Updated: Nov 22, 2022
The Water of Kāne
and Other Legends of the Hawaiian Islands
compiled by Maty Kawena Pūkuʻi retold by Caroline Curtis
Kamehameha Schools Press
Honolulu, Hawaiʻi 1994
The Jealous Brothers
ʻAukele was the youngest of a large family. From babyhood he had been his father's darling.
Now the eldest brother exclaimed, "Do you know what our father has done? I heard him tell ʻAukele that he should be the next ruler. That boy! Our father gives him everything! Did he take me in his arms and play with me? Did he give me gifts and honors as I grew older? Did he promise me the chieftainship? Yet I am eldest! All these things were my right."
Jealous of ʻAukele and fearful of the elder brother's anger the other young men answered, "The eldest should be ruler. Always ʻAukele has been the best-loved son." They failed to notice that one of them did not join in these jealous exclamations. That was Iku, next to ʻAukele in age and his companion and friend.
"Let us sail among the islands," the eldest brother said. "We are skillful in boxing, wrestling and all sports. Let us see if champions on Kauaʻi, Oʻahu and odier islands dare stand against us. ʻAukele shall be left behind." To this the brothers all assented and paddled off to prove themselves the champions of all Hawaiʻi.
ʻAukele missed none of them but Iku. The youngest son was often with his father and had a boy companion in Kaumai, his eldest brother's son. Though Kaumai was ʻAukele's nephew they were nearly of an age and surfed and boxed together.
As ʻAukele had given little thought to his brothers' absence he gave little thought to their return until one day he noticed shouting. "What is that?" he asked his father.
"Oh, your brothers are at their sports," the father answered.
"But the shouting?"
"Two may be wrestling together or boxing. When one is thrown the watchers shout praise for the winner."
"I shall go down to see," ʻAukele said.
"No!" His father spoke sternly. "Your brothers are jealous of you, my boy. You are the son I love the best and your brothers know it and are jealous. Stay away from them or they may harm you."
ʻAukele said no more but, some days later when he again heard shouting, he went down to watch the sport. The eldest brother saw him. "There is ʻAukele!" he whispered to one of the others. "Go and give the child a taste of your fist. If you hurt him never mind." He laughed an evil laugh.
The brother approached ʻAukele. "Why have you come?" he asked.
"To watch the sport," answered the boy.
"Perhaps you want to box?"
"Oh yes, I do!"
The next moment the older brother's fist shot out and ʻAukele staggered before the unexpected blow.
Instantly he recovered and struck back. The older brother fell.
The others had been watching and were not pleased at ʻAukele's strength and skill. "You go!" the eldest commanded the most skillful wrestler of them all. "Punish that upstart."
The wrestler rushed at ʻAukele but the young brother's arms caught him in a mighty grip, lifted him, held him for a moment, then threw him to the ground. A great shout rose from the watching crowd, "’! ’! ʻAukele!"
"The watchers know he will be ruler some day," said the eldest brother, gritting his teeth. "They shout to win his favor. Between us we must get him down." So one after another the brothers boxed or wrestled with ʻAukele and every one was thrown, even the eldest.
His face was red with shame and anger. "No more sports today!" he said and beckoned to the brothers. He led them from the crowd and spoke to them in low tones but in bitter anger. "I never want to see ʻAukele's face again! Let us build a double canoe, my brothers. Let us leave this land, sail over the dark-blue sea and find another land which we can conquer. There we can be the chiefs and forget this upstart."
"Your words are good!" the others answered eagerly, filled with a longing for adventure. Even Iku willingly agreed. Taking tools and bundles of food the young men started for the forest.
The father of ʻAukele was not the only one who had noticed the boy's wisdom, his skill and courage and his generous nature. The grandmother also had noticed him. This old grandmother who was both wise and powerful became the teacher of her youngest grandson. One day she said to him, "Do you know what your brothers are doing?"
He made a sign for No. He had hardly noticed their absence.
"They are building a canoe to sail to other lands for conquest. They wish to leave you behind and that is well, for their canoe will meet great danger. It may meet death." ʻAukele did not answer but the old grandmother understood the eager light that came into his eyes. "Boys are all alike!" she said. "They seek adventure. If you must join your brothers listen earnestly to all I say. Only so can you save your life and perhaps their lives as well."
