Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



Pi‘ilani of Maui had by Laie-lohelohe two sons and a daughter named Lono-pi‘ilani, Kiha-pi‘ilani, and Pi‘ikea. Lono-pi‘ilani succeeded to the rule over his father's lands. Pi‘ikea made a marriage, considered a misalliance by the blue-blooded chiefs of Maui and Oahu, with Umi, ruling chief on Hawaii. The story of the younger son Kiha-pi‘ilani belongs with a series of popular legends recounted in great detail in which usurping chiefs on a younger branch wrest the ruling power from the legitimate heir through superior ability and power to govern men. Of these, the stories of Kihapi‘ilani on Maui and of Umi on Hawaii contain no fantastic elements and the facts of their rule have substantial historic support. The corresponding legends of Kuali‘i on Oahu and of Kawelo on Kauai bear the marks of handling as fiction to such an extent as to throw doubt upon their actual identity as historic figures.

The name of Kiha-pi‘ilani is preserved locally about the island of Maui in connection with his feats of leaping from a height into a pool of water, called lelekawa, and for the famous paved road about the island with the building of which he oppressed the people. Men are said to have stood in line and passed the stones from seashore to upland. Parts of the road are still in place and may be followed where the trail cuts in a straight line up and down the deep gorges which break the windward slope of the island.


Kihapi‘ilani is brought up on Oahu, but when his uncle scolds him for wasting food he goes off to Lahaina to find his true father. He is dissatisfied to take the place of a younger son. When his father sets him on the left knee he jumps to the right, and he snatches from his father's right hand the food and drink intended for his older brother Lono. After their father's death Lono takes pains to humiliate him. The brothers come to blows. Kiha is defeated and saves himself only by leaping off a cliff down the hill Pakui. He hides himself in Kula district at Kalani-wai in the Makawao region with his wife Kumaka of a Hana family of chiefs, whom he passes off as his sister. The two live with a man named Kahuakole, whose son he is supposed to be. He proves a bad provider and is scolded for idleness. He steals a stick for beating tapa in order that his high-born wife may follow the custom of the commoners among whom they live, and himself goes off to the potato patch at Kaluaama in Haiku after potato slips. Offered "as many as he can carry away," he takes so large a load that an old man who sees him pass recognizes him as a chief and takes up his cause. He consults various kahunas as to the course he should pursue to win the rule from his brother. He goes back to Oahu, learns surfing and, returning to Hana district, surfs with the daughter of Ho‘olae. The couple are repudiated by the father, but after a son is born, a reconciliation is effected and Kiha sends his wife to ask of Ho‘olae such lands as will give him control of the fortress Kauiki. Ho‘olae recognizes at once that this is no common man to whom his daughter Kolea-moku has born a child, but the chief Kihapi‘ilani. He nevertheless loyally refuses to desert his old chief Lono. Kiha therefore retires to Hawaii and succeeds in winning Umi's cooperation through the influence of his sister Pi‘ikea. After the death of Lono, Umi sends an army to establish Kiha in the succession. Ho‘olae defends Kauiki for Lono's son and sets up a wooden image so huge as to frighten off Umi's men, who believe it to be alive. Eventually Pi‘imaiwa‘a discovers the trick. Kiha has Lono's son put to death and asks that the lands may be made over to Pi‘ikea's sons. The two lads come to Maui, but are despised and done to death and Kiha is established as ruler over his father's lands. It is his famous son Kama-lala-walu (Son of eight branches) who gives the name Maui-of-Kama to the island. 

Between the periods of Hua and Pi‘ilani, that is, between Moikeha's time and that of Umi on Hawaii, were born at Kahinihini in Mokae, Hamoa, the twins, "Little and big sacred ones of Hana," called Hana-la‘a-nui and Hana-la‘a-iki, from whom respectively the chiefs of Hawaii and Maui count descent. From the great Kaupo families of Ko‘o and Kaiuli, descended from Kiha and his wife Koleamoku, came Kahekili's wife Kauwahine, mother of Kalanikupule, the last ruling chief of Maui, and of a daughter, Kailikauoha, who became the wife of the Maui chief Ulumehe‘ihe‘i Hoapili and mother of Liliha, beloved wife of Boki of sandalwood fame. 

