COURTESY KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS
Laka stood among the great trees of the koa forest. "This is such a tree as my grandmother told me of," he thought. "It is straight and has grown strong fighting the mountain winds. Such a tree will make a strong canoe, one that can fight ocean waves." Then Laka prayed and went to work with his stone tool.
All day he worked. At last the great tree fell, and Laka went home, tired but satisfied. "Tomorrow I shall trim off the branches," he thought. "I shall cut the log to the right length for a canoe. Then I must shape it, but I have no skill in shaping a canoe."
When tomorrow came he could not find the log. "I should have marked the place," he thought. "Was it here or over there?" He wandered through the forest, but could not find the tree that he had cut. He cut down another and this time looked carefully to make sure of finding his log the next day.
But the next day there was no log! It seemed to Laka that he found the tree. The place was right, and there stood a tree just like the one he'd cut the day before. He rubbed his eyes. Was someone raising the tree that he cut down? He would try once more. So once again he cut down a tree, marked the place carefully, and went home to sleep.
The next day he returned at dawn. There stood the tree he had cut down! Someone had put it back in place, and not one mark of his stone tool was left upon its trunk. Laka stood looking, thinking, then returned to the village to talk with his grandmother.
Next day when he went to the forest he took a digging stick. Right by his chosen tree he dug a little ditch, then cut the tree so that it fell over the ditch. When he finished darkness had already reached the forest. Laka crawled under the branches of his fallen tree and hid in the ditch.
He had not waited long when he heard low, growling voices on every side. He caught some words about lifting up the tree. "Now! Take your places." He heard the command clearly. The menehune must be all about the tree ready to lift it!
Quickly Laka scrambled out. The menehune ran in fright, but Laka had caught two -- the chief and another man. "I shall kill you!" he said angrily. "You raised the tree that I cut down and wasted all my work. You deserve to die!"
The menehune chief answered fearlessly, "What good will our death do you? Can you shape a canoe, O Laka? Can you haul it to the beach -- you, all alone? Set us free, and we will do this for you. We menehune can shape a canoe and haul it to the ocean. Will you set us free?"
"Yes," answered Laka slowly, "but if you do all this for me, what shall I do for you? I have not much for gifts."
"Build a shed for your canoe," he was told. "Then prepare a feast for us."
"I will do that," Laka promised. "I shall go down at once. Tomorrow I shall build the shed and prepare the feast."
Next day he built a canoe shed close to the beach and thatched its roof with leaves of coconut. As he worked, he wondered. Was it true the little men could shape and hollow a canoe all in one night? And would they haul it down? Filled with this wondering Laka again took the mountain trail. He reached the spot in the forest where his log had lain and could hardly believe what he saw. There, right where he had left the log, lay a canoe. It was all shaped and hollowed. Wonderful!
Laka hurried down to prepare the feast. He caught shrimps, cooked taro, and pounded poi. It was already growing dark when he spread poi and shrimps on a long food mat, then stumbled to his sleeping house. There he lay listening to a humming sound which came from the koa forest. "They are lifting my canoe," he thought.
As he listened the humming came again, louder and stronger, until the village was full of sound. Stillness followed, then a short hum as the canoe was put into its shed. For a time Laka heard the sound of tools as the canoe was smoothed, and side pieces and outrigger fastened on. Then came the growl of low voices while the menehune feasted on their shrimps and poi. Once more Laka heard humming as the little workers climbed the trail.
In the morning he found the canoe resting in its shed. As he walked about it admiring the work, neighbors came. "Laka!" they said. "We did not know you were such a good canoe maker."
"I'm not," the young man answered. "The menehune made this for me."
"Laka's Canoe" is 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.
"Hawaiian Folklore" is presented Mondays through the Star-Bulletin's Newspaper in Education program.