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Hawaiian Folk Tales, by Thomas G. Thrum, [1907], at

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THE story of Ku-ula, considered by ancient Hawaiians as the deity presiding over and controlling the fish of the sea,--a story still believed by many of them to-day,--is translated and somewhat condensed from an account prepared by a recognized legendary bard of these islands. The name of Ku-ula is known from the ancient times on each of the islands of the Hawaiian group, and the writer gives the Maui version as transmitted through the old people of that island.

Ku-ula had a human body, and was possessed with wonderful or miraculous power (mana kupua) in directing, controlling, and influencing all fish of the sea, at will.

Leho-ula, in the land of Aleamai, Hana, Maui, is where Ku-ula and Hina-pu-ku-ia lived. Nothing is known of their parents, but tradition deals with Ku-ula, his wife, their son Ai-ai, and Ku-ula-uka, a younger brother of Ku-ula. These lived together for a time at Leho-ula, and then the brothers divided their work between them, Ku-ula-uka choosing farm work, or work pertaining to the land, from the seashore to the mountain-top, while Ku-ula--known also

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as Ku-ula-kai--chose to be a fisherman, with such other work as pertained to the sea, from the pebbly shore to ocean depths. After this division Ku-ula-uka went up in the mountains to live, and met a woman known as La-ea--called also Hina-ulu-ohia--a sister of Hina-pu-ku-ia, Ku-ula's wife. These sisters had three brothers, named Moku-ha-lii, Kupa-ai-kee, and Ku-pulu-pulu-i-ka-na-hele. This trio were called by the old people the gods of the canoe-making priests--"Na akua aumakua o ka poe kahuna kalai waa."

While Ku-ula and his wife were living at Leho-ula he devoted all his time to his chosen vocation, fishing. His first work was to construct a fish-pond handy to his house but near to the shore where the surf breaks, and this pond he stocked with all kinds of fish. Upon a rocky platform he also built a house to be sacred for the fishing kapu which he called by his own name, Ku-ula.

It is asserted that when Ku-ula made all these preparations he believed in the existence of a God who had supreme power over all things. That is why he prepared this place wherein to make his offerings of the first fish caught by him to the fish god. From this observance of Ku-ula all the fish were tractable (laka loa) unto him; all he had to do was to say the word, and the fish would appear. This was reported all over Hana and when Kamohoalii the King (who was then living at Wananalua, the land on which Kauiki Hill stands) heard of it, he appointed Ku-ula to be his head fisherman. Through this pond, which was well stocked with all kinds of fish, the King's

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table was regularly supplied with all rare varieties, whether in or out of season. Ku-ula was his mainstay for fish-food and was consequently held in high esteem by Kamohoalii, and they lived without disagreement of any kind between them for many years.

During this period the wife of Ku-ula gave birth to a son, whom they called Aiai-a-Ku-ula (Aiai of Ku-ula). The child was properly brought up according to the usage of those days, and when he was old enough to care for himself an unusual event occurred.

A large puhi (eel), called Koona, lived at Wailau, on the windward side of the island of Molokai. This eel was deified and prayed to by the people of that place, and they never tired telling of the mighty things their god did, one of which was that a big shark came to Wailau and gave it battle, and during the fight the puhi caused a part of the rocky cliff to fall upon the shark, which killed it. A cave was thus formed, with a depth of about five fathoms; and that large opening is there to this day, situate a little above the sea and close to the rocky fort where lived the well known Kapepeekauila. This puhi then left its own place and came and lived in a cave in the sea near Aleamai, called Kapukaulua, some distance out from the Alau rocks. It came to break and rob the pond that Ku-ula had built and stocked with fish of various kinds and colors, as known to-day.

Ku-ula was much surprised on discovering his pond stock disappearing, so he watched day and night, and at last, about daybreak, he saw a large eel come in through the makai (seaward) wall of the pond. When

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he saw this he knew that it was the cause of the loss of his fish, and was devising a way to catch and kill it; but on consulting with his wife they decided to leave the matter to their son Aiai, for him to use his own judgment as to the means by which the thief might be captured and killed. When Aiai was told of it he sent word to all the people of Aleamai and Haneoo to make ili hau ropes several lau fathoms in length; and when all was ready a number of the people went out with it in two canoes, one each from the two places, with Aiai-a-Ku-ula in one of them. He put two large stones in his canoe and held in his hands a fisherman's gourd (hokeo), in which was a large fishhook called manaiaakalani.

