XIX – Battle of the Owls

Jos. M. Poepoe

The following is a fair specimen of the animal myths current in ancient Hawaii, and illustrates the place held by the owl in Hawaiian mythology.

There lived a man named Kapoi, at Kahehuna, in Honolulu, who went one day to Kewalo to get some thatching for his house. On his way back he found some owl’s eggs, which he gathered together and brought home with him. In the evening he wrapped them in ti leaves and was about to roast them in hot ashes, when an owl perched on the fence which surrounded his house and called out to him, “O Kapoi, give me my eggs!”

Kapoi asked the owl, “How many eggs had you?”

“Seven eggs,” replied the owl.

Kapoi then said, “Well, I wish to roast these eggs for my supper.”

The owl asked the second time for its eggs, and was answered by Kapoi in the same manner. Then said the owl, “O heartless Kapoi! why don’t you take pity on me? Give me my eggs.”

Kapoi then told the owl to come and take them.

The owl, having got the eggs, told Kapoi to build up a heiau, or temple, and instructed him to make an altar and call the temple by the name of Manua. Kapoi built the temple as directed; set kapu days for its dedication, and placed the customary sacrifice on the altar.

old Kewalo

News spread to the hearing of Kakuihewa, who was then King of Oahu, living at the time at Waikiki, that a certain man had kapued certain days for his heiau, and had already dedicated it. This King had made a law that whoever among his people should erect a heiau and kapu the same before the King had his temple kapued, that man should pay the penalty of death. Kapoi was thereupon seized, by the King’s orders, and led to the heiau of Kupalaha, at Waikiki.

That same day, the owl that had told Kapoi to erect a temple gathered all the owls from Lanai, Maui, Molokai, and Hawaii to one place at Kalapueo. All those from the Koolau districts were assembled at Kanoniakapueo, and those from Kauai and Niihau at Pueohulunui, near Moanalua.

It was decided by the King that Kapoi should be put to death on the day of Kane. When that day came, at daybreak the owls left their places of rendezvous and covered the whole sky over Honolulu; and as the King’s servants seized Kapoi to put him to death, the owls flew at them, pecking them with their beaks and scratching them with their claws. Then and there was fought the battle between Kakuihewa’s people and the owls. At last the owls conquered, and Kapoi was released, the King acknowledging that his Akua (god) was a powerful one. From that time the owl has been recognized as one of the many deities venerated by the Hawaiian people.


 

Jos. M. Poepoe

In 1852, Joseph Mokuohai Poepoe was born in Honomakaʻu, Kohala, which is famous for the saying: “ʻAʻohe uʻi hele wale o Kohala” (no youth of Kohala goes about unprepared). Poepoe took this saying to heart, as he prepared himself for life by going from the schools of Kohala to the Royal School and then Ahuimanu College, which later became the school we know now as St. Louis.

This youth of Kohala went on to become an important translator, newspaper editor, school teacher, historian, lawyer, politician, public intellectual, and biographer of Kalākaua. Whenever Poepoe worked on or edited a newspaper, he used his voice to support his beloved lāhui. One of the papers he was associated with, Hawaii Holomua, was the only paper to print the Queen’s protest and her appeal to U.S. President Cleveland after the overthrow. The Provisional Government and later Republic instituted libel laws so that they could censor the lāhui, and newspaper editors and printers were arrested, fined, and jailed for voicing their opinions.

In a January 9, 1906 article entitled “Ka Moolelo o kou Aina Oiwi” [‘The Mo‘olelo of Your Native Land’], Joseph Poepoe, himself a historian, speaks to the importance of knowing our own moʻolelo and putting them to contemporary use:

[O] ka makaukau ma na Moolelo o kou Aina Makuahine ke keehina ike mua ma ke Kalaiaina e hiki ai ke paio no ka pono o ka Noho’na Aupuni ana.
. . . .
E ka lahui, pehea la e hiki ai ia kakou ke ninau i ka aoao maikai, ke ole e paa ia kakou ka moolelo kahiko o ko kakou Aina Aloha.

[‘Being well-versed in the histories of your motherland is the first important political step to take that would allow us to fight for the benefit of our Nationhood.
. . . .
O my people, how indeed will we be able to ask “which way is for the best?” if we do not know the old stories of our beloved land?’]

While it is important to note that reconnecting with our mo‘olelo is but a single step in a much longer process, Poepoe reminds us that even though our histories have not been free from pain and heartache, no matter how many times we are told that it’s better to forget the past and move on, the past is not a burden that we have to get rid of. The past is our foundation, and when it’s built on our mo‘olelo, not the idea of loss, we have solid and stable ground to stand on, to live on, to plant on, to grow on. Let us all remember this youth of Kohala, and go nowhere unprepared.


