Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



In Hawaiian romantic fiction the treatment of kupua figures differs from that employed in the hero story, where exaggerated feats of prowess, often humorously treated, keep the level of the story above that of ordinary life. In romance the atmosphere changes. Love and marriage are always the theme, and chiefs of unexceptionable rank--hence of divine ancestry--the actors, with family gods as their protectors and animate nature to aid and applaud their moments of apotheosis. The world in which such persons live in actual society, built up as it is out of fictional illusion, is here represented in all the complexity of natural form with which their island world keeps them constantly surrounded. Lands beyond the horizon, dimly remembered as once within the range of voyagers, are here transmuted into dwellings in the air--a more direct reality to an island-isolated people because of the shapes and movements of clouds ever shifting into imitations of earth, of the flights of birds in the air and the swaying of wind in the treetops, and the indescribable sharpness of cliff lines and mountain slopes which at sunrise and sunset send their shadows across from island to neighboring island, or the roar of thunder, the patter of hail, and the sheet of lightning from the sky, and the constant sound of the sea broken into so many changing voices. The abundant life of the sea and the myriad forms of the forest are all worked into the living pattern of a society of endowed beings whose emotional reactions and solutions of problems of action are undoubtedly based upon those of the men and women who were their prototypes in actual life. Certain motives which recur, like the transformation forms with which a divinity attempts to frighten a wooer, may be fairy-tale embellishments, but they belong to the philosophy of life according to which natural forms are believed to be born into family lines, and hence to belong, as a living impersonation, to their descendants.

Some characteristics of kupua hero tales are here also, such as localization, place and family names. Themes are Polynesian in character and incident and whole tales are found duplicated in South Sea groups. But the Pele cycle certainly dominates these romances, if not that of Papa or Haumea. As in the Pele romances woman plays a leading role. She is the desired one, set apart from her fellows by supreme rank; the problem ever foremost is to find a suitable parent for her firstborn. Or she may be the helpful sister, virgin and gifted with special powers of sorcery or of foresight. Romantic as is the general tone of the story, the composer often passes into essentially novelistic treatment in passages so close to realism that the divinity is lost in the woman and the god in the human. Always, however, it is necessary to remember that, according to the fiction, if you will, of old Hawaiian life, rank is an actual acknowledgment of divinity and the human is the god.

The romantic tale of Aukelenuiaiku is said to have originated in Kahiki and to be one of the most noted of all Hawaiian stories. It tells of the wooing of Namakaokaha‘i, older sister of Pele and related to the family of gods who rule the heavens, by a stranger chief who is aided by a mo‘o ancestor to cross the seas, escape the jealousy of his brothers and every attack launched upon him by the goddess and her relatives, and finally to become her husband and rule over her desolated land. Later he becomes enamored of her younger sister and eventually leaves the land and arrives ultimately at Hawaii.


(a) Fornander version. Aukele-nui-a-iku (Far-swimming son of Iku) is the eleventh and favorite son of Iku and Kapapaiakea in Kuaihelani. His ten older brothers, Ke-kama-kahi-nui-aiku, Ku-aiku, Noho-aiku, Hele-aiku, Kapukapu-aiku, Hea-aiku, Lono-ea-aiku, Na-aiku, Noi-aiku, Iku-mai-lani, are all great boxers, able to overcome at a single blow Kealohi-kikaupea, champion boxer of Kauai; the three champions of Oahu named Kaikipa‘a-nanea, Kupukupu-kehai-ka-lani, Kupukupu-kehai-iaku; and Kakaalaneo, champion of Maui; but they are afraid to meet Kepakailiula of Hawaii and return home to boast of their achievements.

