THERE were four maidens with white mantles in the mythology of the Hawaiians. They were all queens of beauty, full of wit and wisdom, lovers of adventure, and enemies of Pele. They were the goddesses of the snow-covered mountains. They embodied the mythical ideas of spirits carrying on eternal warfare between heat and cold, fire and frost, burning lava and stony ice. They ruled the mountains north of Kilauea and dwelt in the cloud-capped summits. They clothed themselves against the bitter cold with snow-mantles. They all had the power of laying aside the white garment and taking in its place clothes made from the golden sunshine. Their stories are nature-myths derived from the power of snow and cold to check volcanic action and sometimes clothe the mountain tops and upper slopes with white, which melted as the maidens came down closer to the sea through lands made fertile by flowing streams and blessed sunshine.
It is easy to see how the story arose of Pele and Poliahu, the snow-goddess of Mauna Kea,
but it is not easy to understand the different forms which the legend takes while the legends concerning the other three maidens of the white mantle are very obscure indeed.
Lilinoe was sometimes known as the goddess of the mountain Haleakala. In her hands lay the power to hold in check the eruptions which might break forth through the old cinder cones in the floor of the great crater. She was the goddess of dead fires and desolation. She sometimes clothed the long summit of the mountain with a glorious garment of snow several miles in length. Some legends give her a place as the wife of the great-flood survivor, Nana-Nuu, recorded by Fornander as having a cave-dwelling on the slope of Mauna Kea. Therefore she is also known as one of the goddesses of Mauna Kea.
Waiau was another snow-maiden of Mauna Kea, whose record in the legends has been almost entirely forgotten. There is a beautiful lake glistening in one of the crater-cones on the summit of the mountain. This was sometimes called "The Bottomless Lake," and was supposed to go down deep into the heart of the mountain. It is really forty feet in its greatest depth--deep enough for the bath of the goddess. The name Wai-au means water of sufficient depth to bathe.
Somewhere, buried in the memory of some old
Hawaiian, is a legend worth exhuming, probably connecting Waiau, the maiden, with Waiau, the lake.
Kahoupokane was possibly the goddess of the mountain Hualalai, controlling the snows which after long intervals fall on its desolate summits. At present but little more than the name is known about this maiden of the snow-garment.
Poliahu, the best-known among the maidens of the mountains, loved the eastern cliffs of the great island Hawaii,--the precipices which rise from the raging surf which beats against the coast known now as the Hamakua district. Here she sported among mortals, meeting the chiefs in their many and curious games of chance and skill. Sometimes she wore a mantle of pure white kapa and rested on the ledge of rock overhanging the torrents of water which in various places fell into the sea.
There is a legend of Kauai woven into the fairy-tale of the maiden of the mist--Laieikawai--and in this story Poliahu for a short time visits Kauai as the bride of one of the high chiefs who bore the name Aiwohikupua. The story of the betrothal and marriage suggests the cold of the snow-mantle and shows the inconstancy of human hearts.
Aiwohikupua, passing near the cliffs of Hamakua, saw a beautiful woman resting on the rocks
above the sea. She beckoned with most graceful gestures for him to approach the beach. Her white mantle lay on the rocks beside her. He landed and proposed marriage, but she made a betrothal with him by the exchange of the cloaks which they were wearing. Aiwohikupua went away to Kauai, but he soon returned clad in the white cloak and wearing a beautiful helmet of red feathers. A large retinue of canoes attended him, filled with musicians and singers and his intimate companions. The three mountains belonging to the snow-goddesses were clothed with snow almost down to the seashore.
Poliahu and the three other maidens of the white robe came down to meet the guests from Kauai. Cold winds swayed their garments as they drew near to the sea. The blood of the people of Kauai chilled in their veins. Then the maidens threw off their white mantles and called for the sunshine. The snow went back to the mountain tops, and the maidens, in the beauty of their golden sun-garments, gave hearty greeting to t heir friends. After the days of the marriage festival Poliahu and her chief went to Kauai.