The young man listened earnestly, as he had listened to all the wisdom his grandmother had shared with him. At the end of her counsel she gave him sacred gifts. She gave him a calabash with a tight-fitting cover. In it she put the image of Lono, the family god, as well as a leaf which satisfy thirst and hunger. She gave ʻAukele a sacred club and her own pāʻū and her kāhili, which could turn an enemy to ashes. As the young man walked away, carefree and happy, the old eyes watched him. "He will go!" she murmured. "He will face danger and death. He has power to overcome such challenges but has he wisdom? Has he courage?"
One day ʻAukele went into the forest to snare birds. Then he made a fire and was cooking his birds in hot ashes. He had not noticed the sound of the adze nor thought that he was near the spot where his brothers were working on their canoe.
Suddenly they appeared. "So!" said the eldest in a sneering tone. "Our servant has prepared food for us." He pulled the roasted birds from the ashes with ʻAukele's stick then picked up the boy's empty water gourd and held it out to him. "Get us water!" he commanded.
If ʻAukele noticed the anger back of this command he thought nothing of it. His eldest brother often spoke in anger but his words were to be obeyed. The boy took the water gourd and started. "Not that way!" called the eldest. "This trail will lead you to a spring." Without a word ʻAukele took the trail his brother chose.
The others sat about the fire sharing the few roasted birds. Only Iku was troubled at eating ʻAukele's food and only Iku noticed that the eldest brother also went off into the forest, though he did not take the trail ʻAukele had followed. Soon the brothers returned to work. The hollowing of their two canoes was nearly done.
ʻAukele has been gone long, thought Iku. Perhaps he did not find the spring. And what is our eldest brother doing? Iku was troubled.
At last the eldest one returned. "Give me an adze," he said. "It is my turn to work."
"Where is ʻAukele?" Iku asked.
"I didn't see him," the eldest answered. "I went another way." His tone was ugly and Iku was more troubled than before.
Some days later the hollowing of the twin canoes was finished and the young men hauled them to the beach. As the others went about the work of polishing, Iku hunted for ʻAukele. Nowhere could the boy be found and no one remembered having seen him since their meeting in the forest. Often young men were gone for days in the forest or upon the sea and no one thought of danger. Even ʻAukele's father was not anxious, sure that his youngest son was not with the jealous brothers.
But Iku was troubled. He is dead! the young man thought. Our eldest brother found and killed him. "Auē! Auē!" Tears filled his eyes so he could hardly follow the forest trail. At last he came to the place where ʻAukele had cooked his birds. As Iku looked at the ashes he wailed again. This is where I saw my brother last, he thought. He took that trail to the spring and Iku also took the trail hoping, yet fearing, to find some sign of what had happened.
Suddenly he stopped. The spring is in a cave, he thought. But where is the cave mouth? It should be here, but here are only rocks. Is ʻAukele's body underneath those rocks? "Auē! Auē!" he wailed again.
"Iku!" A whisper came from the rocks. A spirit?
The young man shivered with fear yet answered bravely, "Who calls to Iku?"
"It is I, ʻAukele. The rocks fell while I filled my water gourd. I am shut in the cave."
Tugging and straining Iku moved a rock and ʻAukele crawled through the opening he had made—a hungry, thin but much alive ʻAukele. Together the brothers returned home.
"It was no accident the rocks rolled and closed the cave mouth," said Iku. "Our eldest brother followed you. He hates you bitterly." But ʻAukele's mind was on something else. "You have made canoes," he said. "You plan to sail over the dark-blue sea to seek new land?"
"Yes." Now Iku's eyes were shining. "We shall be conquerors. We shall be chiefs."
"Oh, take me with you!"
"We can't do that, ʻAukele. Here you will be ruling chief. We older ones shall leave you and seek new lands where we also may be rulers."
"There will be danger. You may need my help," ʻAukele urged.
"Our eldest brother hates you. He will never let you go."
