The ancient Hawaiians, like most indigenous cultures, felt a deep connection with nature and explained the natural phenomenon around them with Hawaiian myths and legends that live on today. From the creation of the Earth, to the lava flowing from the volcanoes, and the flowers that you’ll see along some Oahu hikes, there is a story to explain just about everything. There are supposedly over 4,000 Hawaiian legends, but we’ll just highlight a few here!
Pele, Volcano Goddess
Probably one of the most famous dieties in Hawaiian culture is Pele, the goddess of the volcano. The story of her legend is long, but her volcano powers came to be known during a bad break-up with lover, Kamapua’a. When he came looking for her after she hid in the tunnels and caverns of Kilauea, legend has it that he called and called out to her. Then in answer to him, the earth shook, and Kamapua’a looked up the slope to see hot, molten lava slithering towards him. Although he escaped to the ocean, the bushes, trees, and local neighborhoods were set ablaze. According to local legends, to really get on Pele’s good side, you have to visit her at the Halemaʻumaʻu crater and give offerings of food, flowers, and her favorite alcohol gin.
Now you probably won’t see any of these little guys on your Hawaii vacation, but never say never! These small, dwarf-like people, who have lived in the forests and hidden valleys of Hawaii since before the Polynesian settlers, hide from humans. Legends of the menehune say that they were excellent craftsmen, completing astounding engineering feats like building the the Menehune Fish Pond on Kauai. They’re also, according to Hawaiian legends, said to have constructed an aqueduct called the Menehune Ditch, which is also on Kauai. This is especially notable because it was completed before Western engineering techniques were known and it’s said to have been done in one night. Whoa!
Naupaka is one of Hawaii’s most common plants found both along the beach and in the mountains. If you look at the flower closely, you may notice that the flowers appear to have been torn in half. According to Hawaiian legend, Naupaka was a beautiful princess who fell in love with a commoner named Kaui. This Hawaiian version of Romeo and Juliet tells of these star-crossed lovers who could never marry although they were deeply in love. To profess her love to Kaui, Naupaka took a flower from her hair and tore it in half, giving one half to Kaui. She then retreated to the mountains and he remained along the ocean. Legend says that the nearby plants were so saddened by this scene of the parting lovers that they began to bloom only half flowers in honor of the separated couple. You may even find some jewelry or Hawaiian souvenirs with this flower theme.
Kuula, God of Fishermen
Before heading out to a seafood dinner or to do some fishing yourself, give a nod to the god of fishermen, Kuula. The legend of generous Kuula tells of a Maui fisherman who lived with his wife Hina and their son `Ai`ai in Hāna who built some of the first fish ponds nearby. Legends say that he made offerings to a small shrine and because of this reverence was always able to land an abundance of fish. He is known to have had success, even when his friends and fellow fishermen weren’t getting any bites. But Kuula was always generous and eager to share his catch with those in need.
Laka, Hula Goddess
And last, but not least, there is the beautiful Laka. She is most well known as the goddess of the hula, but also has domain over many plants, flowers, and the forest. If you attend any hula performances on your vacation, you may see a “hula halaus”, which is an altar or offering prepared in honor of Laka. On these altars are specific and special plants that are dismantled after the dance. In a traditional hula dance, sometimes the altar is dismantled and every leaf is taken to the ocean or a deep stream as a way to honor goddess Laka. Her special flower, the maile flowers, are commonly used to make Leis, which are draped over the neck. You can also find jewelry and souvenirs with these special maile flowers honoring her.
There’s plenty more to share of our Hawaiian myths and legends, and hopefully we piqued your interest in our rich heritage. We look forward to sharing it with you on the Dolphin tour!