Hawaiian Mythology
by Martha Beckwith 1940



The great gods each had his own form of worship, his priests and heiaus, his own special symbols of ritual distinction. "Ku by fives" is the old saying. Conquering chiefs took pains to recognize in their worship the gods of the lands they took over. Nothing is more characteristic of Hawaiian religion than the constantly increasing multiplicity of gods and the diversity of forms which their worship took. Even of the heiau Thrum says there was "no one alike." Besides the great gods there were an infinite number of subordinate gods descended upon the family line of one or another of the major deities and worshiped by particular families or those who pursued special occupations. Says Malo, "Each man worshiped the akua that presided over the occupation or profession he followed, because it was generally believed that the akua could prosper any man in his calling." Says another: "Below the four great gods were fifty lesser gods [some say forty, others an indeterminate number], each named after some attribute of the god appropriate to the special department over which he presided; fifty Kane gods, fifty Lono gods, and also subordinate gods. Over these the great gods presided. These in turn ruled fifty lesser Kane, Ku, Lono [and Kanaloa] deities, and so on, the whole system comparable to a tree with trunks, branches, twigs." Some worshiped their gods in the form of images. "There were many of them, about forty or twice forty of feather idols," says one describing the ceremonial of a royal sacrifice. Others worshiped without any concrete form. Kepelino distinguishes between the way in which were regarded the gods who were worshiped by the forefathers, "the gods who made heaven and earth," and the spirits (uhane), a numberless body, "millions upon millions," whom he divides into the bodiless spirits of the air (uhane lewa) created by Kane to serve the gods, and the bodiless spirits of the dead who have become guardian spirits (aumakua) for their descendants on earth. In order not to omit any one of the host of lesser deities formed out of the spittle of the god when he was shaping the earth, it was customary to add to or open an invocation with the formula, "Invoke we now the 40,000 gods, the 400,000 gods, the 4,000 gods" (E ho‘oulu ana i kini o ke akua, Ka lehu o ke akua, Ka mano o ke akua), and to add to these ritual numbers expressive of an innumerable multitude such identifications as, "the ranging of the gods by rank, the circle of the gods, the coming together by twos, the coming together by threes, the murmur of the gods," with reference to "that countless rout of little gods . . . whose shouts (ikuwa) were at times distinctly to be heard." 

All forms of nature were thus thought of as bodily manifestations of spirit forces. The hierarchies of the gods corresponded to the social system, which recognized a minute classification of society into ranks according to blood inheritance. National worship of the great gods, conducted by ruling chiefs, was an expression of descent from a common stock. The slave class who bore no such relationship were hence out-casts; they lived apart and were forbidden intermarriage or even association, except of a limited sort, with the freeborn. Worship of a god as special guardian or aumakua of a particular family was also an expression of kinship and commanded the service of whatever nature spirits belonged, either by descent or by adoption, to the family of the god. Even the great gods Ku, Kane, Lono, Kanaloa might be addressed in prayer as "aumakua." Romances and hero tales are rich with implications of this relationship in which nature shares in the signs and acclamations which attend the footsteps of a divine offspring. Says a Fornander story:

At sight of Kila the crowd began to shout, admiring his beauty. Even the ants were heard to sing in his praise; the birds sang, the pebbles rumbled, the shells cried, the grass withered, the smoke hung low, the rainbow appeared, the thunder was heard, the dead came to life, the hairless dogs were seen and countless spirits of all kinds. . . . All these things mentioned were the people of Moikeha, who, upon the arrival of Kila his son, caused themselves to be seen in testimony of Kila's high rank.  And again, at the appearance of another divine chief:

The woods rejoiced, the winds, the earth, the rocks; rainbows appeared, colored rain-clouds moved, dry thunder pealed, lightnings flashed.

Ka-onohi-o-ka-la (Eyeball of the sun), who lives in the sun, when he puts off his divine nature and comes to earth in a human body thus announces his approach:

When the rain falls and floods the land, I am still here. When the ocean billows swell and the surf throws white sand on the shore, I am still here; when the wind whips the air and for ten days lies calm, when thunder peals without rain, then I am at [the border of the heavens]. When the thunder peals again, then ceases, I have left the taboo house at the borders of Kahiki . . . my divine body is laid aside, only the nature of a taboo chief remains and I am become a human being like you. 

Compare the ascent to heaven of Tawhaki in Maori legend, who divests himself on the top of a mountain of his earthly garment and clothes himself with lightning, and the journey of Paliula's brother to Hawaii in his divine form of lightning in the romance of Ke-ao-melemele; or the account from Tahiti of Tafa‘i's apotheosis. In Mangaia:

"Birds, fish, reptiles, insects, and specially inspired priests, were reverenced as incarnations, mouth-pieces, or messengers of the gods. . . . The earth is not made, but is a thing dragged up from the shades; and is but the gross outward form of an in-visible essence still in the underworld. . . . Many of their gods were originally men whose spirits were supposed to enter into various birds, fish, reptiles, and insects; and into inanimate objects, such as the triton shell, particular trees, cinet, sandstone, bits of basalt." 