"There must be some way," said ʻAukele slowly. "I might hide—"
"And be thrown into the ocean! Oh ʻAukele, I know a way! Find Kaumai. Say to him, 'Take me as your companion. You and I are the same age. Ask me to come with you.' If Kaumai asks you to come into the double canoe you will be safe. Kaumai is very sacred, very precious. Our eldest brother, his father, never refuses anything he asks."
"Your plan is good," ʻAukele said and went to tell his father of his journey and to get the sacred bowl his grandmother had given him.
The father begged him not to go. "Your brothers are very jealous. They will do you harm," he said.
"Their canoe will meet danger, perhaps death," ʻAukele answered solemnly. "It may be I can help them," and he went toward the beach.
The brothers had carried their double canoe to the water's edge then left it in charge of Kaumai while they brought their bundles. When Kaumai saw ʻAukele he shouted gaily, "Come with us! I long for someone my own age." And when his father and uncles came he told them, "ʻAukele is coming with us."
No one objected. As Iku had said, Kaumai was so precious to his father that nothing he asked could be refused. Because he and ʻAukele were constantly together Kaumai's father hid the anger that he felt toward his youngest brother.
With high hearts the brothers sailed. Over a quiet sea they went, pushed by a steady wind while the men thought of adventure and of conquest. Then the wind changed and blew gustily. Great waves rushed leaping toward their canoe as if to sink it. But skillful paddlers sent it to mount the waves and the young men's hearts beat high as they battled with the ocean. They ate and drank sparingly for they knew their journey must be long. With anxiety they saw their food supply grow very small.
Long and long they sailed, guided by stars or sun. How vast this ocean was! They strained their eyes for signs of land. They longed to see a cloud that rested on the ocean, to see a floating log or land birds flying overhead. There were no signs of land. And now the men were growing weak with hunger. The eldest brother took Kaumai in his arms while tears poured down his cheeks. "O my son," he murmured.
"Why do you weep?" asked Kaumai.
"For you my son. For me it matters not that water and food are nearly gone. I have lived many years and can face death. But you are young! Oh Kaumai, that you must die of thirst and hunger—that thought is hard to bear!"
"But I'm not dying, Father. ʻAukele has a sacred leaf. We only touch it to our lips and it satisfies both thirst and hunger. Look at me, O my father! Do you not see that I am strong and well?"
The father opened tired eyes and saw the health and strength of this well-loved son. "It is good," he whispered and closed his eyes with a contented sigh. The boy looked at him anxiously and began to weep.
"What ails you, Kaumai?" ʻAukele asked. "Why do you weep?"
"For my father. For my uncles. ʻAukele, they are dying! Only you and I are fed."
"They hate me," ʻAukele answered. "Your father tried to kill me." Kaumai said nothing but wailed bitterly.
Then ʻAukele spoke slowly. "They are my brothers." He was silent, thinking. "They shall be fed." He shared the sacred leaf and health and strength returned to all.
On and on sailed the double canoe. Then one day ʻAukele said, "Tomorrow we shall find land." When morning came they saw cloud-covered mountains and by noon had reached an island. It proved to be small and uninhabited but there was room to stretch legs tired from days and nights at sea.
"This is not the land we seek," the brothers said. "We must be conquerors of some great island." After four days of rest they took supplies of food and water and journeyed on.
Again ʻAukele told them, "Tomorrow we shall see land. This is the land my grandmother told me of— a land of danger. Let me take charge of the canoe."
His brothers stared at him in great surprise. "If you wanted to take charge you should have built your own canoe," the eldest said.
"But there is danger here," ʻAukele repeated, "danger to us all. My grandmother told me how we might be saved."
"Oh, you are very wise and strong!" the eldest answered, and his voice was sneering. "But we too are strong and brave."
"In sports or battle," ʻAukele told him, "but here is danger not to be met by skill in fighting. I beg you let me take command that we may all be saved!"
The eldest brother tried to hide his anger because of Kaumai. He spoke in a low voice that trembled with bitterness. "You—keep—still!"
Throughout the night they sailed while anger and fear lay on the canoe and all were silent. Morning showed an island just ahead. As the canoe entered a bay the sun rose and shone upon great white birds winging their way to meet the voyagers. "They are sacred birds," ʻAukele whispered. "They will ask why we have come. O brothers, say that we are sightseers!" The eldest brother did not answer but turned on ʻAukele a look that longed to kill. ʻAukele said no more.
