Strangers to Hawaiian history should know that to the Hawaiians Tahiti meant any far-away or foreign land. Tahiti belongs to the Society Islands. Centuries ago it was one of the points visited by the Vikings of the Pacific, the Polynesian sea-rovers, among whom certain chiefs of the Hawaiian Islands were not the least noted. They sailed to Tahiti and Samoa and other islands of the great ocean and returned after many months, celebrating their voyages in personal chants.
Thus the names of places many hundreds of miles distant from the Hawaiian group were recorded in the chants and legends of the most famous families of Hawaiian chiefs and kings. Some of the names brought back by the wanderers appear to have been given to places in their own homeland. A large district on the island of Maui, where, it is said, the friends of a Viking would gather for feasting and farewell dancing, was named Kahiki-nui (The great 1Tahiti). A point of land not far from this district was called Keala-i-kahiki (The-way-to-Tahiti). These names are not of recent origin, but are found in the scenes described by roving ancestors noted in genealogies of long ago. Probably about the same time that the Vikings of Scandinavia were roaming along the Atlantic coasts the Pacific seamen were passing from group to group among the Pacific islands.
After many voyages and several years probably the people who never wandered became careless concerning the specific name of the place to which some of their friends had sailed, and included the whole outside world in the comprehensive declaration, “Gone to Tahiti” (Kahiki). At any rate, this has been the usage for some centuries among the Hawaiians.
The story I am about to tell you came to me as a marvellous, mysterious, miraculous myth of the long ago, when strange powers dwelt in both animals and men, and when cannibalism might have been carried on to be reported later under the guise of eating the flesh of beast or fish. In the long ago there were two “fish” crossing the trackless waters of the Pacific Ocean. Their home was in one of the far-away lands, known as Tahiti. These “fish” were great canoes filled with men. They decided that they would like to visit some of the lands about which they had heard in the legends related by their fathers. They knew that certain stars were always in certain places in the sky during a part of every year. By sailing according to these stars at night and the sun by day they felt confident that they could find the wonderful fire-land of Hawaii about which they had been taught in the stories of returned travellers. So the two “fish”—the two boats—after weary days and nights of storm and calm, of soft breeze and strong, continuous winds, found the northeast side of the island of Oahu with its rugged front of steep, precipitous rocks. The travellers landed first on a point of land extending far out into the sea, terminating in a small volcano. Here they made examination of the unfriendly coast and decided to journey entirely around the island, one fish, or boat, going toward the north and the other toward the south. They were apparently intending to pass around the island and find an appropriate location for a settlement. Possibly they planned to make a permanent home or hoped to meet some good community into which they might be absorbed. The point of land which marked the separation of the two companies is called Makapuu. The boat which sailed toward the north found no good resting-place until it came to the fishing-village of Hauula. The stories told by the old natives of the present time do not give any details of the meeting between the strangers and the people residing in the village. Evidently there was dissension and at last a battle. The whole story is summed up by the Hawaiian legend in the saying: “The fish from Tahiti was caught by the fishermen of Hauula. They killed it and cut it up into pieces for food.” Thus the visitors found death instead of friendship, and cannibalism was thereby veiled by calling the victims “fish” and the victory a “catch.”
The custom of hiding hints of cannibalistic feasts and more definite human sacrifices under the name of “fish” continued through the centuries even after the discovery of the islands by Captain Cook and the advent of white men. David Malo, a native writer, who, about the year 1840, wrote a concise sketch of Hawaiian history and customs, described the capture of human sacrifices by the priests when needed for temple worship. He says: “The priest conducted a ceremony called Ka-papa-ulua. It was in this way: The priest accompanied by a number of others went out to sea to fish for ulua with hook and line, using squid for bait. If they were unsuccessful and got no ulua they returned to land and went from one house to another, shouting out to the people within and telling them some lie or other and asking them to come outside. If any one did come out, him they killed, and, thrusting a hook in his mouth, carried him away to the heiau [temple].” This sacrifice was called ulua, and was placed before the god of the temple as if it were a fish. Sometimes a part of the body, usually an eye, was eaten during the ceremonies of consecrating the offering to the idol. This custom has passed the test of centuries and probably was the last remnant of cannibalism in the Hawaiian Islands. It endured even to the time of the abolition of the temples and their idols.