They hate Aukele because their father has given to him the inheritance of the kingdom instead of to his older brothers. When he approaches the games they break up his arrow, which they recognize as made differently from their own arrows, and attempt to kill him, but he wrestles with and overcomes one brother after another. They throw him into the pit of the ancestress Ka-mo‘o-inanea who eats men, but she spares her young relative, describes to him the vacant land ruled over by Na-maka-o-kaha‘i (The eyes of Kaha‘i) whose inhabitants, with the exception of her immediate family, have been devoured by spirits, and gives him a food-providing leaf, an axe, a knife, a bit of her tail which contains her "real body" (kino maoli), her feather skirt (pa-u) and kahili, which have the power to protect him from flames and to reduce his enemies to ashes, and a box containing the god Lonoikouali‘i to warn him of approaching danger. She then lifts him up out of the pit and he returns to his brothers. A second attempt upon his life is made by leaving him in a water hole with a stone rolled over the top, but a kind-hearted brother releases him.

The brothers determine to leave the land of Kuaihelani. He insists upon accompanying them and on the voyage the food-providing leaf keeps them from starving. Arrived at Namakaokaha‘i's country the brothers are rash enough to declare war and are all reduced to ashes when she turns her skirt against them; only Aukele is saved by swimming ashore. Taught by his god, he is able to win over the rat and mo‘o servants Upoho and Haapuainanea whom he first encounters and to persuade the four bird brothers Kanemoe, Kaneapua, Leapua, and Kahaumana to promise him their sister in marriage. At the goddess's house he reduces the dog Moela to ashes with his ancestor's skirt, and avoids the poisoned food set before him, eating instead out of the bird brothers' food containers. Finally he prays to them all by name and the goddess calls him to her, but he avoids approaching her until she has first come to him. The goddess shows him all her forms and teaches him her magic powers except the art of flying, and she makes him ruler over all her land.

He is however obliged to exert his power to overcome other dangerous relatives. The bird Halulu carries him to his nest on the cliff and keeps him there to be devoured, but he cuts off one wing after the other with his magic knife and finally the head, and the bird's mate lets him down on a rainbow to earth. Namaka sends him to the heavens to make acquaintance with her relatives. The bird brothers have taught him to fly, and he out-distances his escort and has a successful tussle with Kuwahailo, who hurls lightning and thunder rocks against him.

The son of Aukele's oldest brother, Kau-mai-iluna-o-holani-ku (Rising above Holani-ku), was a playmate of his. He was a boy so sacred that nothing he asked could be denied and it was through his intercession that Aukele was allowed to join the sailing party. Aukele now mourns his death and his wife sends him after the water of life to restore his dead relatives to life. It is kept by Ka-moho-ali‘i in a deep pit reached by flying eastward to the place where the sun comes up and then descending noiselessly, directed by his granduncles Kane-naenae and Kane-naiau stationed at the brink of the pit, by Hawewe and Kuemanu farther down, and by an old blind grandaunt at the bottom, called old woman Kaikapu, sister of Kamo‘o-inanea and Lono-ikouali‘i, whose eyes he heals with two coconut shoots. She blackens his hands to look like Kamohoali‘i's and the people below hand up the gourd Huawai-a-ka-ola (Water gourd of life) inside the net Palea-i-keahe-lanalana. He picks up the stick Ho‘oleheleheki‘i, and returns too swiftly to be overtaken by the angry owner. His own attempt to use the water to restore his brothers and nephew is unsuccessful, but, with the few drops remaining, his wife brings them all to life and he shares the rule with them and even gives them his wife as well.

Finally Aukele's little son Ka-uila-nui-makaeha-i-ka-lani gets a box on the head from his sacred cousin, son of the oldest brother. The angry child curses him, his father, and uncles as "food of maggots rotting at the sea bottom." Enraged at the insult, the brothers set sail with their son and are drowned at sea.

As time passes Aukele is attracted by his wife's young cousins Pele and Hi‘iaka and pretends to go fishing in order to meet them. His wife discovers this and drives them from the country. They migrate first to Kauai, whence they are driven again, and flee from island to island until they finally reach Hawaii. Soon after, Aukele decides to return to his old home. Kanemoe makes a spirit body to remain with his sister and himself accompanies Aukele. They pass to Kuaihelani and find the place empty. Kamo‘o-inanea informs them that the family have gone to Kauai to live and they go on to the Hawaiian group. At Kauai, Iku first defeated Ku-koae and became ruler over the island, but later a battle was fought over Aukele's pretty sister, Kaomea-aiku, and Ku-koae won the contest. 