American Indian peoples far removed from the South Seas cherish a similar attitude toward animate nature. When a warrior of the Omaha takes a new name it is necessary to announce it to the thunder, rocks, hills, trees, worms, animals, and birds. Riggs is quoted as saying of the Dakota Sioux, "They pray to the sun, earth, moon . . . to any object, artificial as well as natural, for they suppose that every object, artificial as well as natural, has a spirit which may hurt or help, and so is a proper object of worship." Of Siwash, god of earth of a California tribe, the story says:

So he took some of the people and of them he made high mountains, and of some smaller mountains. Of some he made rivers and creeks and lakes and waterfalls, and of others, coyotes, foxes, deer, antelopes, bears, squirrels, porcupine, and all other animals. Then he made out of the other people all the different kinds of snakes and reptiles and insects and birds and fishes. Then he wanted trees and plants and flowers and he turned some of the people into these things. Of every man or woman that he seized he made something according to its value. 

Specifically comparable with the Hawaiian concept is the American Indian assertion that "each class of animals or objects of a like kind possesses a peculiar guardian divinity which is the mother archetype." It is this class god who is worshiped as an aumakua through the particular member of the species recognized as a child of the god. Nor are natural objects alone thus regarded. A sledge introduced early from the Northwest Coast was worshiped, says Ellis, under the name of Opae-kau-ari‘i (Crab for a chief to rest on). Worshipers of Nu‘u, guardian of excrement, were forbidden to allow fire to touch their excrement. Some saw their old gods in printed words (palapala). They say that "in ancient times the gods came to Hawaii from overseas with their families and followers and peopled the group. Up to that time only spirits dwelt here. For a long time they lived with their people as visible, personal gods, but when they became disgusted with their evil ways they left them and went elsewhere. But they left a promise that some day they would return in diminutive size and speaking strange tongues so that the people would not recognize them. When the white men came with their strange language and their art of printing, the tradition was recalled to the minds of some: 'E ho‘i mai ana makou mai ka aina e mai, e olelo ana i na olelo malihini, a iloko o na hua makali‘i, a e ho‘ohewahewa no kekahi o oukou i ko oukou akua' (We shall return from a foreign country speaking a strange language and in little forms, and some of you will not recognize your gods). The Hawaiians hence felt that their gods had returned in the Bible. The size of the type used in its printing caused them to think that their gods had come in that shape." 

Star lore has yet to be recorded from Hawaii. Stars were named and were associated with gods and chiefs, but no star incarnations or apotheoses are related in Hawaiian story. Sun and moon are represented in myth, either as habitations of gods who descend and live on earth in human form, or as divine bodies of gods who are worshiped as aumakua by their descendants. At noon when the body casts no shadow the full strength of the sun passes into its worshiper. Ka la i ka lolo (the hour of triumph, or, literally, the sun on the brain) it is called. The very small part played even in ritual story by so striking a natural object as the sun, which we know had its worshipers, leads one to suspect a suppression of myth which was phallic in nature or else was so tied up in sorcery as to invite secrecy. First perhaps Ku and then Kane were looked upon as the male procreative gods into whose family on earth the whole Wakea genealogy is drawn. Maui with, in some groups, his dazzling phallus may be regarded in the same light.

The wind god (or goddess) La‘ama‘oma‘o causes the wind and storm to arise, but in story the action is altogether concerned with the human means of attaining control over these powers. La‘ama‘oma‘o himself is worked into the migration legend of Moikeha as a helpful companion who stops off at Hale-o-Lono in Kaluakoi on Molokai (a cave on the north coast near Kalaupapa) or at Waipio, as the party coasts along the islands. Maui is said to have obtained the "Gourd of constant winds" (Ipu-makani-a-ka-maumau) from the kahuna Kaleiiolu in Waipio valley to fly his kite by. The famous tale of Paka‘a, which belongs to a period rather late in the history of the ruling chiefs of Hawaii but is probably put together out of much older material, also shows the wind god well under the influence of his human worshipers through their knowledge of the chants which enumerate his attributive names, and their possession of the bones of his keeper (kahu).


Rice version. Paka‘a is the son of the head steward of Keawenui-a-Umi and of La‘a-ma‘oma‘o, daughter of a chief at Kapa‘a on Kauai [note the play on the name], whom the steward marries incognito and leaves with child upon return to his master, without revealing to the family his high rank but bestowing upon the mother the customary tokens of his paternity. The fatherless boy is despised by the mother's family. He invents the use of a sail and wins a racing contest. The mother gives him a finely polished calabash containing the bones of his grandmother Loa, who in her life had controlled the winds of every district from Hawaii on the east to Kaula on the west of the group, and teaches him how to open the calabash and call the name of whatever wind he desires, and she then sends him to seek his father.

