Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



In myth Kane and Kanaloa are represented as gods living in the bodies of men in an earthly paradise situated in a floating cloudland or other sacred and remote spot where they drink awa and are fed from a garden patch of never-failing growth. Often this land is located upon one of the twelve sacred islands under the control of Kane believed to lie off the Hawaiian group "within easy reach of and having frequent intercourse with it." These islands are frequently mentioned in ancient chants and stories before the last Paao migration from Tahiti. Today they are called the "lost islands" or "islands hidden by the gods." At sunrise or sunset they may still be seen on the distant horizon, sometimes touched with a reddish light. They may lie under the sea or upon its surface, approach close to land or be raised and float in the air according to the will of the gods. They are sacred and must not be pointed at. 

The land of Kane-huna-moku (Hidden land of Kane) is one of these islands. Here live Kane and Kanaloa with other spirits who are Kane's direct descendants; such as, "Kane of the thunder," "Kane of the water of life," "Kane who shakes the earth," twenty of whom are listed by Rice. It is a middle land between heaven and earth where spirits enjoy all the delights of earth without labor and without death, and "in extreme old age return to earth, either in the bodies of men or as spirits," or "become gods and live in the clouds."  Kepelino calls it the land where the first man was made. Here he lived until Kumuhonua transgressed the law of Kane and was driven from this good land. "There is no land to be compared to it in excellence."  Hawaiians today say that this land had its birth from Niu-roa-hiki, a land belonging to Hawaii but which does not approach these islands, and that those who have kept the tapus may go there after death.

Kane-huna-moku is still worshiped as an aumakua or guardian spirit, who will bear away his worshiper in the body at death. Some thirty years ago a family who worshiped Kane-huna-moku, living at Hana on the island of Maui, fixed upon a certain day when the island would pass by and take them away in the flesh. When the day came there were strange shapes in the clouds and excitement ran high. There are also stories of those who have caught sight of the hidden island. Mrs. Pukui relates, from the account given her by her grandmother when she was a child in Ka-u on Hawaii, that when Kane-huna-moku passes by one can hear cocks crowing, pigs grunting, see flickering of lights and waving of sugar cane and persons moving about the island. An old woman is its guardian. She holds an implement of destruction for anyone who lands without invitation. On the island is a pool of water called Ka-wai-ola-a-Kane which keeps people young and heals all manner of diseases. 

In myth Kane-huna-moku appears off Wailua on Kauai and carries off Kauakahi-ali‘i, who thus disappears forever.  Waha-nui and his voyagers pass it on their way to "tread on the breasts of Kane and Kanaloa" and see men on the island "gathering coral for food."  Two fishermen from Pu‘uloa were blown off to this island and brought back breadfruit to Hawaii.  The old Hawaiian saying is, "Here the breadfruit grew and was eaten (Ulu no ka ulu, a ai no)." In the chant of Kumulipo, when birds are born "they cover the land of Kanehunamoku." 

Of two important Hawaiian myths of the hidden island of Kane and Kanaloa, one is a secular story which tells of a pious worshiper who is allowed to visit the land and taste its delights before returning to his ordinary life on earth, the other an esoteric myth purporting to relate the establishment of the land and the life of its ruler. Of the first, Rice's version is by far the fullest, but concludes with an Arabian Nights' touch which can hardly belong to a native original.


