A Legend of Kanikaniaula and the First Feather Cloak
Eleio was a kukini (trained runner) in the service of Kakaalaneo, King of Maui, several runners being always kept by each king or alii of consequence. These kukinis, when sent on any errand, always took a direct line for their destination, climbing hills with the agility of goats, jumping over rocks and streams, and leaping from precipices. They were so fleet of foot that the common illustration of the fact among the natives was the saying that when a kukini was sent on an errand that would ordinarily take a day and a night, fish wrapped in ki leaves (known as lawalu), if put on the fire on his starting, would not be cooked sufficiently to be turned before he would be back. Being so serviceable to the aliis, kukinis always enjoyed a high degree of consideration, freedom, and immunity from the strict etiquette and unwritten laws of a Hawaiian court. There was hardly anything so valuable in their master’s possession that they could not have it if they wished.
Eleio was sent to Hana to fetch awa for the King, and was expected to be back in time for the King’s supper. Kakaalaneo was then living at Lahaina. Now, Eleio was not only a kukini, but he was also a kahuna, and had been initiated in the ceremonies and observances by which he was enabled to see spirits or wraiths, and was skilled in medicines, charms, etc., and could return a wandering spirit to its body unless decomposition had set in.
Soon after leaving Olowalu, and as he commenced the ascent of Aalaloloa, he saw a beautiful young woman ahead of him. He naturally hastened his steps, intending to overtake such a charming fellow-traveller; but, do what he would, she kept always just so far ahead of him. Being the fleetest and most renowned kukini of his time, it roused his professional pride to be outrun by a woman, even if only for a short distance; so he was determined to catch her, and he gave himself entirely to that effort. The young woman led him a weary chase over rocks, hills, mountains, deep ravines, precipices, and dark streams, till they came to the Lae (cape) of Hanamanuloa at Kahikinui, beyond Kaupo, when he caught her just at the entrance to a puoa. A puoa was a kind of tower, generally of bamboo, with a platform half-way up, on which the dead bodies of persons of distinction belonging to certain families or classes were exposed to the elements.
When Eleio caught the young woman she turned to him and cried: “Let me live! I am not human, but a spirit, and inside this inclosure is my dwelling.”
He answered: “I have been aware for some time of your being a spirit. No human being could have so outrun me.”
She then said: “Let us be friends. In yonder house live my parents and relatives. Go to them and ask for a hog, kapas, some fine mats, and a feather cloak. Describe me to them and tell them that I give all those things to you. The feather cloak is unfinished. It is now only a fathom and a half square, and was intended to be two fathoms. There are enough feathers and netting in the house to finish it. Tell them to finish it for you.” The spirit then disappeared.
Eleio entered the puoa, climbed on to the platform, and saw the dead body of the girl. She was in every way as beautiful as the spirit had appeared to him, and apparently decomposition had not yet set in. He left the puoa and hurried to the house pointed out by the spirit as that of her friends, and saw a woman wailing, whom, from the resemblance, he at once knew to be the mother of the girl; so he saluted her with an aloha. He then said: “I am a stranger here, but I had a travelling companion who guided me to yonder puoa and then disappeared.” At these strange words the woman stopped wailing and called to her husband, to whom she repeated what the stranger had said. The latter then asked: “Does this house belong to you?”
Husband and wife, wondering, answered at once: “It does.”
“Then,” said Eleio, “my message is to you. My travelling companion has a hog a fathom in length in your care; also a pile of fine kapas of Paiula and others of fine quality; also a pile of mats and an unfinished feather cloak, now a fathom and a half in length, which you are to finish, the materials being in the house. All these things she has given to me, and sent me to you for them.” Then he began to describe the young woman. Both parents recognized the truthfulness of the description, and willingly agreed to give up the things which their beloved daughter must have herself given away. But when they spoke of killing the hog and making an ahaaina (feast) for him, whom they had immediately resolved to adopt as a son, he said: “Wait a little and let me ask: Are all these people I see around this place your friends?”
They both answered: “They are our relatives—uncles, aunts, and cousins to the spirit, who seems to have adopted you either as husband or brother.”
“Will they do your bidding in everything?” he asked.
Hawaiian Arrayed in Feather Cloak and Helmet.
They answered that they could be relied upon. He directed them to build a large lanai, or arbor, to be entirely covered with ferns, ginger, maile, and ieie—the sweet and odorous foliage greens of the islands. An altar was to be erected at one end of the lanai and appropriately decorated. The order was willingly carried out, men, women, and children working with a will, so that the whole structure was finished in a couple of hours.
Eleio now directed the hog to be cooked. He also ordered cooked red and white fish, red, white, and black cocks, and bananas of the lele and maoli varieties, to be placed on the altar. He ordered all women and children to enter their houses and to assist him with their prayers; all pigs, chickens, and dogs to be tied in dark huts to keep them quiet, and that the most profound silence should be kept. The men at work were asked to remember their gods, and to invoke their assistance for Eleio. He then started for Hana, pulled up a couple of bushes of awa of Kaeleku, famous for its medicinal properties, and was back again before the hog was cooked. The awa was prepared, and when the preparations for the feast were complete and set out, he offered everything to his gods and begged assistance in what he was about to perform.