The boy is recognized by the tokens and at his father's death succeeds to his father's offices of chief councilor, diviner, treasurer, and navigator for the chief. Jealous enemies conspire against him and the office of navigator is taken from him. He leaves the ruler in anger and hides himself on a remote coast of Molokai [at a spot where the foundation of his house is pointed out today] and there takes a wife and engages in agriculture against the coming of his chief. To his son Kuapaka‘a he teaches all his own lore of the winds and rains [some hundreds of which are quoted in the Fornander version]. When Keawe comes seeking his favorite, he conceals himself, but the boy calls up a storm and brings the party ashore, where the chief is entertained in the old style and becomes even more wistful over the loss of his old friend and servant, until finally the navigators who have usurped his place are drowned in a storm and the chief himself is constrained to put to death the others who have plotted against him. 

The account makes no claim for Paka‘a as a personified wind god and it is only through material possession of the ancestral bones and the no less important oral recitation of the sacred names that godlike power becomes his. All this is in line with definite priestly training and has nothing to do with allegory.

Wind imprisonment by noted magicians occurs in other South Sea areas. Cloud shapes, rainbows, and other such appearances are, like the stars, definitely connected with chief families and their comings and goings. There is no attempt to dramatize the phenomena themselves save in relation to the human action in which they play a part in the service of the family to which they belong. Stories in which nature spirits are the actors represent them as marrying, fighting, giving birth, exactly like human beings, but colored with the attributes of the forms they represent. Poliahu, goddess of the snow-covered mountain, who vamps the lovers of the lady of Paliuli, wears a white mantle and cold is her attribute. It is often to secure the powers obviously belonging to the object, or to some other object, generally analogous in name or attribute, whose nature it is believed to share, that natural objects are worshiped as gods.

For this reason stones in general have a potential power. Kane-poha(ku)-ka‘a (Rolling stone Kane) is the subordinate Kane god who presides over stones. He was never represented by an image but came to his worshipers in dreams in human form with a head of stone. He was invoked by warriors to bless their weapons and make them "strong as rocks," and by farmers to bless their fields. The saying is, "He ola ka pohaku a he make ka pohaku," that is, "There is life in the stone and death in the stone," because stones are used as missiles to kill and as ovens in cooking. Stone working was a chiefly art, and an elaborate differentiation of stones suitable for working was known to the adept. Malo lists fifty-eight varieties and believes "there are many other stones that have failed of mention."

To secure a god to preside over games, large stones were selected and wrapped in tapa, and ceremonies were performed over such a stone in the heiau. If the owner of the god was unsuccessful more than once or twice, the stone god was thrown away. Rocks have sex: the solid rock, columnar in shape, is male; the porous rock, loaf-shaped or split by a hollow, is female. Chiefs and priests worshiped these rocks and poured awa over them as representatives of the god. If a stone of each sex was selected, a small pebble would be found beside them which increased in size and was finally taken to the heiau to be made a god. Iliili-hanau-o-Koloa (Birth pebble of Koloa) is the mother of rocks for Kau district, referring to the porous pebbles found especially at the beach of Koloa, Kau district, on Hawaii. Such stones were supposed to grow from a tiny pebble to a good-sized rock and to reproduce themselves if watered once a week. Care had to be taken lest they be stepped upon or otherwise treated with disrespect. Hence they were carefully wrapped in tapa and laid away on a high rafter of the house. At a child's naming day or on other special occasions such as marriages, wars, and fishing expeditions they were taken down and arranged on ti leaves, together with awa root, upon a mat or table and their wisdom and blessing invoked. Afterwards some member of the family would have a dream favorable or unfavorable to the project in hand and this was regarded as sent from the god. A similar idea is found in Tonga, where black volcanic pebbles and white pebbles of coral, buried together, are believed to increase. 

According to Fornander, a priest consulted by a person who wished to steal the property of another would divine the result of the undertaking by a process of "odd or even" with a pile of some fifty pebbles. If the would-be thief chose a pile containing an odd number of stones and the pile left over for the owner was even, the expedition would be lucky; if the re-verse, unlucky. An odd number or an even number for both sides was "bad." Pebbles used in the game of kimo (jack-stones) and in the game of konane (a kind of checkers) are regarded with that sanctity which surrounds the objects sacred to the use of chiefs. 

Special stones are regarded as sacred because of a traditional connection with old ancestors. They are gods (akua) and it is bad luck to disturb them. According to Mrs. Pukui, near the old Hawaiian hotel at Waikiki is a row of rocks called Pae-ki‘i to which it was the custom in old days to take strangers caught along the coast and suspected of a war trip or a search for a human victim for their gods, and hold their heads under water until they were drowned. This method of putting to death was called kai he‘e kai. An old Hawaiian who was asked to point them out refused lest "our lives should pay the forfeit."

Petroglyphs abound about the islands, some as pictographs, a good many representing crude outlines of the human figure. The most interesting are in the form of cup-markings surrounded by one or two rings. Those which occur on the boundaries of Apuki land division in Puna are used by the old Puna people as depositories for the child's navel cord. The subject has been studied by Baker, Stokes, Ellis, and mentioned by Dibble. 

