COURTESY KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS
"'A! 'A, Kahawali!" The shouts rang in the man's ears as he climbed the hill.
Kahawali was a hula master. There had been weeks of prayer and hard work as he taught young men and women the hula chants. He taught them the music and the gestures that go with each chant. Then had come the anxious time when his young people prepared for their graduation. They had given their hula before the chief of Puna and the chief had been pleased. Kahawali's pupils had done well and he was proud and happy over their work.
And now a time of rest and sport! His favorite sport -- holua sledding. The crowd had come from the chief's home to watch. There were his young hula dancers. There were their parents and friends -- a happy crowd dressed in new kapa and decked with lei. It was glorious to feel the flying sled beneath! Glorious to hear the shouts of the people!
Kahawali climbed, panting, to the hilltop and stopped to rest. His companion was there before him. "I did not go half so far as you," his companion said. "I never saw anyone so skillful with a holua."
"I have had long practice," Kahawali answered. "Are you ready? Then let us go once more."
With a running start Kahawali threw himself on his long narrow sled. Down the steep grassy slope he flew. A glorious feeling! This was the way a bird must feel when it swooped through the air. There were uneven places in the slide, but Kahawali's active body kept his balance. He reached the bottom and went far out on the grassy plain. Again he heard the shouts. The swift movement! The shouts of praise! Oh, it was glorious sport!
Again he climbed the steep hillside and reached the slide. He found an old woman beside his companion.
"This woman wants to race with you," his friend laughed. "I am lending her my holua."
Kahawali looked at the old woman. Her eyes were bright but her body did not look strong. Did she know the dangers of the sport? "This slide is not easy," he said.
The old woman spoke grimly. "Let us race!" she answered. She threw herself on the sled more quickly than the men had thought possible. Down she went with Kahawali just behind.
But she had not his skill for the uneven places in the slide. Off she rolled and her sled went on alone. With great skill Kahawali passed the old woman without touching her. Again the glorious feeling of rushing down like a swooping bird! Again the shouts of the crowd! Shouts for him and laughter for the old woman! He hoped she had not hurt herself.
No, there she was back at the starting point. He stopped for her sled and carried both up the hillside. He put her sled beside her. "Better not try that again," he advised. "This trail is too steep for a beginner."
"Your sled is better," the old woman said. "Let me use yours."
"It is not the sled that is better, but the skill of the one who slides." Without another word Kahawali took a running start, threw himself on his holua, and started down once more.
He listened for the shouts of the crowd. But instead of shouts of praise he heard cries of fear! As he slid on the plain he saw people running. They were crying out as if some danger followed. Kahawali turned to look. The old woman was coming down the slide on a holua of fiery lava. The earth shook beneath her and lightning flashed above. Pele! It was Pele to whom he had refused the sled! Pele laughed at the crowd!
The angry goddess was halfway down the slide. Kahawali snatched up his spear, which he had stuck in the ground, and ran. All about him he heard frightened cries. Behind him came the roar and hiss of flowing lava. He ran toward the sea, for there was safety.
Kahawali was as skillful at running as at other sports. He was ahead of the crowd with the ocean not far away. Suddenly he came to a narrow gulch. There was no time to go around, no time to climb down and out again. Quick as thought Kahawali bridged the gulch with his long spear, ran across on it, picked up his spear and ran on. The lava was close behind. It filled the gulch and overflowed to follow Kahawali.
But now Kahawali was near the ocean. He saw a fishing canoe close to shore. His brother's canoe! "Wait!" Kahawali shouted. "Take me with you!"
He waded into the water and climbed into the canoe. His brother paddled with all his strength, but Kahawali set up his spear and it became both mast and sail. The storm wind pushed against it and carried the canoe to safety.
But those who had laughed at the old woman were caught by the lava flow and turned to stone. There they may be seen today -- stone people fleeing across the Puna plain.
"Holua Sledding" is from "Hawai'i Island Legends: Pikoi, Pele and Others," compiled by Mary Kawena Puku'i, retold by Caroline Curtis and illustrated by Don Robinson. Published by Kamehameha Schools Press, © 1949 and 1996 by Kamehameha Schools. Reprinted by permission.
"Hawaiian Folklore" is presented Mondays through the Star-Bulletin's Newspaper in Education program.