Charlotte Hapai.

Legends of the Wailuku : as told by old Hawaiians online

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_Copyright 1920-1921 by_

_Paradise of the Pacific Print_

[Illustration: Drawn by Will Herwig. Paradise Eng.

Hina's Spirit Still Lives in the Mists of Rainbow Falls.]




_As told by old
Hawaiians and
done into the
English tongue
by Charlotte

Will Herwig_

_To remember our happy
hours of story-telling,
this printed fragment
is in gratitude dedicated
to my grandmother,
Harriet Kamakanoenoe Hapai._


Fed from the great watershed of Hawaii far up the densely wooded
flanks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea - often snow-capped in winter - the
Wailuku River roars through the very center of Hilo, principal town of
the Island of Hawaii.

There are many vague stories as to why the Wailuku River was so named.
In the Hawaiian tongue Wailuku means literally "destroying water."

In olden times before there were bridges and other safeguards the
river wrought considerable damage to property and during the rainy
season it took its toll of human lives. Legends connected with the
Wailuku tend to confirm the belief that it was named for its violent

Long ago, so one legend goes, the much dreaded Kuna (dragon) blocked
the gorge below Rainbow Falls with intent to back the waters up and
drown the goddess Hina, who dwelt in the great cave for which the
falls form a curtain. How her son, the demi-god Maui, came to the
rescue, saved his mother, and finally hunted Kuna from his lair up the
river and slew him, is told in the legend, "The Last of Kuna."

When Paoa, a very powerful god from Tahiti, came to visit Hawaii he
built a grass hut and made his home on the long, low rock - now known
as Maui's canoe - in the Wailuku near its mouth.

Local gods viewed this selection of a homesite as foolhardy, but Paoa
was unaware of the sudden and rapid rise the river made when heavy
rains and cloud-bursts loosed their torrents high upon the slopes of
Mauna Kea. Hina, goddess of the river, warned the visitor of his
danger and told him how the angry waters would sweep everything before
them. In the legend, "The Coming of Paoa," you will find his answer.

In those days there must have been much more water in the river than
there is today, for a certain amount is now diverted above Rainbow
Falls for water power.

In spite of the decreased volume the river is still very violent and
treacherous. At high water big boulders are clumsily rolled down
stream and when the river is unusually high even trees are torn from
the banks and carried out to sea.

So the Wailuku still lives up to its name, Destroying Water.


King Kamehameha the Great was a very famous warrior. His chief
ambition, which he lived to realize, was to become sole ruler of all
the Hawaiian Islands. Naturally he had numerous enemies, and he never
remained long in one place for fear some of them might learn of his
whereabouts and attack him.

One time, when he was encamped near the mouth of the Wailuku, he
planned a quiet visit to what is now known as Reed's Island, where
lived a particular friend of his. As this friend was a powerful chief,
Kamehameha felt safe in going to him without his usual warrior

Before leaving camp he called his servants to him and told them to
stand watch over his canoe, that it might not be stolen or carried
away by the tide. This they promised faithfully to do.

As time passed and the king did not return or send word to his
servants they grew uneasy about him. Perhaps he might have been
ambushed, they reasoned; or more likely fallen into one of the caverns
formed by ancient lava flows and which are often treacherously
concealed by a thin, brittle crust that a man of Kamehameha's bulk
might easily break through. Much as they feared for the king's safety,
the servants dared not leave the canoe unguarded. They were in a
quandary indeed.

"I know what we can do!" cried one of the men. "We can make a rope of
ti leaves and tie the canoe so it cannot drift away."

"Make a rope," queried another, "how can we do that?"

"Simple enough," answered the first speaker. "I'll show you. Take the
ti leaves and fasten them together. First you make two chains of
leaves - like this - and then twist each one. When you place them
together they will naturally twine about each other and you have a
very strong rope. Such twisting is called hilo."

"I've never seen it done," admitted his fellow sentry, "but it looks
very simple."

"And so it is," went on the resourceful one, as he rapidly twisted the
ti leaves into serviceable ropes. "Now," he concluded, "these are
plenty long enough. Let us make the canoe fast to the beach."

And taking their ropes to the canoe they tied it securely to that
point of land - known to the old Hawaiians as Kaipaaloa - near the mouth
of the river where the lighthouse stands today. Then they set out in
search of the king.