Stones, as shown in the story of Kuula, are often worshiped as fish gods. Stories of fish gods and fish transformations are common, since, as a Fornander informant somewhat enigmatically remarks, "some of the beings who inhabited this world were gods and some were fishes, and this fact remains to this day." Fish altars were built to a number of fishing gods besides Ku-ula, the great god of the fishing stations; to Kane-makua, Kini-lau (Multitude), Ka-moho-ali‘i (Shark god of the Pele family), Kane-koa, Kane-kokala, and others. 

Birds are notably potential gods or spirit beings. In the machinery of romance migratory birds or those which nest in high cliffs are messengers for the high chiefs in the story. Thus plover (kolea), wandering tattler (ulili), tropic bird (koae), turnstone (akekeke, akikeehiale) are sent by the divine chiefs of the story, generally in pairs, to act as scouts or to carry messages from island to island. The plover, accompanied by the tattler, remains in Hawaii or flies on south from August until the following May or June, when it migrates to Alaska for nesting, leaving behind immature birds and cripples. Cartwright reports watching flights of these birds for two or three days at a time from the deck of an ocean steamer going south to Samoa. 

According to a Tongan story, Hama followed the tropic bird to sea to find out where it got its food and discovered the island of Ata. In New Zealand thousands of birds assemble on Spirits Bay, where the spirits of the dead take their departure for the reinga (heavens), and leave New Zealand for northern Siberia. A Maori song runs,

Whilst the fleet of canoes o‘er the ocean are paddled
The flocks of gods are above in the heavens flying.

The godwit (kuaka) arrives in October and leaves in March by way of Norfolk, New Hebrides, Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Timor, Celebes, Japan, China, to Siberia. "Who can tell of the nests of the kuaka?" is a Maori proverb. On Ellis Island frigate birds are used by native pastors to send messages. Formerly natives sent pearl fishhooks in this way from island to island. The birds are kept on perches and fed fish. When they see another similar perch they alight upon it. In Samoa the plover (Tuli) is the messenger of Tangaloa-a-lagi. In a Marquesan legend the tropic bird (Kotae) and the swallow (Kopea) are sent to secure songs. 

In Hawaiian story subordinate deities and even the great gods appear in bird bodies. The spirits of relatives serve their descendants in this form. In Haleole's romance the chiefess of Paliuli is served by birds and rests upon their wings. Her house is thatched with royal yellow feathers. The notes of birds mark her progress. The story reads: "When rings the note of the oo bird I am not in that sound, or the alala, I am not in that sound; when rings the note of the elepaio then am I making ready to descend; when the note of the apapane sounds, then I am without the door of my house; if you hear the note of the iiwipolena, then I am without your ward's house; seek me, you two, and find me without."

The elepaio bird (Chasiempis sandwichensis) or flycatcher is a goddess worshiped by canoe makers. When a canoe was to be built, a priest would go to the forest, select a tree, and pray to the gods of the woods to bless it, then wait for an elepaio bird to alight on the trunk. If it merely ran up and down, the trunk was sound; but where it stopped to pick at the bark, that spot was sure to be found rotten and the builder would run a risk in making use of the trunk. 

Mythical birds called Halulu, Kiwa‘a, Iwa appear in the stories as bearers overseas or to the heavens. The kiwa‘a is said to be the pilot bird which conducts the navigator in to the canoe shed at the landing place. Halulu in the Aukelenui legend is the man-eating bird from Kahiki who can also take human form. The heiau of Halulu at Kaunolu on Lanai was the most important on that island. Of the reference in the Kumulipo, "This is the landing-place of the bird Halulu," Hawaiians say that the name was given to a chief, also called Hoolulu, brought here from foreign lands, who landed at Kona on Hawaii and from whose line Beckley's grandmother stems. The feathers that rise and fall on the heads of images in answer to a kahuna's petition are said to come from the mythical birds Halulu and Kiwa‘a--"Wonderful feathers," says Kamakau, "made out of particles of water from the dazzling orb of the sun." By Malo they are said, more prosaically, to come from the iwa or man-of-war bird (Fregata aquila) found on the small islands off Kauai, Kaula, and Nihoa.  Individuals of this species are worshiped under particular names. The bird Ka-iwa-kalameha is a great bird ancestress with dwelling places in all the islands and in Kahiki. Kiha-haka-iwa-i-na-pali is a great bird sent by Lonopele to vomit over the canoe of Paao and sink it in the waves. 

A fourth seabird known in myth as the Aaia-nukea-nui-a-Kane (Great white albatross of Kane), also written with the termination a-ku-lawaia (standing fishing), is the white albatross (Diomedea immutabilis) which used to be seen commonly along the island coasts and was called "Kane's bird." So in Tahiti the common albatross is spoken of as the "shadow" of Ta‘aroa. 