The island of Hawaii lying over against Kauiki, home of the heaven-high chiefs of the Pi‘ilani line, bred meanwhile the offspring of the second of those usurping chiefs whose final example is found in the well-known history of the first Kamehameha. Umi of Liloa wrested the rule over Hamakua from the unpopular Hakau, legitimate heir of Liloa, and eventually brought most of the island under subjection, a conquest completed six generations later by Keawe, called "the first chief over the whole island." Liloa is said to have died in 1575 at his home in Waipio valley, where stood the most sacred heiau on the island, that of Paka‘alana. To Liloa is ascribed by tradition the introduction of homosexual practices. 


Liloa has a son Hakau by his mother's younger sister, Pinea. Later he begets Umi upon a pretty chiefess of low rank whom he surprises at her bathing pool and with her consent makes his wife. He leaves with her the usual recognition tokens and Umi makes his way to his father's court and becomes a favorite. Liloa at his death leaves the land to Hakau but the god to Umi, and warns this favorite younger son to remain in hiding when his father is no longer living to protect him. Umi withdraws from Waipio with his three comrades Omaokamau, Pi‘imaiwa‘a, and Koi, whom he has adopted from boyhood, and hides in the country between Hamakua and Hilo, where he takes two wives and engages in fishing and husbandry. The kahuna Kaoleioku observes a rainbow hovering over the boy's head as he repairs to the place where his god is hidden in order to lay before it the first offering of fish. To make certain of his rank, the kahuna lets loose a pig, and when the pig approaches the youth, the priest guesses his identity and takes up his cause against Hakau. The youths train themselves in all the arts of war. Four large houses are each filled with warriors from among the disaffected who hate Hakau for his cruelties and for his neglect of the common good. The two principal kahunas of Liloa, neglected and insulted by Hakau, secretly take up his cause. Hakau is apprised of Umi's preparations and induced to send his men to the forest to gather feathers with which to adorn his warriors in a raid against Umi. Thus left unprotected, he observes a long file of men approaching with bundles and is told that his people are bringing in tribute. Out of the bundles come hard tribute in the shape of stones with which Hakau is stoned to death. Umi brings the whole land under subjection and distributes its rule to his three comrades and the kahuna who has aided his conquest. At the advice of this kahuna he takes wives of high rank in order to overcome the odium of his inferior rank. Two of these are his half-sister Kapu-kini, daughter of Liloa, and his aunt Pi‘ikea, daughter of Pi‘ilani of Maui.

The subjection of Hilo comes about through a quarrel with the pretty daughter of its chief Kulukulua, whom Umi has won as an unknown lover. He makes fun of and destroys her necklace of wiliwili berries, boasting of his own whale-tooth ornament which alone is worthy of chiefs. The girl goes crying to her father and Umi is obliged to make good his boast and give up his own necklace to repair the loss inflicted upon the chiefess. A successful raid follows to regain the heirloom. Kau district is won from the blind chief Imaikalani, who, though blind, is famed for his stroke, which never misses. An attendant reveals to Umi that the chief has two "birds" (guards) who give warning when anyone approaches. The guards killed, the blind chief becomes helpless. But the most famous of Umi's battles is that fought with the invisible powers of the spirit world assembled to enforce a promise made by Umi's wife. Pi‘ikea has promised her first daughter to her mother's family on Oahu to rear, according to custom in families of chiefs, but when her mother's supernatural relatives come to take the child, Umi resists and a war follows during which an invisible enemy strikes down Umi's men without their ever seeing who has dealt the blow. Meanwhile the child is born, and the relatives snatch the child and depart.