Only a short way up the river they met Kamehameha returning unharmed.
Ignoring the spirit of their intent in absenting themselves from their
post of duty, the king demanded:

"But where is my canoe? What have you done with my canoe? You promised
to guard it. By now it may have drifted out to sea or been stolen!"

"We tied it with ti ropes," answered the servant who had woven them.

"Ti ropes!" roared his majesty. "Why, no one here knows how to make
ropes like that. The only place they do know is at Waipio. How did you

"I came to you from there," the man answered.

"Oh, and that is where you learned. Well and good. Hereafter this
place shall be called Hilo."

And so it has been. The town at the mouth of the Wailuku has since
that day been known by the Hawaiian word meaning "to twist."


Hina, the goddess who in the long ago made her home in the great cave
beneath Rainbow Falls, was especially gifted in the art of tapa
making. So wonderfully artistic and fine were the tapas of Hina that
people journeyed from all parts of the Island to view them and to
covet. Even across the mighty shoulders of Mauna Loa from Kona and
Kailua and down the rugged Hamakua Coast from Waipio they came, and
from the other islands as well.

It was hard, laboring over the tapa every day, and especially hunting
for the olona which Hina sometimes used. But she used also the bark of
the mamake and wauke trees, which were more plentiful and very good
for tapa.

Interested though he was in the manufacture and decoration of this
beautiful paper-cloth, Hina's son, the demi-god Maui, held aloof from
the work. In the making of tapa man's hand was tabu, yet he could not
forbear an occasional suggestion when his mother created mystic
designs for decoration of her work.

After the tapa was made it had to be placed for the Sun to dry, but by
the time Hina would reach the drying frames, the Sun was far up in the
sky. All too soon long shadows would creep across the stream below
Rainbow Falls, warning her that night approached and that it was time
to take in her tapa.

[Illustration: Drawn by Will Herwig. Paradise Eng.

As Maui Reached the Eastern Rim the Sun Was Disappearing.]

Quite often the dyes with which the designs were painted on the tapa
were not entirely dry when the tapa was taken in, and many fine pieces
were smeared and ruined. Days were short in the narrow walled-in river
gorge and the Sun shone directly on the tapa for only a few hours,
passing then beyond the high western wall, and gloom would settle
about the cave, growing deeper with oncoming night.

It grieved Maui to see his mother's tapa so often spoiled, so he
besought the Sun to go more slowly. For one or two days he did
moderate his pace and Hina rejoiced in the lovely tapas she was able
to make. But soon the heedless Sun hurried past again as fast as ever,
entirely forgetting his promise to Maui.

So Maui determined to exact a lasting agreement with the Sun, and set
out in his canoe for Maui, the Island which bears his name and on
which is situated Haleakala, today the greatest extinct crater in the
world and in olden time the Home of the Sun. Maui hoped to catch him

As Maui reached the eastern rim of Haleakala the Sun was just
disappearing over the other side; but Maui knew he would return in the
morning, so he prepared to spend the night in waiting.

As the Sun returned to his home next morning Maui caught him by his
rays, which the Sun used as legs, and, wielding the magic club which
he always carried on his many expeditions, broke several of them. Thus
crippled, the Sun was forced to stay for parley, though crying out in
alarm that he must be let go, as there was no time to waste. Day must
be carried westward. But Maui hung on and reminded the Sun of his

After much argument they agreed to compromise; so the Sun promised to
go slowly six months in the year and then, for the remaining six
months, to hurry as fast as before.

Maui was content with this arrangement and sure also that the Sun
would not again forget, for he had crippled him considerably. It would
take some time, he thought, for the Sun's broken rays to mend.

So, very well pleased with his success, Maui permitted the Sun to
proceed on his journey, while himself he prepared to return with all
speed, bearing the good news to his mother.


Far above Rainbow Falls there lived a powerful kupua named Kuna. Kuna
had the form of a monstrous dragon, unlike anything in these islands

Kuna often tormented the goddess Hina in her rocky cave behind Rainbow
Falls by sending over great torrents of water or by rolling logs and
boulders down the stream. Quite often he would block the stream below
the falls with sediment sent down by freshets during the rainy

But Hina was well protected. Her cave was large and the misty cloud of
spray from the falling waters helped to conceal it. So in spite of the
frequent floods and many threats from Kuna, Hina paid him not the
slightest attention, but with her songs and gay laughter lightly
mocked him as she worked.

