thrum version. After the chief's first visit to the Hawaiian group he returns to seek his brothers, whom he has left in the south, and finding his brother Ki in Kahiki he brings Ki's firstborn son Tu-nui-ai-a-te-atua to be a husband for his favorite daughter Oahu. Their child Ku-nui-akea is born at Keauhou in Puna on the island of Hawaii, a place named after Tu-nui's birthplace in Puna-auia in Tahiti. This child becomes a chief of the highest rank and from his line are descended the high chiefs (hoali‘i) of these islands. Another grandchild of Ki called Tahiti-nui settles upon East Maui, from whom the district of Kahiki-nui is named. 

This Tu-nui-ai-a-te-atua is probably to be equated with Kahanai-a-ke-akua (The adopted of the gods) of Oahu story, who is brought up in Waolani by Kane and Kanaloa, marries on Hawaii, and becomes ruling chief over the island of Oahu with the Mu, Wa, and Menehune people as his servants. 

The names of certain families of chiefs survive out of this early period of intercourse with the South Seas, before migration legends to Hawaii begin to take on the color of actual history. The Waha-nui family of Oahu is one of these. The Kamauaua family of Molokai is another. The Pele migration and the coming of the "gods" Kane and Kanaloa perhaps belong rather to myth than legend, nevertheless they have their migration story and belong to the early period. Hikapoloa of Hawaii has a definite place in early tradition. The Keikipa‘anea family of Kauai is represented by a riddling chief of early fame whose legend has been written out at length by a Hawaiian compiler under the name of Ka-lani-ali‘i-loa (The great heavenly chief). Place names, chants, and ritual allusions, as well as family genealogies, unite to give these names traditional significance in spite of the fabulous nature of the legends to which they are attached.

Of Makali‘i, the chief navigator of Hawai‘iloa in the Kumuhonua legend of the settling of the group, from whom are said to have descended the class of commoners (welo kanaka) as distinguished from the chiefs (welo ali‘i) represented by the family of Hawaii-loa, no connected legend is told. In the mythical story of Kaulu, Makali‘i is represented as the seer of Kane and Kanaloa to whose place in the heavens messengers resort in order to make use of his powers of divination, and who is completely bullied into submission by the terrible Kaulu. In the Aukele legend he is connected with the Pele family as uncle of Na-maka-o-ka-ha‘i and is again worsted by the young hero, who flies up to the heavens to make the acquaintance of his wife's relatives without waiting for her to give them warning of his coming. The story includes a glowing description of the wife of Makali‘i:

"Her skin was as red as fire, on coming out of the house, her beauty would overshadow the rays of the sun, so that darkness would cover the land, the red rain would be seen approaching; the fog also, and after these things, then the fine rain, then the red water would flow and the lightning play in the heavens. After this, the form of Malanaikuaheahea would be seen coming along over the tips of the fingers of her servants, in all her beauty. The sun shone at her back and the rainbow was as though it were her footstool." 

As a settler on Hawaiian soil Makali‘i is rather consistently connected with the island of Kauai. He is called a chief of Waimea on the Maweke-Moikeha line, and Nae-kapu-lani, wife of the chief Mano-ka-lani-po, after whom the name Kauai-o-Mano-ka-lani-po was given to the island, is called his child (-a-Makali‘i). Ku-ka-lani-ehu (Ku the heavenly blond), the parent of Wakea's wife Papa, is said to be sixth in descent from Makali‘i. In the Kahuoi legend Kinikuapu‘u sails from Kauai with two fishermen whose names are constantly connected with Makali‘i, as in the string figure chant which runs,

There are Ieiea and Po‘opalu,
The fishermen of Makali‘i;
They are whipping the long fishcord. 

In the legend of Kamapua‘a, Makali‘i appears as ruling chief over the island of Kauai, who is driven into the uplands by his invading nephew just as, in the Moikeha-Kila legend, he is defeated and banished by his nephew Kila. His name is given to the month on the Hawaiian calendar "in which the food (plant) bears leaf," corresponding to our December or January when the sun turns north again, a season marked by the withering of the tender shoots of the ilima flower and the blossoming of the medicinal koolau. At this season the legendary Makali‘i prepared his land for planting, and because of his fame as an agriculturist the month was named in his honor. It was in the month of Makali‘i, says the chant, on a night when lightning flashed, that the chief Kauai was born, the chief from whom the island ruled over by Makali‘i is said to have taken its new name. 

