Sacred Texts  Pacific  Index  Previous  Next 



Note: The adventure of the demi-god Kama-puaa has been given in "The Legends of Old Honolulu." But because it is one of the most widely told of the Pele stories, it is repeated here.

KAMA-PUAA was born on the island of Oahu, where he was known as a very powerful and destructive monster, also as a peculiarly handsome and even lovable chief. He was a kupua--a being who could appear at will as an animal or man. He usually appeared as a man, but when his brutal desires to destroy overcame him or when he wished to hide from any one he adopted the form of a hog. He had the two natures, human and brutal. He had been endowed with superhuman powers, according to the legends, and was many times called Puaa-akua (Hog-god) of Oahu.

There is a curiously marked fish with an angular body and very thick skin, which is said by the Hawaiians to sometimes utter a grunting sound. It is named the Humuhumu-nukunuku-a-puaa (The-grunting-angular-pig). It

{p. 46}

was claimed that the hog-man could change himself into this fish as easily as into a hog.

An ancient chant thus described him:

"O Kama-puaa!
You are the one with rising bristles.
O Rooter! O Wallower in ponds!
O remarkable fish of thc sea!
O Youth divine!"

Kama-puaa had a beautiful magic shell--the leho. This was a fairy boat in which he usually journeyed from island to island. When he landed he took this shell in his hands and it grew smaller and smaller until he could tuck it away in his loin cloth. When he sailed away alone it was just large enough to satisfy his need. If some of his household travelled with him, the canoe became the large ocean boat for the family.

Some of the legends say that as a fish Kama-puaa swam through the seas to Hawaii, but others say that he used his leho boat, visited the different islands and passed slowly to the southeastern point of Hawaii to Cape Kumu-kahi.

He crossed the rough beds of lava, left by recent eruptions. He threaded his way through forests of trees and ferns and at last stood on the hills looking down upon the lake of fire. Akani-kolea was the hill upon which he stood clearly outlined against the sky.

{p. 47}

Here was Ka-lua-Pele (The-pit-of-Pele), the home of the goddess of fire. Here she rested among glorious fountains of fire; or, rising in sport, dashed the flaming clouds in twisted masses around the precipices guarding her palace. Here Kama-puaa looked down upon a fire-dance, wherein Pele and her sisters, wrapped in filmy gowns of bluish haze, swept back and forth over the lake of fire, the pressure of their footfalls marked by hundreds of boiling bubbles rising and bursting under their tread, until the entire surface was a restless sea covered with choppy waves of fire.

Suddenly a great cloud concealed the household, then rolled away, and all the surrounding cliffs were clearly revealed. One of the sisters looking up saw Kama-puaa and cried out: "Oh, see that tine-looking man standing on Akani-kolea. He stands as straight as a precipice. His face is bright like the moon. Perhaps if our sister frees him from her tabu he can be the husband of one of us."

The sisters looked. They heard the tum-tum-tum of a small hand-gourd drum, they saw a finely formed athletic stranger, who was dancing on the hilltop, gloriously outlined in the splendor of the morning light.

Pele scorned him and said: "That is not a man, but a hog. If I ridicule him he will be

{p. 48}

angry." Then she started the war of taunting words with which chiefs usually began a conflict. She called to him giving him all the characteristics of a hog. He was angry and boasted of his power to overcome and destroy the whole Pele family. Pele thought she could easily frighten him and drive him off, so she sent clouds of sulphur-smoke and a stream of boiling lava against him. To her surprise he brushed the clouds away, with a few words checked the eruption, and stood before them unharmed.

The sisters begged Pele to send for the handsome stranger and make him a member of their family. At last she sent her brother Kane-hoa-lani to speak to him. There were many hindrances before a thorough reconciliation took place.

For a time Pele and Kama-puaa lived together as husband and wife, in various parts of the district of Puna.--The places where they dwelt are pointed out even at this day by the natives who know the traditions.--It is said that a son was born and named Opelu-haa-lii and that the fiery life of his mother was so strenuous that he lived only a little while. Some say he became the fish "Opelu."

This marriage did not endure. Kama-puaa had too many of the habits and instincts of a hog to please Pele, and she was too quickly

{p. 49}

angry to suit the overbearing Kama-puaa. Pele was never patient even with her sisters, so with Kama-puaa she would burst into fiery rage, while taunts and bitter words were freely hurled back and forth.

A sarcastic chant has been handed down among the Hawaiians as one of the taunts hurled at Pele by Kama-puaa.

"Makole, Makole, akahi
Hele i kai o Pikeha
Heaha ke ai e aiai
He lihilihi pau a ke akua."

"Oh, look at that one with the sore eyes!
Tell her to go to the sea of Pikeha.
    (To wash her eyes and cure them.)
What food makes her fair as the moonlight?
Even her eyebrows were shaved off by some god."

Pele was bitterly angry and tried her best to destroy her tormentor. She stamped on the ground, the earth shook, cracks opened in the surface and sometimes clouds of smoke and steam arose around Kama-puaa. He was unterrified and matched his divine powers against hers. It was demi-god against demi-goddess. It was the goddess-of-fire of Hawaii against the hog-god of Oahu. Pele's home life was given up, the bitterness of strife swept over the black sands of the seashore.