On many days Hina was quite alone, while her eldest son, the demi-god
Maui, was away on one of his numerous expeditions. Even then she did
not mind this, for should any danger befall her she had a peculiar
cloud servant which she called "ao-opua." If Hina were in trouble this
ao-opua would rise high above the falls, taking an unusual shape. When
Maui saw this warning cloud he would hurry home at once to his
mother's side.

One night while Maui was away from home on the Island of Maui, where
he had gone to bargain with the Sun, a storm arose. The angry waters
roared about the mouth of Hina's cave. They hissed and tossed in ugly
blackness down the narrow river gorge; but Hina heard naught of the
wildness without. Being used to the noisy cataract, her slumbers were
not disturbed by the heightened tumult of its roar.

But Kuna, quite aware of the situation, was quick to take advantage
and to act. Hina's apparent indifference annoyed him. He recalled
several failures to conquer her, and rage overwhelmed him. Calling
upon his powers he lifted an immense boulder and hurled it over the
cliffs. It fitted perfectly where it fell between the walls of the
gorge and blocked the rush of the hurrying torrent.

Laughing loudly at his success, Kuna called on Hina and warned her of
her plight, but, still unknowing, Hina slept on until the cold waters
entered the cave, rapidly creeping higher and higher until they
reached her where she slept. Startled into wakefulness she sprang to
her feet, and her cries of panic resounded against the distant hills.
As the waters rose higher her cries became more terrified until they
reached the Island of Maui and the ears of her son.

Through the darkness Maui could see the strange warning cloud,
unusually large and mysterious. With his mother's cries ringing in his
ears he bounded down the mountain to his canoe, which he sent across
the sea to the mouth of the Wailuku with two strong sweeps of his
paddle. The long, narrow rock in the river below the Mauka Bridge,
called Ka Waa o Maui (The Canoe of Maui), is still just where he ran
it aground at the foot of the rapids.

Seizing his magic club with which he had conquered the Sun, Maui
rushed to the scene of danger. Seeing the rock blocking the river he
raised his club and struck it a mighty blow. Nothing could resist the
magic club! The rock split in two, allowing the strong current to rush
unhindered on its way.

Hearing the crash of the club and realizing his attempt on the life of
Hina had again failed, Kuna turned and fled up the river.

The remains of the great boulder, now known as Lonokaeho, overgrown
with tropical plants and with the river rushing through the rift, lies
there to this day as proof of Maui's prowess.


So great was the wrath of the demi-god Maui at the fell intent of Kuna
to drown his mother that he vowed never to relent in his search for
the monster, and to kill him on sight.

Kuna evidently sensed Maui's intentions, for as soon as he saw his
great mischief undone he fled to a hiding-place far up the river. He
realized then how great had been his folly and trembled at the thought
of capture by the mighty demi-god. In spite of his magic powers Kuna
knew Maui's anger to be far greater than all of them put together;
still, he had countless secret hiding-places where it would be
difficult to find him.

He did not have long to wait in his secret lair before he heard the
thundering voice of Maui commanding him to come forth. The earth shook
with the heavy tread of the vengeful demi-god and the dreadful blows
he dealt all obstacles he passed which might possibly conceal the form
of his enemy.

The thundering voice and quaking earth became more horrible and
terrifying as Maui approached. Soon he stood before the hole in which
Kuna lay hiding. Catching sight of the ugly monster within, Maui let
out a deafening yell, poised his magic spear, and with one sweep of
his mighty arm hurled it into the depths of Kuna's hiding-place. But
the dragon was sly and agile, notwithstanding his huge bulk, and
slipped out in time to save himself.

Even today you can see the long hole - puka o Maui - which the
demi-god's spear made through the lava beyond the cavern; sufficient
evidence of the Herculean strength with which the weapon was driven.
Small wonder Kuna so feared a meeting with this outraged son of the
goddess he had sought to drown.

