A Legend of Old Hawaii
“When the moon dies she goes to the living water of Ka-ne, to the water which can restore all to life, even the moon to the path in the sky.”—Maori Legend of New Zealand.
The Hawaiians of long ago shared in the belief that somewhere along the deep sea beyond the horizon around their islands, or somewhere in the cloud-land above the heavens which rested on their mountains, there was a land known as “The land of the water of life of the gods.” In this land was a lake of living water in which always rested the power of restoration to life. This water was called in the Hawaiian language Ka wai ola a Ka-ne, literally “The water living of Ka-ne,” or “The water of life of Ka-ne.”
Mention of this “wai ola” is found in many of the Pacific island groups, such as New Zealand, the Tongas, Samoa, Tahiti and the Hawaiian Islands. The thought of “water of life” cannot be limited to only a few references in legends. Some of the most interesting legendary experiences in several island groups belong to the stories of a search after this “water of life.”
Ka-ne was one of the four greatest gods of the Polynesians. In his hands was placed the care of the water of life. If any person secured this water, the power of the god went with it. A sick person drinking it would recover health, and a dead person sprinkled with it would be restored to life.
In the misty past of the Hawaiian Islands a king was very, very ill. All his friends thought that he was going to die. The family came together in the enclosure around the house where the sick man lay. Three sons were wailing sorely because of their heavy grief.
An old man, a stranger, passing by asked them the cause of the trouble. One of the young men replied, “Our father lies in that house very near death.”
The old man looked over the wall upon the young men and said slowly: “I have heard of something which would make your father well. He must drink of the water of life of Ka-ne. But this is very hard to find and difficult to get.”
The old man disappeared, but the eldest son said, “I shall not fail to find this water of life, and I shall be my father’s favorite and shall have the kingdom.” He ran to his father for permission to go and find this water of life.
The old king said: “No, there are many difficulties and even death in the way. It is better to die here.” The young prince urged his father to let him try, and at last received permission.
The prince, taking his water calabash, hastened away. As he went along a path through the forest, suddenly an ugly little man, a dwarf (an a-a), appeared in his path and called out, “Where are you going that you are in such a hurry?” The prince answered roughly: “Is this your business? I have nothing to say to you.” He pushed the little man aside and ran on.
The dwarf was very angry and determined to punish the rough speaker, so he made the path twist and turn and grow narrow before the traveller. The further the prince ran, the more bewildered he was, and the more narrow became the way, and thicker and thicker were the trees and vines and ferns through which the path wound. At last he fell to the earth, crawling and fighting against the tangled masses of ferns and the clinging tendrils of the vines of the land of fairies and gnomes. They twined themselves around him and tied him tight with living coils, and finally he lay like one who was dead.
For a long time the family waited and at last came to the conclusion that he had been overcome by some difficulty. The second son said that he would go and find that water of life, so taking his water calabash he ran swiftly along the path which his brother had taken. His thought was also the selfish one, that he might succeed where his brother had failed and so win the kingdom.
As he ran along he met the same little man, who was the king of the fairies although he appeared as a dwarf. The little man called out, “Where are you going in such a hurry?”
The prince spoke roughly, pushed him out of the way, and rushed on. Soon he also was caught in the tangled woods and held fast like one who was dead.
Then the last, the youngest son, took his calabash and went away thinking that he might be able to rescue his brothers as well as get the water of life for his father. He met the same little man, who asked him where he was going. He told the dwarf about the king’s illness and the report of the “water of life of Ka-ne,” and asked the dwarf if he could aid in any way. “For,” said the prince, “my father is near death, and this living water will heal him and I do not know the way.”
The little man said: “Because you have spoken gently and have asked my help and have not been rough and rude as were your brothers, I will tell you where to go and will give you aid. The path will open before you at the bidding of this strong staff which I give you. By and by you will come to the palace of a king who is a sorcerer. In his house is the fountain of that water of life. You cannot get into that house unless you take three bundles of food which I will give you. Take the food in one hand and your strong staff in the other. Strike the door of that king’s house three times with your staff and an opening will be made. Then you will see two dragons with open mouths ready to devour you. Quickly throw food in their mouths and they will become quiet. Fill your calabash with the living water and hurry away. At midnight the doors will be shut, and you cannot escape.”
