Category Archives: myth & legend

Celebrating Kamehameha the Great

“He wishes to increase the happiness and not the wants of his people.”

~Captain Otto Von Kotzebue (1787-1846) Russian Navigator

Although there is some debate as to the precise year of his birth, Hawaiian legends claimed that a great king would one day unite the islands, and that the sign of his birth would be a comet. Halley’s comet was visible from Hawai`i in 1758.

The name Kamehameha means “the one set apart.” For 13 years, from 1782 to 1795, he waged numerous battles to conquer the islands, ultimately uniting the Hawaiian Islands in 1810, becoming the first king, and establishing a dynasty that endured for over a century.

As a leader in restoring the islands, he urged his people to work and to grow food. They said of him,

“He is a farmer, a fisherman, a maker of cloth, a provider for the needy, and a father to the fatherless.”

As king, Kamehameha took several steps to ensure that the islands remained a united realm even after his death. He unified the legal system and traded shrewdly with the foreigners that followed Captain Cook. He did not allow non-Hawaiians to own land and this edict ensured the islands’ independence during a time when other Pacific island nations were succumbed to colonization. When Kamehameha died in 1819 his body was hidden by his trusted friend Hoapili, and his wife Keopuolani. It is said that only the stars know Kamehameha’s final resting place.

Each year on June 11th a state holiday honors Hawaii’s first monarch.  In addition to the traditional draping of lei on his statues, floral parades take place throughout the islands. With hundreds of riders on horseback, the parades showcase pa‘u equestrian units, marching bands, private mounted units, hula halau, floats, and more.


IT’S ABOUT TIME ~ Maui Slows the Sun

“Oh Maui, Sun is a great god!  No one has gone near him and lived,” Hina warned.  “Then I shall be the first!” Maui boasted. “I shall make him promise to go more slowly.” ~Maui speaking with his mother, the goddess Hina

The young demigod Maui  listened to the fishermen and farmers who complained that the days were too short for working.  He heard his mother, the goddess Hina,  protest that there wasn’t enough time to dry her tapa cloths.

Disturbed that the days were too short and wondering why the Sun god crossed the sky so quickly,  Maui planned his quest.  One night he hid on the high slope.  He anchored his rope to a wili-wili tree and stood strong among hinahina plants (found only at mount Haleakala on the island of Maui) until the Sun god rose up. Lasooing Sun’s legs (rays) he asked him to promise to slow down. When Sun refused Maui began to break his legs, one at a time.

This confrontation continued until Sun finally relented.

From then on, for part of the year Sun traveled at his usual speed. The days were short and night came quickly.  It was the season of Ho’oiloThe time to catch akule.

The rest of the year, Sun slowed down as he had promised. The days were long and filled with sunshine.  It was the season of Kau.  The time to catch opelu.

March of the Ancestral Warrior Spirits

“The first thing you will hear is drums in the distance, then you will smell a foul and musky odor, and you will hear a conch shell being blown as fair warning to get out of the way.  You will see torches getting brighter and brighter as they get closer.  Your best chance is to have an ancestor that recognizes you as they will call out Na’u!, which means mine!  And if you are in the night marchers’ bloodline no one in the procession can harm you.  No matter what you build in their path they go straight through it.  The night marchers are the vanguard for sacred chiefs or chiefesses who have a high station in life.” – Po Kane. Haunted Hawaiian Nights, by Lopaka Kapanui

According to the Kaulana Mahina or Hawaiian Moon Calendar, there are certain dates on which the Huaka’i po —  the nightmarchers or ancestral spirits — make these ghostly marches.  Po Kane, the 27th day of the moon cycle, is a favorite. 

Between sunset and sunrise they march in rows to drum beats and repeat oli – chants.  Usually, there is heavy wind and rain accompanied by mist, high surf, thunder and lightening when the nightmarchers are sighted.  Often they appear to float a few inches above the ground, but some witnesses say they have seen mysterious footprints on the marchers’ path.

The ghostly procession  must never be interrupted.  Legend says that resting your eyes upon them could signal a very grim fate.  It’s believed that the marchers can detect humans by their scent.  People are urged to keep the wind to their backs,  crouch low to the ground, be quiet and still, and not look at them.  Huaka’i po are set upon their destination and not considered spirits that will deviate from their path to haunt humans.  

On Maui Huaka’i po have been sighted in La Perouse Bay, part of the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Preserve, Kahakuloa, and Kekaa, as well as on the other islands.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!…Be very careful where you celebrate this year because Po Kane falls on December 31, 2010.  Remember that it is prescribed as a day of prayer to the god Kane, the first of the gods, who is said to have created the universe.

The Flowers of Maui Nui

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds of today.”  ~Indian Proverb

Flowers are integral to the cultural tapestry of Hawai’i. These are na pua o Maui Nui — the flowers of Kaho’olawe, Lanai, Maui, and Molokai.

Hinahina (heliotropium anomalum) is the plant of Kaho’olawe. The leaves are somewhat succulent and often grow in rosettes towards the tips of the stems. The small, white, tubular flowers are sweetly fragrant. Don’t confuse hinahina with Spanish moss or Pele’s hair. In pageantry the Spanish moss is almost always substituted for the native hinahina to represent the island of Kaho’olawe, since it is easier to get Spanish moss than it is to get the native heliotrope.


Lanai’s flower Kaunaoa (cuscutaceae) is not really a flower, but a rare yellow and  orange air plant. Lei makers take the thin, light orange strands of this vine and twist them together to form lei. Legend says that the goddess Pele fled to Lanai from her angry sister Namakaokahai, the goddess of the sea, and dropped her Kaunaoa lei at the beach, where golden vines started growing.

The pink Lokelani (rosa damascene) is the official flower of Maui. Native to Asia Minor it was brought to the New World by the Spanish and introduced to Hawai’i in the early 1800s. The Lokelani is prized by gardeners for its beauty and fragrance and is the only non-native plant to be recognized as the official flower of any of the Hawaiian islands.

The white Kukui blossom (aleurites moluccana) is the flower of Molokai. It is the blossom of the very useful Kukui tree. The flowers, leaves and the nuts are often used in lei. The nuts are used for their oil, can be eaten, and contain a black dye that is used for tattooing. The wood of the Kukui tree was used for making canoes and the leaves were chewed to relieve sorrow.