(b) Westervelt version. Kukali is born at Kalapana on Hawaii, the son of a kahuna. Ku is his god. His father teaches him magic until he becomes a powerful kahuna and gives him a magic banana skin always full of fruit. He sets out on distant travels. He is thrown into a pit with others and kills the bird Halulu which sweeps the pit with its wing to devour men. He descends the bottomless pit containing the water of life and is warned by the wizard guardian -against eating ripe fruit. He finds Na-maka-eha (Four eyes), the sister of Halulu, success-fully meets tests of strength, and returns to his old home on Hawaii. 

(c) Dibble version. Waikele-nui-aiku is the favorite son of the ten sons of Waiku. They have one sister. His brothers are jealous and cast him into a pit belonging to Holonae-ole, but the kindly older brother charges her to take care of her relative and he escapes. He flees to the country of Ka-moho-ali‘i, where he is thrown into a pit with others but escapes by interpreting their dreams (contamination with the Joseph story). 

Analysis of the Aukele romance shows it to belong to a type of worldwide distribution known as the Jason type. The familiar story is that of a hero who, having incurred the enmity of his family at home, travels to a far country and, after meeting successfully a number of dangerous tests, secures a sorceress as wife whom he later abandons for another woman. Analysis:

(A) The hero leaves home (A1) after escaping death at the hands of his brothers.

(B) He is protected by a family deity, (B1) by magic objects, (B2) by magic powers.

(C) In a far land he secures a sorceress as wife.

(D) He overcomes dangers, such as (D1) guards of the chiefess, (D2) dangerous food, (D3) a giant bird, (D4) gods of the heavens, (D5) transformation tests.

(E) He makes a journey to the underworld after (E1) the water of life, (E2) sun, moon, and stars, (E3) the spirit of a dead friend.

(F) He becomes enamored of a younger relative.

(G) He leaves the land, (G1) is driven out, (G2) is killed.

The names of the characters in this story have very old genealogical associations. The title aiku in Tahiti is almost equivalent to the Hawaiian akua, implying divinity or divine rank. In Hawaii two classes of chiefs are named: one the Iku-pau, descended from Kane or Kumuhonua and classed as high chiefs; the other the Iku-nu‘u, or ordinary chiefs. Kapapaiakea, mother of Aukele, is Kapapaiakele, wife of Laka on the genealogy of Hulihonua. Ke-alohi-kikaupea, one of the contemporaries named as champion in a wrestling match, appears on the genealogies as a chief of Kauai contemporary with the Kakuhihewa family of Oahu, from whom Kauai is called in chant "island of Ke-alohi-kikaupea."

A number of incidents are common to other Hawaiian romances. The main pattern belongs to a group of similar stories centering about the Pele family and the wooing of a daughter of Kuwahailo, the man-eating god in the heavens. The shaken skirt (pau), which reduces all to ashes, occurs again in the Laieikawai romance and connects the actor directly with the Pele family. The mo‘o ancestress of both parties in a marriage is a feature common to many other Hawaiian romances. The son Lightning-flashing-in-the-heavens reappears in an explanatory folktale from Ka-u district on Hawaii which tells how the wiliwili trees on the beach of Paula came to have their shape and why there are mackerel in the sea.


Moho-lani (Divine mo‘o) is the firstborn of four sisters and the only one to have a husband. The sisters are accordingly jealous. Two sirens of the sea lure away the husband and the sister goes from one to another begging to know what has become of him, but they turn her away with insulting words. Moho-lani appeals to the guardian gods of her son and he comes to her rescue in his lightning body. It glances over the sea bottom, cuts in pieces the sirens (from whose bodies spring mackerel), and restores the lost husband. The ungracious sisters are transformed into the crooked, spare-leafed trees that grow upon the beach. 