The great birds circled over the canoe. "Why have you come?" they shouted.
"To make war!" the eldest answered boldly. "This is a war canoe, for we have come to conquer!" The birds flew off and the young men laughed in triumph. ʻAukele turned toward them with a long, sad look then, throwing his calabash into the sea, leapt after it. He swam toward land pushing the bowl. On shore he saw a woman shaking a kāhili. When he turned to look behind him he could see only the quiet bay sparkling in sunlight. There was no canoe, no nephew and no brothers. All had been destroyed! With heavy heart the young man swam toward shore pushing his calabash.
Weary with his long swim he reached a beach at last. He crawled toward a tree dragging the sacred bowl. In the shadow of the tree he slept.
The island on which ʻAukele lay belonged to a powerful goddess named Nāmaka. She lived there with her brothers and a few attendants. When her birds brought the boastful words, "...a war canoe," she shook her kāhili and turned canoe and men to ashes.
Very soon the barking of her watchdog told Nāmaka that one from the canoe had escaped and reached her island. Her power was turned against ʻAukele but he also had great power through the gifts of his grandmother.
After a bitter struggle Nāmaka sent for the young man. "Neither of us can prevail against the other," she said as she looked into his fearless eyes. "Let us be friends. Let us be wife and husband." ʻAukele consented, for there seemed no other way.
Love grew between the two who had been enemies. After a time Nāmaka made ʻAukele high chief and shared her powers with him. She shared all her powers but one. "Has our sister given you the power to fly?" the brothers asked ʻAukele.
"To fly? Has my wife the power to fly?"
"Yes. That power she withholds from you. She fears that if you learn to fly you will leave her and she has great love for you."
ʻAukele did not answer, and the young men watched him curiously. "We can teach you to fly," they said at last and saw an eager light wake in his eyes. "Come with us to our house, but let us keep this secret from Nāmaka."
The young men were wise and patient teachers. Soon ʻAukele could fly up to a shelf, perch there and then fly down. "Good!" said the brothers. "Now fly up to the peak of this high roof."
Up flew ʻAukele and caught the ridgepole. For a moment he clung there, then fell with a thud. "I forgot to fly!" he said, laughing a little as he rubbed a bump.
"Nāmaka may have heard that thud," a brother whispered. "Do not spoil the secret. Quick, ʻAukele! Go on with the boxing lesson you began some days ago." So when the chiefess came two of the young men were boxing.
"What are they doing?" she asked curiously.
"Learning to box."
"What is that?"
"Watch!" ʻAukele told her.
While Nāmaka watched one brother staggered back and fell. "That was the thud I heard," the chiefess said and went off satisfied.
"Now fly!" the brothers told ʻAukele. "Fly to the high peak of the roof." This time the young man missed the ridgepole altogether and there was another thud. "She is sure to come again," one whispered. "Wrestle with me."
So when Nāmaka came she found two wrestling and stayed to watch. "I thought perhaps you were teaching my husband to fly," she said. Just at that moment ʻAukele threw her brother with a thud. Again the chiefess went off satisfied.
On his third attempt ʻAukele reached the ridgepole, clung a moment, then flew lightly down. "Good!" his teachers cried, delighted. "Now come outside."
ʻAukele flew to the housetop, then up into the night sky. "It is glorious!" he said when he returned.
"Now you can tell Nāmaka. She will not be angry about the flying when she finds you do not leave her." This was true. Husband and wife were constantly together. Their love was great and, in his happiness, ʻAukele forgot both home and brothers.
Then one day Nāmaka found her husband weeping. "Why do you weep?" she asked him anxiously.
"For Kaumai? Who is he?"
"The son of my eldest brother. He was destroyed because of his father's boastful words. When you shook your powerful kāhili Kaumai was turned to ashes with the others. This morning in my sleep I saw his spirit. Sadly he came from the sea followed by my brothers. I saw them slowly climb the mountains as if in search of food. Auē! Auē!" ʻAukele wailed with grief.
Nāmaka turned from him. She knew a way in which her husband might save his nephew and his brothers, but it would mean his leaving her for many moons and she kept silent.
