COURTESY KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS
A Helmet for Ku‘ili
A Legend of the Island of Hawai'i
A group of menehune sat in the edge of the forest looking down the slope of Mount Hualalai and talking together in gruff, growling tones. "Let us take the top off that hill down there," one of them said suddenly.
"Take the top off that hill?" the others exclaimed. "Why should we do that? Where should we put it?"
"On Ku'ili, the smaller hill down near the coast. See! The larger hilltop is shaped like a helmet. Wouldn't Ku'ili look fine wearing a helmet!"
Shouts of laughter filled the air. "A helmet!" each menehune cried. "A helmet for Ku'ili!"
The chief joined the group to hear why his men were laughing. "Your plan is good," he told them. "When the Hawaiian people see a helmet on Ku'ili, they will be filled with wonder at our power. They will think the menehune as mighty as the gods."
The little men shouted again in joy. "The Hawaiians shall see our power! Let us begin at once."
As darkness fell the menehune gathered by the hundred around the hilltop, and soon their digging sticks raised a cloud of dust. The chief walked about to watch the work. "The hilltop is loose," he said. "Be ready --"
Just at that moment, from the forest above, sounded the crow of a cock. "Cock-crow! Morning!" shouted the little workers. Dropping their digging sticks they ran to their homes.
"But it isn't morning!" someone said, peeping out. "Look at the stars! Let us finish our work. If we leave now the digging must be done again tomorrow."
"We cannot work after cock-crow," said the chief. "That is our law. Away to your mats, menehune."
The next night the digging sticks fairly flew. "Ready!" the chief shouted. "Only a few hours have passed. We can pry off the hilltop and take it to its new place on Ku'ili."
The menehune cried aloud with glee as they drove in their digging sticks. Suddenly the cock crowed, and the little men looked about in wonder.
"Run for the forest!" someone cried.
"It is midnight. We can finish!" another shouted, driving his digging stick more firmly in the ground.
"Away, menehune!" the chief commanded. "Cock-crow has sounded, and we must obey our law."
The menehune scampered up the mountain slope, then gathered in the forest to make plans. "That is an evil cock," they said. "It crows to spoil our work."
"Yes, let us kill it. It lives in the o'hi'a forest over there."
"You speak well," said the chief. "Tonight I, with two warriors, will find that cock. Never again shall its crow spoil our work."
That night the three searched the o'hi'a forest. All night they searched. Where was the cock? "Morning has almost come," whispered the chief. "I hear the song of the snails." At that moment, near and loud, sounded the cock's crow.
"There!" a warrior whispered. "On that rock above a cave!" The next moment the cock was dead.
Gaily the menehune made ready for the third night's work. This time they were sure they should succeed. A helmet on Ku'ili would tell all men of their power. And then they'd feast -- for the cock was cooking in the imu.
The digging was begun once more while the chief walked about watching. "The hilltop is loose!" he shouted. "Drive your digging sticks well in. Now! All --"
Loud and clear the cock's crow sounded from the o'hi'a forest. "We must obey," the chief said sadly.
Amid angry grumbling the menehune climbed the mountain. "Why didn't you kill both cocks?"
"We did not know that there were two!"
"Now all that digging to be done again!"
"Don't grumble, men!" shouted a cheerful voice. "At least we can feast. Remember the cock in the imu!"
Eagerly the earth was taken from the imu, the banana leaves were lifted, and the good smell of roasted cock was sniffed. Then a voice cried, "It isn't here! The imu's empty! Aue! Aue!"
The menehune crowded close, and stared into the empty imu. With angry growlings they went hungry to their homes. Never again did they try to put a helmet on Ku'ili.
But they never understood just what had happened. The great god Kane had seen what they were doing, and guessed their plan. "The Hawaiians must not think the menehune as powerful as the gods," he said and commanded his sacred cock to stop their work. When he found the menehune had killed his cock he took it from the imu, poured over it the water of life, and set it once more in the o'hi'a forest. There it crowed at midnight and put an end to the menehune's plan to set a helmet on Ku'ili.
"A Helmet for Ku'ili" 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.
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