Ku and His Children

Before Hawaii became part of the United States, the indigenous people of Hawaii had well developed beliefs involving many myths and legends. The following is a summary of one of them. My source is “Myths and Legends of Hawaii” by Dr. William D. Westervelt. The author entitles his account: “The Bride from the Underworld.” The title is interesting, but the word “bride” is somewhat misleading. As you shall see, the husband retrieved his wife from the underworld long after they had been married. It resembles the Greek tale concerning Orpheus and Eurydice, but it has a happier ending.

Ku was a deity worshiped not only in Hawaii, but other Pacific islands as well. One day he decided to live as a man among men. He married a wife named Hina, with whom he had a son named Hiku and a daughter named Kewalu. For a while, they lived on the western side of the big island of Hawaii, but eventually Ku left the earth.

Because of an unfavorable omen, Hina took Hiku to the inland forests of what is now the Kona district in southwestern Hawaii, while Kewalu remained on the nearby coast. Hina tried to discourage Hiku from ever going to the seashore, lest he meet his sister and bring about the fated disaster. However, Hiku eventually went to the coast and met his sister. They fell in love and got married.

Undoubtedly, this reminds you of the Kalevala, where Kullervo accidentally had a liaison with a sister whom he had never seen, and disastrous consequences ensued. However, in this case the marriage of these two siblings was not accidental. Evidently there was no objection if two children of a god married each other, according to old Hawaiian beliefs.

The couple lived on the coast for a long time. However, Hiku missed the forest and decided to pay a brief visit to his old stamping grounds. He left while Kewalu was asleep, but his wife soon awoke and frantically followed him. As the offspring of a god, Hiku had supernatural powers, and he thoughtlessly used them to discourage the pursuit of his wife. When she could no longer hear the footsteps of her husband, she returned home, laden with the vines of a plant called ieie.

In despair, Kewalu put the ieie vines around her neck and allowed them to choke her. Her spirit left her body by the lua-uhane, a place in the corner of the eye that was a door by which the spirits of the dead normally left the body, according to traditional Hawaiian beliefs. Her spirit then journeyed to the underworld, the land of the dead.

Hiku stayed in the forest longer than he intended, and his father Ku had to tell him about the tragedy. The grief-stricken husband decided to go to the underworld to reclaim his wife. It was dangerous because the spirits would be angry if they learned that a living mortal was present among them.

Ku took Hiku to Waipio on the northeastern coast of Hawaii, where the entrance to the underworld was located, according to the traditional beliefs. Hiku had brought along a coconut shell filled with the foul-smelling oil of decayed kukui fruits. Before descending, Hiku smeared this oil over himself to discourage investigation by curious spirits. He descended to the underworld on a long ieie vine, while his father held the upper end of the vine.

Hiku and Kewalu located each other by a chant known only to them. To get away, He tied the end of the vine that his father was holding into a loop, sat on the loop, and began to swing. The spirits were diverted and watched him with pleasure. Kewalu came near and wanted to swing. Hiku agreed, provided that she sit on his lap. As they swung, Ku gradually pulled them up. By enchantments, Hiku made his wife smaller so that he could hide her in the coconut shell. By the time the spirits realized that Hiku was removing Kewalu from the underworld, the two were already out of their reach.

Hiku brought the spirit of his wife back home, and used enchantments to return the spirit to its body. This time the spirit had to enter by the feet instead of using the lua-uhane. They lived a long and happy life. From then on, whenever Hiku visited the forest, he took his wife along.

When the two died and returned to the underworld, they were given a royal welcome. Evidently the spirits had forgotten the resentment they had felt when Hiku reclaimed the spirit of his wife.

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