Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



It will be remembered that the story of Ola's building of the famous watercourse Kikiola concludes with the refusal by Namakaokaha‘i, chiefess of the Mu and Menehune people, of an offer of marriage and her disappearance with her people on the floating land of Kane-huna-moku. Kaanaelike (Anelike) in the story of the "rolling" island of Ulu-ka‘a is the same chiefess under another name. Ulu-ka‘a and Kane-huna-moku are interchangeable names for that garden of delight in which the gods first placed Kumuhonua and his wife, ancestors of the Hawaiian people. Ku-waha-ilo is the parent of Anaelike as of Namaka-o-kaha‘i in the heavens. The lover who comes swimming to her over the sea is the Man-of-the-sea of Namaka under another name. Even the poisoned food of the Aukele test is here suggested, although with a quite different turn. The son Eyebrows-burnt-off of Kaanaelike by her stranger husband is Lightning-flashing-in-the-heavens whom Namaka bore to Aukele. The concluding infidelity motive connects the story unmistakably with the Pele legend with its outgush of fire which desolates the whole land.


(a) Rice version. Kaana-e-like (Striving to be alike), the granddaughter of Ku-waha-ilo, lives with her parents and eleven sisters on the floating island of the gods named Uluka‘a. Keaweaoho, ruling chief of Hawaii at Waipio, is greatly beloved for his good government. However, he shows such favoritism toward his fishermen that his head steward is jealous and withholds the food which the chief invariably portions out to them after a day's fishing. They are angry and on the next fishing expedition persuade him to swim out after a lost oar and abandon him in the sea, where he might have perished had not Ku-waha-ilo in the heavens coveted him as a husband for his granddaughter and sent the floating island to his side.

The chief finds food plants growing and recovers strength and beauty. He teaches Kaanaelike and her sisters, who have hitherto subsisted on berries and edible roots, how to make fire with fire sticks and to eat cooked food. "Man of the sea" he calls himself, and her parents send her to the heavens on a stretching coconut sprout to ask her grandfather's permission to marry the stranger. Kuwahailo is a man-eater. When he approaches, the earth quakes, trees bend, winds blow; first comes his tongue licking up his victims, then his body follows. Before entering his cave house he hangs up his tongue outside. He would have killed the girl whom he finds inside, but her sacred skirt protects her and he recognizes his grandchild. He instructs her to marry the chief and promises on his part to cease eating men. Then he lowers her to earth seated on the crook of his tongue, she weds the stranger, and a feast follows.

Meanwhile the bird sisters of the chief have been searching for him and they come to him in a dream and tell him how badly things are going at home since he left them. He grieves and the chiefess orders a canoe to be built for him with red sails, ropes, and clothing for the sailors. She warns him not to look back and follows him on the floating island as he is rowed to shore, but when he looks back the island has disappeared. He reestablishes his rule on Hawaii and puts to death the guilty fishermen and steward.

His child is born on the floating island and named Na-kuemaka-pau-i-ke-ahi (Eyebrows burnt off) because of an accident to himself when he built the first fire for Kaanaelike. By the time the boy is six days old he can play games with the other boys and he goes to seek his father in a red canoe. He gives the waiting sailors outside a sign that if he is received the smoke will blow seaward, if killed it will blow landward. The attendants attempt to stop the boy and inflict injuries but he gets through to his father's house and sits on his lap and the smoke turns and blows seaward. The mother however prepares to avenge the boy's injuries. She comes with her eleven beautiful sisters who resemble herself, and sends each ashore in succession; but the chief, warned by his son, sends each to a house prepared for her and takes none but his wife.

There is a reconciliation and the chief and his son return to Uluka‘a, where they live happily until he is attracted by the younger sister, Ke-ahi-wela. One day he pretends to go fishing, another day bird hunting in order to be with her. He is detected and the wife sends a fiery flood which consumes him and all on the land save herself, the son, and the sister, who has turned herself into a heap of rock and finally escapes down the gullet of the dog Ku-ilio-loa (Ku long dog) who has been sent to bring her home to her foster parents; but not before Kaanaelike cuts off its ears and tail with her sacred skirt, and hence bob-tailed dogs today. The dog goes to live on Kauai, the son leaves his mother, and she lives alone on the still burning island Uluka‘a.  