According to the Hawaiiloa legend, the name of Makali‘i refers to his post as navigator, "Eyes of the chief." In the Kila story the name is derived from the pattern called "Little eyes" of the net in which the plant foods of Kahiki were drawn up out of reach of Kila's expedition. It is during the seasonal festival of the Makahiki that the symbolic scattering of edible plants from the net of Makali‘i takes place in order to decide the chances of the food supply for the coming year. Now the rat leaves the plains for the uplands and begins to nibble at the edible fernstalks while the owl, "thus deprived of its natural food," feeds upon berries, remarks Kepelino of the Makali‘i season. Something of this calendar meaning must enter into the legend of Makali‘i as mythical navigator and seer of the early settlers of the northwestern island of Kauai who, through his knowledge of the stars, regulated for them the planting season and foretold success in agriculture. Hawaiians call stars useful in such observations after the famous navigator. Not only is Aldebaran, traditional steering star for Hawaii-loa, named Makali‘i, but the Pleiades also are called "the cluster of Makali‘i" (na huihui-a-Makali‘i) or "nets of Makali‘i" (na-koko-a-Makali‘i). "Makali‘i's rainbow-colored gourd-net hangs above" (Huihui koko a Makali‘i kau iluna), is the saying. Other stars are named "the bailers of Makali‘i" (na ka o Makali‘i), "the wives of Makali‘i" (na wahine o Makali‘i). 

The tradition of Makali‘i as the regulator of food plants may come from Tahiti, where the Pleiades are also called Matari‘i. When these first sparkle in the horizon toward Orion's belt (Mere) in the twilight of evening (November 20), the season of plenty begins, and it lasts until these stars descend below the horizon in the twilight of evening. In Mangaia, the appearance of Matariki about the middle of December above the eastern horizon at sunset marks the new year. The story says:

The Pleiades were originally one star, and so brilliant that Tane was angry. He got Sirius and Aldebaran to help him, and pursued Matariki, who fled behind a stream. Sirius drained the waters dry and Tane flung Aldebaran and broke Matariki into six little pieces. 

In Samoa, (Maka)li‘i is the descendant of Lu the wanderer (or circumciser, see Luanu‘u), son of Lu-a-itu, who weds the daughter of the lord of Atafu north of Samoa. Li‘i is swallowed by a fish and deified under the name of the Pleiades. Hence Atonga(-loa) is half spirit, half man. In the legend of the settling of Manu‘a, four children are offered to the sun: Li‘i is swallowed by a fish and deified as the Pleiades, the other three reach and settle Manu‘a, the sister as wife of its chief and mother of Lu-a-Tongaloa, who became the first chief of Upolo. In Tonga, Mataliki "probably refers to the Pleiades," says Collocott. Rakahanga people worship the Pleiades. Mataliki is the principal god of Pukapuka. 


When Maui fished up Tonga, some gods who lived undersea wandered in the air. One traveled to a rock which had emerged from the water at the place where Pukapuka now is, and saw a godlike man come from it, so he swam away and did not return. This man was Mataliki. To him therefore the island belonged, and he was a god. He found a wife at an island called Tongaleleva and they had two children, Te-muli-vaka and Te-mata-kiate. Tongaloa gods were invited to build up the island but, fearing union with Samoa, the Pukapuka people asked them to stop building reefs. The western division of the channel which the Sun made by stamping his foot, which marks the line of the taro beds, is called Te-muli-wenua (The back of the earth); the eastern division is Te-mata-wenua (The front of the earth). 

Hikapoloa has a place in legend as traditional ruler of Kohala district on Hawaii corresponding to that of Makali‘i on Kauai. As an epithet attached to the names of Kane, Ku, and Lono it represents them as a joint godhead "before heaven and earth were created," an event which, so far as Hawaiian legendary history is concerned, seems to have taken place on Oahu and may be ascribed to the introduction of Kane worship and the setting up of a kahuna class. The phrase Ke-ali‘i-Hikapoloa is said to be equivalent to "Almighty god." "Taken by Hikapoloa" (Lame aku la Hikapoloa) occurs in a chant of Kamehameha's day as a phrase for death. The place in Kohala where the Makahiki god was kept, on the way up from the present heiau of Mo‘okini, is called Hikapoloa. 

It is to this earlier period of colonization and the spread of new ruling families with their rival gods that, according to some interpreters, such an allusion as this from the fourth era of the Kumulipo refers with its indication of a new line of chiefs and the establishment of a family which becomes a determining factor in Hawaiian genealogical history:

Heap up the fire of La‘a there,
The ape plant from over the ocean,
Those of the sea take to the land,
Creep this way and that,
The family of creepers multiply,
The ancient line and the new intermingle,
The new line becomes the genealogy of the chiefs,
Their offspring become the best of the land,
Fathomless, a deep darkness their rank,
Kane-of-the-night-of-deep-darkness is born.