At Umi's death the body is entrusted to Koi to dispose in some concealed spot. Koi takes with him his sister's husband; the two arrange a substitute body to be publicly carried to burial while Umi's own body is borne away to the cliffs of Waimanu. From this adventure the brother-in-law, the only other man besides Koi who knows the place of burial, never returns. Today, as the saying is, "Only the birds know where Umi son of Liloa lies buried." 

The legend of Umi is one of the most popular of all Hawaiian prose sagas of heroes, embellished as it is with many stock episodes but still preserving the thread of historical accuracy. Umi is still famed as a farmer and fisherman. He laid out great taro patches in Waipio. Aku fishing was his delight. He organized the people according to occupations. He kept up the worship of the gods and magnified the practice of human sacrifice. He built the heiau of Kuki‘i overlooking the warm spring at Kapoho in Puna and that of Pohaku Hanalei in Ka-u. On the slope of the mountain just back of the hill Hale-pohaha were to be seen, before the lava flows of 1887 and 1907 covered them, the stone structures of "Umi's camp." Seventy-five huts were counted, all facing away from the wind and built of three slabs of pahoehoe lava rock, two set together at an angle and a third forming the back, each hut large enough to hold two men. Larger huts, perhaps designed for chiefs, were supported by slabs within and built up outside with stone walls shaped into a dome. The place on Kauiki is still pointed out where the image stood which was later commemorated by Kamehameha as the god Kawalaki‘i. Beside these tangible evidences of his fame, a number of popular legends surround the name of Umi. One tells of the revenge he took upon the man who crowded him unfairly in a surfboard contest when he was living in obscurity in the country. Another recalls one of his warriors named Mau-ku-leoleo who was so tall he could pick coconuts from trees and wade out into the sea several fathoms without wetting himself above the loins. It was said that a god, perhaps Kanaloa, gave him a fish to eat which caused his growth. 

No connected story is told of Keawe-nui-a-Umi. He is said to have subdued the warring chiefs over Hawaii and to have established a popular court in Hilo where story-telling flourished. Of his younger son Lono-i-ka-makahiki, who made a lucky marriage and rose to the position of ruling chief by his own ability, a long legend is recited, some of the incidents of which historians say belong to namesakes.


Lono-i-ka-makahiki is a younger son of Keawe-nui-a-Umi by his wife Haokalani. Reared at Napo‘opo‘o near Kealakekua in Kona district by his father's two prophets Hanna and Loli, he early becomes expert in the arts of war and of wrestling and learns to respect his father's gods. The old soothsayer Ka-wa‘amaukele at Kanokapa teaches him the art of competitive word play (ho‘opa‘apa‘a) so that he is soon able to outwit all his comrades.

At the death of his father, Kaiki-lani-wahine-ali‘i-o-Puna (The little heavenly chiefess of Puna), daughter of Keawe-nui's older brother, becomes the legitimate heir. Lono's older half-brother Kanaloa-kuaana is her husband. He tests Lono's skill by hurling forty spears at him at once, all of which Lono dodges. He therefore gives Kaikilani to Lono and the two rule the land.

Lono and Kaikilani (or Kaikilani-mai-panio, another wife of Lono) quarrel. Lono accuses her of infidelity and strikes her down (or kills her). Her relatives on Hawaii rise against him. He retreats to the court of Kakuhihewa at Kamooa, Kailua, on Oahu. Here he is treated with some contempt as a nameless wanderer, but in a succession of contests in arts with which he is unfamiliar or at a disadvantage he wins every bet by his skill in word play and his quickness of memory. Thus he learns in a single night a new name chant from a visiting chiefess from Kauai whose favors he has won at a game of kiln, and is able to pass it off as his own; succeeds in a fishing contest by punning on the names of the fish he is supposed to have caught; visits other islands and excites envy by his great fly brush named Eleeleua-lani made of feathers not to be had save on Hawaii; displays a calabash containing the bones of the warring chiefs of Hawaii subdued and slain by his father and chants their names; wins a wife; and in general displays wit and talent to the credit of the somewhat despised chiefly house of Umi.

