FOR a long, long time the Hawaiians have had the proverb "Never abuse an old woman; she might be Pele."
This saying was applied to several legends, but it belonged especially to the story of her punishment of Kaha-wali. Kaha-wali was a chief born and brought up on the island Kauai. This island was one of the first on which volcanic fires were extinct. It became "The Garden Island." It was the most luxuriant in vegetation. Its hillsides were covered with grass which afforded the very best facilities for sliding down hill.
Hee-nalu meant "surf-riding," Heeholua meant "sled-riding," or sliding down grassy hillsides. The sleds were usually made of hard, dark kauila wood. Runners made from this wood became very smooth and highly polished. They were seven, twelve, or even eighteen feet long. They were turned up a little at the front end, where they were two to four inches apart. They were fastened together with a number of
[1. Columbrina oppositifolia.]
crosspieces almost the full length of the runners. At the rear end the runners were about six inches apart. There were long side-pieces almost the full length of the sled. Sometimes a narrow piece of matting was fastened over the whole length of the sled, although usually only a small piece was provided for the chest to rest upon. The person using the sled grasped the right-hand side stick with his right hand, then, running swiftly to the brow of the hill, caught the stick of the left side and, throwing himself on the sled, hurled it over the edge and down the hill, sometimes sliding one hundred to two hundred yards or more. The sled was so narrow and the difficulty of staying on it so great, that it became one of the most interesting contests in which chiefs and people delighted. Much practice was necessary before the rider could maintain his or her balance, guide the sled, and gain a velocity which would carry them far beyond any competitor. Sometimes when the holua track was worn close down to the earth, grass, rushes, and even leaves, were carefully strewn over the ground to make easy gliding for the polished runners.
Kaha-wali excelled all the Kauai chiefs in this sport, so he determined to test his skill on the other islands. He had heard of a beautiful young chiefess on the distant island Hawaii who was a wonderful holua rider. His first great contest should be with Pele. He prepared for a long journey, and a stay of many months or even years. Some authorities have placed the time of this visit to Hawaii as about the year 1350.
Kaha-wali filled his canoes with choice sleds, mats, cloaks, calabashes, spears, in fact, all the property needed for use during the visit he had in mind. He took his wife, Kanaka-wahine, his two children, his sister Koai, his younger brother, and Ahua, one of the young chiefs who was his aikane (intimate friend), and also his necessary retainers and their baggage, and among the most cherished of all, his favorite pig, Aloi-puaa. This pig was so important that its name has been made prominent in all the Kaha-wali legends.
They journeyed from island to island. Evidently his father, O-lono-hai-laau, and others of the family came as far as the island Oahu and there remained.
Kaha-wali passed on to Hawaii and landed at Kapoho in the district of Puna. Apparently the chiefs of this part of the island made Kaha-wali welcome, for he built houses for himself and
his retainers and settled down as if he belonged to the country.
The visitors from Kauai entered heartily into the sports of the people and after a time climbed some lava hills and began holua races. These hills were composed of lava, which easily turned into rich soil when subdued by alternate rain and sunshine. Grass and ferns soon clothed them with abundant verdure. Holua courses were laid out, and the chiefs had splendid sport. Crowds came to watch and applaud. Musicians, dancers, wrestlers, and boxers added to the interest.
Kaha-wali and Ahua were frequently racing with each other. After each race there were dancing and games among the people. One day while racing Kaha-wali stuck his spear, which was peculiarly broad and long, into the ground at the end of the race course, then climbed the hill which bore the name Ka-hale-o-ka-mahina (The-house-of-the-moon). Ellis, who wrote the story of the missionary tour of 1823, said that the race course was pointed out to him as Ka-holua-ana-o-Kaha-vari (The-sliding-place-of-Kaha-vari). He thus describes the hill: "It was a black frowning crater about one hundred feet high, with a deep gap in the rim on the eastern side from which the course of a current of lava could be distinctly traced."