(b) Green version. To Kane-ko-kai (Kane who owns the sea) belongs the rolling island of Uala-ka‘a (or koa) where he places his twelve pretty daughters. The oldest, Analike (Almost alike), swims to Hawaii and takes as her husband the handsome Kanaka-o-kai (Man of the sea) but tires of him and returns swimming to her island. He wanders inconsolable until instructed by an old woman how to regain her by swimming past the Island-of-silence covered with flowering red purslane, past the Island-of-darkness, until he reaches a third island, shaped round like a potato (uala), where he must land but avoid mistaking any of her pretty sisters for his wife. All goes well and the wife receives him joyfully. Their uncooked food does not please him and there is a great outcry among the girls when he cooks and eats the plants to which he is accustomed at home. Kane-ko-kai sends his youngest daughter mounted on the back of a huge dog to reassure them and advise them to eat the food which the man of Hawaii offers them. 

(c) Lydgate version. The chief Keawe-ahu of Kona, Hawaii, rules harshly and is hence abandoned at sea by a ruse. A land teeming with good things floats up beside him and he finds there a wife in the person of a little Menehune girl who lives with her father and mother and whom he teaches to make fire and eat cooked food. Her name is Ana-like, their child is Na-maka-o-ke-ahi (The light of the fireside). He becomes homesick and one day when the island floats near the Kona coast he seizes up the child and swims ashore. 

In this tale, as in many Hawaiian romances, the story tells of a highborn maiden kept apart in a tapu place, surrounded by maidens, and watched over by careful guardians until a suitable match can be found for their ward. The setting here is that of one of the floating islands of the gods. The journey of the child to seek his unknown father in a distant land, the mother's revenge for indignities to the child, here transferred to jealous wrath for the infidelity of the husband, are both incidents common to this group of romances. The broken tapu against looking back which results in the disappearance of the floating island, common also to the Maui cycle where the broken tapu prevents the successful joining of the fished-up island to the Hawaiian group, may perhaps be meant to symbolize the unsuccessful union between the two families. The recognition test, found also by Stimson in Anaa, where Te-horo-ruga comes from Vavau to woo Moho-tu in the Po and the girl hides while her attendant maidens try vainly to tempt Te-horo by their charms, occurs in the Pele and Hi‘iaka story where Pahoa comes to Pele, who conceals herself in the guise of an old woman but is recognized by the heat of her hand.

The whole story represents a type thoroughly Polynesian in color but well known to European romance and folktale as the Fairy Mistress type. The taking of a wife who is more than human, the husband's homesickness (characteristically induced in this Hawaiian version by spirit sisters in the forms of bird messengers from home), the broken tapu, the search for the lost lover, the warning by the child of danger from his offended wife, the identification test for the recovery of the wife--all these are familiar incidents of worldwide distribution, perhaps most closely paralleled, although representing a quite different background, in the American Indian tale of the Buffalo wife.

As a Polynesian story it may be reckoned as a Hawaiian variant of the story of Kae at the island of women.


Marquesas. Rae (Drooler) is abandoned at sea, swallowed by a fish, cuts his way out and reaches an island of women (Vainoki, Vaino‘i) where the women seek pandanus roots as husbands. He weds Hina-i-Vaino‘i to whom he teaches natural methods of childbirth without, as was the custom, cutting open the mother. When he finds that he as a mortal has wedded an immortal who can, when her hair grows gray, ride the surf and become young again while he remains as before, he becomes homesick and Hina sends him home on her whale brother Tunua-nui. He prepares a house, bathing pool, and garden for his son Hina-tupu-o-Kae who is to follow him. When the boy comes on the whale Tunua-iki and treats the house, pool, and garden as his own, the guards are about to have him killed, but he is saved by a chant repeating his name and those of his family. Either he or Kae forgets to send the whale brother home properly but nothing comes of it. Kena comes to a similar land of women in the second Havai‘i when he goes to seek his lost wife. 

Maori. Tura joins Whiro's canoe party but when it enters a whirlpool he catches the overhanging boughs of a tree and lives among the Nuku-mai-tore, to whom he teaches the use of fire, the art of cooking, and the natural way of childbirth together with the ceremonies attending the birth of a child. When his wife Turakihau (Hina-kura) discovers gray hairs on his head he goes off and lives alone and becomes covered with sores. He lives upon the meat from a stranded whale until his son by his former wife comes to rescue him. From Tura proceed diseases and the incantations and ceremonies for their cure. 

The Maori say that in Hawaiki-raro live the Nuku-mai-toro "in the midst of plenty," whose hair never turns gray, who eat raw food, and cut open women at childbirth. 