The second fish from Tahiti had gone on southward in its journey around the island of Oahu. It passed the rough and desolate craters of Koko Head on the eastern end of the island. It swam by Diamond Head and the beautiful Waikiki Beach. Either the number of the inhabitants was so large that they were afraid to make any stay or else they preferred to make the complete circuit of the island before locating, for they evidently made only a very short stay wherever they landed, and then hurried on their journey. By the time they reached Kaena, the northwestern cape of Oahu, they were evidently anxious concerning their missing companions. Not a boat on the miles of water between Kaena and Kahuku, the most northerly point on the island. The legend says that the fish changed itself into a man and went inland to search the coast for its friend, but the search was unsuccessful. It was now a weary journey from point to point, watching the sea and exploring all the spots on the beach where it seemed as if there was any prospect of finding a trace of their expected friends. Where a break in the coral reef permitted their boat to approach the land they forced their way to shore. Then when the thorough search failed again, the boat was pushed out over the line of white inrolling breakers to the great sea until at last the Tahitians came to Kahuku.
Now they appeared no longer as “fish,” but went to the village at Kahuku as men. They made themselves at home among the people and were invited to a great feast. They heard the story of a battle with a great fish at Hauula and the capture of the monster. They heard how it had been cut up and its fragments widely distributed among the villages on the northwest coast. Evidently provision had been made for several great feasts. The people of Kahuku, although several miles distant from Hauula, had received their portion. The friendly strangers must share this great gift with them. But the men from Tahiti with heavy hearts recognized the fragments as a part of their companion. They could not partake of the feast, but by kindliness and strategy they managed not only to decline the invitation, but also to secure some portions of the flesh to carry down to the sea. These were thrown into the water, and immediately came to life. They had the color of blood as a reminder of the death from which they had been reclaimed. Ever after they bore the name “Hilu-ula,” or “the red Hilu.”
Then the “fish” from Tahiti went on around to Hauula. They went up to the tabu land back of Hauula. They pulled up the tabu flags. Then they dammed up the waters of the valley above the village until there was sufficient for a mighty flood. The storms from the heavy clouds drove the people into their homes. Then the Tahitians opened the flood-gates of their mountain reservoir and let the irresistible waters down upon the village. The houses and their inhabitants were swept into the sea and destroyed. Thus vengeance came upon the cannibals.
The Tahitians were “fish,” therefore they went back into the ocean to swim around the islands. Sometimes they came near enough to the haunts of fishermen to be taken for food. They bear the name “hilu.” But there are two varieties. The red hilu is cooked and eaten, but never eaten without having felt the power of fire. The trace of the cannibal feast is always over its flesh. Therefore it has to be removed by purification of the flames over which it is prepared for food. The blue hilu, the natives say, is salted and eaten uncooked. Thus the legend says the two fish came from Tahiti, and thus they became the origin of some of the beautiful fish whose colors flash like the rainbow through the clear waters of Hawaii.
Another legend somewhat similar to this is told by the natives of Hauula. There is a valley near this village called Kaipapau (The-valley-of-the-shallow-sea). Here lived an old kahuna, or priest, who always worshipped the two great gods Ka-ne and Kanaloa. These gods had their home in the place where the old man continually worshipped them, but they loved to go away from time to time for a trip around the island. Once the gods came to their sister’s home and received from her dried fish for food. This they carried to the sea and threw into the waters, where it became alive again and swam along the coast while the gods journeyed inland. By and by they came to the little river on which the old man had his home. The gods went inland along the bank of the river, and the fish turned also, forcing their way over the sand-bank which marked the mouth of the little stream. Then they went up the river to a pool before the place where the gods had stopped. Ever since, when high water has made the river accessible, these fish, named ulua, have come to the place where the gods were worshipped by the kahuna and where they rested and drank awa with him. When the gods had taken enough of the awa of the priest they turned away with the warning that when he heard a great noise on the shore he must not go down to see what the people were doing, but ask what the excitement was about, and if it was a shark or a great fish he was to remain at home. He must not go to that place.
A few days later a big wave came up from the sea and swept over the beach. When the water flowed back there was left a great whale, the tail on the shore and the head out in the sea. The people came to see the whale. They thought that it was dead. They played on its back and leaped into the deep waters from its head. Their shouts of joy and loud laughter reached the ears of the priest, who was living inland. Then the people came to the riverside to gather vines and flowers with which to make wreaths. Probably it was the intention of the villagers to cut the great fish into pieces and have a feast. The old priest was very anxious to see the marvellous fish. He forgot the warning of the gods and went to the seaside. The people shouted for the old man to come quickly. The old priest stood by the tail of the great fish. As if to welcome him the tail moved. He climbed on the back and ran to the head and leaped into the sea. The people cheered the priest as he returned to the beach and a second time approached the whale. Again there was the motion of the tail, and again the priest ran along the back, but as he leaped the whale caught him and carried him away to Tahiti. Therefore a name was given to a point of land not far from this place—the name “Ka-loe-o-ka-palaoa” (The cape of the whale).
1 “T” and “K” are interchangeable. ↑