A queen of the island Maui had also a promise given by Aiwohikupua. In her anger she hastened to Kauai and in the midst of the Kauai festivities revealed herself and charged the
chief with his perfidy. Poliahu turned against her husband and forsook him.
The chief's friends made reconciliation between the Maui chiefess and Aiwohikupua, but when the day of marriage came the chiefess found herself surrounded by an invisible atmosphere of awful cold. This grew more and more intense as she sought aid from the chief.
At last he called to her: "This cold is the snow mantle of Poliahu. Flee to the place of fire!" But down by the fire the sun-mantle belonging to Poliahu was thrown around her and she cried out, "He wela e, he wela!" ("The heat! Oh, the heat!") Then the chief answered, "This heat is the anger of Poliahu." So the Maui chiefess hastened away from Kauai to her own home.
Then Poliahu and her friends of the white mantle threw their cold-wave over the chief and his friends and, while they shivered and were chilled almost to the verge of death, appeared before all the people standing in their shining robes of snow, glittering in the glory of the sun; then, casting once more their cold breath upon the multitude, disappeared forever from Kauai, returning to their own home on the great mountains of the southern islands.
It may have been before or after this strange legendary courtship that the snow-maiden met
Pele, the maiden of volcanic fires. Pele loved the holua-coasting--the race of sleds, long and narrow, down sloping, grassy hillsides. She usually appeared as a woman of wonderfully beautiful countenance and form-a stranger unknown to any of the different companies entering into the sport. The chiefs of the different districts of the various islands had their favorite meeting-places for any sport in which they desired to engage.
There were sheltered places where gambling reigned, or open glades where boxing and spear-throwing could best be practised, or coasts where the splendid surf made riding the waves on surf-boards a scene of intoxicating delight. There were hillsides where sled-riders had opportunity for the exercise of every atom of skill and strength.
Poliahu and her friends had come down Mauna Kea to a sloping hillside south of Hamakua. Suddenly in their midst appeared a stranger of surpassing beauty. Poliahu welcomed her and the races were continued. Some of the legend-tellers think that Pele was angered by the superiority, real or fancied, of Poliahu. The ground began to grow warm and Poliahu knew her enemy.
Pele threw off all disguise and called for the forces of fire to burst open the doors of the subterranean caverns of Mauna Kea. Up toward
the mountain she marshalled her fire-fountains. Poliahu fled toward the summit. The snow-mantle was seized by the outbursting lava and began to burn up. Poliahu grasped the robe, dragging it away and carrying it with her. Soon she regained strength and threw the mantle over the mountain.
There were earthquakes upon earthquakes, shaking the great island from sea to sea. The mountains trembled while the tossing waves of the conflict between fire and snow passed through and over them. Great rock precipices staggered and fell down the sides of the mountains. Clouds gathered over the mountain summit at the call of the snow-goddess. Each cloud was gray with frozen moisture and the snows fell deep and fast on the mountain. Farther and farther down the sides the snow-mantle unfolded until it dropped on the very fountains of fire. The lava chilled and hardened and choked the flowing, burning rivers.
Pele's servants became her enemies. The lava, becoming stone, filled up the holes out of which the red melted mass was trying to force itself. Checked and chilled, the lava streams were beaten back into the depths of Mauna Loa and Kilauea. The fire-rivers, already rushing to the sea, were narrowed and driven downward so rapidly that they leaped out from the land,
becoming immediately the prey of the remorseless ocean.
Thus the ragged mass of Laupahoe-hoe formed, and the great ledge of the arch of Onomea, and the different sharp and torn lavas in the edge of the sea which mark the various eruptions of centuries past.
Poliahu in legendary battles has met Pele many times. She has kept the upper part of the mountain desolate under her mantle of snow and ice, but down toward the sea most fertile and luxuriant valleys and hillside slopes attest the gifts of the goddess to the beauty of the island and thc welfare of men.
Out of Mauna Loa, Pele has stepped forth again and again, and has hurled eruptions of mighty force and great extent against the maiden of the snow-mantle, but the natives say that in this battle Pele has been and always will be defeated. Pele's kingdom has been limited to the southern half of the island Hawaii, while the snow-maidens rule the territory to the north.