(a) Rice version. Makua-kau-mana is a pious worshiper of Kane and Kanaloa who lives in north Oahu at Kaulua-nui with his only son, whose mother died at his birth, and cultivates daily his garden patch, being careful always to call upon his gods in so doing. The two gods visit him in the disguise of strangers, note his piety and his hospitality to strangers, and give him a digging stick and a carrying pole to relieve his labor. They come again disguised as old men and teach him how to pray, offer sacrifices, and keep the tapus for Kane-huli-honua, giver of land, and Kane-pua‘a, god of rich crops; for Hina-puku-ai, goddess of vegetable food, and Hina-puku-i‘a, who gives abundance of fish. A third time they come dressed like chiefs and bring a red loincloth (malo pukuai) and a colored bedspread (kuina-kapa-papa‘u). To test Makua's steadfastness they complain that his son has broken the eating tapu of the gods. Makua would have slain his son, but the gods stay his hand. They send a great fish and when Makua goes to dive from its back, they cause the fish to swallow him and bear him away to the hidden land of Kanehunamoku where he may live with Kane and Kanaloa in the "deathless land of beautiful people." It is, however, forbidden to weep in this land and the gods prepare an illusion in which he sees his son forced into the sea by his wife and a shark devouring him. Makua cannot restrain his tears. He is accordingly borne back to his old home and cast upon the beach, where his son rejoices over him but his friends reproach him for losing the joys of that good land. He lives to a good old age and is buried on Oahu. 

(b) Green version. A certain pious man calls so constantly upon his gods that they weary of attending to him upon so trivial occasions. They carry him to their paradise underseas, where they appear to him in human bodies and chide him gently for his simplicity before returning him to his mourning friends.

(c) Westervelt version. At Kaipapau near Hauula, north Oahu, lives an old kahuna who has Kane and Kanaloa as his gods. They come to visit him, rest and drink awa with him, and for his piety give him ulua fish, never known before in those waters. They forbid him to go down to the beach, whatever noise of shouting he may hear. A great fish comes inshore near a place called Cape-of-the-whale and the people use its back to leap from. The kahuna cannot resist joining the sport. The fish swallows him and carries him away to Tahiti. 

(d) Kohala version. A whale gets stranded on the coast of Kohala and men begin cutting it up. Hamumu comes along with taro, gets on the head of the whale, begins to cut, and is carried away to Kahiki. There he learns temple building and other arts. He returns inside a coconut shell whose contents have been cleaned out through the eye and the shell sealed up with gum. This is the origin of the building of the Mo‘okini temple of Kohala to which belongs the Hulahula ritual. 

(e) Lanai version. In time of famine a fisherman builds a hut by the sea and comes daily with the fish he has caught to lay a morsel before the god, although this god he does not know by name. One day two men appear, to whom he gives what he has. The next morning they inform him that they are Kane and Kanaloa who have heard his prayers. A time of plenty follows, and a terraced heiau is built on the spot.  

The story probably belongs to the popular South Sea myth of Longa-poa and the tree of plenty discussed under Haumea. Closely corresponding concepts are contained in the myth of the hidden island, Kane-huna-moku, the conclusion of which is discussed under that of the Mu and Menehune people. Thrum does not say where he obtained the story.


Kane and Kanaloa are lords over the children of the gods who peopled the earth in early days. Kane-huna-moku (Kane's hidden island) is their son. When he is born, thunder crashes and lightning flashes. From the union of Mano-i-ku(kiu)-lani (Male head of the clouds in the blue sky) and of Hihikalani (Female head of the rolling clouds) arose a mist out of which blood-tinted pyramidal clouds separated. Kane-huna-moku is therefore descended from these two.

When he becomes a man he desecrates the flower garden of Kaonohi, whose pool is called Mano-wai, and is banished with Kaonohi to a floating land where their people are to be dwarfs who build upon rocky soil. He comes to himself in this land and questions where he is. He sees an abundant growth of trees and fruits, drinks of a spring, but cries, "Where am I, living in the shadow of night, below, below?" A mysterious voice bids him to continue "over the blue ocean, the deep sea, the red sea" because of his pride, and upon its asking him what he desires, he asks for a wife who shall be Kaonohiula. The voice answers from the budding ti plant. Thunder and lightning play. Many white chicks come running toward him. The voice tells him that his land is sacred and shall not be seen in the light of day. It shall be seen only at certain tapu periods in July and August. When it hovers near Haena, Kauai, then he shall be near "on the floating land of Kaonohiula."