Day after day ʻAukele wept and refused food. "Why do you weep?" the chiefess asked again.
"You know the reason. I weep for Kaumai. I shall take no food until my days of mourning for him are at an end."
Nāmaka stood looking at her husband. "There is a way," she said. He lifted tear-dimmed eyes and looked at her, not understanding. "If you have strength and courage it may be that you can bring them back to life— your nephew and your brothers."
ʻAukele sprang up eagerly. "Tell me," he begged. "How must I use my strength and courage? I long to save my nephew. And Iku, the brother next in age to me. And all the others too. Oh, tell me what to do!"
"You have heard of the water of Kāne, the water of life? Kāne has given a gourd of that sacred water into the keeping of Kamoho. It is deep within a cavern and guarded well. That place is very far from here and there are many dangers. Oh ʻAukele, you yourself may lose your life while you seek to save these others. Do not leave me."
"I will return to you," ʻAukele promised confidently. "Show me the way and let me start at once."
She led him to the doorway. "Eastward," she said. "You must fly straight toward the rising sun. Do not turn to right or left or you will be lost. You will wander till your strength is gone and you meet death."
ʻAukele brought his sacred calabash which contained an image of his god. Lovingly he said farewell. "Do not fear," he told Nāmaka. "I shall return." Then he leapt into the air and flew toward the rising sun.
On and on he flew. The way was long indeed. ʻAukele grew tired and his strength was failing. Still he went bravely on but changed his precious bowl from one side to the other because his arm was aching with its load.
Lono, his god, had been sleeping but the moving of the calabash woke him. "Oh ʻAukele," he called, "we are off the track! We no longer travel straight toward the rising sun but wander in space. We must have help." And Lono looked about. "There!" he called. "There is one above us. Fly up and cling to him." Using the last of his strength ʻAukele flew up and grasped the moon. With the moon's help the young man returned safely to his home.
After resting he started out once more in search of the water of Kāne. He flew far and far and then alighted before an opening in a mountainside. This must be the place, he thought, for he had flown straight toward the rising sun.
ʻAukele saluted a guard. "Whose child are you?" the guard demanded. ʻAukele gave the names of parents and grandparents. The guard knew the names of these great chiefs for they were his relatives. "What brings you here?" he asked.
"I have come for the water of Kāne that I may restore life to my nephew and my brothers. Is that water here?"
"It is here," answered the guard, "far within this cavern in the mountain. But there are many dangers." He looked at the strong young man, then stepped back from the entrance. "Go in," he said. "Go far in keeping to this side, for on that side bamboo grows. If you are caught by the thicket of bamboo the sound will waken Kamoho, keeper of the water."
ʻAukele entered the cavern following the direction of the guard. After he had gone far he came upon a second guard. "Whose child are you?" Again ʻAukele gave the name of parents and grandparents. "Aloha to you! What brings you here?"
"I seek the water of Kāne that I may restore life to my nephew and my brothers."
The guard stepped back. "Keep to the left," he said,
"for on the right are lama trees. If you become entangled in the lama the sound will waken Kamoho, keeper of the water."
ʻAukele went deeper into the cavern, passed the lama trees and came at last to a third guard. This one told him to beware of the loulu palms. "Go through the cavern until you near the farther end. There you will see an old blind woman roasting bananas. She is a relative of your family and guards the water of Kāne. When she knows someone is near she will strike at you with her kapa beater. Dodge her blows. Though she is old this woman has great power. When you can get close embrace her and tell her who you are. It may be she will help you."
ʻAukele journeyed past the loulu palms and reached the old blind woman. Though he stole up silently she felt his presence and struck at him with her kapa beater. This way and that ʻAukele dodged and at last came close enough to throw his arms about her neck. "Who are you?" she cried angrily. Again ʻAukele gave the names of parents and grandparents and the old woman wailed with joy as she welcomed him. "Why have you come?" she asked.
"I seek the water of Kāne. My nephew and my brothers were destroyed. I long to save them—to bring them back to life."
"In the cavern floor is a small opening," the old woman said. "It leads to a cave below. There is the water of Kāne."