Tradition ascribes to Paao the introduction of human sacrifice into the temple ritual, the walled heiau, and the red-feather girdle as a sign of rank; all typical, says Handy, of late Tahitian culture and not found in Samoa. Other institutions ascribed to him are the pulo‘ulo‘u tapu sign, the prostrating tapu (tapu moe or -o), and the feather god Kaili; some would call Paao rather than La‘a-mai-kahiki the introducer of image worship. Most of these things characterize the Ra‘iatea ritual. That Paao took his ideas from Tahiti is further indicated by reference to "Vavau" and "Upolo" as places where he owned land, probably old districts so named in northern Tahiti in the Aha-roa division of that island, and the name Aha-ula (later called Waha-ula) for the first heiau erected by his party on Hawaii suggests such a connection. Paao is said to have brought the puhala (pandanus) to Kohala. He brought soil from the hills and planted trees about the heiau, still standing, of Wahaula, some of which seem to have survived to Fornander's day. Stones near the heiau of Mo‘okini are pointed out today as "Paao's canoe," his "paddles" and "fishhook," and the fields he cultivated are called "the weeds of Paao" (na maau o Paao) and left untouched for fear of storm. To him are ascribed those severities of religious observance which built up the power of chief and priest during this later period of migration from the south. The land was revolutionized and all the old kahunas were put to death during Paao's time, says Kepelino. 


(a) Emerson version. The priest Paao and his older brother Lono-pele have a bitter quarrel. Lono-pele accuses Paao's son of stealing tapu food and Paao insists on cutting open his son's stomach to prove the accusation false. He broods over his son's death and builds a double canoe to leave for other lands. Lono-pele's son drums upon the canoes with his fingers while they are under tapu and Paao has him slain for a sacrifice for the canoes and buried beneath them, where the buzzing of flies reveals to the father the child's dead body.

Paao acts as priest for the voyage, Makaalawa as navigator and astronomer, Halau as sailing master, Pu-oleole as trumpeter; and there are forty paddlers, besides stewards and awa chewers. Na-mauu-o-Malawa (The grasses of Malawa), sister of Paao, accompanies the party. Kanaloa-nui the canoe is called (Or Ka-nalo-a-muia, The buzzing of flies). They pass under the Kaakoheo bluff and the prophet Makuakaumana asks to be taken aboard. Paao says all the places are full except the projection of the stern. Makuakaumana leaps and gains this position (but this incident probably belongs to the return trip to Tahiti).

Lono-pele sends as storm winds Kona-ku, Kona-nui-a-niho, Moae, Kona-heapuku, Kiki-ao, Lele-ula, Lele-kuilua, followed by a north wind, Ho‘olua, and a monster bird, the Iwa, called Ke-kaha-ka-iwa-i-na-pali. Paao invokes Lono and first a school of aku fish, then one of opelu come to quiet the waves. These fish have ever since been sacred to the Paao family.

Paao lands first in Puna on Hawaii, where he builds the heiau at Pulama [now called Waha-ula (Red mouth) but formerly Aha-ula]. He goes on to Kohala and erects the famous heiau of Mo‘okini at Pu‘uepa, the stones for which are passed from hand to hand a distance of nine miles from the seacoast.

(b) Kamakau version. Upon Paao's prayer to the god of ocean (Kanaka-o-kai, says Green), the aku and opelu fish "leaped up and skipped in the waters and quieted the waves." At the time of the prophet's leap, several other "gods" attempted the feat and were dashed to death. His success is heralded in a chant:

"You are like the flying fish
Skimming easily through the sky,
Traversing the dark waters of ocean,
O Halulu at the foundation house of heaven,
Kane, Makua-kau-mana,
The prophet who made the circuit of the island,
Who circled the pillars of Kahiki."

(Paao brings with him several mo‘o kupua from Kahiki, all worshiped as sacred stones on Oahu today. These are Makapu‘u, Ihiihi-lau-akea, and Malei. Makua-kau-mana returns to Kahiki but Paao remains on Hawaii and his bones rest in the cave of Pu‘uwepa in Kohala. An early school composition makes Paao brother to Pele.)