When the canoes had proceeded far out he located his position by landmarks; and looking down into the sea, and finding the right place, he told the paddlers to cease paddling. Standing up in the canoe and taking one of the stones in his hands he dived into the sea. Its weight took him down rapidly to the bottom, where he saw a big cave opening right before him, with a number of fishes scurrying about the entrance, such as uluas and other deep sea varieties. Feeling assured thereby that the puhi was within, he arose to the surface and got into his canoe. Resting for a moment, he then opened the gourd and took out the hook manaiaakalani and tied the hau rope to it. He also picked up a long stick and placed at the end of it the hook, baited with a preparation of cocoanut and other substances attractive to fishes. Before taking his second dive he arranged with those on the canoe as to the signs to them of his

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success. Saying this, he picked up the other stone and dived down again into the sea; then, proceeding to the cave, he placed the hook in it, at the same time murmuring a few incantations in the name of his parents. When he knew that the puhi was hooked he signalled, as planned, to tell those on the canoe of his success. In a short while he came to the surface, and entering the canoe they all returned to shore, trailing the rope behind. He told those in the canoe from Haneoo to paddle thither and to Hamoa, and to tell all the people to pull the puhi; like instructions were given those on the Aleamai canoe for their people. The two canoes set forth on their courses to the landings, keeping in mind Aiai's instructions, which were duly carried out by the people of the two places; and there were many for the work.

Then Aiai ascended Kaiwiopele Hill and motioned to the people of both places to pull the ropes attached to the hook on the mouth of the puhi. It was said that the Aleamai people won the victory over the much greater number from the other places, by landing the puhi on the pahoehoe stones at Lehoula. The people endeavored to kill the prize, but without success till Aiai came and threw three ala stones at it and killed it. The head was cut off and cooked in the imu (oven). The bones of its jaw, with the mouth wide open, are seen to this day at a place near the shore, washed by the waves,--the rock formation at a short distance having such a resemblance.

Residents of the place state that all ala stones near where the imu was made in which the puhi was baked

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do not crack when heated, as they do elsewhere, because of the imu heating of that time. It is so even to this day. The backbone (iwi kuamoo) of this puhi is still lying on the pahoehoe where Aiai killed it with the three ala stones,--the rocky formation, about thirty feet in length, exactly resembling the backbone of an eel. The killing of this puhi by Aiai gave him fame among the people of Hana. Its capture was the young lad's first attempt to follow his father's vocation, and his knowledge was a surprise to the people.

After this event a man came over from Wailau, Molokai, who was a kahu (keeper) of the puhi. He dreamed one night that he saw its spirit, which told him that his aumakua (god) had been killed at Hana, so he came to see with his own eyes where this had occurred. Arriving at Wananalua he was befriended by one of the retainers of Kamohoalii, the King of Hana, and lived there a long time serving under him, during which time he learned the story of how the puhi had been caught and killed by Aiai, the son of Ku-ula and Hinapukuia, whereupon he sought to accomplish their death.

Considering a plan of action, he went one day to Ku-ula, without orders, and told him that the King had sent him for fish for the King. Ku-ula gave him but one fish, an ulua, with a warning direction, saying, "Go back to the King and tell him to cut off the head of the fish and cook it in the imu, and the flesh of its body cut up and salt and dry in the sun, for 'this is Hana the aupehu land; Hana of the scarce fish; the fish Kama; the fish of Lanakila.' (Eia o Hana la he aina 

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aupehu; o Hana keia i ka ia iki; ka ia o Kama; ka ia o Lanakila)."

When the man returned to the King and gave him the fish, the King asked: "Who gave it to you?" and the man answered:


Then it came into his head that this was his chance for revenge, so he told the King what Ku-ula had said but not in the same way, saying: "Your head fisherman told me to come back and tell you that your head should be cut from your body and cooked in the imu, and the flesh of your body should be cut up and salted and dried in the sun."

The King on hearing this message was so angered with Ku-ula, his head fisherman, that he told the man to go and tell all his konohikis (head men of lands with others under them) and people, to go up in the mountains and gather immediately plenty of firewood and place it around Ku-ula's house, for he and his wife and child should be burned up.

This order of the King was carried out by the konohikis and people of all his lands except those of Aleamai. These latter did not obey this order of the King, for Ku-ula had always lived peaceably among them. There were days when they had no fish, and he had supplied them freely.

When Ku-ula and his wife saw the people of Hana bringing firewood and placing it around the house they knew it foreboded trouble; so Ku-ula went to a place where taro, potatoes, bananas, cane, and some gourds were growing. Seeing three dry gourds on the vine,

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he asked the owner for them and was told to take them. These he took to his house and discussed with his wife the evil day to come, and told Aiai that their house would be burned and their bodies too, but not to fear death nor trouble himself about it when the people came to shut them in.