Rarotonga. Chief Ati of Rarotonga weds a fairy woman to whom he teaches natural delivery and she begs him to come to spirit land to teach the art there, but he is unable to follow her when she returns thither. 

The Marquesans say that in Rarotonga the people have no breadfruit, do not cook food, and cut open women to deliver children. The Marquesan legends of Pepe-ui represent the sister of Toni sailing to Rarotonga in a double canoe formed of two fishes, hiding in the chief's bathing basin where the chief finds her and takes her to wife, and teaching natural childbirth and the use of cooked food. 

Niue. A whale swallows a woman named Gini-fale and makes off with her to another island. She cuts it open with a shell she had in her hand when swallowed, marries the chief Lei-pua, and teaches natural childbirth. 

Tuamotus. Kuru comes from Nukutavake. He is swallowed by a shark, cuts his way out, and comes to the island of Nukumautoru, where live warrior women who seek holothurians as husbands. He has children by one of the women, but when he takes his family home some of the children have wings and fly back. . . . 

Tangaroa is once swallowed by a whale but cuts his way out with hair gone and finds an island of women who use pandanus roots as husbands. His sister's child Hina comes to seek him, bears a child, and is about to be burned to death by the other women when she prays and rain falls and Rupe appears and bears her away. . . . 

Kae is a sacrilegious man, a gourmand, and a giant. He eats a part of the feast reserved for the god and the spirit of the god enters a shark and swallows Kae on his way home, but Rae cuts his way out. 

Rotumah. Toak is taken to the land of spirits and teaches the king's daughter natural delivery. 

Rapa. Te Kopara visits the island of women. 

Isabel Island. A fish swallows Kamakajaku. He cuts it open with a piece of obsidian, leaps out, and follows the sun to the sky. There he teaches the use of fire to cook food. He opens up a stone where he has been forbidden to go, looks down to earth, and lets down a cane upon which to descend. The sky people give him a banana to plant and the seed of a dye plant. He comes down on the hill Gaji and lives long thereafter. 

The Kae story is not always connected with the teaching of natural childbirth and the use of cooked food. Interest is sometimes centered upon the whale-brother carrier whom Rae has cut up and eaten, whereupon avengers are sent who pack Rae into a canoe (or basket) in his sleep and bring him back to be killed (and eaten). The Maori say that with Kae cannibalism began.


Tonga. Kae escapes shipwreck and gets to Samoa by clinging to the leg of a great bird. Sinilau sends him back to Tonga with his two whales Tonga and Samoa. Kae orders the whales slaughtered, but Samoa escapes and Sinilau has two large baskets prepared and brings Kae back together with the dung of all those who ate of Tonga, through which Tonga is restored to life while Kae is killed and eaten. One of the teeth of the whale has been presented to the Tui-tonga, hence there is a vacant place when the whale opens its mouth too wide. 

Samoa. Tinilau of Samoa sends Ae of Tonga home with his pet turtles. Ae kills them. He finds himself returned to Tinilau's house where he is killed. 

Moso the god carries a Savai‘i man home on his back. He asks for coconuts to take home. The man is ungrateful and Moso seeks him out and kills him. 

Maori. Rae comes to the home of Tini-rau at Motu-tapu (to visit Hina or to perform the proper ceremonies for her child left with Tini-rau when she returned home, and recognized only by a chant when he came to seek his mother). Tini-rau sends him home on his pet whale. Kae has it killed and eaten upon reaching home and Tini-rau sends messengers, bidding them recognize Kae by the gap in his teeth where two have been knocked out. The messengers dance to make all laugh and show their teeth, then pack Kae into a basket in his sleep and bring him back to Motu-tapu, where he is speared to death. 

Tuamotus. Rae comes from Vavau to Motu-tapu and takes Rua-tamahine to wife. She has two whale brothers, Tutu-nui and Toga-mahutu. Kae is sent home on Tutu-nui. He lands at Vavau and cuts up the whale for food. Its spirit returns to Motu-tapu and Rua-tamahine comes to avenge her brother. As they play a game she blinds him, then packs him into a basket and takes him home, where he is killed and eaten. 

The revenge of the mother, motivated in the Hawaiian story of Niauepo‘o by the father's nonrecognition of the son, in the Aukele romance by Namaka's jealousy of her younger sisters, may be a carry-over from this familiar ending of the South Sea Rae story.




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

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

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