Wasting no time, Kuna started down stream, with Maui in hot pursuit.
Often the dragon tried to conceal himself in some sheltered spot, or
evade his pursuer by hiding behind a rock, but Maui gave him no rest,
spearing him from one hole to another.

Diving into one of several deep pools in the river, Kuna hoped that at
last he was safely hidden. Maui was not to be thus easily fooled. He
could see the grotesque bulk of his enemy far below the surface of the
gloomy water. Kuna was cornered.

Calling upon Pele, goddess of the Volcano, to send him hot stones and
molten lava, Maui cast these into Kuna's retreat until the waters
boiled furiously, sending a vast column of steam far above the rim of
the gorge.

Known today as the Boiling Pots, although time has cooled their
waters, they still bubble and surge as vigorously as ever, especially
when the heavy rains come and remind them of the time when Kuna the
Dragon sought refuge within their depths.

Tough as the hide of Kuna was, it could not save him from the terrific
heat generated by the red-hot rocks and lava cast into the pool by
Maui. Nearly exhausted, the monster managed to drag himself from the
cauldron and, shrieking horribly, he again took up his flight down
stream. Maui sent torrents of boiling water after him, scalding at
last the life from his ugly body.

Then Maui rolled the huge carcass down the river to a point below
Rainbow Falls, within sight of his mother's home, where she could view
daily the evidence that none might threaten her and live. And there
the ungainly form lies today - a long, black-rock island known as Moo
Kuna, between the rapids - where every freshet, every heavy rain, beats
upon it as though in everlasting punishment for plotting the death of
Hawaii's beloved goddess, Hina.


Many years ago there lived on the Island of Tahiti several brothers,
all very gifted and powerful gods of that land. One was by name Paoa.

Now Tahitian customs were very like those of Hawaii at that time, in
that the Tahitians offered human sacrifices when a canoe or a heiau
was in process of construction. How the observance of this custom
caused the flight of Paoa to Hawaii, you shall see.

It so happened that one of the brothers was having a canoe built, and
they were all undecided as to whom should be offered in sacrifice. A
quarrel ensued. Paoa and the owner of the new canoe grew very bitter
towards each other over it. When the time came for the sacrifice
Paoa's only son was taken and offered to the flames.

Grief-stricken at the loss of his son and furious at the cruelty of
his brother, Paoa decided to leave it all and seek peace on some other
island. In preparation for the long journey by canoe he took only
three things with him: two kinds of fish - the aku and opelu - and some
pili grass.

Journeying northward he encountered a terrific storm which grew more
terrible as the days passed until it seemed the low canoe could no
longer breast the great mountains of angry water that bore down upon
it as though to drive it under and swallow it into the black depths.

[Illustration: Drawn by Will Herwig. Paradise Eng.

Paoa Stood Upon the Little Plot of Pili Grass As He Answered Her.]

Fearing for his safety, Paoa took the two kinds of fish and threw them
overside. Almost at once the mighty waves were calmed and the canoe
went safely on its way surrounded by an area of calm, peaceful water
while the storm raged on all sides a little distance away.

Even today if you see a smooth area of water in the midst of a rough
sea you will know that there is a school of aku or opelu very near the

So Paoa sailed safely through the storm. As soon as it subsided he
called back the fish and placed them in his canoe once more. They had
been very helpful and might be of use should the storm arise again.

At last Paoa came to an island which appeared very large and was
covered with vegetation. Paddling his canoe into a great
crescent-shaped bay, he observed a river emptying into it and turned
the nose of his tiny craft that way. Not far up the river he came to a
long, low rock which he called Waa Kauhi, and landed on the
southeastern side of its point.

So great was the joy of Paoa upon reaching this beautiful island that
he decided to make it his home. To commemorate his safe landing he at
once planted on the rock the pili grass he had brought with him. Also
he liberated his aku and opelu fish in the new waters, where today
their progeny teem in countless millions.

Very soon he built himself a grass hut for a home, and was careful to
protect the pili grass, which grew rapidly and before long spread to
other parts of the big island, where it throve even better than on the
scant soil of the pahoehoe rock.

Hawaiians soon learned to use the pili grass in house building, as it
made a tighter thatch and lasted longer than the lauhala or the
grasses to which they had been accustomed. The stems of the flowers
were later used in weaving hats, as they, too, were firm and strong.

