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Story Time: Exploring Some of Hawaii’s Captivating Legends

a banana sitting on top of a lush green field

Hawaii is filled with fascinating folklore that shapes its culture and beliefs. From tales of all-powerful beings to stories of love and vengeance, there are a lot of captivating stories that the ancestors left behind. These legends are passed through generations, keeping their spirit alive and piquing the interest of every tourist visiting these beautiful islands.

Here are a few particularly captivating Hawaiian stories that are still told to this day:

1. Maui Lassoed the Sun

Remember Maui from Moana and his famous song “You’re Welcome”? The lyrics go: “Also, I lassoed the sun — you’re welcome — to stretch your days and bring you fun.” This comes from the famed Haleakala Legend.

In Hawaii’s Big Island, Maui lived with his mother, Hina, who made fine cloth and depended on the Sun God, La, for light and warmth. However, La preferred sleeping in, causing the island to have longer nights.

Hina couldn’t finish her work without enough sunlight and complained to Maui. So, Maui thought of something to get La back to work. Creating a long rope out of coconut fiber, Maui climbed the top of Haleakala, where he lassoed La and tied him to a tree. Then, Maui made a deal with La — give them more light and warmth throughout the day in exchange for the god’s freedom.

Since then, the Hawaiian island has enjoyed more sunlight, signifying that the sun god is still keeping his promise to this day.

2. Pele’s Wrath

Here’s another breadcrumb from Moana. The tale of Pele is somewhat similar to Te Kā, the film’s main antagonist. Pele is the goddess of fire, wind, and lighting. Living in the Kilauea Volcano’s crater, she is known for her bad temper and aggression. She treats every rock, shell, sand, and land as her own and is highly protective of them. Due to her extreme possessiveness, Pele is said to curse anyone who dares take or remove even the smallest item in the surroundings.

Thus, removing rocks or any items on the Hawaiian island for souvenirs is generally frowned upon. Legend says that doing so can incur the wrath of Pele, much as how Te Kā caused destruction when Maui took her heart.

3. Hiku and Kawelu’s Love Story

Kauai is home to the scenic Waimea Canyon, featuring grandiose geological formations. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” a beautiful legend of love was born in this area.

Hiku lived in the forest of Waimea Canyon. One day, while strolling around the beach, he met Kawelu, and the two fell in love. Later on, they got married and enjoyed a happy life. However, like most couples, they also had misunderstandings and quarrels.

One argument upset Hiku, causing him to leave his wife and return to the mountains. Kawelu waited for him, but he never returned. Heartbroken, Kawelu took her life. Hiku, finding out about her wife’s death, regretted his actions. He decided to get his wife back from Poe the land of the dead.

Using a strong vined-turned-into-rope, Hiku traversed the Waimea Canyon, where the spirits of the recently deceased dwell. There, he found his wife’s spirit and begged her to return to him. Kawelu’s spirit touched the rope and was transported back to the living world, where they lived happily ever after.

4. The Story of the Half-Flower

Naupaka is a flower that grows only in Hawaii. What makes this flower so unique is its appearance; it’s missing half of its petals, making it look like a flower cut in half. Additionally, this plant thrives near the beach and the mountains, which are two very different environments. This phenomenon is explained through a beautiful legend.

The love story of Nau and Paka inspired the name of the flower; it is one of the most sorrowful stories on the island. At the base of the Makana mountain, there was once an old hula school with very strict rules — one of which was to never fall in love with another student or face death. However, Nau and Paka fell in love and dated in secret.

One night, Kilioe, the school’s headmaster, caught Nau and Paka meeting in the stream behind her home. Scared, the two lovers ran for their lives. Nau hid Paka in a cave near the beach. He then tried to get Kilioe’s attention as he ran up the mountain. However, Paka stepped out of the cave to stop Kilioe from running after Nau and got killed. Kilioe continued to run after Nau up the mountain, where he was also caught and killed.

The next morning, a new plant with only half petals started growing from where Paka and Nau died. It is said that these flowers serve as a reminder of the two lovers who got separated. When you put the two half-flowers together, they form a complete flower allowing Nau and Paka to be finally together.

5. A Hawaiian Princess’s Demise

The bewitching Wai’anapanapa cave got its name from its glistening water. However, these warm, clear waters sometimes turn red and are rooted in a heartbreaking legend.

Long ago, a Hawaiian princess called Popoalaea was married to Chief Ka’akea. Chief Ka’akea was known for his cruelty and often abused Popoalaea. The princess fled his abusive husband and hid in the Wai’anapanapa cave.

While resting, the princess’ maid sat across from her and used a kahili fan to keep her cool. Chief Ka’akea, looking for his wife, noticed the reflection of the kahili in the water. There, he found his wife and killed her on the spot.

Since then, a swarm of tiny red shrimp has appeared at certain times of the year, turning the water red. Today, it serves as a reminder of the blood of the slaughtered princess.

6. Hiʻiaka in Mākua

Hiʻiaka is the patron goddess of hula, chant, sorcery, and medicine, and is also the sister of the volcanic deity Pele. Born in Tahiti and brought to Hawaii by Pele, Hiʻiaka volunteered to embark on a perilous journey to retrieve Lohi’au, a chief Pele had fallen in love with, back from Kauaʻi. However, she was only given 40 days to do so!

Throughout her quest, Hiʻiaka faces numerous challenges and battles, encountering monsters, moʻo (demons), and more. Through this process, however, she harnesses her power. The first gift was ʻAwihikalani (a critical eye), to help her to foretell the future and communicate with the spiritual world.. The second gift was called Ka lima ikaika o Kīlauea (the “strong arm” of Kilauea).. The third gift was a Paʻu uila (lightning skirt), this skirt had different abilities to help her along her journey.

When Hiʻiaka finally reaches Lohi’au on Kauaʻi, she discovers that he has died from longing for Pele. She revives him through chanting and prayer, but she fails to return to Pele within the stipulated time frame. Pele becomes enraged and destroys Hiʻiaka’s sacred lehua forest and turns her lover Hōpoe into stone. In retaliation, Hiʻiaka embraces Lohi’au, which prompts Pele to send lava waves at them.