Species of birds which are habitants of the islands hence appear in myth as kindred and servants of gods who are worshiped as family guardians, or the god himself may manifest himself on earth in bird form and be worshiped under the name of his particular manifestation.

Vegetable growth is regarded by Hawaiians with more religious awe than animal life because it is not so intimately associated with man. All life other than human springs from the gods since it is out of control of man. It is therefore alive with spirit force. Plants are thought of as transformation bodies of gods and as such take their place in myth.

In folk belief the wind god Makani-keoe (Makani-kau), one of the many gods of love named in Hawaiian lore, has control over plants and can himself take the form of a tree or cause plants to grow. A branch from his transformation form will serve as a love charm, but only a brave person can secure such an amulet because of the voices and visions which will pursue him. The sisters of Makani-keoe are Lau-ka-ieie, who owns the cowry shell Leho-ula, and Lau-kiele-ula, who becomes wife of Moanaliha-i-ka-waokele, one of the remote ancestors of the Kane line and father of the Maile sisters in the romance of Laieikawai. One turns into the sacred pandanus vine called ieie, the other into the sacred sweet-scented kiele blossom of the uplands. A folktale from Kau district on Hawaii tells how Makani-kau takes pity on a young husband turned out of the house by his wife's family because of his indolence, and reconciles the couple by conjuring up food for his protégé when all the land suffers from famine. Today in Kau when there is a family quarrel folk say, "Makani-keoe is gone from home," or "has come back" when the quarrel is patched up. 

Hawaiians are extravagantly fond of perfume, and fragrant plants are invariably associated with deity. Color is also indicative of divine rank, yellow and red being the colors sacred to chiefs. Yellow seems to be primarily the Kane color. The use of flower wreaths and decorations of woodland plants for a dance hall carries with it a sense of divinity which strengthens the emotional satisfaction with which such things are regarded. Certain red flowers are sacred to the gods and those whom they love. Like the red iiwi bird, so is the red iiwi blossom of the vine sacred. No one not beloved of the gods will dare to pick and wear it lest he be haunted by a headless woman carrying her head under one arm.

Awa drink from the shrub of the pepper family (Piper methysticum) is invariably used in sacrifice to Kane gods. Different varieties are distinguished by their color and markings and by the size of the root sections. Babies were given the juice of the nene variety as a soothing syrup. "This is a fretful (onene) child and must be given the awa nene," is the saying. Only the most common variety could be used by the commoner; the rarer kinds were reserved for the chiefs. For the gods and on ceremonial occasions the moi (royal), hiwa (black), and papa (recumbent) were used, the papa, from which the moi was often an offshoot, being specially offered to female deities. The most highly prized was that which sprouted upon trees so that the roots to be gathered grew exposed on the tree. It was called awa "resting on trees" (kau laau) or "planted by the birds" (a ka manu).

Awa offered to a god was either poured or sprinkled over the image, or, if there was no image, the kahuna sprinkled it in the air and drank the remainder in the cup. The cups used were always made of polished coconut shells cut lengthwise in the shape called kanoa. The cups were never placed on the floor itself but on a piece of bark cloth spread before the priest or server, and never where they might be stepped over or otherwise desecrated. As soon as the ceremony was over, they were washed, placed in a net (koko), and hung from the rafters. The strainer was also carefully washed and hung in a tree to dry. The order of serving also was important. At the entertainment of a guest, it was considered an insult to the host if the guest refused the cup or passed the cup handed to him, as guest of honor, to an inferior chief. Before a war especially all chiefs drank together a cup of awa, which passed from hand to hand in order of rank. In passing the cup to a chief it was customary to utter some appropriate re-mark or sing a chant, but no particular form was fixed by tradition.

The preparation of the awa did not differ from the methods described for other groups. The young boys and girls who chewed the chiefs' awa were especially selected from the chief class for their perfect teeth. The peculiar sense of sacredness which associated the awa with the body of a god because of its narcotic effect was still further strengthened by this ceremonial restraint and the exclusiveness put upon its use. 

Coconut groves are among "those things on earth which are worshiped." The grove at Kalapana was in old days tapu to all but the descendants of a certain family of chiefs of whom the following story is told:


Long ago two young chiefs of Puna named Hinawale and Owalauahi(-wahie) who were cousins and intimates stole away incognito to tour the island. Returning after several months they joined a group of men who were testing their strength by attempting to bend to earth two full-grown coconut trees. Unrecognized they waited until all had failed, then they too made the attempt. Hinawale grasped one tree, Owalauahi the other, and with a strong downward pull laid them low. The people shouted applause. Upon discovering that the men were their own chiefs their joy knew no bounds.