Farther up the river, which Paoa learned was called the Wailuku, there
lived the goddess Hina. Soon after the arrival of this stranger from
Tahiti, Hina heard of him and his chosen home. Evidently he had not
come to wage war or do harm to the people, for he had already made
friends with many of the fishermen living near him.

So Hina decided to see him for herself and went down to his home. She
was surprised to find that he really had established himself on that
low rock.

"Why," she exclaimed, "you must not stay on this rock! Can't you see
the waters above here are high? When the rains come you will be washed
away and drowned. It is not safe!"

Paoa stood upon the little plot of pili grass as he answered her. "No,
I will not go away, for no matter how high the waters come they shall
never cover this spot."

From that day Paoa's word has held true. No matter how high the
Wailuku rises, it never has covered the little plot of pili grass
which still grows on the long, low rock at the river's mouth.


Maui, the eldest son of the goddess Hina, lived with his mother and
two brothers in the cave behind Rainbow Falls, in the Wailuku River
Gorge, a short distance mauka of what is today the town of Hilo. Often
the brothers would go fishing in the harbor.

At this time the Hawaiians knew nothing about fire. All their food was
eaten raw. Occasionally Maui had found in his various wanderings some
bits of cooked banana and pondered over their delicious flavor. He
could not understand what had been done to them until one day he came
upon a group of little alae birds cooking bananas over a fire.

He was so amazed at the scene that the birds had plenty of time to put
out their fire and take wing before he could bring himself to action.
This only aroused his ambitious nature and he vowed he would learn the
secret of fire.

In the days that followed he devised many cunning schemes to trap one
of the alae birds, but they, too, were cunning and carefully refrained
from building any fire when Maui was near. Once or twice while he was
out fishing he had seen white puffs of smoke among the trees and knew
the birds were preparing a feast, but he could never reach the place
in time to catch any of them.

One day he thought of a clever trick and took his brothers into his
confidence. They fixed up a kalabash covered with tapa to resemble a
man and placed it in the middle of Maui's canoe. Then the two brothers
took their seats at either end of the canoe and paddled out into the
harbor while Maui ran back and concealed himself in the woods.

Soon the alae birds came circling overhead and Maui heard them say,
"At last we can make our fire and have a good feast. Maui and his two
brothers are out for a day's fishing."

Quivering with excitement, Maui crouched in his hiding-place and
waited. Soon he heard the birds talking quite near him and, peeping
out, saw them pushing fresh bananas into a blazing fire. Rushing into
their midst he caught one of the birds.

"Tell me how you make fire or you shall never go free!" he demanded.

At first the bird was sullen and refused to answer, but at Maui's
rough treatment resorted to trickery and replied, "Rub two taro stalks
together and you shall have fire."

Holding the bird closely, Maui did so, but only little drops of water
came from the stalks. Very angry, Maui punished the bird again and
demanded the truth. Helpless and exhausted, the poor alae told Maui to
take two hau sticks and rub them together.

Maui found the hau sticks, but fearing the bird was not telling the
truth, he rubbed its head with one of the sticks until a drop of blood
trickled out, staining the tuft of feathers on its crest. But the bird
persisted in this statement, so Maui began rubbing the sticks
together. Little sparks appeared and caught fire to the dead leaves on
which they fell.

Overjoyed at his discovery, Maui set the bird free. But to this day
every alae bird wears the symbol of punishment for telling its
secret - a tuft of red feathers on the top of its head.


Maui, the great demi-god of Hawaii, was restless. Time hung heavy on
his hands. Uneventful days of quiet had fallen upon the land.
Adventure seemed to be in hiding, and no exploit invited to service
this active youngster's shining spear or magic club. Idleness grew
more and more unbearable.

Now Laamaomao, god of the winds, dwelt not far above Rainbow Falls in
the beautiful gorge of the Wailuku and to him Maui confided his
discontent. The old fellow admitted that times were dull. Not for a
long time had he been called upon for blasts from his greater windpot,
Ipunui. On the heels of this remark came inspiration, and he suggested


Online LibraryCharlotte HapaiLegends of the Wailuku : as told by old Hawaiians → online text (page 1 of 2)