After some thinking Ku-ula remembered his giving the ulua to the King's retainer and felt that he was the party to blame for this action of the King's people. He had suspected it before, but now felt sure; therefore he turned to his son and said: "Our child, Aiai-a-Ku-ula, if our house is burned, and our bodies too, you must look sharp for the smoke when it goes straight up to the hill of Kaiwiopele. That will be your way out of this trouble, and you must follow it till you find a cave where you will live. You must take this hook called manaiaakalani with you; also this fish-pearl (pa hi aku), called Kahuoi; this shell called lehoula, and this small sandstone from which I got the name they call me, Ku-ula-au-a-Ku-ulakai. It is the progenitor of all the fish in the sea. You will be the one to make all the ku-ulas from this time forth, and have charge also of making all the fishing stations (ko’a lawaia) in the sea throughout the islands. Your name shall be perpetuated and those of your parents also, through all generations to come, and I hereby confer upon you all my power and knowledge. Whenever you desire anything call, or ask, in our names, and we will grant it. We will stand up and go forth from here into the sea and abide there forever; and you, our child, shall live on the land here without worrying about anything that

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may happen to you. You will have power to punish with death all those who have helped to burn us and our house. Whether it be king or people, they must die; therefore let us calmly await the calamity that is to befall us."

All these instructions Aiai consented to carry out from first to last, as a dutiful son.

After Ku-ula's instructions to his son, consequent upon the manifestations of coming trouble, the King's people came one day and caught them and tied their hands behind their backs, the evil-doer from Molokai being there to aid in executing the cruel orders of Kamohoalii resulting from his deceitful story. Upon being taken into their house Ku-ula was tied to the end post of the ridge pole (pouhana), the wife was tied to the middle post (kai waena) of the house, and the boy, Aiai, was tied to one of the corner posts (pou o manu). Upon fastening them in this manner the people went out of the house and barricaded the doorway with wood, which they then set on fire. Before the fire was lit, the ropes with which the victims were tied dropped off from their hands. Men, women, and children looked on at the burning house with deep pity for those within, and tears were streaming down their cheeks as they remembered the kindness of Ku-ula during all the time they had lived together. They knew not why this family and their house should be burned in this manner.

When the fire was raging all about the house and the flames were consuming everything, Ku-ula and his wife gave their last message to their son and left him.

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[paragraph continues] They went right out of the house as quietly as the last breath leaves the body, and none of the people standing there gazing saw where, or how, Ku-ula and his wife came forth out of the house. Aiai was the only one that retained material form. Their bodies were changed by some miraculous power and entered the sea, taking with them all the fish swimming in and around Hana. They also took all sea-mosses, crabs, crawfish, and the various kinds of shellfish along the seashore, even to the opihi-koele at the rocky beach; every edible thing in the sea was taken away. This was the first stroke of Ku-ula's revenge on the King and the people of Hana who obeyed his mandate; they suffered greatly from the scarcity of fish.

When Ku-ula and his wife were out of the house they three gourds exploded from the heat, one by one, and all those who were gazing at the burning house believed the detonations indicated the bursting of the bodies of Ku-ula, his wife, and child. The flames shot up through the top of the house, and the black smoke hovered above it, then turned toward the front of Kaiwiopele Hill. The people saw Aiai ascend through the flames and walk upon the smoke toward the hill till he came to a small cave that opened to receive and rescue him.

As Aiai left the house it burned fiercely, and, carrying out the instructions of his father he called upon him to destroy by fire all those who had caught and tied them in their burning house. As he finished his appeal he saw the rippling of the wind on the sea and a misty rain coming with it, increasing as it came

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till it reached Lehoula, which so increased the blazing of the fire that the flames reached out into the crowd of people for those who had obeyed the King. The man from Molokai, who was the cause of the trouble, was reached also and consumed by the fire, and the charred bodies were left to show to the people the second stroke of Ku-ula's vengeance. Strange to say, all those who had nothing to do with this cruel act, though closer to the burning house, were uninjured; the tongues of fire reached out only for the guilty ones. In a little while but a few smouldering logs and ashes were all that remained of the house of Ku-ula. Owing to this strange action of the fire some of the people doubted the death of Ku-ula and his wife, and much disputation arose among them on the subject.

When Aiai walked out through the flames and smoke and reached the cave, he stayed there through that night till the next morning, then, leaving his hook, pearl shell, and stone there, he went forth till he came to the road at Puilio, where he met several children amusing themselves by shooting arrows, one of whom made friends with him and asked him to his house. Aiai accepted the invitation, and the boy and his parents treating him well, he remained with them for some days.