The mo‘o woman in this story would seem to bear close relation to the goddess of the mo‘o family wooed by Aukele, and the rescue of the husband from the toils of the sirens to be another form of the infidelity theme, in which, as in the Aukele story, vengeance is wrought upon the ladies of whose charms he has been made the victim.

Na-maka-o-kaha‘i, the heroine of the story, appears in the Pele cycle as an older sister of the fire goddess. She is daughter of Ku-waha-ilo and Haumea in Holaniku, to whom also are born Pele-honua-mea, the Hi‘iaka sisters, the Kama brothers, and the bird Halulu. Aukelenuiaiku becomes her husband in Kahiki, then later the husband of Pele, and it is because of this quarrel that Pele, the Hi‘iaka sisters, Malulani, and Kaohelo migrate to Hawaii. In Thrum's Kanehuna-moku myth she is called the chiefess of the Mu and Menehune people when they are summoned to build the watercourse for Kikiaola at Waimea on Kauai, and in that story she disappears on the land of Kane-huna-moku. Her brothers in the Aukele legend have bodies of rock and her child by Aukele has two bodies, one of rock and one human. She herself has three supernatural bodies, a fire, a cliff (pali), a sea, besides the power of flying, of coming to life again if cut up into bits, and of reducing others to ashes by turning her skirt (pa-u) upon them. The land where she lives is called Ka-la-ke‘e-nui-a-Kane (Great crooked sun of Kane) and is devoid of human life.

The name of the stranger is variously written as Aukele, Waikele, Kukali. Waukele (or Aukele) means "excellence in swimming" and, as his wife knows him by the name of "Man of the sea" (Kanaka-o-kai), as in the related Anaelike story, this seems to be its derivation. "Slayer of the great bird Ha-lulu" seems, from its mention in Andrews's early dictionary, to be the feat for which Aukele is most famous. Halulu is the name of an ancient heiau situated on the coast of Kaunolu district on the island of Lanai and the man-devouring nature of the bird Halulu may refer to the human sacrifices demanded by the deity of the heiau. On the plateau above the heiau is a place called Namakaokaha‘i. The rock islet on the east side of the Kaholo cliff off the west bank of Kaunolu has the name of Kaneapua, one of the bird brothers in the romance, and two carved stones worshiped by fishermen of Lanai have the names Rae(Lea?)- and Kane-apua. It is at Kaunolu that Kaneapua intercepts Wahanui on his voyage to the land of Kane and Kanaloa. This identity of names between places on Lanai and the figures in the romance suggests that the composer has in mind the Lanai background in working up his romance. Lanai was thought of as a land of spirits ruled by the goddess Pahulu until they were finally driven out and obliged to flee to other islands. If the name of Aukele the swimmer is equivalent to that of Kelekele-iaku, grandchild of Kamaunuaniho, whose family dominated Molokai, and brother of Kamapua‘a, the affair of the hog-man with Pele may have had its prototype in the highly elaborated and ancient tale of Aukele's winning of Namakaokaha‘i. If Lono is the god of the Kamaunu family, a connection with that family may be suggested by the name Lono-i-kou-ali‘i given to Aukele's god which he has from his mo‘o ancestress. It is the same as the god Lono-i-ka-ou-ali‘i said to be brought by La‘a from Ra‘iatea and taken into the heiau at Wailua on Kauai when he landed, and of the god Lono-i-ke-au-ali‘i (Lono in the period of chiefs) listed by Kalakaua among the gods worshiped in the heiau on Oahu. The name of the goddess herself in connection with temple worship may be translated "The-eyes-of-the-sacrificed-one" (ka ha‘i) and hence may have reference to the custom of offering the eyes of man or fish in a cup of kava in honor of Kahoali‘i, who is probably identical with Ka-ou-ali‘i and Kou-ali‘i of the Aukele story.




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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