A woman of ordinary appearance came to the hilltop as Kaha-wali and Ahua prepared for a race. She said: "I wish to ride. Let me take your holua." The chief replied: "What does an old woman like you want with a holua? You do not belong to my family, that I should let you take mine." Then she turned to Ahua and asked for his holua. He kindly gave it to her. Together the chief and the woman dashed to the brow of the hill, threw themselves on their holuas and went headlong down the steep course. The woman soon lost her balance. The holua rolled over and hurled her some distance down the hill. She challenged the chief to another start, and when they were on the hilltop asked him for his papa-holua. She knew that a high chief's property was very sacred and could not be used by those without rank.
Kaha-wali thought this was a common native and roughly refused her request, saying: "Are you my wife [i.e., my equal in rank], that you should have my holua?" Then he ran swiftly, started his holua, and sped toward the bottom of the hill.
Anger flashed in the face of the woman, for she had been spurned and deserted. Her eyes were red like hot coals of fire. She stamped on the ground. The hill opened beneath her and a flood of lava burst forth and began to pour
down into the valley, following and devastating the holua course, and spreading out over the whole plain.
Assuming her supernatural form as the goddess of fire, Pele rode down the hill on her own papa-holua on the foremost wave of the river of fire. She was no longer the common native, but was the beautiful young chiefess in her fire-body, eyes flaming and hair floating back in clouds of smoke. There she stood leaning forward to catch her antagonist, and urging her fire-waves to the swiftest possible action, Explosions of bursting lava resounded like thunder all around her. Kaha-wali leaped from his holua as it came to the foot of the hill, threw off his kihei (cloak), caught his spear, and, calling Ahua to follow, ran toward the sea,
The valley quickly filled with lava, the people were speedily swallowed up. Kaha-wali rushed past his home. Ellis says: "He saw his mother who lived at Ku-kii, saluted her by touching noses, and said, 'Aloha ino oe eia ihonei paha oe e make ai, ke ai manei Pele' [Compassion rest on you. Close here perhaps is your death. Pele comes devouring].
"Then he met his wife. The fire-torrent was near at hand. She said: 'Stay with me here, and let us die together.' He said: 'No, I go! I go!'"
So he left his wife and his children. Then he met his pet hog, Aloi-puaa, and stopped for a moment to salute it by rubbing noses. The hog was caught by Pele in a few moments and changed into a great black stone in the heart of the channel and left, as the centre of the river of fire flowed on to destroy the two fleeing chiefs.-Rocks scattered along the banks of this old channel are pointed out as the individuals and the remnants of houses destroyed by Pele.
The chiefs came to a deep chasm in the earth. They could not leap over it. Kaha-wali crossed on his spear and pulled his friend over after him. On the beach he found a canoe left by his younger brother who had just landed and hastened inland to try to save his family. Kaha-wali and Ahua leaped into the boat and pushed out into the ocean.
Pele soon stood on the beach hurling red-hot rocks at him which the natives say can still be seen lying on the bottom of the sea. Thus did Kaha-wali learn that he must not abuse an old woman, for she might be Pele.
--The story often ends with the statement that Kaha-wali joined his father on the island Oahu and there remained. Other legends say he went to Kauai and there gathered a company of the
most powerful priests to return to Hawaii for the destruction of Pele and her volcanic fires.
Six of these priests, according to Mrs. Rufus Lyman, who owned the land of this adventure and whose descendants still hold the same, came to Hawaii with the defeated Kaha-wali. These were Hale-mau-mau, Ka-au-ea, Uwe-kahuna, Ka-ua-nohu-nohu, Ka-lani-ua-ula, and Ka-pu-e-uli.
They took their positions near Kilauea and challenged Pele, crying out: "Where is that strange and wonderful woman?" Ka-au-ea (The fiery current) and Uwe-kahuna (priest weeping) and Hale-mau-mau (House of ferns) were kahunas, or priests of wonderful power. They were the only ones who left their names to localities in the neighborhood of Kilauea.
Hale-mau-mau had his house of ferns for a long time upon a precipice, back of the present Volcano House. From there the Dame has been changed both in meaning and location to the lava pit, the pit of Pele, in the living lake of fire, where it is called Hale-mau-mau (the-enduring-house). Ka-au-ea was the name given to a precipice in the walls of the crater. Uwe-kahuna was a high hill on the northwestern side of the crater, overlooking the fire-pit and the region around Kilauea. These priests who were also of the rank of chiefs were all killed by Pele except Kaha-wali, who escaped to Oahu.--