Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



In his character as a culture god the name of Kane is generally coupled with that of Kanaloa. About Kanaloa as a god apart from Kane there is very little information. He is god of the squid, called in the Kumulipo Ka-he‘e-hauna-wela (The evil-smelling squid). A prayer quoted by Emerson invokes Kanaloa in this character to heal one under the influence of sorcery:

Kanaloa, god of the squid,
Here is your sick man,

and ends with an excellent objective description of squid catching. In the Kumulipo genealogical chant there appear, during the eighth era which ushers in the period of human life (ao) as distinguished from the period of the gods (po), the woman La‘ila‘i and the three males, Kane, a god, Ki‘i, a man, and Kanaloa, the great octopus. Fishermen still solicit his protection, but on the whole the squid is today looked upon with distrust as an aumakua.

This attitude is reflected in a tendency by Hawaiian antiquarians to equate Kanaloa with the Christian devil. His name is associated with various legends of strife against Kane in which Kanaloa and his spirits rebel and are sent down to the underworld. In the legend of Hawaii-loa belonging to the Kumu-honua epic account of the Kane tradition, Kanaloa is the leader of the first company of spirits placed on earth after earth was separated from heaven. These spirits are "spit out by the gods." They rebel, led by Kanaloa, because they are not allowed to drink awa, but are defeated and cast down to the underworld, where Kanaloa, otherwise known as Milu, becomes ruler of the dead.

The legend places Kane and Kanaloa in opposition as the good and evil wishers of mankind. When Kane draws the figure of a man in the earth, Kanaloa makes one also; Kane's lives but Kanaloa's remains stone. Kanaloa is angry and curses man to die. He makes all kinds of poisonous things. It is he who seduces the wife of the first man in this version. Kanaloa of the great white albatross of Kane is the name given to him as responsible for driving the first man and the first woman out of the garden spot the gods have provided for them.

In similar stories of opposing creators reported by Codrington from New Hebrides, Tagaro is the good, Suqe the evil wisher of mankind. In Aurora, Tagaro makes things and tosses them in the air; what he catches is good for mankind, what Suqe catches is evil. On Whitsuntide island, whatever Tagaro did or made was right; Suqe was always wrong. On Lepers' island Suqe shares the creation with Tagaro, but makes things wrong. In the Banks islands the same stories are told of Qat and Marawa the spider:

Qat and Marawa (Spider) each makes a man. Qat makes his live after six days, but Marawa, after bringing his to life, buries him again and he rots, and this is the origin of death.

Kanaloa, like Kahoali‘i, is also associated with the underworld, as in the chant in which Hawaii is spoken of as "fished up from the very depths of Kanaloa." Tangaroa is god of the ocean in the South Seas, Tane of land and of plant and animal life. The use of salt water for purification is, however, ascribed to Kane in Hawaii and such water is called "tapu water of Kane" (wai tapu a Kane), the particle a instead of o denoting direct handiwork rather than simple possession. To Kane is ascribed the bringing of food plants to Hawaii. The heiau of Ka-mau-ai (The heap of vegetable food) at Keauhou, Kona, dedicated to Kane, is said to be the site of the introduction of cultivated food plants. Pigs, coconuts, breadfruit, awa, and the wauke plant from which bark cloth is made are sacred to Kane.

In these culture activities, however, Kane is generally coupled with Kanaloa, and there exists a vast amount of popular and mythical lore in which the two gods are named together. Both are invoked by canoe men, Kane for the canoe building, Kanaloa for its sailing. In a chant consecrating a new canoe in which "Kanaloa the awa-drinker" is specified, both gods are invoked as "active" (he miki oe). Both are deities of the heiau of the po‘okanaka class called Hauola at Hoea, Waiawa, on Kauai. They are worshiped as gods at Kohala and a temple is built for them. The east is spoken of as the "high road traveled by Kane" or the "red road of Kane," the west as the "resting-place of Kane," or the "much-traveled road of Kanaloa." The northern limit of the sun in the celestial ecliptic is called the "black shining road of Kane" and the southern limit on the celestial ecliptic that of Kanaloa. The celestial equator is the "road to the navel of Wakea" (ala i ka piko o Wakea) and "red road of the spider" (alaula a ke ku‘uku‘u). 

Prayers accompanying the bringing of offerings couple the names of the gods: "O Kane, O Kanaloa, here is the taro, the bananas, here is the sugar-cane, the awa. See, we are eating it now." Or: "Here is food, O Gods, Kane and Kanaloa! here is food for us. Give life to us and our family. Life for the parents feeble with age. Life for all in the household. When digging and planting our land, life for us." 

Kane and Kanaloa are described in legend as cultivators, awa drinkers, and water finders, who migrated from Kahiki and traveled about the islands. One account says that they lived at Alakahi in Waipio valley on Hawaii with some of the lesser gods, Maliu, Kaekae, Ouli (Uli), where they cultivated bananas and led a simple life. Kanaloa was tall and fair, Kane was dark, with curly hair and thick lips.  According to Lyons,  "Kane and Kanaloa were from Kahiki (foreign gods). They came traveling on the surface of the sea and first caused plants for the food of man to grow." Kamakau says that they "came from Kahiki in the shape of human beings," were sighted off Keei, landed on Maui. The time was that of "Wakalana, father of the Maui brothers." Their coming was coincident with that of Haumea, and she "gave birth to strange noisy creatures," perhaps with reference to the introduction of pigs to Hawaii, an animal sacred to the Kane worship. 