This land is a beautiful floating cloud of Kane and Kanaloa. Ka-onohi-ula is his companion there. Bowling is to be their favorite sport. The children of Kane-huna-moku and Ka-onohiula in this land are a mo‘o (Mo‘o-nanea), a dog (Pili-a-mo‘o), a caterpillar (Halulukoa), a beautiful girl with supernatural powers (Halalamanu), a girl of fire (Kuilioloa), Ioio-moa "endowed with sacredness, upholding family purity," and an ordinary child (Kaonui).

The land of Kane-huna-moku is composed of three strata, the outer called Kane-huna-moku after himself, the second called Kueihelani where live his wife and children and the dwarf people, the inner called Ulu-hai-malama where fragrant flowers grow. Uhawao and Uhalaoa are overseers of this garden and they lead the migration of the people of Kane-huna-moku toward vegetable growth. Kauhai is the one who sets in motion the island, which is driven through space by the wind, but only at night is it in motion. Kui-o-Hina is the one "who makes possible the equilibrium of Kane-huna-moku in the night of Mohalu (twelfth night of the moon as it begins to round and first of the Kane nights) as it revolves in space," as also during the periodical visits of Kane and Kanaloa on the night of Akua (full moon). 

Rice gives Ulu-koa (Barren breadfruit) as an alternative name for Kane-huna-moku. Ulu-koa is named by Kamakau as one of the unknown aumakua worlds of the dead by the "upright walls of Kane" to which the dead are conducted by Kane-huna-moku. Some say it belongs to Samoa. In the story of Anelike it is called Ulu-ka‘a (Uala-ka‘a). It is an island of women reached by a young swimmer who teaches the use of cooked food and weds its chiefess, as in the South Sea story of Kai, and which rolls (ka‘a) up to the shore to bring wife or son to the husband and father.

The most famous of these floating islands is Paliuli, as it has come to be called regularly, although Pa-liula with reference to the twilight or mirage (liula), as in Westervelt's story of Ke-ao-melemele, would seem to be a more natural original. Fale-ula is the "bright house" in the ninth heaven in the Samoan creation story.  Paliuli is pictured as an earthly paradise of the gods "supposed to float above the clouds or to rest upon the earth at the will of its keeper" and also identified, like Kane-huna-moku and Ulu-koa, with the original paradise where the first two human beings were made and where they first dwelt, as in the chant, 

O Paliuli, hidden land of Kane,
Land in Kalanai Hauola
In Kahiki-ku, in Kapakapaua of Kane,
Land with springs of water, fat and moist,
Land greatly enjoyed by the god.

In ancient story it is to be reached deep under the seas. In the Aukele legend the seeker after the water of life wings his way "straight toward the rising sun" and then descends a pit to reach the place where it is guarded. In the Kumulipo the lines run,

Surely it must be dismal, that unknown deep,
’Tis a sea of coral from the depth of Paliuli.

Today the fertile land of Paliuli is definitely localized in the uplands of Ola‘a in the forest between Hilo and Puna districts on Hawaii "west of Pana-ewa and a little east of the house of the Rev. Desha" at a place known as Thirteen Miles. Nauahi of Hilo is said once to have chanced upon this enchanted spot, but in an attempt to prove his boast and guide a friend to the spot he looked for the path again in vain; "The gods had hidden it." It is here that romance places the ever-fruitful garden of the gods, described as a land "flat, fertile, and well-filled with many things desired by man" where "the sugar cane grew until it fell over and rose again, the bananas fell scattering, the hog grew until the tusks were long, the chickens until the spurs were long and sharp, and the dogs until their backs were broadened out."

The three mythical lands already named are to be found, in the myth of Kalana-i-hauola, as appellations for the earthly paradise situated in the first land made by the gods, and as the place where the gods placed the first man and the first woman they had made. Kalana-i-hauola is in Kahiki-honua-kele (Kahiki the land that moved off), or in Mole-o-lani (Root of heaven), or in Hawaii-nui-kua-uli-kai-o‘o (Green-backed Hawaii of spotted seas) in Kahiki-ku. It has a multitude of names all belonging to Kane and referring to the nature of the land; as, Spirit land, Sacred land, Dark land, Tapu land, Hidden land, or to the traditional bark cloth, mountain apple, breadfruit, which the god has placed in that land; and it contains also the "water of the gods of Kane" (wai-akua-a-Kane) and the "water of life" (wai-ola) of Kane.  Kane as preserver is invoked as "Kane of the water of life." 