The mother of Mrs. Pukui, who tells the tale, is descended from one of these two chiefs. Visitors to the coconut grove to-day are shown Naniu-moe-o-Kalapana (The recumbent coconut trees of Kalapana) still flourishing as of old, although it is said that the two original trees have been since replaced. The story is told of Queen Emma that when she found the trees dead and asked her men to bend two more to take their place none could do so until the queen herself held a leaf of each, when they were easily bent. A San Cristoval account of the passage to the land of the dead tells how, at Hauihaiha, the souls are supposed to bend down the fronds of a coconut called Niu-tarau (Coconut of crossing). Although not so stated, the task is probably a test of chief rank. The play of words in the Hawaiian is upon the word moe, which denotes the rank of a high tapu chief and also refers to the position of the growing trunks as they lie as if sleeping (moe) along the ground.

A good deal of lore centers about the origin of food plants or other plants useful in the economic life. Stories are told to explain certain tapus upon them or customs connected with them which are observed in particular families. A common folktale is that of the relief of famine out of the body of a god who is living on earth in human form and takes pity upon his starving family. Sometimes he provides an oven of food out of his own body, himself emerging unhurt. Sometimes a plant springs from his body at death, which is his spirit body.


(a) Emerson version (told to J. S. Emerson in 1883 at Kaupulehu, Kona, Hawaii). A stranger comes to the land and takes a wife. The people have no food. He builds and heats an imu (oven), lies down in it and is covered with earth. When it is uncovered after a period suitable for cooking, the oven yields all sorts of cooked food, while the man himself, perfectly untouched, is seen approaching from the sea. A stream of fresh water called Wai-kawili (Mingling waters) is found welling up at the sea where he has emerged after digging his way half a mile from the oven into which he entered. 

(b) Pukui version (told to her when she was a child by an old lady of Hilo named Kanui Kaikaina). Hina-i-ke-ahi (Hina in the fire) is a kupua woman who lives at Hilo, Hawaii, with her sister Hina-i-ka-wai (Hina in the water). During a famine Hina-in-the-fire builds and heats an imu. After naming the various foods to be cooked therein and bidding the family uncover it when they see a cloud shaped like a woman resting over it, she lies down in it and is covered with earth. When they uncover the oven, the food named is found within and Hina herself approaches from the sea wreathed with brown seaweed and goes out swimming with Woman-of-the-coral, "one of the wives of the god Ku." Her sister is jealous and attempts to duplicate the feat, but nothing is found in the oven but her ashes because she has not the same kupua gift as her sister. 

(c) Westervelt version. Hina, mother of Maui the demigod, has four kupua daughters, Hina-ke-ahi, Hina-ke-kai, Hina-mahuia, Hina-kuluua (Kuliva). The first has power over fire, the second over the sea, the last over the rain (ua); Hina-mahuia is the fire goddess of southern Polynesia, Mafuie. After Hina has prepared the oven and is covered over, she journeys under-ground and emerges first at a still pool of fresh water called Moe-wa‘a, then from a great spring of water which bubbles up at the very shore [such as old Hawaiians used for a fresh-water bath after swimming (auau-wai)]. She commands them to open the oven and enough food is found within to last until the famine is ended. Her sister Kulu-ua repeats the experiment but lacks the power. Her body is burnt to ashes but her spirit escapes and appears as a cloud over the peaks in sign of rain. In some versions Maui is represented as seeking his sister's destruction. 

Stories of the introduction of the breadfruit tree take either a rational or a mythical turn. The rational legend is that Kaha‘i, son of Ho‘okamali‘i and grandson of Moikeha, brought the breadfruit from Upolo to Hawaii and planted it at Pu‘uloa, Kohala. In the Fornander story of Namaka-o-ka-paoo, Hawaiian-born son of Ka-ulu-o-kaha‘i (Breadfruit of Kaha‘i), a great chief in Kahiki-papa-ia-lewa (Faraway land in space), a gourd containing the tokens his father has left for him the son deposits at the foot of the "breadfruit impersonation of his father" at Kualakai, which tree "is standing to this day." An early schoolboy composition by W. S. Lokai says that two men who were out fishing were blown to the land of Kane-huna-moku, inhabited only by gods, and brought thence the breadfruit, which they planted at Pu‘uloa. Haumea came there to inspect it and spread it to other lands. 

The mythical tale is as follows:


(a) Lokai version. The breadfruit tree grew up from the testes of a man who died for his family at Kaawaloa in Kona, Hawaii. The forty thousand and the four thousand gods first tried the fruit green, then cooked, and found it palatable, but when they heard where it came from they began to vomit and so spread the tree all the way between Kona and their home at Waipio. 

(b) Pukui version. The god Ku loves a woman of earth and the two live happily until there comes a famine. Bidding farewell to his wife, Ku stands on his head and disappears into the ground. None but his wife and child are able to pick the fruit. 

(c) Lyman version. A man named Ulu lives at Waiakea, Hawaii, and has a young son named Moku-ola, from whom the island of that name in Hilo bay is afterwards named. Ulu dies of famine, but, following the directions of the priests of the heiau at Puueo, the family bury his body near a spring of running water and remain all night within the house. During the night they hear the sounds of dropping leaves and flowers, then of heavy fruit, and in the morning find a breadfruit tree at their door, with the fruit of which the famine is relieved. 