It seems the spirit of the girl had been lingering near him all the time, seeming to be attached to him, but of course invisible to every one. When Eleio had finished his invocation he turned and caught the spirit, and, holding his breath and invoking the gods, he hurried to the puoa, followed by the parents, who now began to understand that he was going to try the kapuku (or restoration to life of the dead) on their daughter. Arriving at the puoa, he placed the spirit against the insteps of the girl and pressed it firmly in, meanwhile continuing his invocation. The spirit entered its former tenement kindly enough until it came to the knees, when it refused to go any further, as from there it could perceive that the stomach was beginning to decompose, and it did not want to be exposed to the pollution of decaying matter. But Eleio, by the strength of his prayers, was enabled to push the spirit up past the knees till it came to the thigh bones, when the refractory spirit again refused to proceed. He had to put additional fervor into his prayers to overcome the spirit’s resistance, and it proceeded up to the throat, when there was some further check; by this time the father, mother, and male relatives were all grouped around anxiously watching the operation, and they all added the strength of their petitions to those of Eleio, which enabled him to push the spirit past the neck, when the girl gave a sort of crow. There was now every hope of success, and all the company renewed their prayers with redoubled vigor. The spirit made a last feeble resistance at the elbows and wrists, which was triumphantly overborne by the strength of the united prayers. Then it quietly submitted, took complete possession of the body, and the girl came to life. She was submitted to the usual ceremonies of purification by the local priest, after which she was led to the prepared lanai, when kahuna, maid, parents, and relatives had a joyous reunion. Then they feasted on the food prepared for the gods, who were only supposed to absorb the spiritual essence of things, leaving the grosser material parts to their devotees, who, for the time being, are considered their guests.
After the feast the feather cloak, kapas, and fine mats were brought and displayed to Eleio; and the father said to him: “Take the woman thou hast restored and have her for wife, and remain here with us; you will be our son and will share equally in the love we have for her.”
But our hero, with great self-denial and fidelity, said: “No, I accept her as a charge, but for wife, she is worthy to be one for a higher than I. If you will trust her to me, I will take her to my master, for by her beauty and charms she is worthy to be the queen of our lovely island.”
The father answered: “She is yours to do with as you will. It is as if you had created her, for without you, where would she be now? We only ask this, that you always remember that you have parents and relatives here, and a home whenever you choose.”
Eleio then asked that the feather cloak be finished for him before he returned to his master. All who could work at feathers set about it at once, including the fair girl restored to life; and he now learned that she was called Kanikaniaula.
When it was completed he set out on his return to Lahaina accompanied by the girl, and taking the feather cloak and the remaining awa he had not used in his incantations. They travelled slowly according to the strength of Kanikaniaula, who now in the body could not equal the speed she had displayed as a spirit.
Arriving at Launiupoko, Eleio turned to her and said: “You wait and hide here in the bushes while I go on alone. If by sundown I do not return, I shall be dead. You know the road by which we came; then return to your people. But if all goes well with me I shall be back in a little while.”
He then went on alone, and when he reached Makila, on the confines of Lahaina, he saw a number of people heating an imu, or underground oven. On perceiving him they started to bind and roast him alive, such being the orders of the King, but he ordered them away with the request, “Let me die at the feet of my master.” And thus he passed successfully the imu heated for him.
When he finally stood before Kakaalaneo, the latter said to him: “How is this? Why are you not cooked alive, as I ordered? How came you to pass my lunas?”
The kukini answered: “It was the wish of the slave to die at the feet of his master, if die he must; but if so, it would be an irreparable loss to you, my master, for I have that with me that will cause your name to be renowned and handed down to posterity.”
“And what is that?” questioned the King.
Eleio then unrolled his bundle and displayed to the astonished gaze of the King and courtiers the glories of a feather cloak, before then unheard of on the islands. Needless to say, he was immediately pardoned and restored to royal favor, and the awa he had brought from Hana was reserved for the King’s special use in his offerings to the gods that evening.
When the King heard the whole story of Eleio’s absence, and that the fair original owner was but a short way off, he ordered her to be immediately brought before him that he might express his gratitude for the wonderful garment. When she arrived, he was so struck with her beauty and modest deportment that he ask her to become his Queen. Thus, some of the highest chiefs of the land traced their descent from Kakaalaneo and Kanikaniaula. The original feather cloak, known as the “Ahu o Kakaalaneo,” is said to be in the possession of the Pauahi Bishop Museum. At one time it was used on state occasions as pa-u, or skirt, by Princess Nahienaena, own sister of the second and third Kamehame-has.
The ahuulas of the ancient Hawaiians were of fine netting, entirely covered, with feathers woven in. These were either of one color and kind or two or three different colors outlining patterns. The feathers were knotted by twos or threes with twisted strands of the olona, the process being called uo. They were then woven into the foundation netting previously made the exact shape and size wanted. The whole process of feather cloak making was laborious and intricate, and the making of a cloak took a great many years. And as to durability, let the cloak of Kalaalaneo, now several centuries old, attest.