This "water of life" is described as a spring "beautifully transparent and clear. Its banks are splendid. It had three outlets: one for Ku, one for Kane, and one for Lono; and through these outlets the fish entered the pond. If the fish of this pond were thrown on the ground or on the fire, they did not die; and if a man had been killed and was afterwards sprinkled over with this water, he did soon come to life gain." 

In Maori tradition Taranga-i-hau-ola (Kalana-i-hau-ola) is the place "where the first members of mankind were created." Tiki, the creative being, comes from Taranga, the place of creation.  Hau (or Wai)-ora is the name of the third heaven, the place where the spirit of man comes to him at birth. To Hauora or Te-wai-ora-a-Tane comes the spirit of the child about to be born and from this heaven the soul is sent to the newborn child. When the body of the dead is burned, when all is consumed but the buttocks, the person conducting the operation pokes them up with a stick, causing sparks to fly upward, and this is said to take the spirit to the Wai-ora-nui-a-Tane.  Some Maori say that the moon is concerned with the giving of life to the child. "The moon is the real husband of all women. According to the knowledge of our ancestors and elders, the marriage of man and woman is of no moment; the moon is the true husband."  The moon, when it is wasted away, bathes in the lake of Aiwa (Aewa) in the living water (wai ora) of Tane and renews its life.  In Tahiti, Vai-ora-a-Tane, the Milky Way, is above in the highest heaven. It is called "the water for the gods to lap up into their mouths."  At a royal child's first bath he is said to be bathed in the Vai-ora-a-Tane.  In Tonga, in Bulotu where the gods live is the spring Vai-ola near the talking tree "under whose shadow the gods sit down to drink kava, the tree acting as master of ceremonies and calling out the name of him to whom the bowl shall be carried." It is when the gods sail away from Water-of-life, people the earth, and lose the way back to Bulotu that they become mortal.  In San Cristoval life-giving power is attributed to water, which even causes conception.  In the rite of the child's first bath the water is "charmed" to take away sickness and give life. 

Similar stories of wandering islands are told in the Tuamotus. Uporu and Havaiki are two ancestral lands said to be visible to those on a ship halfway between. An ancient homeland called Hoahoamaitu is described as sinking beneath the waves. In a romance from Ana‘a, Vaireia goes to meet Hinauru in the wondrously beautiful land of Hekeua which rises from the sea and to which no man has ever come before.  In the legend of Tane and Kiho-tumu, when Tane visits the older god, Kihotumu tests him by sending him to pursue the swiftly flying island Nuku-tere, where he has deposited his sacred diadem. If Tane succeeds in this quest his power will equal that of Kihotumu. The chant runs:

Here is the Sailing Island, the swiftly fleeing land,
Poised to depart on the long voyage to the far shore of Hivanui,
Great land of darkness,
Flocking birds, wheeling above the clouds, trail their fleeting shadows on the land,
The Vanishing-Isle is as a migratory bird flashing in undeviating flight, now launched upon the wind. 

The legend played a real part in South Sea island life. Marquesans know the hidden islands of the gods where the priests say food abounds and which may be seen on the horizon at sunset. They frequently leave home to go in search of them; more than eight hundred are known to have set out for these lands and only one canoe was ever heard from.  Fison describes Tongan efforts to reach the lands hidden by the gods.