In one story the coconut brought by Kane, "a man of very long bones," is said to have been formerly low, but when a servant was sent by his master to pick the coconuts, the tree lengthened as he climbed. The idea is the same as that of the tapu upon picking breadfruit with which the Pukui version concludes.

Similar stories tell of the growth of a plant out of a human body after burial. The most famous of these is that told elsewhere of the lauloa taro that grew from the embryo child of Papa and Wakea. Others explain some family tapu upon a particular plant. In Ka-u a legend is related to explain why the family of a certain chiefess are careful to do no injury to a gourd of a particular species used for household purposes and to bury it carefully if broken. The story shows how a natural happening may be interpreted as a myth.


A chiefess of a certain family dies and is buried in a cave. From her navel grows a gourd vine. It finds its way to the garden of a chief of the seventh district, and there produces a fine gourd. The chief thumps it to test its ripeness and the spirit of the gourd complains to a kahuna in a dream. Kahuna and chief trace the vine to its source and the gourd is thereafter treated respectfully. 

Myths tell how a god who has lived on earth takes at death the form of some plant. From the body of Kaohelo, sister of Pele, grew the ohelo bushes so abundant on volcanic mountainsides; "the flesh became the creeping vine and the bones became the bush plant." The ieie vine is said to be the form in which the goddess Laukaieie was worshiped "when the time came for her to lay aside her human body." Kamakau relates of Hina-ai-ka-malama that "she found a sweet potato from the moon of a kind called hua-lani (fruit-of-heaven)" and he thinks it may be for this reason that she was said to be "nourished on the moon" (-ai-ka-malama). Her husband may thus have had a legitimate reason for cutting off her foot when she escaped to the moon, according to the popular story, in order to preserve a planting of the precious new food which may be conceived as the form her spirit took in its moment of deification. Of Maikoha, banished son of Konikonia, the myth says that he wandered away and died at Kaupo on Maui and out of his body grew a wauke plant (Broussonetia papyrifera) of a hairy kind like the hairy Maikoha and useful for beating out bark cloth. 


(a) Fornander version. The youngest son of Konikonia and Hina-ai-ka-malama is a hairy man from whom sprang the wauke plant. The five girls in the family are Ka-ihu-koa, (Ka-) Ihu-anu, (Ka-) Ihu-koko, Ka-ihu-kuuna, Ka-ihu-o-palaai. The five boys are Kane-au-kai, Kane-huli-koa, Kane-milo-hai, Kaneapua, Maikoha. Maikoha breaks up the sacred things. The father tests the children by tying a beam to the back of the neck and to the chin to see which one is brave enough not to cry. Maikoha is judged guilty and banished. He travels to the place in Kaupo called Maikoha and becomes a wauke plant, which is hairy to this day. His sisters come to seek him and find his navel at the root of the plant. They journey on to Oahu where they marry chiefs and change into fishponds stocked with special kinds of fish. Ka-ihu-o-palaai becomes the wife of Ka-papa-o-puhi at Hono-uliuli in Ewa and stocks the fishponds of that region with fat mullet. The oldest, Ka-ihu-koa, becomes the wife of the handsome chief of Waianae and changes into the fishing ground just out from Kaena point where the ulua, amber fish, and dolphin abound. Ihu-koko becomes the wife of Ka-wai-loa at Waialua where the aholehole fish abound which followed her home. Ka-ihu-kuuna becomes the wife of Lani-loa at Laie and changes into a famous fishing ground for mullet. Kane-au-kai follows in search of his sisters in the form of a lump of pumice or a log of wood and is worshiped as a fish god by two old men at Kealia, Waialua. 

(b) Westervelt version. Maikoha's body is planted by his daughters at his own direction at Pu-iwa beside the Nuuanu stream. He is chief god of tapa makers; his daughter Lau-huiki taught the art of pounding the wauke bark, his daughter La‘a-hana that of marking the pattern on the beater. 

Similar plant-origin stories occur in southern groups. In Tahiti, Rua-ta‘ata in Raiatea, whose temple is Toa-puhi (Eel rock), and his wife Rumau-arii, whose temple is Ahunoa, called also Ta-pari, have four children. In time of famine the people eat red clay for food. Rua-ta‘ata pities his hungry family and, taking leave of them, he goes outside the cave where they live and becomes a breadfruit tree. Three children in the form of coconuts become trees which, in one version, save the people from famine. On Tonga the story is told of Fevanga and his wife Fefafa on the island of Eneiki who kill their leprous daughter to serve to the chief Laau with his kava. Parts of her body are buried and from the head grows a kava plant, from the intestines the sugar cane which is the accompaniment of a kava-drinking ceremony. In Rarotonga, Tangaroa goes to Avaiki-te-varenga and takes a wife. He does not like the rice food which his wife prepares. Her parent Vai-takere dies and sends them breadfruit, which they prepare as tatapaka, mashed and mixed with coconut. In another Rarotonga story a father dies for his starving son and from his body develops the first pig. In a Maori story Tu-taka-hinahina tells his son to watch his grave after his death. It is a time of darkness. Two maggots develop from his body. The son cooks them and the sun rises. 