When the earth seemed ready to open its

{p. 50}

doors and pour out mighty streams of flowing lava in the defence of Pele, Kama-puaa called for the waters of the ocean to rise up. Then flood met fire and quenched it. Pele was driven inland. Her former lover, hastening after her and striving to overcome her, followed her upward until at last amid clouds of poisonous gases she went back into her spirit home in the pit of Kilauea.

Then Kama-puaa as a god of the sea gathered the waters together in great masses and hurled then, into the fire-pit. Violent explosions followed the inrush of waters. The sides of the great crater were torn to pieces by fierce earthquakes. Masses of fire expanded the water into steam, and Pele gathered the forces of the underworld to aid in driving back Kama-puaa. The lavas rose in many lakes and fountains. Rapidly the surface was cooled and the fountains checked by the water thrown in by Kama-puaa, but just as rapidly were new openings made and new streams of fire hurled at the demi-god of Oahu. It was a mighty battle of the elements.

The legends say that the hog-man, Kama-puaa, poured water into the crater until its fires were driven back to their lowest depth and Pele was almost drowned by the flood. The cloud of the skies dropped their burden

{p. 51}

of rain. All the waters of the sea that Kama-puaa could collect were poured into the crater.

Pele sent Lono-makua, who had charge over the earth-fires. He kindled eruptions manifold, but they were overwhelmed by the vast volumes of water hurled against them by Kama-puaa.

Kama-puaa raised his voice in the great ancient chant:

O gods in the skies!
Let the rain come, let it fall.
Let Paoa [Pele's spade] be broken.
Let the rain be separated from the sun.
O clouds in the skies!
O great clouds of Iku! black as smoke!
Let the heavens fall on the earth,
Let the heavens roll open for the rain,
Let the storm come."

The storm fell in torrents from black clouds gathered right over the pit. The water filled the crater, according to the Hawaiian, ku-ma-waho, i.e., rising until it overflowed the walls of the crater. The fires were imprisoned and drowned the home of Pele seemed to be destroyed. There remained, however, a small park of fire hidden in the breast of Lono-makua.

Pele prayed for:

"The bright gods of the underworld.
Shining in Wawao (Vavau) are the gods of the night.
The gods thick clustered for Pele."

{p. 52}

Kama-puaa thought he had destroyed Pele's resources, but just as his wonderful storms had put forth their greatest efforts, Lono-makua kindled the flames of fierce eruptions once more. The gods of the underworld lent their aid to the Pele family. The new attack was more than Kama-puaa could endure. The lua-pele (pit of Pele) was full of earth-fire. Streams of lava poured out against Kama-puaa.

He changed his body into a kind of grass now known as Ku-kae-puaa, filling a large field with it. When the grass lay in the pathway of the fire, the lava was turned aside for a time; but Pele, inspired by the beginning of victory, called anew upon the gods of the underworld for strong reinforcements.

Out from the pits of Kilauea came vast masses of lava piling up against the field of grass in its pathway, and soon the grass began to burn; then Kama-puaa assumed the shape of a man, the hair or bristles on his body were singed and the smart of many burns began to cause agony. Apparently the grass represented the bristles on the front of his hog-body which were scorched and burned. The legends say that since this time hogs have had very little hair on the stomach.

Down he rushed to the sea, but the lava spread out on either side cutting off retreat along the beach. Pele followed close behind,

{p. 53}

striving to overtake him before he could reach the water. The side streams had poured into the sea and the water was rapidly heated into tossing, boiling waves. Pele threw great masses of lava at Kama-puaa, striking and churning the sea into which he leaped midst the swirling heated mass. Kama-puaa gave up the battle, and, thoroughly defeated, changed himself into a fish. To that fish he gave the tough skin which he assumed when roaming over the islands as a hog. It was thick enough to withstand the boiling waves through which he swam out into the deep sea. The Hawaiians say that this fish has always been able to make a noise like the grunting of a small hog, so it was given the name Humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a-puaa.

It was said that Kama-puaa fled to foreign lands, where he married a high chiefess and lived with his family many years.

Sometime during this adventure of Kama-puaa in the domains of Pele, the islands were divided between the two demi-gods, and an oath of divine solemnity was taken by them. They set apart a large portion of the island of Hawaii for Pele, and the eastern shore from Hilo to Kohala and all the islands northwest of Hawaii as the kingdom over which Kama-puaa might establish rulers. It is said that the oath has never been broken.

{p. 54}

One of the long legends describes a new home brought up from ocean depths by Kama-puaa, in which he established his family and from which he visited Hawaii. It says that Pele saw him and called to him:

"O Kama-puaa divine,
My love is for you.
Return, we shall have the land together,
You the upland--I the lowland.
Return, O my husband,
Our difficulties are at an end."

He refused, saying that it was best for them to abide by their oath, and not take any part of what belonged to the other. Perhaps this desire for reconciliation underlies the legendary love of Pele for sacrifices of those things which would most intimately connect her with Kama-puaa.

Kama-puaa has figured to the last days of Pele worship in the sacrifices offered to the fire-goddess. The most acceptable sacrifice to Pele was supposed to be puaa (a hog). If a hog could not be secured when an offering was necessary, the priest would take the fish humu-humu-nuku-nuku-a-puaa and throw it into the pit of fire. If the hog and the fish both failed, the priest would offer any of the things into which it was said in their traditions that Kama-puaa could change himself.

{p. 55}

Next: IX. Pele and the Snow-Goddess