After the death of Kaikilani (according to one version), he wanders half-crazed through the uplands of Kauai, deserted by all his followers but a single man named Kapaihi-a-Hilina, who follows him through all the hardships of his forest life, cares for his needs, and constantly observes the etiquette demanded toward a tapu chief, never even crossing the chief's shadow. When Lono eats bananas the guardian contents himself with the skins. Upon Lono's restoration to reason this man therefore is raised to the position of favorite, which he enjoys until jealous enemies accuse him to Lono of familiarity with the chiefess, Lono's wife. Banished from the court, he raises a chant in which he describes their wanderings together in such touching terms that Lono's affection reawakens. No reconciliation is however possible until the slanderers are put to death.

The invasion from Maui under the ambitious chief Kama-lala-walu (Son of eight branches) occurs during Lono's rule. Lono visits Maui with his younger brother and war leader Pupukea and the two carry on a contest of wit with Kama-lala-walu and his brother Makakui-ka-lani, who is as tall and slim as Pupukea is short and stocky. Observing the Maui chief's ambition for conquest, Lono sends pretended deserters to represent falsely the weakness of his own position, and thus lures Kamalalawalu into a raid upon the island in which the Maui chief is completely defeated, his army annihilated, and he himself slain. In spite of the disastrous result of this expedition, undertaken as it was against the advice of his wisest seers, the glory of Kamalalawalu's name remains undimmed. Chants are sung in praise of his glorious death and the island is called Maui-of-Kama because of his illustrious reign. 

The last great name of succeeding chiefs on the Ulu line who ruled Hawaii before the historic period of Kalani-opu‘u, ruling chief at the time of Cook's arrival, and the rise of the Kamehameha chiefs, is that of Keawe called chief over the whole island (-i-kekahi-ali‘i-o-ka-moku). He had many wives and became, as the chroniclers say, "ancestor of chiefs and commoners." When he died, his bones were encased in the woven basket in which chiefs of high rank were worshiped. "Keawe returned and rested in the kaai" says the chant. 

Contemporary with or somewhat later than Keawe of Hawaii was the rise to power of Ku-ali‘i (Ku the chief) of Oahu, said to have ultimately subjugated the whole group and been succeeded in historic times by his "son" Peleiholani. The Hawaiian chronologist records: "This chronology begins with a famous chief and ruler named Kuali‘i. He was called a God, one of supernatural power, a soldier, a runner, swift of foot. Five times he ran around Oahu in a single day. He loved Oahu alone, he did not care for any other country. He is said to have lived long, (until) he walked with a cane; four times forty years. and fifteen he lived, that is 175 years." The story of the famous genealogical chant of Kuali‘i has already been related, in which through 610 lines he is glorified as "a god . . . a messenger from heaven . . . a stranger (haole) from Kahiki." Genealogists give him a place on the Kalona-iki line from Nana-ulu. History and fiction combine in the account of his conquests.


Kuali‘i is born at Kalapawai (Kapalawai) in Kailua on the island of Oahu. For the ceremony of the cutting of the navel string at the heiau at Alala, the drums Opuku and Hawea are used. He shows his strength when very young and is urged to save the people from the oppression of Lono-ikaika, whom he defies by usurping his place at the dedication of the heiau of Kawaluna in Waolani. A great army sent against him is re-pulsed and most of the chiefs slain, although he has but a single follower to wield the two-edged stone axe named Haula-nui-akea, called also Manai-a-ka-lani, which is his only weapon. Thus the southern part of the island between Moanalua and Maunaloa is brought under his rule. He lives at Kalanihale in Kailua and becomes proficient in the arts of war. At Kauai, to which island he goes after kauila wood for fashioning spears, he takes on Malana‘ihaehae and Kaha‘i as chief warriors and makes for himself the spear named Huli-moku-alana (Victorious over-turner of islands). Returning, he meets a great army drawn up on the plains in Lihue and three men defeat twelve thousand. In three great battles, at Malama-nui, Pule‘e, Paupauwela, he subdues the whole island. He goes to Hawaii and routs a chief named Haalilo, but returns to Oahu to repel a revolt of the Waianae chiefs at Kalena. He wins Molokai when called to help defend the fishing grounds of Kekaha against the chiefs from the northern half of the island, Lanai when called to aid Haloalena in a war with Maui. Kauai, hearing of his conquests, also hastens to make peace with him, and thus the whole group acknowledges Kuali‘i as lord.

