I found this story (or it found me) after experiencing a lomilomi massage and spending some time in Hawaii. It’s one of my most treasured stories not only because it is a love story, but because it deals with the loss of a soul and her return. You may note some gender biases in this retelling, but if you enter its depths the way Hiku did, you will find a world of insight.
Kawelu is a princess in this story but “kawelu” is also the name of a grass that grows in Hawaii. Used for thatching houses, it is often present in chants and songs. In the hula it signifies grass waving. This treasure was collected by J.S. Emerson.
– Michelle Tocher
NOT far from the summit of Hualalai, on the island of Hawaii, in the cave on the southern side of the ridge, lived Hina and her son, the kupua, or demigod, Hiku. All his life long as a child and a youth, Hiku had lived alone with his mother on this mountain summit, and had never once been permitted to descend to the plains below to see the abodes of men and to learn of their ways. From time to time, his quick ear had caught the sound of the distant hula drum and the voices of the gay merrymakers. Often had he wished to see the fair forms of those who danced and sang in those far-off coconut groves. But his mother, more experienced in the ways of the world, had never given her consent. Now, at length, he felt that he was a man, and as the sounds of mirth arose on his ears, again he asked his mother to let him go for himself and mingle with the people on the shore. His mother, seeing that his mind was made up to go, reluctantly gave her consent and warned him not to stay too long, but to return in good time. So, taking in his hand his faithful arrow, Pua Ne, which he always carried, he started off.
This arrow was a sort of talisman, possessed of marvellous powers, among which were the ability to answer his call and by its flight to direct his journey.
Thus he descended over the rough clinker lava and through the groves of koa that cover the southwestern flank of the mountain, until, nearing its base, he stood on a distant hill; and consulting his arrow, he shot it far into the air, watching its bird-like flight until it struck on a distant hill above Kailua. To this hill he rapidly directed his steps, and, picking up his arrow in due time, he again shot it into the air. The second flight landed the arrow near the coast of Holualoa, some six or eight miles south of Kailua. It struck on a barren waste of pahoehoe, or lava rock, beside the water-hole of Waikalai, known also as the Wai a Hiku (Water of Hiku), where to this day all the people of that vicinity go to get their water for man and beast.
Here he quenched his thirst, and nearing the village of Holualoa, again shot the arrow, which, instinct with life, entered the courtyard of the alii, or chief, of Kona, and from among the women who were there singled out the fair princess Kawelu, and landed at her feet. Seeing the noble bearing of Hiku as he approached to claim his arrow, she stealthily hid it and challenged him to find it. Then Hiku called to the arrow, “Pua ne! Pua ne!” and the arrow replied, “Ne!” thus revealing its hiding-place.
This exploit with the arrow and the remarkable grace and personal beauty of the young man quite won the heart of the princess, and she was soon possessed by a strong passion for him, and determined to make him her husband.
He stayed for several days at her home, and when at last he was about to start for the mountain, she shut him up in the house and thus detained him by force. But the words of his mother, warning him not to remain too long, came to his mind, and he determined to break away from his prison. So he climbed up to the roof, and removing a portion of the thatch, made his escape.
When his flight was discovered by Kawelu, the infatuated girl was distracted with grief. Refusing to be comforted, she tasted no food, and ere many days had passed was quite dead. Messengers were dispatched who brought back the unhappy Hiku, author of all this sorrow. Bitterly he wept over the corpse of his beloved, but it was now too late; the spirit had departed to the nether world, ruled over by Milu. And now, stung by the reproaches of her kindred and friends for his desertion, and urged on by his real love for the fair one, he resolved to attempt the perilous descent into the nether world and, if possible, to bring her spirit back.
With the assistance of her friends, he collected from the mountain slope a great quantity of the kowali, or convolvulus vine. He also prepared a hollow cocoanut shell, splitting it into two closely fitting parts. Then anointing himself with a mixture of rancid cocoanut and kukui oil, which gave him a very strong corpse-like odor, he started with his companions in the well-loaded canoes for a point in the sea where the sky comes down to meet the water.
Arrived at the spot, he directed his comrades to lower him into the abyss called by the Hawaiians the Lua o Milu. Taking with him his cocoanut-shell and seating himself astride of the cross-stick of the swing, or kowali, he was quickly lowered down by the long rope of kowali vines held by his friends in the canoe above.
Soon he entered the great cavern where the shades of the departed were gathered together. As he came among them, their curiosity was aroused to learn who he was. And he heard many remarks, such as “Whew! what an odor this corpse emits!” “He must have been long dead.” He had rather overdone the matter of the rancid oil. Even Milu himself, as he sat on the bank watching the crowd, was completely deceived by the stratagem, for otherwise he never would have permitted this bold descent of a living man into his gloomy abode.
The Hawaiian swing, it should be remarked, unlike ours, has but one rope supporting the cross-stick on which the person is seated. Hiku and his swing attracted considerable attention from the lookers-on. One shade in particular watched him most intently; it was his sweetheart, Kawelu. A mutual recognition took place, and with the permission of Milu she darted up to him and swung with him on the kowali. But even she had to avert her face on account of his corpselike odor. As they were enjoying together this favorite Hawaiian pastime of lele kowali, by a preconcerted signal the friends above were informed of the success of his ruse and were now rapidly drawing them up. At first she was too much absorbed in the sport to notice this. When at length her attention was aroused by seeing the great distance of those beneath her, like a butterfly she was about to flit away, when the crafty Hiku, who was ever on the alert, clapped the cocoanut-shells together, imprisoning her within them, and was then quickly drawn up to the canoes above.
With their precious burden, they returned to the shores of Holualoa, where Hiku landed and at once repaired to the house where still lay the body of his beloved. Kneeling by its side, he made a hole in the great toe of the left foot, into which with great difficulty he forced the reluctant spirit, and in spite of its desperate struggles he tied up the wound so that it could not escape from the cold, clammy flesh in which it was now imprisoned. Then he began to lomilomi, or rub and chafe the foot, working the spirit further and further up the limb.
Gradually, as the heart was reached, the blood began once more to flow through the body, the chest began gently to heave with the breath of life, and soon the spirit gazed out through the eyes. Kawelu was now restored to consciousness, and seeing her beloved Hiku bending tenderly over her, she opened her lips and said: “How could you be so cruel as to leave me?”
All remembrance of the Lua o Milu and of her meeting him there had disappeared, and she took up the thread of consciousness just where she had left it a few days before at death. Great joy filled the hearts of the people of Holualoa as they welcomed back to their midst the fair Kawelu and the hero, Hiku, from whom she was no more to be separated.