From The Mountains to the Mist: A Legend of Kaua’i

From the soaring cliffs of the Na Pali coastline to the vast canyons of Waimea, Kaua‘i’s beauty is incomparable to that of its sister islands. Known to carry the prestigious title of being the home to the rainiest spot in the world (Mt. Waialeale), the island of Kaua‘i also carries some of the most enchanting myths and legends to be recorded in Hawaiian tradition.

The legend of Pele and Lohi’au is told in many variations; however, each tale is accurately similar in detail. The story begins on the island of Hawaii and makes its way to the eldest island, Kaua‘i and travels far out to the north end of the island called Ha‘ena.

As the daughter of a Kumu Hula (Hula teacher) and considered to be a Hawaiian culture practitioner, I had the opportunity to learn the tale of Pele and Lohi‘au through my hula school. For many halau, this story is a subject of a hula and chant series and being born on the sands of Kaua‘i, I’m humbled to share the historic legend.

In Hawaiian folklore, Pele is the Fire Goddess and creator of land. The story says she and her sisters traveled from Tahiti seeking a new land to claim as her home.

Through much searching, Pele arrived on an island called Nihoa. Unfortunately, the goddess saw that the island underwent poor conditions and was unsuitable to live.

Continuing their search, she and her sisters moved further down the island chain, testing the foundation of each island. Headed eastward to the fiery pits of Hawai‘i, Pele’s clan settled making Halema‘uma‘u of Kilauea crater their new home.

On several occasion that I’ve heard the story of Pele and Lohi‘au, the beginning of the tale most often gets lost in translation and many people don’t remember that the legend first started on the Big Island.

At a place called Puna on Hawaii Island, Madame Pele fell into a deep sleep near the sea. Her deep trance enabled her spirit to wander while her body remained safe in Puna. Her spiritual travels transported her to the island of Kaua‘i.

Overhearing a celebration on the far north end of the island, Ha‘ena, she noticed a handsome young chief named Lohi‘au. Taken aback by his regal looks, Pele took the Kinolau (physical appearance) of a beautiful young woman to meet the handsome chief.

The two fell deeply in love and several days had passed since the goddess fell in to a deep sleep. Worried for the sleeping goddess, her sisters gathered around Pele and call her spirit back to her body.

As she awoke, Pele longed to see her beloved Lohi‘au. Desperate for him, she sent her favorite sister, Hi‘iaka to recieve Lohi‘au. Given only forty days retrieve Lohi‘au, Hi‘iaka encountered countless trials and tribulations.

A battle between Hi‘iaka and a fearsome Mo‘o wahine (lizard woman) took place at the famous Walilua River.

It is taught in Hawaiian tradition and all Hula Halau that the most popular entrance chant, Kunihi Ka Mauna, derived from this mythological battle.

The chant describes the detail of the majestic point of Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale to the plank stream of Kawaikini. It speaks of Nounou (sleeping giant) and the uplands of the area known as Kapa‘a, all together seeking permission to set foot on the grounds.

Hi‘iaka later learns that her sister’s beloved had passed from a broken heart Desperate to bring him back she revives the young chief and the two set foot back to Pele at Halema‘uma‘u.

These stories of myth and legend hold a hint of truth and wonder to be passed on from generation to generation perpetuating the culture of Hawaiian history and tradition.