While Aiai was living in their house the parents of the boy heard of the King's order for all the people of Hana to go fishing for hinalea. The people obeyed the royal order, but when they went down to the shore with their fishing baskets they looked around for the usual bait (ueue), which was to be pounded up and put

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into the baskets, but they could not find any, nor any other material to be so used, neither could they see any fish swimming around in the sea. "Why?" was the question. Because Ku-ula and his wife had taken with them all the fish and everything pertaining to fishing. Finding no bait they pounded up limestone and placed it in the baskets and swam out and set them h in the sea. They watched and waited all day, but in vain, for not a single hinalea was seen, nor did any enter the baskets. When night came they went back empty-handed and came down again the next day only to meet the same luck. The parents of the boy who had befriended Aiai were in this fishing party, in obedience to the King's orders, but they got nothing for their trouble. Aiai, seeing them go down daily to Haneoo, asked concerning it, and was told every thing so he bade his friend come with him to the cave where' he had stayed after his father's house was burned. Arriving there he showed the stone fish god, Pohaku-muone, and said: "We can get fish up here from this stone without much work or trouble."

Then Aiai picked up the stone and they went down; to Lehoula, and setting it down at a point facing the pond which his father had made he repeated these words: "O Ku-ula, my father; O Hina, my mother, I place this stone here in your name, Ku-ula, which action will make your name famous and mine too, your son; the keeping of this ku-ula stone I give to my friend, and he and his offspring hereafter will do and act in all things pertaining to it in our names."

After saying these words he told his friend his duties

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and all things to be observed relative to the stone and the benefits to be derived therefrom as an influencing power over such variety of fish as he desired. This was the first establishment of the ko’a ku-ula on land,--a place where the fisherman was obliged to make his offering of the first of his catch by taking two fishes and placing them on the ku-ula stone as an offering to Ku-ula. Thus Aiai first put in practice the fishing oblations established by his father at the place of his birth, in his youth, but it was accomplished only through the mana kupua of his parents.

When Aiai had finished calling on his parents and instructing his friend, there were seen several persons walking along the Haneoo beach with their fishing baskets and setting them in the sea, but catching nothing. At Aiai's suggestion he and his friend went over to witness this fishing effort. When they reached the fishers Aiai asked them, "What are those things placed there for?"

They answered, " Those are baskets for catching hinaleas, a fish that our King, Kamohoalii, longs for, but we cannot get bait to catch the fish with."

"Why is it so? " asked Aiai.

And they answered, "Because Ku-ula and his family are dead, and all the fish along the beach of Hana are taken away."

Then Aiai asked them for two baskets. Having received them, he bade his friend take them and follow him. They went to a little pool near the beach, and setting the baskets therein, he called on his parents for hinaleas. As soon as he had finished, the fish

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were seen coming in such numbers as to fill the pool, and still they came. Aiai now told his friend to go and fetch his parents and relatives to get fish, and to bring baskets with which to take home a supply; they should have the first pick, and the owners of the baskets should have the next chance. The messenger went with haste and brought his relatives as directed. Aiai then took two fishes and gave them to his friend to place on the ko’a they had established at Lehoula for the ku-ula. He also told him that before the setting of the sun of that day they would hear that King Kamohoalii of Hana was dead, choked and strangled 4 to death by the fish. These prophetic words of Aiai came true.

After Aiai had made his offering, his friend's parents came to where the fish were gathering and were told to take all they desired, which they did, returning home happy for the liberal supply obtained without trouble. The owners of the baskets were then called and told to take all the fish they wished for themselves and for the King. When these people saw the great supply they were glad and much surprised at the success of these two boys. The news of the reappearing of the fish spread through the district, and the people flocked in great numbers and gathered hinaleas to their satisfaction, and returned to their homes with rejoicing. Some of those who gave Aiai the baskets returned with their bundles of fish to the King. When he saw so many of those he had longed for he became so excited that he reached out and picked one up and put it in his mouth, intending to eat it; but instead the

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fish slipped right into his throat and stuck there. Many tried to reach and take it out, but were unable, and before the sun set that day Kamohoalii, the King of Hana, died, being choked and strangled to death by the fish. Thus the words of Aiai, the son of Ku-ula, proved true.

By the death of the King of Hana the revenge was complete. The evil-doer from Molokai, and those who obeyed the King's orders on the day Ku-ula's house was fired, met retribution, and Aiai thus won a victory over all his father's enemies.

After living for a time at Hana Aiai left that place and went among the different islands of the group establishing fishing ko’as (ko’a aina aumakua). He was the first to measure the depth of the sea to locate these fishing ko’as for the deep sea fishermen who go out in their canoes, and the names of many of these ko’as located around the different islands are well known.

Next: XXII. Aiai, Son of Ku-Ula, Part II of the Legend of Ku-Ula, the Fish God of Hawaii