Supernatural birth stories are not uncommon. In Samoa the story is told of Sina who forgets to chew talo for the decoy pigeon. She flees and bears a child in the form of the pellet she forgot to chew. This, buried, produces the pula-au taro. In Tonga, Faimalie swallows the yam of Pulotu and later gives birth to it on earth. Among the Maori the story goes that Rongo-Maui, younger brother of the star Whanui (alpha Lyrae of Vega), introduced the kumara to this world. His own body was the basket. He cohabited with Pani-Tinaku. She goes to the waters of Mona-riki to give birth and learns a chant. Her offspring are the varieties of the sweet potato. Another story says that Pani gets kumara by stepping into the water and rubbing her stomach until her baskets are filled with sweet potatoes. The Dusun of North Borneo say that the first man and the first woman were made out of earth. Their first child they cut up and out of its parts grew the different food plants. In Tonga the Papaia is thought of as the excretion of a goddess on Eua. See also the Hawaiian name for the coarse grass called "Excretion of (Kama) pua‘a" (Kukaepua‘a). The Japanese story is that the moon god Tsukuyomi is sent by his sister to earth and finds the goddess Ukemotshi. When he is hungry and asks for food, out of her mouth come all kinds of fish, animals, vegetables. He will not eat but cuts her in two in wrath and goes back to heaven. His sister laments this result and sends a messenger to see if the goddess is really dead. Out of her body come animals and food plants which the messenger takes back to heaven. These things become the food for the chiefs of the human race who until this time have eaten raw food. The sun goddess introduces agriculture into heaven as men on earth have practised it thereafter. Somewhat similar is the Maori story of Rehua, who feeds his guests with birds that live upon the insects in his hair. Among the Tami of New Guinea the wives of a fisherman who always has good luck in fishing are shocked to discover that he dips his own head into the water and fishes crowd about it. They cry him shame and he sits with his head on his knees and disappears into the earth and from the spot where he sat grows the coco palm. 

The myth of the coconut derived from an eel lover is found commonly throughout the South Seas but has not appeared in Hawaii. 

Tahiti. (a) Hina, whose gods are sun and moon, is espoused to a chief who has an eel body. She flees to the god Maui for help. He baits his fishhook, the eel swallows it, Maui cuts up the body and gives the head to Hina to take home and plant [in Gill's version the head is a gift from a god]. Hina forgets and puts the head down while she bathes at Pani and the head sprouts into a coconut. Her daughter carries the coconut to the Tuamotu group at Taka-horo in the atoll of Ana, whence the plant spreads. 

(b) Taitua bathes in the stream Teohu in the depths of Vaiari. She plays there with an eel. It pursues her and she flees. A trap is built for it and the eel caught. At night it tells her in a dream to bury the head and from this springs the coconut tree. 

Samoa. Sina has a pet eel for which, as it grows larger, she seeks a larger pool. She climbs a tree on the bank and shakes down the fruit into the water. As she gathers it, the eel strikes at and deflowers her. She flees and it follows. When it is killed, its buried head becomes a coco palm. 

Tonga. Hina weeps when her eel is taken from her bathing pool, cut in pieces and eaten. From its buried head grows the coconut. 

Mangaia. Ina-moe-aitu (-with a god lover) is wooed by the eel, Tuna. It sends a flood and floats to her home, bids her cut off its head and plant it, whence comes the coconut. 

Tuamotus. Tuna lives in the lake Vaihiria at Tahiti. Hina is his wife. Maui abducts her, Tuna follows, is destroyed by Maui, and from his head springs the coco palm. The same story is told of Maui and Tekina from whose head grows the coco palm. 

[In Fakahina, on the other hand, Tehu, son of Tetahoa and Teahio, six generations ago brought the first coconut to that island from Tahiti or one of the western islands in the boat named Kayau.

Pukapuka. The wife longs for a certain strange fish and the husband brings many kinds, none of which is the right one. Finally, by uttering a charm, he hooks Tuna the eel, who tells him to plant its head and give only the body to the wife. From the head grows the coconut tree, which bears two coconuts on the top branch, three on the next branch, four on the next, and so on. The husband tosses the nuts in the air to each of the islands in the eastern and western Pacific but forgets Pukapuka in the middle. So only a hard dry nut is left and it is hard to grow coconuts on Pukapuka.

Kai of New Guinea. An eel husband seeks his wife. Her new husband cuts him in bits and out of his body spring yams. Before this, agriculture was unknown in the land. 

San Cristoval. A man marries a snake wife. Her son-in-law finds a snake coiled about his son and chops up her body. The coconut grows from her head. 

Extremely heterogeneous origin stories are told of other plants important in Hawaiian culture. Some of these center upon the discovery and naming of varieties. Some are fabulous, others rational. The fabulous either are connected with some mythical figure or are riddling tales whose significance is now lost. 


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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