The prince thanked the little man, took the presents and went his way rejoicing, and after a long time he came to the strange land and the sorcerer’s house. Three times he struck until he broke the wall and made a door for himself. He saw the dragons and threw the food into their mouths, making them his friends. He went in and saw some young chiefs, who welcomed him and gave him a war-club and a bundle of food. He went on to another room, where he met a beautiful maiden whom he loved at once with all his heart. She told him as she looked in his eyes that after a time they would meet again and live as husband and wife. Then she showed him where he could get the water of life, and warned him to be in haste. He dipped his calabash in the spring and leaped through the door just at the stroke of midnight.
With great joy he hastened from land to land and from sea to sea watching for the little man, the a-a, who had aided him so much. As if his wish were known soon the little man appeared and asked him how he fared on his journey. The prince told him about the long way and his success and then offered to pay as best he could for all the aid so kindly given.
The dwarf refused all reward. Then the prince said he would be so bold as to ask one favor more. The little man said, “You have been so thoughtful in dealing with me as one highly honored by you, ask and perhaps I can give you what you wish.”
The prince said, “I do not want to return home without my brothers; can you help me find them?” “They are dead in the forest,” said the dwarf. “If you find them they will only do you harm. Let them rest in their beds of vines and ferns. They have evil hearts.”
But the young chief pressed his kindly thought and the dwarf showed him the tangled path through the forest. With his magic staff he opened the way and found his brothers. He sprinkled a little of the water of life over them and strength returned to them. He told them how he had found the “living water of Ka-ne,” and had received gifts and also the promise of a beautiful bride. The brothers forgot their long death-like sleep and were jealous and angry at the success of their younger brother.
They journeyed far before they reached home. They passed a strange land where the high chief was resisting a large body of rebels. The land was lying desolate and the people were starving. The young prince pitied the high chief and his people and gave them a part of the bundle of food from the house of the god Ka-ne. They ate and became very strong. Then he let the chief have his war-club. Quickly the rebels were destroyed and the land had quiet and peace.
He aided another chief in his wars, and still another in his difficulties, and at last came with his brothers to the seacoast of his own land. There they lay down to sleep, but the wicked brothers felt that there were no more troubles in which they would need the magic aid of their brother, so they first planned to kill him, but the magic war-club seemed to defend him. Then they took his calabash of the water of life and poured the water into their water-jars, filling his calabash again with salt, sickish sea-water. They went on home the next morning. The young prince pressed forward with his calabash, gave it to his father, telling him to drink and recover life. The king drank deeply of the salt water and was made more seriously sick, almost to death. Then the older brothers came, charging the young prince with an attempt to poison his father. They gave him the real water of life and he immediately became strong as in the days of his youth.
The king was very angry with the youngest son and sent him away with an officer who was skilled in the forest. The officer was a friend of the young prince and helped him to find a safe hiding-place, where he lived a long time.
By and by the three great kings came from distant lands with many presents for the prince who had given them peace and great prosperity. They told the father what a wonderful son he had, and wanted to give him their thanks. The father called the officer whom he had sent away with the young man and acknowledged the wrong he had done. The officer told him the prince was not dead, so the king sent messengers to find him.
Meanwhile one of the most beautiful princesses of all the world had sent word everywhere that she would be seated in her house and any prince who could walk straight to her along a line drawn in the air by her sorcerers, without turning to either side, should be her husband. There was a day set for the contest.
The messengers sent out by the king to find the prince knew all about this contest, so they made all things known to their young chief when they found him. He went with his swift steps of love to the land of the beautiful girl. His brothers had both failed in their most careful endeavors, but the young prince followed his heart’s desire and went straight to a door which opened of its own accord. Out leaped the maiden of the palace of the land of Ka-ne. Into his arms she rushed and sent her servants everywhere to proclaim that her lord had been found.
The brothers ran away to distant lands and never returned. The prince and the princess became king and queen and lived in great peace and happiness, administering the affairs of their kingdom for the welfare of their subjects.