Paao makes a return voyage to Tahiti (starting from Kapua in Kona district, says Thrum) in order to secure a relative of pure blood who can compete in rank as ruling chief with the blueblood families of other islands, Hawaiian chiefs having intermarried carelessly with families of petty chiefs. The invitation is preserved in an old chant (Emerson text):

E Lono! e Lono- e! e Lonokaeho!
Lonokulani, ali‘i o Ka-ulu-o-nana,
Eia na wa‘a, kau mai a i,
E hoi e noho ia Hawaii-kuauli.
He aina loa‘a i ka moana,
I hoea mai loko o ka ale,
I ka halehale poipu a Kanaloa,
He koa-kea i halelo i ka wai,
I lou i ka makau a ka lawaia,
A ka lawaia nui o Kapuhe‘euanu‘u-la,
A pae na wa‘a, kau mai; p. 373
E holo e ai ia Hawaii, he moku;
He moku Hawaii,
He moku Hawaii no Lonokaeho e noho.

"O Lono, Lono, Lono-ka-eho!
Lono descended from the gods, chief of the fertile land of Nana,
Here are canoes, come aboard,
Return and dwell on green-backed Hawaii,
A land discovered in the ocean,
Risen up out of the waves,
From the very depths of the sea,
A piece of white coral left dry in the ocean,
Caught by the hook of the fisherman,
The great fisherman of Kapaahu,
The great fisherman of Kapuhe‘euanu‘u;
When the canoes land, come aboard,
Sail away and possess Hawaii; a land,
A land is Hawaii,
A land is Hawaii for Lonokaeho to dwell in."

Lono-kaeho declines the invitation but sends in his place Pili-kaaiea (or -auau), called a "grandchild" of Lana-ka-wai on the Ulu line, but born and brought up in Kahiki. Pili wins the hearts of the people and from him descend the chiefs of Hawaii on the Ulu line down to the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The priesthood established by Paao under the Ku ritual descended through an unbroken line of kahunas to Hewahewa, under whom the tapus were broken and the old heiau worship was abolished after the death of Kamehameha in 1819. 

The Paao migration legend introduces stock episodes in Polynesian stories of long voyages. Obstacles sent to oppose a voyage are overcome through the interposition of a god, as in the Waha-nui legend; not in this case referred to the god who has made the supernatural leap to gain passage, but the connection is here probably lost. The leap itself as a means of testing divinity is not an imaginary episode. Hocart says that in the Lau islands the choice of a ruling chief was determined by challenging the men of rank to jump off a point and catch at a banyan tree. Only the man brave enough to accept the challenge and strong enough to make the leap was worthy to be chief. In Hawaii leaping down cliffs was practised as an asset in war.

The introductory episode occurs in almost identical form in the Maori, so much so as to lead Stokes to argue for an identity between Paao and Hiro (Hilo). It is, however, clearly a type episode attached to more than one figure in Maori story.

Maori. (a) Whiro-tu-tupua, after quarreling with his older brother Hua about the canoe they are building, strangles Hua's son Tao-ma-kati because he eats the choice bits given to the builders, and hides his body in the chips under the canoe (or kills him as an offering for the canoe launching). The body is revealed by a buzzing blowfly. The two fight and the child's father is defeated (and he and his family are killed and eaten). 

(b) Whiro kills Ngana-te-irihia because he snatches the choice bits of food, and hides the body under the canoe Whatu-te-ihi. A blowfly reveals the body. Whiro wins in battle with the child's father. 

(c) The body of the son of Manaia, who has been killed by Hoturoa (or Rata) while the canoes are building to sail to New Zealand, is revealed by the god assuming the body of a fly and buzzing about the body. 

(d) Uenuku kills Hoimatua's child for stumbling on the threshold, and Hoimatua's relative Turi kills Uenuku's in revenge and subsequently migrates in the Aotea canoe to escape Uenuku's vengeance. 

Revelation of a murder by a buzzing fly is a common theme in Maori story. In the story of Hatupatu, parents send a spirit in blowfly form to find the body of their child who has been killed by his brothers for eating the birds they have preserved, and the spirit brings the child to life. See also the Moriori story of Tu-moana's son who murders his sweetheart for laughing at him and her dead body is revealed by a buzzing fly, and compare the Hawaiian story of Ka-hala-o-puna whose body is revealed by an owl or bird god.

The whole incident, like most Maori stories, corresponds closely with actual occurrences in human life. The supernatural element is introduced into the Paao legend only through the attempt to rationalize these occurrences in the light of belief in the part played by spirit forces in such happenings. The buzzing fly attracted by the odor of putrifying flesh is explained as a spirit emissary. Bad weather on a sea voyage is laid not to meteorological disturbances, but to the sorceries of an enemy; the schools of fish which come with clearing weather, to the cause and not the accompaniment of the change.




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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