South Sea descriptions of an earthly paradise where the spirits of the dead are sent to enjoy the delights of earth without the fear of death differ only in detail from the Hawaiian myth. Rohutu noanoa (fragrant Rohutu) is the earthly paradise of the Arioi society in Tahiti, situated in the air above the mountain of Tamehani-unauna in the northwest of Raiatea, and invisible to human eyes. It is ruled by Romatane. Souls are directed thither by the god Tu-ta-horoa. There they enjoy all the delights of life without labor and are immune from death.  In Samoa, Bulotu is the paradise dominion of Save-a-siuleo, human above and fish below, with a house whose pillars are made of the bones of dead chiefs. Here the spirit bathes in the water of life and becomes strong again.  In Aitutaki, to avoid baking in Miru's oven, a piece of coconut and one of sugar cane are placed over the stomach of the dead. The soul will then go to Iva, where souls feast at ease under the guardianship of Tukaitaua.  In Rarotonga warriors may go to a paradise called "Tiki's reed house."  In Niue there is a "bright land of Siva" in the sky to which some dead go.  Among the d’Entrecastreux a few warriors go to the sky, where life is one great feast.  Some Andaman islanders say that souls go to live in the sky with a mythical being named Tomo, the first ancestor, where they have plenty of pork and dancing.  On San Cristoval souls, after living in Rodomana where they join their friends, swim on to the island of Maraba where is "a paradise of souls, feasting and dancing" and a "river of living water" called Totomanu where the soul bathes and, if it is that of a devout man, is absorbed into A‘unua and becomes immortal without losing personality.  The Fiji elysium is an island to the northwest of Vitilevu called Burotu or Morotu. Here lives Hikuleo, the tailed god, beside the water of life and the speaking tree that calls out the order of precedence at the feast.  About 1885 a new eligion spread in Fiji called the Tuka religion. Life immortal in Mburotu kula (red paradise) was the teaching of this religion. It told of a fountain of life, a house of sleep and pleasant dreams, "interwoven with poetry and romance." It was said to be allied to a religion invented in New Zealand by a "mad prophet" called Kooti, and it centered in the region of the mountain Kauvandra, on Viti-levu, shrine of the snake god Ndengei. 

Such hopes of an earthly paradise where the religious may enjoy the delights which are the perquisite of the gods whom they worship are common to many if not all priest-guided religions. In ancient Japan, Toko-yo-no-kuni is the "eternal land," the retreat of gods and spirits not to be reached by common man. The Indian poet Somadeva tells of the heavenly abode of Siva, "untouched by the calamities of old age, death and sickness, . . . home of unalloyed happiness. . . . Wonderful are the magic splendours of the Vidyadharas, since they possess such a garden in which enjoyments present themselves unlooked for, in which the servants are birds, and the nymphs of heaven keep up a perpetual concert." 

The Kane-huna-moku aumakua worship in Hawaii is to-day plainly concerned with the fate of the spirit after death. The symbolism of the hidden islands in the original Kane worship seems rather to center in the birth of the child descended from high chiefs and his care before reaching maturity. The term Ulu-pa‘a to designate "a girl before her first period of menstruation and a boy before hair develops on his body" would perhaps explain the persistence of the bread-fruit (ulu) in the symbolism. The picture of the earthly paradise corresponds with the care taken of such a young chief who is brought up under tapu. It is significant that in the romances, as soon as a marriage is arranged for the young person so cared for, the place is shut up and activities are carried on elsewhere. The connection between this land and that in which the first man and the first woman are made argues still further that the underlying idea is of the period of maturing of the reproductive energy, both in man and in nature, during which the god Kane repeats the process by which he first produced man. The esoteric symbolism involving the sexual life, the period of chastity to which high-born children were subjected under tapu, the selected marriage, are very well illustrated in the romances as they will appear later. It looks as if an ancient teaching connected with Kane worship, its phallic symbolism, and its interest in reproduction, had been adapted to the biblical account of Adam and Eve in Eden in a kind of harmonizing between the old teaching and the new Christian mythology.