The two are also connected with fishponds. Ke-awa-nui and Ke-awa-iki who live at Mokapu point are visited by Kane and Kanaloa, and they build the Paohua fishpond.  There is a famine on Lanai. A fisher boy comes daily to a little hut he has erected for his god and lays a bit of fish there, saying, "O god, here is a bit of fish for you." Kane and Kanaloa are so pleased with his piety that they bring the famine to an end. They are said to have been followed from Kahiki by the ama-ama fish (mullet), and when an old Hawaiian visited the mainland a few years ago and found mullet there, she was convinced that Kane and Kanaloa must have traveled in that country. Fish altars are set up to Kane-ko‘a along streams to increase the catch of oopu fish. Kane and Kanaloa are said to have been worshiped with awa and whitefish (aholehole) on their arrival from Kahiki.

It is as awa drinkers that the water-finding activities of these gods are employed in some stories, because awa is their principal food and they must have water with which to mix it. "Awa-iku" are said to be beneficent spirits that act as messengers for Kane to ward off the evil influences of the  "mu" spirits and manage the winds, rains, and other things useful to man.  An old hula song danced today alludes to this awa-drinking propensity of the god:

Ua maona a Kane i ka awa,
Ua kau ke kaha i ka uluna,
Ke hiolani a la i ka moena,
Kipu i ke kapa a ka noe.

"Kane has drunk awa,
He has placed his head on a pillow
And fallen asleep on a mat,
Wrapped in a blanket of mist." 

Fragmentary legends point to a struggle among the gods for the privileges of awa drinking. Both Maui and Kaulu rob the garden patch of the gods.

Local legends abound in which the gods Kane and Kanaloa are represented as traveling about the country establishing springs of water and seeing that they are kept clear for drinking purposes or for uses of the chiefs. Here "Kanaloa acts as the urge, Kane as the executor."


Kane and Kanaloa go into the precipitous mountains back of Keanae on Maui and lack water. They discuss whether it can be obtained at this height. "Oi-ana (Let it be seen)!" says Kanaloa; so Kane thrusts in his staff made of heavy, close-grained kauila wood (Alphitonia excelsa) and water gushes forth. They open the fishpond of Kanaloa at Luala‘ilua and possess the water of Kou at Kaupo. They kill the kahuna Koino at Kiko‘o in Kipahulu because he is guilty of defilement at mealtime. They cause sweet waters to flow at Waihee, Kahakuloa, and at Waikane on Lanai, Punakou on Molokai, Kawaihoa on Oahu.  On Kauai they leave few springs because they are not recognized as gods. The impress of their forms as they slept is left on the rock above the pool of Mauhili in the Waikomo stream in Koloa district where, on the cliff below, are two pointed rocks named Waihanau and Ka-elelo-o-kahawau.  Two holes are pointed out just below the road across Ohia gulch beyond Keanae on Maui where Kane dug his spear first into one hole and then into the other with the words, "This is for you, that for me." The water gushing from these apertures is called "the water of Kane and Kanaloa."  The gods land at Hanauma on Oahu and springs flow at various places where the two mix awa on their way to Waolani in Nu‘uanu valley. In Manoa valley they see a pretty girl and both gods try to seize her. The attendant changes into a great rock in their path, a spring of water trickles where the girl stood, and over it lean two ohia trees, symbols of the gods. This is the spring called "Water of the gods," which was sacred to Kamehameha. 

It was at the time of the migration of Kane and Kanaloa from Kahiki that the "stones of Kane" were set up and the "waters of Kane" were "brought forth from hills, cliffs, and rocks." Emerson quotes from Kauai a hula song composed in the popular question-and-answer repetitive form, beginning,

"A query, a question
I put to you,
Where is the water of Kane?"
"At the Eastern Gate
'Where the sun comes in at Ha‘eha‘e (easternmost point of Hawaii),
There is the water of Kane."

The stories of the spring-finding activities of the gods are not to be interpreted as alluding to the skill with which irrigation was applied to taro plantings in upland or in wet taro cultivation. The legends make no mention of such uses for the water springs which the gods caused to gush out of rocks. They simply express the mystery which even to an old Hawaiian today belongs to such a phenomenon. The native who accompanied us to the outlet of a tunnel just put through in the back country of Ka-u district on Hawaii to bring water from the upper valleys showed an excitement which scarcely a Niagara or a Boulder Dam could arouse in our own country. Such places are celebrated as sacred spots (wahi pana). It is said that the heiau of Kau-maka-ula (Thy red eyes) built by the chief Kamehaikaua after the flood of Ka-hina-li‘i was repaired by the kahuna Kahonu for the young chief Kekua-o-ka-lani and a house erected for him at Maliko where he was reared at the "waters of Kane and of Kanaloa" in the Puna-lu‘u division of the Koolauloa district on Oahu. The strange thing about the heiau was that the eyes of all the pigs in the district turned red as the tapu nights approached, and during the tapu nights of Kane and of Kanaloa the sound of piping and whistling and drumming could be heard at the heiau.

The man-fishing net of Lono,
The braided net of Kamehaikaua,

runs the chant, with reference, Thrum says, to the "fish" sacrificed at the Makahiki, and the division of the heiau area called the "net" (upena) where the victim was snared.  Kane as the spear thruster and god of gushing waters has phallic symbolism. The thruster is the male, the spring of water, which Hawaiians think of as the source of life, is the female in the generative process. Hence Kane's aspect as "Kane of the water of life."


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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