Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



The group of romances just considered center about the marriage relations between a chief family resident in the Hawaiian group and a related family but of superior rank localized in Kahiki or on one of the other islands of the group or merely in a neighboring district. Specifically it refers to the Moikeha-Olopana marriage with Lu‘ukia of the Hikapoloa family of chiefs who early settled Kohala district on Hawaii. In the long romance of Kalino from which Fornander summarized from Kamakau the story of Kaumailiula, Lu‘ukia appears consistently as the granddaughter of Hikapoloa and his wife Maile lau li‘i. The story provides Maile lau li‘i, as in the Hainakolo romance, with a band of sisters whose kupua power lies in their fragrance and who are dominated by a younger sister represented as gifted with special powers of sorcery or merely of good sense, courage, and character. This figure is worked up more fully in the romance of Ke-ao-melemele (Golden cloud) which follows. Here she is represented as remaining unwed as a means to supernatural attainments, and as becoming skilled in medicine and in the hula dance. The Hainakolo theme of a propitious marriage made between two children of Ku and Hina who have been brought up separately, broken by the infidelity of the husband, centers, in this romance, about the girl Paliula and her brother, who is the firstborn of Ku and Hina, but brought up by the gods Kane and Kanaloa in Waolani. Ke-ao-melemele appears on the genealogical line of chiefs as wife of Ka-la-lili (Ka-lau-palili?), tenth or eleventh in descent from Kumuhonua.


The guardian mo‘o named Mo‘oinanea who cares for the gods in Kuaihelani arranges a marriage with Ku for her grandchild Hina, and three children are born, a boy and two girls. The boy is at once conveyed to Oahu to be brought up at the heiau of Waolani in Nu‘uanu valley under the care of the gods Kane and Kanaloa and is given the name Ka-hanai-a-ke-akua (Adopted by the gods). The little eepa beings called Nana-mu and Nana-wa act as his servants. The older girl named Paliula is carried to the uplands between Puna and Hilo districts on Hawaii and placed under the care of Waka. Two trees, Makalei which brings fish and Kalala-i-ka-wai (The branch in the water) or Maku‘u-kao (Supplying endless abundance) which produces vegetable food, are planted in her garden to keep her provided with abundance of food. The third girl is brought up in a revolving house called Ke-alohi-lani in Nu‘umealani where she is waited upon by clouds until she eventually follows her brother and sister to Hawaii. She is named Ke-ao-melemele (Golden cloud).

Ku and Hina travel about other islands of the heavens and take each a new spouse. By the chiefess Ku has a red-skinned son named Kaumailiula and Hina has by Olopana a daughter Kaulana-iki-poki‘i (Beloved little one of the sunset) who is adopted by Ku and while Hina and Olopana take the boy to rear. Kane and Kanaloa finally summon these two children also to Waolani.

Paliula has meanwhile become the wife of her brother Kahanai on Hawaii and been deserted by him for the beautiful kupua Poliahu who lives on the snow-covered summit of Maunakea. She travels to Oahu and wanders crazed in the heights of Manoa valley, then goes to Waianae, where she takes lessons in hula and, becoming an expert, travels on to Kauai and learns the dances of that island. Her sister Ke-ao-melemele in cloudland hears her chanting the hula and longs to join her sister. With Kapo, sister of the poison gods of Maunaloa as her teacher, Ke-ao-melemele becomes an expert. When her younger brother and sister arrive, she teaches Kaulana the dances until she is equally adept. Kaulana is also given instruction in herb medicine. The boy Kahanai has already freed himself from Poliahu, made a visit to his parents, and returned to Waolani, where he becomes an expert kahuna with knowledge of sorcery and sacrifice. Paliula becomes reconciled with him. Ke-ao-melemele takes Kaumailiula as her husband and the food-providing trees are brought from Hawaii for the marriage feast, but the fish tree is broken and hence fish become dispersed about the islands. Ke-ao-melemele and her husband rule the islands. Kane sends for Ku and Hi‘ilei, Hina and Olopana, and the guardian mo‘o to come and live on Oahu, and Mo‘oinanea shuts up forever the lands where they lived and brings all her mo‘o family with the chiefs to Hawaii. Kane-huna-moku that hidden land is called. Kaumailiula and Ke-ao-melemele long rule over the islands and leave their signs in the heavens to their descendants.