Other mythical lands mentioned in the Kane-huna-moku myth and occurring constantly in chant, legend, and romance seem to be without the particular machinery of the hidden land, although pictured as lands inhabited by the ancestral gods and closed after the migration of their descend-ants. Kuai-he-lani (Supporting heaven) is the name of the cloudland adjoining earth and is the land most commonly named in visits to the heavens or to lands distant from Hawaii. In the legend of Ka-ulu it is the place where Kane and Kanaloa drink awa with the spirits (called also Lewa-nu‘u and Lewa-lani).  It is the chant name for the land from which Olopana came and which Kila visits; the land in which Pele was born, or to which she goes after leaving Polapola; the land from which came the grandparents of Kamapua‘a; the "legendary land" in which Mo‘o-inanea cares for the gods and where the children of Ku and Hina are born and the parents live until all migrate to join Kane and Kanaloa on Oahu, when it is "shut up" by the mo‘o guardians and indeed called "the hidden land of Kane"; the land in which Keanini is born and where he lives and from which he departs for the underworld, and that from which Ku-waha-ilo comes to woo the grandmother of Keanini in the Pukui version; the land in Kahiki to which Ka-pua-o-ka-ohelo-ai is banished by her parents and which is her mother's ancestral home; the home of Laukia-manu's father in Kahiki, to which she travels on a banana shoot; home of the Iku family to which Aukele belongs; the land visited by Ku-a-lanakila, keeper of Moku-lehua. In the myth of Kane-hunamoku it is described as constituting the second stratum of the "floating land" created by Kane and Kanaloa for their son, and the home of his wife and children, inhabited by the Menehune and the Mu-ai-maia or banana eaters. In the dirge to Kahahana it is the land of the deified dead:

Aia i Kuaihelani ka hele-ana-e
O ka onohi ula o ka lani ko inoa.

"There in Kuaihelani you have gone
The rainbow of the heaven is your name."

It lies to the west, for two chiefesses who travel thence voyage eastward to Hawaii; after a voyage of forty days the sweet smell of kiele flowers hails their approach to its shores. It is called in chant,

The divine home land
The wonderful land of the setting sun
Going down into the deep blue sea, 

and a migration from Kuaihelani is described as

The ali‘i (chiefs) thronging in crowds from Kuaihelani
On the shoulders of Moanaliha (Ocean). 

Above Kuaihelani lies Nu‘u-mea(meha)-lani (Sacred raised place of the heavenly one), the land in the clouds to which Haumea retires in anger with all her retainers when the bird-man carries off her favorite grandchild, and whence she releases the hot season to parch the land; the place to which she returns to dwell with the gods after the tree blossoms which she has received from Olopana in payment for his daughter's painless delivery; the land above, to which Namaka-o-kaha‘i pursues the Pele sisters to spy out their movements; the land to which Papa retires after her quarrel with Wakea; the land above Ke-alohi-lani to which the guardian of that land "flies up" when he discovers the arrival of Kahala-o-mapuana and her carrier, in order to bring back with him his magician brother; the land in "the highest place in the heavens" in which the mo‘o guardian builds "out of clouds" in Ke-alohi-lani a house "turning like the ever-moving clouds" for Ke-ao-melemele, the child of Ku and Hina; the inner third stratum of the floating land created as a home for Kane-huna-moku and his family and surrounded by a garden of fragrant flowers. In all these cases it is thought of as a land in the heavens situated above Kuaihelani or its equivalent. Fragrance, brightness, elevation, and a special sacredness are the attributes of this mythical land. According to Emerson, Nu‘umealani is the aumakua of clouds. 

Accustomed as they are to dividing up the universe according to rank, Hawaiians easily think in terms of above and below, drawing an invisible line in space between Kuaihelani and Nu‘umealani, between Lewa-lani, that region of air which lies next to the heavens of the gods, and Lewa-nu‘u which lies below, next to the treetops. Here spirits may live in the bodies of human beings and enjoy the delights of earth. We say of men who live on a scale beyond that enjoyed by most that they "live like gods"; the Polynesians say of their gods that they live like men in the enjoyment of earthly abundance.


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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