Kalakaua’s Last Words, Written by Joseph Poepoe

From „Ka Mo;olelo o ka Moʻi Kalakaua I“ Joseph M. Poepoe, 1891.  [Published six days after the return of the king, with the help of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Typed out here in modern orthography, as drawn from a reprint by the Office of Curriculum, Hawaii Department of Education, 1995.]

From section titled „Na Hora Hope Loa o ka Moʻi“ [The Last Hours of the King]

I ke kakahiaka o ia lā, ua hōʻea aʻe nā Kauka Woods, Watts, Sanger a me Taylor, a ua hui pū ihola lākou e noʻonoʻo no ko ka mōʻī kūlana, a ua hōʻike aʻela, ma ko lākou manaʻo, ʻaʻole e hala nā hora kakahiaka i ka mōʻī, nalohia aku ʻo ia.  I kēia manawa, he kanahā a ʻoi hora o ko ka mōʻī waiho ʻana me ka ʻike ʻole aʻe i nā mea i mua ona, a hoʻokahi wale nō manawa i hoʻi mai ai ke ao aliʻi, ʻo ia kona ʻike ʻana mai i ka ʻAdimarala Baraunu a minoʻaka maila, me he lā e hāʻawi mai ana i kāna mau kānaenae aloha hope loa no ke aliʻi moku nāna i hiʻialo aku iā ia me ka hiwahiwa a hōʻea i nā kapa kai o ia ʻāina kamahaʻo; a i ia manawa nō hoʻi ʻo ia i huli aʻe ai a pane aʻela i kāna mau huaʻōlelo hope loa iā R. Hoapili Baker i ka pane ʻana aʻe i nēia mau huaʻōlelo o ka hōʻehaʻeha:

„Aue, he kanaka au, eia i loko o ke kūkonukonu o ka maʻi!“

ʻO kā ke aliʻi mau huaʻōlelo ao kanaka hope loa ihola kēia, a ʻo ka pau ʻana ia.  Ma hope mai, he mau huaʻōlelo wale nō i loko o ka wao nahele o ka noʻonoʻo i nāwaliwali a i loko hoʻi o ka ʻauana; a i loko o ka manawa a kona kino wailua e ʻaneʻane aku ana e niau palanehe i loko o nā ʻēheu o ke awāwa kūpouli o ka make, ua puana aʻela ia i nā mea hope loa e kau ana i mua o nā ʻōnohi o kona mau hoʻomanaʻo ʻana, a hōʻike maila ua huli hope akula kona noʻonoʻo i loko o nā ʻauana a aia i waena o nā lā o kona au ma mua aku o ka noho ʻana aʻe ma luna o ka noho aliʻi o Hawaii, he mau makahiki lehulehu hoʻi i hala hope akula.  Ua puana aʻela ia i kāna mau māmala ma ka ʻōlelo o kona ʻāina makuahine nei, a hiki akula ma ka ʻae one o Kaiakeakua, a me he lā, i loko o ia manawa, aia ʻo ia e kū kilakila ana me ka nānā ʻana o kona mau maka aliʻi ma luna o nā nalu o ia kūʻono kai malino, a e kilohi ana i nā ʻale hānupanupa o ka moana Pākīpika, e like hoʻi me kāna i hana mau ai i nā lā i ʻau wale akula.  Ua pau aʻela kona noʻonoʻo me nā hoʻomanaʻo ʻana i kona kūlana aliʻi a me ke kilakila, a aia ʻo ia i kahi e ʻike hope aku ai i ka nani molale maikaʻi o kona ʻāina kulāiwi.

 

Translation:

On the morning of that day, Doctors Woods, Watts, Sanger and Taylor arrived and they conferred about the king’s condition, then reported that in their opinion, the morning hours would not pass before he was gone.  At this point, it had been 40 hours or more that the king had remained unaware of those before him, and only once had the royal consciousness returned, when he saw Admiral Brown, and smiled, as though giving his last and loving farewells to the ship captain who had brought him in such honor to the shores of that amazing land; and at that point he turned and uttered his very last words to R. Hoapili Baker, saying these wrenching words:

„Alas, I am a man who is seriously ill.“

These were the king’s final conscious words, and that was the end.  Afterwards, there were only words in the wilds of thoughts that were weakened and straying; and as his spirit neared its glide onto the wings of the dark vale of death, he spoke of the last things appearing in his thoughts, showing that his mind wandered again and was in the times long before his rise to the Hawaiian throne, many years passed.  He uttered his phrases in the language of his motherland, until reaching the beach of Kaiakeakua, and then seemed that he was standing majestically with his royal eyes looking out over the waves of that calm, sheltered bay, gazing at the great billows of the Pacific beyond, as he did in days long past.  His awareness of his royal status and high rank were gone, and he was there where he could see for the last time the clear wondrous beauty of his birthland.

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