Throughout the romance the signs of divinity established for chiefs of divine rank in Hawaii form the machinery of the story. At the birth of the firstborn chief appear clouds and fog, thunder and lightning, red torrents down the cliff-sides, strong winds and bending trees, high seas rolling land-ward. The rainbow (anuenue) sister of Kane and Kanaloa acts as their messenger or hovers over the child of godlike rank. The great bird Iwa bears the messengers of the gods overseas. The marriage of the divine firstborn son to his sister by the same father and mother is the highest form of union to which Hawaiian bluebloods can aspire; the issue of such a union is a god (akua).

Other allusions to Kahanai in Hawaiian legend call him chief of Waolani and make him the ward of Kahano and Newa, that Kahano who is said to have brought over the Kana-mu and Kana-wa on his own arm as on a bridge as servants for his ward Kapawa. In traditional history he appears as a chief of high rank who comes from afar and whose family colonize the island.

Ke-ao-melemele (Golden cloud) is born from the head of Hina and not in the ordinary way. Ku-ke-ao-loa (Ku long cloud) is her messenger; Ka-onohi-o-ka-la (Eyeball of the sun) is her seer; Ke-ao-opua-loa (Living cloud) is her sorcerer. On nights of full moon one can see the Ali‘i-wahine-o-ka-malu (Chiefess of the shade) against the moon. Her messenger reveals to Ku and Hina all the lore of cloud forms, how they meet, move, or separate; how the stars appear through them and the course of the winds among the clouds; the meaning of each change so intimately connected in Hawaiian thought with the lives of chiefs. It is because Ku sees in the clouds the form of a beautiful woman that he is led to take the journey northward during which he weds a new wife and Hina a new husband.

Closely connected with the knowledge thus gained of the shape and motions of clouds is that which governs the art of the hula or dance. The movements of the dance are definitely related in this nature romance to the motions of leaves and blossoms swaying in various ways according to the particular wind that blows. It is by watching the dancing trees, the shifting clouds, and the shadows which they cast that the girl learns their motions. Hi‘i-lani wai teaches the hula to girls at Waianae; Malu-aka teaches on Kauai. Kapo, sister of the poison-tree gods of Maunaloa and proficient in the arts of herb medicine and sorcery, teaches Ke-ao-melemele on the dancing field near Waolani in Nu‘uanu valley until she can dance in the skies and over the sea. Clearly these are the Pele sisters, Hi‘iaka, Laka, and Kapo, all three goddesses of the woodland and invoked in the hula dance. The Hi‘iaka sisters of Pele are called "shadow bearers" by Westervelt and her brothers are gods of sorcery. Hence the story seems to be definitely connected with the Pele family and its guardian mo‘o and to represent the Kane worship established during the time of the ascendancy of that god, which persisted down to the time of the breakup caused during the wars of chiefs, and retained its hold upon the people up to the coming of the white men.

Equally interesting with this close relation of forms of nature with the movements of the dance is their employment in the action of a love story, as illustrated in the account of the birth and marriage of Lau-ka-ieie (Leaf of the trailing pandanus), goddess of the wildwood and sister to the wind god of love, Makani-kau, and to the Hi‘ilawe who was transformed at death, his body into a stone and his spirit into the mist of that waterfall in Waipio valley which is called after his name, of which Hawaiian poets love to sing. The romance tells of the kupua beings of the forest, associating plants, land shells, winds, streams, rainbows, and the red-feathered birds in a single family line.