ʻAukele looked eagerly about. "I see the opening," he whispered, "but it is too small for a man to enter. What shall I do?"
"Kamoho comes," she answered, "and reaches down for the water of life. Guards in the cave below place the gourd in his hands. But the hands of Kamoho are black."
ʻAukele looked at his own hands. "Mine are not black," he said. "What shall I do?"
"We must blacken them. Get herbs, ʻAukele, and kukui nuts. Then take charcoal from my fire." ʻAukele got these things and pounded and mixed as the old woman directed. "Now rub the oily black stuff on your hands."
ʻAukele laughed softly. "Now my hands are black," he whispered, "black as the hands of Kamoho."
"Then you are ready. Reach down into the hole and wait. You must not speak or the guards will know you are a stranger. They may give you something you do not want. Drop it and wait again. At last you will grasp the gourd which holds the water of life."
ʻAukele reached through the small opening in the cavern floor and waited. He heard the voices of the guards: "Kamoho has come for food," and felt a kī-leaf bundle in his hands. He dropped it. Again a low voice: "It must be fish our master wants." Fish was put in his hands and he dropped that. Low words once more: "Give him the water gourd," and ʻAukele's fingers closed about the gourd that held the precious water of Kāne.
Eagerly he lifted it, tore off the net that held it and broke the gourd's neck so that he could pour the water into his own gourd. At once he started back. So eagerly he went that he bumped into loulu palms and lama trees and finally became entangled in bamboo.
When struck the palms gave the strong sound of a conch-shell trumpet. This wakened Kamoho who lay listening. After a time he heard the roll of thunder. "The lama trees! Someone is rushing out of my cavern!" Kamoho thought. He sprang up and hurried to the opening which led to the small cave below the cavern floor. He thrust in his hands, and food was placed in them. "No! No!" he cried. "Not food. Give me the water of Kāne."
"You took it, master," a guard replied. "A little while ago you reached for it. We put into your hands the gourd that holds that sacred water—"
Kamoho waited to hear no more. Someone had stolen the water of life and he sprang up to follow. At that moment from far away, near the cavern's mouth, he heard a sound as when waves beat upon a cliff. The bamboo! he thought. The thief is about to leave the cavern. He followed with mighty speed. When he reached the cavern's mouth he saw a man flying toward the setting sun. Kamoho sprang into the air but ʻAukele was far ahead and the other gave up the chase.
Filled with joy, with strength and power ʻAukele flew toward home. Here was the island of Nāmaka—but the young man did not stop to greet his wife. Instead he flew out to the entrance of the bay and hovered in the air looking about. This was the place! Just here the double canoe had been when the great birds came. Just here the challenge was shouted, "A war canoe." And here canoe and men had disappeared. ʻAukele opened his water gourd. Slowly he poured the precious water onto the waves.
"ʻAukele!" He heard the call, clear and strong—the voice of his dear wife.
"Wait!" he answered. "First let me bring life to my nephew and my brothers."
"Stop!" Nāmaka's tone was very firm. "Pour no more water or all will be lost. Come! Come to me quickly!" Unwillingly ʻAukele flew to meet his wife who looked anxiously at his water gourd. "Oh ʻAukele," she said, "it was for you to get the water but for me to use it. If you had poured all on the waves your brothers and your nephew could never be brought to life. Let us go together."
Together they flew to the entrance of the bay and hovered above the place where canoe and men had been destroyed. "Now pour the water into your hand," the chiefess said. She dipped her fingers in it and sprinkled the sacred water on the waves. "That is all," she said. "Fly with me to the shore and do not once look back."
They reached the shore. "Now!" said the chiefess and her voice rang with triumph. Together they turned to look. A double canoe was entering the bay and sailing swiftly toward them.
"It is they!" ʻAukele cried. "There is Kaumai! There is Iku! O my brothers!" ʻAukele wailed with joy and they wailed too.
The canoe was beached and nephew and brothers came to ʻAukele with tears rolling down their cheeks. Even the eldest embraced him thankfully. "Life is good!" they said. "Warm sunshine, green land and dancing waves! It is you who have brought us back to life ʻAukele!"
"My wife and I," he answered lovingly. Together they rejoiced.
From Hawaiian Antiquities by Fornander.