Four Lono chiefs rule Oahu before the time of Kakuhihewa: Lono-huli-lani rules the north side of the island and Waialua, Lono-ikaika the south side, Lono-kukaelekoa has Waianae and Ewa, Lono-huli-moku has Koolau-poko. It is hence against the Lono domination that Kuali‘i rebels. His comrade in the first battle is Maheleana [a name given today to the place at the east point of Hawaii where winds divide (mahele) and blow east down the Hamakua coast and north down the Puna coast]. Later leading warriors are Kaha‘i; Malana‘i-haehae, called in chant

"Offspring of mischief-making Niheu
Who dammed the waters of Kekeuna";

and Paepae from the fishing grounds of Kekaha in Molokai.

Kauhi, son of Kauhi-a-Kama of Maui, becomes his battle leader as a result of the affair at Lanai. Haloalena, the amiable ruling chief of Lanai, has a hobby for collecting bird skeletons and will demote any district overseer who allows the bones of trapped birds to be broken. The mischievous son of Kauhi-a-Kama is banished to Lanai. There he breaks up the chief's skeletons. Haloalena sends to beg Kuali‘i to join him in war against Maui. Kuali‘i questions Kauhi and finds that the boy has twisted his father's innocent words of reproof for his conduct, when banishing him to Lanai, into an order to stir up war. Kuali‘i is so pleased with the boy's daring that he takes him into his house-hold and makes him leader of his soldiers.

Kuali‘i takes as wife a very high chiefess of Maui born of a brother-and-sister marriage and hence of pio rank. Her name is Ka-lani-kahi-make-i-ali‘i. During the rule of their son Peleiholani, Oahu is said to have prospered more than at any other time since Maili-kukahi. 

Certain elements in the Kuali‘i tradition give the impression that we have here the legend not of a single chief but of a political movement led in the name of a god, perhaps belonging to the ancient Ku line and directed against the Lono worshipers. The names Ku-ali‘i, Ku-nui-akea, Ku-i-ke-ala-i-kaua-o-ka-lani (Ku in the stone in battle of the heavenly one) and the repeated assertion of divinity suggest that some symbolic object is here impersonated as a god, like the feather god Kaili, who became in Kamehameha's day the war god Ku-kaili-moku, and was similarly handed down in a family line as a god of victory in battle. The impression is strengthened by the chronological uncertainty of Kuali‘i's period, the length and character of his chant, the story of his birth, ushered in by the sacred pahu drums, the boast of his speed, and by the fact that his antagonists on Oahu bear Lono names. His early act of rebellion in taking upon himself a ceremony which belonged to the ruling chief to perform was in itself an assumption of superior divinity.

Still more curious, if we are hearing the story of a mere rebel chief, is the personal inactivity that accompanies his conquests. In his first fight he is represented as too young to have learned the arts of war. He persuades his father to stay beside him for his own protection, gives his weapon into the hands of his comrade Maheleana, pulls the covers over his head, and sleeps until completely surrounded by the enemy. It is then Mahele, not Kuali‘i, who gets up and mows down the hosts until most of Lono-ikaika's chiefs are slain. Again at Kalaupapa on Molokai he lies inactive in the bottom of the boat until it is lifted on the shoulders of the enemy to bring it ashore, when he and his companion mow down all the bearers with the famous battle-axe. Thus he wins all Molokai. Later, finding that his leading warriors are competent to fight alone, he does not go out with them to battle. Instead he goes secretly and each time brings back a feather cloak from a warrior he has slain. Since he is a swift runner and a fear-less leaper, no one can keep up with him to discover his identity. The legend continues:

At the battle of Kalakoa a boy from Kaoio point sees him passing Kualoa. The boy's grandmother sends the boy out with shrimps to feed him and a fan to do him honor. The boy is careful not to use the fan himself and not to step on the chief's shadow. After the battle of Kukaniloko, when Ku bears away the cloak, the boy takes a finger and an ear of the dead warrior to whom it belonged. Ku is pleased with his daring and rewards him with his own loincloth, through which Ku is recognized as the slayer. 

