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 cocoanut 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 waterhole 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.
With her wily arts she detained him 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 despatched 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 corpse-like 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.
Location of the Lua o Milu
In the myth of Hiku and Kawelu, the entrance to the Lua o Milu is placed out to sea opposite Holualoa and a few miles south of Kailua. But the more usual account of the natives is, that it was situated at the mouth of the great valley of Waipio, in a place called Keoni, where the sands have long since covered up and concealed from view this passage from the upper to the nether world.
Every year, so it is told, the procession of ghosts called by the natives Oio, marches in solemn state down the Mahiki road, and at this point enters the Lua o Milu. A man, recently living in Waimea, of the best reputation for veracity, stated that about thirty or more years ago, he actually saw this ghostly company. He was walking up this road in the evening, when he saw at a distance the Oio appear, and knowing that should they encounter him his death would be inevitable, he discreetly hid himself behind a tree and, trembling with fear, gazed in silence at the dread spectacle. There was Kamehameha, the conqueror, with all his chiefs and warriors in military array, thousands of heroes who had won renown in the olden time. Though all were silent as the grave, they kept perfect step as they marched along, and passing through the woods down to Waipio, disappeared from his view.
In connection with the foregoing, Professor W. D. Alexander kindly contributes the following:
“The valley of Waipio is a place frequently celebrated in the songs and traditions of Hawaii, as having been the abode of Akea and Milu, the first kings of the island….
“Some said that the souls of the departed went to the Po (place of night), and were annihilated or eaten by the gods there. Others said that some went to the regions of Akea and Milu. Akea (Wakea), they said, was the first king of Hawaii. At the expiration of his reign, which terminated with his life at Waipio, where we then were, he descended to a region far below, called Kapapahanaumoku (the island bearing rock or stratum), and founded a kingdom there. Milu, who was his successor, and reigned in Hamakua, descended, when he died, to Akea and shared the government of the place with him. Their land is a place of darkness; their food lizards and butterflies. There are several streams of water, of which they drink, and some said that there were large kahilis and wide-spreading kou trees, beneath which they reclined.”1
“They had some very indistinct notion of a future state of happiness and of misery. They said that, after death, the ghost went first to the region of Wakea, the name of their first reputed progenitor, and if it had observed the religious rites and ceremonies, was entertained and allowed to remain there. That was a place of houses, comforts, and pleasures. If the soul had failed to be religious, it found no one there to entertain it, and was forced to take a desperate leap into a place of misery below, called Milu.
“There were several precipices, from the verge of which the unhappy ghosts were supposed to take the leap into the region of woe; three in particular, one at the northern extremity of Hawaii, one at the western termination of Maui, and the third at the northern point of Oahu.”2
Near the northwest point of Oahu is a rock called Leina Kauhane, where the souls of the dead descended into Hades. In New Zealand the same term, “Reinga” (the leaping place), is applied to the North Cape. The Marquesans have a similar belief in regard to the northermost island of their group, and apply the same term, “Reinga,” to their Avernus.
1 Ellis’s “Polynesian Researches,” pp. 365–7.
2 Dibble’s History, p. 99.
John S. Emerson (December 28, 1800 – March 26, 1867). Photograph taken around 1860. Stationed at Waialua, Oahu from 1832 to 1842, then at Lahainaluna Seminary from 1842 to 1846, and then back at Waialua from 1846 to 1864. He was the father of Nathaniel Bright Emerson and Joseph Swift Emerson.