[ HAWAIIAN MYTHOLOGY ]
COURTESY KAMEHAMEHA SCHOOLS PRESS
When the ocean
A watery punishment awaits
when people forget to honor
gods who provide for them
FIRST IN A SERIES
There was a time when men forgot the gods. They did not pray when planting kalo and sweet potatoes or give thanks when they gathered the vegetables for food. They did not pray before fishing or make thankful offering when the canoes returned well-filled with fish. The walls of every heiau were broken, and no lei of vines or gifts of food were left before the little figures which had once reminded men of their gods.
Among the servants of the chief of Waipi'o was a fisherman who worked early and long. Before sunrise he was at sea, and when darkness fell he returned with a full canoe. Like others, he had forgotten the gods. He did not pray to them for help or offer his first fish in thanks. Early and late he worked, and it seemed to him his life was very hard. The fish he caught went to the household of the chief. There was little left for him and his wife.
One morning, he had reached his fishing ground before the sun rose. He baited his hooks, dropped his line and waited. Did he feel a bite? He carefully pulled up the long line, coiling it so that it should not tangle. Only a bit of seaweed! He let down the line once more.
The sun rose over the ocean, and all about him the water and sky were pink, pink as the inside of a shell, but the fisherman did not see the beauty. He was thinking only of his work. Was that a bite? Again he pulled up the line. The bait was gone from one hook, but he had no fish.
So it went till the sun was high. For all his patient work and waiting the fisherman had -- nothing! He was angry. "O you gods of the sea," he shouted, "you are not gods! You do not care that a poor fisherman works early and late. You do not care that the chief's men take all his catch. Today you send nothing to his hooks! Nothing! You do not care if the poor fisherman dies. I say you are not gods! If there are, indeed, gods in the sea, then let me see you."
So the fisherman shouted in his anger. The answer came at once. The sky darkened. Waves rose foaming and suddenly, out of the rising waves, a shark appeared. He was a great blue shark. "The chief!" thought the frightened fisherman. "That is the shark chief, one of the ocean gods!"
Today, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and our Newspapers in Education Program introduce a series of stories for children.
collections are treasure
trove of mythology
Every Monday this fall, we will be featuring Hawaiian folklore collections and Hawaiian stories from the collections of Mary Kawena Puku'i and Caroline Curtis, courtesy of Kamehameha Schools. The works are selected from four titles published by the Kamehameha Schools Press:
"The Water of Kane and Other Legends of the Hawaiian Islands," "Hawai'i Island Legends: Pikoi, Pele and Others," "Tales of the Menehune" and "Stories of Life in Old Hawai'i."
Puku'i was a famed author, translator, chanter, hula instructor and songwriter who was born on the island of Hawaii in 1895.
Her childhood was spent with her Hawaiian grandmother, who exposed the impressionable girl to the language, lore and lifestyle of her people before the culture was greatly altered by foreign influences. Puku'i died in 1986.
Her three folklore collections sprang from stories she shared with Curtis, who studied under eminent Hawaiian folklorist Martha Beckwith. Curtis, sole author of "Stories of Life in Old Hawai'i," taught at Kamehameha Schools for 20 years. She died in 1979 at 95.
Their books can be purchased at local bookstores, and complete editions can also be found on the Hawaii Digital Library Web site (hawaiidigitallibrary.org), a sister site of the Hawaiian/English Web site ulukau.org.
Enjoy the stories.
In great fear he threw himself on his face in his canoe. He prayed to the shark chief to forgive his angry words. When he raised his head he saw the great fish slowly swimming around the canoe. At last the shark came close, lifted his head and spoke. "You think there are no gods! It seems that all men of Hawai'i think the same. The walls of every heiau are broken, no offerings are left for us -- no kalo leaves, no fish, no 'awa and no bananas.
"The gods have waited long, but no one prays, no one gives thanks. The people of Hawai'i are evil, evil! All shall be destroyed. The ocean shall roll over these islands and cover them."
The poor fisherman threw himself on his face again. "O Shark Chief," he prayed, "forget my evil words. I will pray to the gods each day. I will bring an offering of fish each night. I will tell men to rebuild the heiau walls and to remember the gods with prayer and offering. Only do not let this terrible flood come." Over and over the fisherman made his prayer.
At last he lifted his head. The shark chief was watching him, and the shark's eyes did not look so cruel as before. "I have heard your prayer," he said. "Take your wife and climb to the highest mountain peak, for the flood will come. The word of the gods cannot be changed. Only because of your earnest prayer, you two shall find safety above the flood." The shark disappeared under the waves.
The fisherman paddled to his own beach near the mouth of Waipi'o Valley. He did not stop to pull his canoe high on the sand. That did not matter now. He ran to his wife and told her the shark chief's words.
"Let us go!" she said. She looked up to the top of Mauna Kea. "It is a long climb, and we must start at once."
"Let us climb Mauna Loa," the fisherman answered. "That mountain, farther away, must be higher."
"I cannot walk so far," his wife replied, "and, husband, the light of dawn is red on Mauna Kea, while Mauna Loa is still dark. Surely Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the world! Let us go there."
So they set off. They climbed over rough rocks and sharp grasses. They grew tired but did not stop to rest. They climbed on through darkness.
At last they reached the top. They looked about on their beautiful island and the woman chanted sadly:
"O Hawai'i, my home,
I shall see you no more!
The many-colored sea will cover you --
Will cover the houses of my friends,
Will put out the cooking fires,
Will cover the gardens and forests.
No more will the hula drum be heard
Or the shouts of the surfers.
No more will men work in the fields.
No more will they join in games and dancing.
Only the sea will be left.
The blue sea will cover Hawai'i."
The two wept bitterly until they slept.
* * *
THEY WERE awakened by a distant roaring. They looked over the ocean and saw a wall of water rushing toward the island. They saw it rush over the beaches and into the valleys, carrying houses and trees before it. Another wave came, and another. Now the waves were rising over the mountainside. Up and up the ocean rose. It came with a low roar and with terrible power.
At last it was as close as it had been to their home on the beach near Waipi'o. Only now the water was all about. The two were on an island of rock in the midst of rolling blue waves.
The ocean was not rising now. It was sunny, calm and very blue, yet it was terrible. What could two people do alone on a tiny rocky island? "Would that we had died!" they said and clung to each other for comfort.
At last, weak and very tired, they slept. Their sleep was sound and long, and when they woke the ocean had gone back to its rightful place. There was all Hawai'i, steaming in the sunshine. But now it was a barren island, swept clear of homes, of growing things and people.
Sadly the two went down the side of Mauna Kea. They found the beach where they had lived. They found shellfish and seafood for their food.
Each day they prayed, each day they offered to the gods the best of their poor food. They hung many lei of seaweed about the little figures of the gods that still stood on the rocks.
Many years passed, and Hawai'i was once more a land of growing things, of home, of gardens and green forests. It was a land of happy people who thought often of their gods.
"When the Ocean Covered Hawai'i"
is from "Hawai'i Island Legends: Pikoi, Pele and Others,"
compiled by Mary Kawena Puku'i, retold by Carline Curtis and illustrated by Don Robinson. Published by Kamehameha Schools Press, ©1949 and 1996 by Kamehameha Schools. Reprinted by permission.