The well-known motive of the disguised champion is here easily to be recognized as by no means an integral part of the Kuali‘i legend. It occurs in several other kupua tales in Hawaii in which the hero plays the part of an inactive conqueror. It is as if the hero in such tales acts not in his nature as a human being but as a god to insure victory to those who are fighting his cause. This is a thoroughly native conception, one with which the romantic and no doubt borrowed motive of the disguised champion, in spite of the pains taken to work up the local color, is quite alien.

The episode of the disguised champion occurs in some South Sea groups.

Maori. Hatupatu's father sends his sons to slay his enemy Raumati. The brothers sail without Hatupatu, who follows by diving under water. The brothers still resist his company and refuse to give him any fighting men. He dresses clumps of grass in feather cloaks taken from the enemy and himself wears so many different costumes that he is believed to represent a host. All his brother's divisions are broken. Hatupatu rallies them and slays Raumati. Each of the brothers brings a head to his father as Raumati's but only Hatupatu can produce the true head. 

Tonga. A woman bears to Sinilau twelve sons who are made chiefs over the different island groups, but her first child is born in the form of a fat lizard called piliopo. A girl comes to marry him but is afraid of his form and runs home. Her sister shows no fear and he takes her home to his mother. When the young men go to match clubs, day by day a handsome stranger comes off victor. She finally sees the red paint of his cheeks under the lizard's skin and recognizes her husband. 

San Cristoval (Bauro). Taraematawa while in seclusion with the other boys of Bauro is drowned, but two girls find his body and persuade the old kahuna to restore him sound and well. All the men have gone out fishing save one lame boy. Tarae makes a tremendous haul of fish, then hides himself and the lame boy claims the credit until the men watch and discover the true hero. 

With the semimythical legend of Kuali‘i concludes the legendary history of Hawaiian chiefs up to the eighteenth century, and begins the narratives of heroes whose lives are so bound up with fictional elements as to class them with imaginative rather than with legendary story-telling. Although often believed in as true, the facts they record bear all the marks of conscious exaggeration and embellishment useful to the entertainer rather than to the historian. They belong to the field of story-telling as literature--equally true to the social background which they represent and much more revealing of the imaginative range of Hawaiian thought (conditioned as it is by tradition and circumstance and colored by fancy) and of the philosophy of life which shapes the moral action of the tale, but avoided by the scholar whose interest is in the purely external facts of Polynesian migration.

The scholar will in fact already have discovered such a play of fancy elaborating so-called legendary history as to discount the value of the distinction and to challenge its purpose. Fiction may be used to illustrate the general trend of a period or to emphasize the position of figures who play a part in it. But fiction is also useful as a subject in itself, with the idea of observing how the entertainer works up a traditional story to please his particular audience, what favorite characters occur, what types they present, and what embellishment either of background, incident, or interpretation, enters into the invention. This, in comparison with a similar type of tale told in other related groups and under a different setting, gives an insight into the way in which life looks to the mind of the composer. That words as signs of thought are used rather than tangible material, that the pattern followed is a story pictured to his mind out of his own knowledge of life, rather than an object to be bettered for its particular purpose, makes the completed form no less useful as an example of the culture which it represents. Story-telling is not to be neglected as an element in social life because it cannot be exhibited on the shelves of a museum. Nor is it to be discredited by the historian because it plays havoc with calendar events. The comparison of stories over a related area gives, historically, evidence of a parent form, and an accumulation of such evidence may eventually help in the solution of worldwide problems of distribution.




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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