Hawaiian Legends: Four Fascinating Stories of Kauai

    Hawaiian Legends: Four Fascinating Stories of Kauai
    Last updated: August, 2019

    Kauai is not for everyone. Especially not for those who seek bustling entertainment. There are no nightclubs, no discotheques, and no big-name performers on this island. Instead, you’ll find green mountain peaks, hidden waterfalls, pristine beaches, gentle flowing waters. There is mesmerizing beauty wherever you look. Kauai is rather a haven for outdoor lovers, a place of tranquility where you can reconnect with nature and your inner self.  Kauai is also full of myths and legends – stories of gods and men, of love and betrayal, of birth and death. Like most indigenous people, Hawaiians explained everything through legends and folk tales of passion. Almost every place on the island has a backstory that ties its name to the culture and the people who inhabited these islands centuries ago. Some of the Hawaiian legends are quite popular while others are less known.

    View of Ke'e Beach on the North Shore of Kauai
    Ke’e Beach

    [1] The Love Story of Hiku and Kawelu

    Those who visited Kauai can surely remember the grandiose beauty of the Waimea Canyon, referred to by Mark Twain as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. One of the legends born in this area is the love story of Hiku and Kawelu. Hiku was born in the forests around Waimea Canyon. One day he went to the beach and he met a beautiful girl named Kawelu. The two fell and in love and soon married. Hiku and Kawelu were happy together most of the time but, like all couples, they had arguments.

    One day the two had a small argument, but Hiku got upset, left Kawelu and returned to the mountains. Heartbroken, Kawelu waited and waited for him, but he didn’t return. In desperation, she hung herself. (Ladies, please don’t follow her example if you find yourselves abandoned by your men!) When Hiku found out what happened, he deeply regretted what he had done and was ready to do everything he could to bring his wife back to life. After talking with a priest, Hiku decided to risk his own life and go to the land of the dead, called Poe, to bring Kawelu back. That was if he could ever find her and convince her to return to him! He twisted some strong vines into a long rope and descended into the valley of the Waimea Canyon where the spirits of those who recently died were dwelling.

    View of the Waimea Canyon lookout
    Legend says that Waimea Canyon lookout is the very place where the spirits of the recently deceased jump up to Poe

    Deep into the abyss or Poe, he wandered around for days and days until he found Kawelu’s spirit. He told her how much he loved her and needed her, and begged her to return with him. He promised he would never leave her again and convinced her to get a hold of the rope. Kawelu’s spirit touched the rope, thus returning into her body. The two lovers came up from the valley of the dead together and lived happily ever after. The story of  Hiku and Kawelu is one of the most beloved Hawaiian legends.

    [2] The Legend of Lovers

    Naupaka flower
    Naupaka flower

    There is a unique flower in Kauai called Naupaka, that grows only in Hawaii and no place else in the world. What makes this flower unique is its appearance. It rather looks as a half-flower, with missing petals. What is also interesting is that this shrub grows both in the mountains and near the beach. So how can this half flower grow so well in two very different environments? Well, because there is a legend behind it.

    The legend says that at the base of Makana Mountain, near the North Shore of Kauai, there was an old and prestigious hula school for boys and girls. The students of this school were expected to obey very strict rules and protocols, so no dating was allowed. But two students, Nau and Paka, fell in love. They tried to hide their love as much as they could, meeting only in secret.

    One night the head of the school, Kilioe, heard the splashes of someone crossing the stream behind her house. She followed the sound of the footsteps and to her surprise and anger she discovered that Nau and Paka, were together. The two lovers began running for their lives because they knew that their punishment was death.

    Kilioe ran after them demanding that they stop, but the two continued to run ahead. The young boy, Nau, told Paka to hide in a cave near the beach. Trying to divert Kilo’s attention, he ran up the mountain. But Paka saw Kilioe running after Nau and feared for her lover’s life. She stepped out of her cave trying to block Kilo’s way but got killed on the spot. Blinded by rage, Kilioe continued to run after Nau. She caught up with him high up on the mountain and killed him too. Man oh man, some strong old wahine, this Kilioe!

