COURTESY KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS
The Sweet Potato Thief
Owl was a farmer of Kohala. Every night he worked in his sweet potato patch, for the light of day blinded his eyes. He dug, he planted slips, and in a dry time brought water to his growing vines. With pride he saw potatoes pushing from the earth.
Then one night he saw that some of his young potatoes had been pulled and eaten. "Rat!" he thought. "That great Rat is too lazy to make a garden for himself and comes to steal my food."
Though he watched every night, Owl saw nothing of Rat. "He knows that I am watching and does his stealing somewhere else," Owl said as his vines grew strong and great potatoes pushed from the earth.
So many big potatoes! "I wonder if my storehouse can hold them all," thought Owl happily. He seized a big potato top and pulled. Up it came in a moment -- a potato top but nothing more! The marks of gnawing teeth showed what had happened. Owl pulled another potato top and still another. All the same! Rat had tunneled under the patch and eaten all.
Sadly Owl filled his gourd with sweet potato tops. "One meal!" he sadly thought. "Or maybe two -- two meals from my fine big garden!" He built a fire and heated stones. He washed and wrapped the pieces of potato, packed them in the imu with hot stones, covered the imu, and went about other work.
"There is enough for two good meals!" he thought as he uncovered the imu and sniffed the good smell of roasted potatoes. But there was little there besides the smell! Rat had come while Owl was away. He had uncovered the imu, taken all the food but a few scraps, and carefully put back the covering. Wicked Rat!
Owl ate a few bits of potato and put the rest away thinking, "I'll have one more small meal tomorrow."
But when tomorrow came the gourd was empty. That thieving Rat had made a hole and stolen the last bits of sweet potato! For Owl nothing was left except starvation. He grew weak and hollow-eyed, too weak to hunt for roots and fern shoots. "Soon I shall die," he muttered.
It was then Hawk visited him. "What's the matter, Owl?" Hawk asked surprised. "You look sick."
"I am," the other answered sadly, "sick with hunger."
"Hunger? I thought you were a farmer!"
"I was. There was no better farmer in all Kohala. I had a big patch of sweet potatoes. But who ate them all? Rat! That thief gnawed every potato. Then he opened the imu and ate. He gnawed a hole in my gourd bowl and took the last scraps. Nothing is left for me but death."
"Why don't you kill Rat?" Hawk asked.
"How can I, I am so weak?"
"Come along with me," said Hawk. "I'll do the killing. You will only have to help a little."
Owl managed to hop along to Rat's house. Rat saw them and came out to welcome them. He thought his stealing was so clever that Owl had not suspected him.
But before he could say, "Aloha!" Hawk had pounced and was ready to eat him.
"Don't eat him!" Owl shouted. "Tear him to pieces."
Hawk tore Rat into small pieces. That is why rats, today, are small and why they have no love for owls and hawks. But they are the same thieving fellows as the big rat who ate Owl's sweet potatoes. As for Owl, he is no longer a farmer, but a hunter of rats and mice.
Taken from "Tales of the Menehune (Revised Edition)," compiled by Mary Kawena Puku'i, retold by Caroline Curtis and illustrated by Robin Burningham. Published by Kamehameha Schools Press, © 1960 and 1985 by Kamehameha Schools. Reprinted by permission.
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