The Legend of the Hau Blossom
Pōhuehue and Kaunaʻoa lived near Kahana Bay on O‘ahu. They loved each other deeply. One day, after an argument, Pōhuehue got into his canoe and paddled to Lānaʻi. Kaunaʻoa became very sad and afraid she would never see her lover again.
Pōhuehue built a house by the beach on Lānaʻi, and spent many years there. One night, he dreamed with Kaunaʻoa, with her dark eyes and sweet smile, swimming at their favorite beach at Kahana Bay.
The following morning, Pōhuehue walked into a grove of hau trees, picked their bright yellow flowers, threw them on the waves, and watch as the flowers drifted toward O‘ahu.
The flowers floated to Kahana Bay, where Kaunaʻoa was swimming. She immediately thought of Pōhuehue — whenever they went to the beach, he would give her a hau flower. Kaunaʻoa then called her ‘aumakua for guidance, and walked the path of hau flowers all the way to Lānaʻi, where she reunited with her lover.
Today, Kaunaʻoa (a vine) and Pōhuehue (also a vine, the beach morning glory) can be seen wrapped around each other in many Hawaiian beaches. Kaunaʻoa is also the official flower of Lānaʻi.
Story of Paʻalua and Kawelu
Paʻaula, the son of the aliʻi of Kauaʻi, had been taught in the arts of warfare since he was really young. One day, his father sent him to visit the aliʻi of Oʻahu.
Pa‘aula took many gifts to the Oʻahu aliʻi, and impressed everyone with his skills in dodging spears. The aliʻi took a liking of Pa‘aula, and offered a large luʻau in his honor. During the lu‘au, the ali‘i’s daughter, Kawelu, captivated Pa‘aula with her young beauty and graceful hula dancing.
The next morning, Pa‘aula asked the O‘ahu ali‘i for his daughter, as he had fallen in love with her. By sunset, Pa‘aula and Kawelu set sail together to Kaua‘i. They lived here until they died, and their bodies changed into birds that can still be seen flying around the streams and waterfalls of Hanalei Valley.
Nihoa, the Honeymoon Island
Nihoa is a small, rocky island rising nearly 900 feet above sea level and located about 120 nautical miles northwest of Ni‘ihau. Today, the uninhabited island is a bird sanctuary, but several agricultural terraces and house sites, some dating been more than 1,000 years, have been found there.
In 1885, during Queen Lili‘uokalani’s reign, the manager of Ni‘ihau, George Gay, took the queen and her party to Nihoa. They saw old structures, aritfacts left behind by early inhabitants, and crops of sweet potatoes, yams and other vegetables. Gay told the queen that Nihoa was once a honeymoon island.
Each spring, young newlyweds from Ni‘ihau sailed their canoes to Nihoa. They would spend the entire summer there, enjoying their new life as a couple; playing games, planting and fishing. Once the first Kona winds of the fall would blow, the newlyweds would return to Ni‘ihau.
Years after Queen Lili‘uokalani’s visit to Nihoa, a couple named Ka‘aumoana were the last ones to keep the tradition going. They returned to Nihoa every spring to harvest the crops they had planted the previous year, and then planted some more. They also fished and caught squabs of uau birds. The tradition died when this couple died.
The Mermaid of Poliolehua
On the eastern bank of Waimea River, near the bridge, a stonewall built a long time ago protected the edge of a swimming pool used by the ali‘i. The river was about 18-feet-deep there, and the area was called Lele, which means to jump. The ali‘i loved to jump there and float as far as they could across the river.
Downstream, a small cove with a large flat rock was called Poliolehua. The legend says a beautiful mermaid called Lehua used to relax on this rock while combing her hair. If she saw someone approaching, she would dive into the water and swim away.
Once a young, handsome ali‘i saw Lehua and fell in love with her. He hid behind some rocks and waited until the mermaid was completely relaxed. He then cautiously approached her, making sure to not make any sound. But the mermaid sensed the ali‘i, and quickly dove into the river.
The young chief dove after her, and found a deep cave with a clean sandy floor. He searched everywhere in the cave but couldn’t find Lehua. The mermaid of Poliolehua was never seen again after this day.
Kaala and Kaaiali‘i
On Lanai’s southwest coast, there are ruins of an old Hawaiian village called Kaunolu. It used to be a thriving community with many houses, visited often by the ali‘i because it was near bountiful fishing grounds.
Kamehameha I once visited Kaunolu, and all the Lanai ali‘i came down to welcome him with lu‘au and games. One of Kamehameha’s warriors, a handsome young ali‘i from Kahala named Kaaiali‘i fell in love with a high chiefess from Lanai named Kaala.
Kaaiali‘i asked Kamehameha if could take Kaala as his woman, as she had also fallen in love with him. But the king said she was already promised to Mailou, an ugly, scarred bonebreaker from Lanai. If Kaaiali‘i really wanted Kaala, he would have to wrestle Mailou. And that he did, breaking the bones of his hideous foe.
After Kaaiali‘i’s triumph, the people of Lanai threw a large feast for the young couple in love.
But Kaala’s father, Opunui, the old ruling chief of Mahana, was angry about it. He hated the Hawai‘i warriors because they had battled against the Lanai men, and had pushed them over the Maunalei cliffs to their deaths. So the old chief tricked his daughter into following him to a sea cave. Opunui’s plan was to hide his daughter there until Kamehameha and his warriors, including Kaaiali‘i, returned to Kohala.
After looking everywhere for Kaala, Kaaiali‘i finally forced Opunui to say where his daughter was. When Kaaiali‘i found Kaala, she was half-drowned and bleeding from being bitten by many eels while trying to flee from the sea cave. She died on Kaaiali‘i’s arms, while professing her love for the young ali‘i.