    The cave near Ha'ena Beach in Kauai
    The Wet Cave near Ha’ena Beach where Nao hid his lover, Paka

    The next morning the people living nearby noticed that a new plant began growing from the sand where Paka died. It was a beautiful shrub, but the flowers had only half of the petals. That same flower was spotted up in the mountains, where Nanau died. The half flowers are a reminder that the two lovers are forever separated. They say that when one puts these two half flowers together forming a complete circle, the lovers can be reunited.

    [3] First Lighthouse Legend

    Ancient Hawaiians had “lighthouses” long before the Europeans discovered Hawaii. An ancient Hawaiian legend says that hundreds of years ago there lived a tribe of strong people called the Menehune. The Menehune fisherman would row all day far from the island, trying to catch some fish. Many times, if they had a bad day, they would row back to shore long after dark. But without a light they couldn’t find a safe place to land their canoes.

    This happened night after night, until one cold night when the chief of the tribe was warming himself near the fire. His wife accidentally dropped a kukui nut on the fire. Watching the kukui nut burning, the chief came up with a bright idea. He would string a lot of kukui nuts like a lei creating a long string of light. You see, a kukui nut burns for approximately 15 minutes, so the nuts on the string would slowly catch on fire, thus burning for a long time. He would then hang these strings of burning kukui nuts on big poles to direct the fishing boats safely into the harbor. And so did the first “light houses” appear on the island. Way long before the Kilauea Point Lighthouse was built.

    View of the Kilauea Point Lighthouse
    Kilauea Point Lighthouse

    [4] The Legend of Kukona and the Long-lasting Peace in Kauai

    Long before the Hawaiian Islands were united under one kingdom, each one of them was ruled by its own chief. The chiefs were constantly at war with each other, trying to conquer more territories for themselves. But while the neighboring islands were thorn by wars, Kauai managed somehow to keep its peace and independence for more than 500 years. How was that possible?

    Legend has it that this long period of peace started in the 14th century with king of Kauai, named Kukona. During his reign all the islands south of Kauai – Maui, Oahu and Molokai–  had been conquered by an ambitious chief from the Big Island.  Eventually, the Big Island’s chief set his eye on Kauai as well. He gathered all his forces and attacked the island. King Kukona fought bravely, defeating his attackers. In the battle he managed to take captive not only the chief of the Big Island, but also all the other islands’ chiefs who joined him in the attack. Instead of killing them however, Kukona decided to take them for a walk around his beautiful island. Hmmm, maybe he was trying to make them even angrier for loosing the battle.

    How Kukona Fooled His Enemies

    After walking for a while, King Kukona decided to stop around the area that is today Koke’e Park. While resting under a tree, he fell asleep. Seeing an opportunity for revenge, the captured chiefs plotted to kill him in his sleep. But the chief of Maui objected, reminding them that King Kukona spared their lives when he could have killed them. Just at that moment, King Kukona woke up and told them he was just pretending to be asleep and overheard everything they plotted.

    Again he could have easily put them all to death for what they did, but instead he chose to let them live. Was this Kukona dumb, or what? Well, it seems he was more clever than they thought. He spared the lives of the captured chiefs under one condition: neither them or their descendants would ever attempt again to invade the island of Kauai. Relieved that they escaped death a second time, the chiefs agreed and swore it with a solemn vow. They even raised a small monument as a reminder of their oath. The legend says that because of their promise Kauai remained an independent state for over 500 years.

    View of Koke'e State Park in Kauai
    Koke’e State Park, the place where King Kukona made peace with the other Hawaiian Islands chiefs

    Aren’t Hawaiian legends fascinating? I dare you find another state with as many incredible myths and legends as Hawaii.