Hi‘ilawe is born to Ka-kea (The white) and Ka-holo (The runner), children of the cliffs, and is wrapped in moss and flung away by the mother. Hina-ulu-ohia sees that the bundle contains a child and she recognizes the signs of a chief and takes the child as her own. The father's sister Po-kahi (First night) has for husband the bird catcher Kau-kini. Hina knows that she has longed for the child, hence she brings her a beautiful girl perfect in form, who is named Lau-ka-ieie. The adopted parents bring her up secretly with birds and flowers and singing shells as playmates. When she reaches marriageable age she dreams of the handsome chief Kawelona (Sunset) at Lihue, Kauai, and her brother Makani-kau goes to seek him, choosing as his shell carrier Pupu-kani-oi (Singing shell) because when all the sisters raise their hands her fingers are the longest. She takes a husband on the way, but the wind chief goes on to the islet of Lehua, where red iiwi birds have conveyed Kawelona, and finds him willing to accompany the messenger because he too has dreamed of the girl and is eager to wed her. Many kupua join the marriage party as they proceed, Makani-kau in his shell boat and Kawelona in his cloud boat. These kupua have leaf, flower, bird, plant, shell, cloud, wind, fish, shark, sea-moss, stone, or cliff bodies. The feast is celebrated in Waipio near the heiau Kahuku-welowelo with music and dancing. Hina takes the body of a lehua tree, and the girl after her death becomes the ieie vine which wreaths the body of the forest goddess.

Another romance in which the art of the hula is used to win back a lover is that of Halemano and Kamalalawalu, the beauty of Puna.


Halemano is born at Halemano in Waianae on Oahu. Wahiawa and Kukaniloko are his parents. He has five brothers and sisters, but only one, a sorceress sister Laenihi, enters in any way into the story. He is brought up by his grandmother and becomes faultless in beauty. Kamalalawalu is the beauty of Puna at this time. She has been brought up in seclusion with her favorite brother Kumukahi as her only companion and eight hundred dogs to guard and serve her. Huaa and Kulukulua, chiefs of Puna and Hilo respectively, court her in vain. She has seen the face of Halemano in dream and will have none but him. He too has dreamed of her and dies of love for her, but Laenihi restores him to life and teaches him how to lure the beauty of Puna to his canoe. Together they flee to Ukoa in Waialua, Oahu, and a great gift giving (ho‘okupu) is held to celebrate the marriage.

Aikanaka who rules Oahu hears of her beauty and the two are obliged to flee. They live as castaways until the daughter of Kukuipahu, ruling chief of Kohala, becomes enamored of Halemano's beauty and entertains them royally. Several times the wife leaves Halemano for a new lover. He dies of grief, but again the sister comes to his rescue and proposes that he learn the hula in order to win back his wife's affection. The method succeeds. During a kilu game he chants eight compositions recalling to his wife their days of wandering together and the love they have enjoyed, and her heart is touched. She returns to him only to find that now he is weary of her love. Her former lovers finally come with a great fleet and carry her back to her home island. 

The story contains, besides the excellent picture of a kilu contest, a good example of the part played by the supernatural sister in Hawaiian stories in furthering the cause of a favorite brother, one brought up under the tapus of a god and whose wishes are never to be thwarted. Her sexual seclusion would seem to be imposed in order to cultivate her kupua power. Twice she brings Halemano back to life. She goes to Puna in the form of a fish. Her progress is accompanied by signs such as rain, lightning, thunder, earthquake, freshets that carry red earth into the sea. Coupled with these supernatural qualities are those also of practical wisdom. She recognizes the woman of his dream by a description of the wreaths about her neck. The plot for bringing the lovers together and that for winning back an estranged wife are shrewdly conceived and without magical machinery. The love story, told as it is with great detail, concludes on the familiar note of Hawaiian romance, that of a pair of estranged lovers. Stories which end with a happy married life must be suspected as a foreign innovation.




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
  Back to Mo`olelo (stories)  
  History  Atlas  Culture Language Links  

donch.com home     photos     baritone ukulele     lucky u live hawai'i