All the while, Ua, Kaala’s friend, found out where she had been hidden, and asked Kamehameha for help to rescue the couple. When Kaaiali‘i saw the king, he told him he had no more joy in life as he had lost the only woman he loved. He then crushed his head with a stone and died.
The lovers were wrapped in kapa and laid side by side in the cave. As others wailed over the couple’s death, Ua chanted for them. After everyone left to Kaunolu, they heard a loud wailing for Kaala and Kaaiali‘i, who were sleeping side by side in Ke Puhi o Kaala, or the Spouting Cave of Kaala.
Kilioe was a tall chiefess, taller than most chiefs and a giant in the eyes of commoners. People feared her; they knew she had tamed the brown lizard to come at her call. They even thought she herself was the mo‘o, the giant brown lizard that could shapeshift to human or lizard at will.
Before daybreak, the little brown lizard cried out an alarm. Kilioe woke up, smelling the overpowering scent of laua‘e fern, which belonged to Laka, the goddess of hula. Soon, students would be gathering laua‘e for their graduation ceremonies.
The lizard cried out again. Kilioe listened to the sounds of nature. Then she heard splashes in the stream. Footsteps. Something was going on. No one should be up this early. She picked up her staff of kauila wood and left to investigate.
Moving quickly down the path in Ha‘ena, she crossed Limahuli Stream, passed the spring at Waialoha and the Maniniholo Cave. As the first streaks of light came out, she saw two people holding hands, running across the sand at Naue, disappearing in the shadows of hala trees and then reappearing again on the beach.
As Kilioe followed the mysterious couple around Lulu‘upali Point, the wind knocked the black tapa cloth from one of them. Kilioe realized they were students whom she had told to cover themselves from everyone’s view in the nights prior to graduation. And that’s the reason they were wearing the polo‘u cloak.
The students shouldn’t have been there; the had broken the kapu, she thought. Anger flashing from her eyes, she followed them to find out who they were. As she crossed Wainiha River, she got a clear view of the couple and yelled at them: “Nanau! Kapaka!”
Exposed by the chiefess who had no softening for those who broke kapu, the couple ran away through streams, hills and sandy beaches. But they could not get ahead of Kilioe, who was gaining ground on them.
Nanau told his lover Kapaka to hide in the Ho‘ohila Cave, while he would go into the mountains. Nanau’s plan was for Kilioe to follow him, leaving Kapaka alone. Nanau would then return to Kapaka as soon as he could. They looked at each other as they parted ways and said, “May Laka be with you.”
Kapaka hid in the cave while Nanau went up the ridge, making as much noise as possible. As Kilioe followed the footprints on the sand, she heard rocks falling and saw someone climbing the ridge above. As she was about to climb the ridge, Kapaka ran out of the cave and tried to stop the mo‘o chiefess.
Kilioe called Kapaka a kapu breaker and swung her staff at the young woman’s head. As Kapaka fell on the sand, she yelled for Nanau and waved farewell before being struck again. Her blood and life sipped into the sands of Lumaha‘i.
From the cliffs, Nanau heard Kapaka’s last cries. Kilioe caught up to Nanau far up the ridge, and with her staff she killed him on Pu‘uomanu, the Hill of the Birds, where the blood and life of Nanau sipped into the soil.
On the same day, Kilioe became fearful after learning some fishermen had found a new plant growing on the exact spot where Kapaka had been killed. A group of birdcatchers also saw a similar plant growing on the same spot where Nanau had been killed. The strange-looking plants bore only half flowers, neatly divided down the middle. Kilioe placed the two flowers together, and they formed one perfect flower.
Returning to Ke‘e, Kilioe kneeled before the altar of Laka and place the two flowers before the goddess. The smell of laua‘e fern welled up, and Kilioe understood the goddess Laka, showing forgiveness, transformed the two lovers into the flowers, the naupaka-kahakai, from the beach, and the naupaka-kuahiwi, the one from the mountain.
Kauaʻi Is Born
Papahānaumoku, mother of the earth, and Wākea, father of the heavens, were ali‘i who lived in the time of Pō, the time of darkness.
One day, Wākea saw an ipu, and threw its cover up above, creating the sky. The ipu’s pulp became the sun, its seeds the stars, its lining the moon and its flesh the clouds. When Wākea threw the ipu’s juice over the clouds, it became the rain. From the leftovers, he made the land and the ocean.
Papa gave birth to the island of Hawai‘i. And then she gave birth to two more islands, Maui and Kohemālamalama o Kanaloa, the island of Kaho‘olawe.
After a while, Papa left to visit relatives in Tahiti. Wākea stayed behind, and married Ka‘ula. Together, they had a child named Lana‘i-ka‘ula. Later, Wākea married Hina, who gave birth to another island, Molokai-a-hina.
A friend of Ka‘ula left for Tahiti and told Papa what Wākea was doing. Angry, Papa returned to Hawai‘i and married an ali‘i named Lua to get even. She then gave birth to O‘ahu-a-Lua.
Wākea asked Papa for forgiveness. Because of her forgiveness and understanding, Papa forgave Wākea and took him back. They lived together again, and soon the island of Kaua‘i would be born.
- All tales were compiled and summarized from the following publications: Stories of Old Hawaiʻi, Roy Kākulu Alameida (The Legend of the Hau Blossom, Story of Paʻalua and Kawelu, Kauaʻi Is Born); Hawai‘i — Tales of Yesteryear, Roland L. Gay (Nihoa, the Honeymoon Island, The Mermaid of Poliolehua, Kaala and Kaaiali‘i); Polihale and Other Legends, Frederick B. Wichman (The Naupaka).
- All photos were taken by local artist Daniel Finchum, utilizing wet plate collodion, an early photographic technique developed in the 1850s. Visit kauaiainaart.com to learn more about it.