In Hawaiʻi, our landscapes, flora, fauna, and every naturally occurring phenomenon is a physical form of one of our akua (deities), kupua (demigods), or kūpuna (ancestors). Thus, as Native Hawaiians, we have distinct views about our lands and unique relationships with them. Land is not simply property to be owned, it is genealogically tied to us.
In the eras before the arrival of foreigners to our lands, our rich histories were recorded and relayed through the oral traditions of moʻolelo (story) and mele (chant). The specific nature of our language, and the skills of the orators – who were often trained from the time they could speak – assured that the words of our ancestors passed accurately down the generations. The skills of our ancient composers can still be seen in the multiple layers of meanings upon which they constructed the prose of our cherished stories and chants.
Every physical feature of our islands has a Hawaiian name. Our elders tell us that if it has a name, then it has a story. The following is just one story, out of myriads, regarding romance and its continued presence upon our island home of Maui.
ʻEʻeke was the husband and Līhau was his wife. They dwelt in West Maui and together they had a son, Lāina. ʻEʻeke became adulterous and secretly visited his wife’s sister, Puʻuwaiohina.
While their son was still an infant, Līhau was devastated to discover the love affair between her husband and her sister. To dissolve her ties to her husband, Līhau thought to strangle her son, thus severing their bond. However, her grandmother – the goddess Hinaikauluau – interceded. She decreed that ʻEʻeke would return to Līhau. Should he adulterate again, the penalty would be death for him and his extraneous lover.
After ten days, ʻEʻeke once again laid with his sister-in-law, Puʻuwaiohina. As punishment, the goddess threw him to northeast, over the mountain ridge, where he became the large, flat-topped crater named ʻEʻeke. Hinaikauluau then snatched up Puʻuwaiohina and threw her up to the head of Kauaʻula where she became the wall-like ridge at the back of that valley. To this day, her sumptuous profile is seen staring into the heavens along the ridge. Puʻu Kukui, the highest peak of Kahālāwai (the West Maui Mountains), stands between the two and ensures that the two lovers will never gaze upon each other again.
Līhau was devastated by these dramatic events and her health began to deteriorate. As is common tradition, Hinaikauluau adopted her great-grandson, Lāina, so that she might raise him herself. This also afforded Līhau time to mourn and heal.
Years passed and news reached Līhau of a strong young chief raised by a goddess. It was soon apparent that this was indeed her son, Lāina. Now in the handsome days of his youth, Lāina’s attention was sought by many. However, being raised by a goddess, he kept his focus despite the many distractions.
Līhau took quite some time to heal after the deaths of her husband and sister.
She was now ready to see her precious son, raised so lovingly by their elder.
The reunion was loving and tender.
Līhau had a certain young chiefess in mind whom she deemed well-suited to be her daughter-in-law. This beauty was none other than Molokini, daughter of two great moʻo (lizard-like beings). Hele was the name of her father, and Kali was the name of her mother.
All involved approved of the relationship and the two youths fell deeply in love with each other. Lāina and Molokini became married and bliss was upon them.
One hot, late-summer morning, the winds shifted and a stifling Kona wind began to usher in a thick volcanic fog from the south, its origins were the sulfurous pit of Kīlauea on the island of Hawaiʻi. The “vog” is a body-form chosen by Pele – the goddess of volcanoes – which she uses to traverse across the channels of our islands from south to north.
Lāina was preparing to fish by the seaside when a gorgeous, fiery-eyed woman approached him. Her charm and allure were intoxicating. Keeping his wits about him, Lāina deduced that the strangely attractive woman was indeed the famed seductress of Kīlauea – Pele.
One edict of Pele’s laws decrees that if she desires something, then she shall have it. And, to deny the will of Pele means certain death. At that moment, she desired Lāina. However, because he had figured out the volcano goddess’s guise, he refused all of her advances and proclaimed that both his love and his body belonged to his wife, Molokini.
Enraged, Pele set off in search of the beautiful Molokini and found her just as she was setting off to visit her parents, Hele and Kali. Pele overtook Molokini and, although a fight ensued, Molokini was slain by Pele and her lifeless body was cast into the sea between the islands of Maui and Kahoʻolawe. Her curled body can still be seen as the small islet of Molokini.
Witnessing the destruction of their beloved daughter, Hele and Kali reared into action. A battle raged between Pele and the two moʻo leviathans. Alas, they too were no match for the strength of the volcano goddess. In the end, Hele was thrown just west of Māʻalaea and his massive body became the hill named Puʻu Hele [this hill has been dug for cinders and is now a large pit]. The body of his wife, Kali, was thrown up onto the flank of Haleakalā, in the district of Waiōhuli, and became the red hill called Puʻu o Kali.
The three members of this family can still see each other from their eternal resting places. Having killed his wife and in-laws, Pele once again approached the handsome Lāina, trying to taunt him into submitting to her will. Overcome by his strong grief and love for his wife, Lāina vehemently refused Pele’s advances.
Flying into rage once again, Pele gave violent chase to Lāina until she finally overcame him between Olowalu and Launiupoko. Pele trounced Lāina and the handsome young chief was killed. Pele cast his lifeless body to the north and west and it landed above Wahikuli, becoming Puʻu Lāina.
In a grief-stricken frenzy at the violent death of her son, Līhau engaged Pele in battle. However, the crazed mother was no match for the volcano goddess, and was easily dispatched. Her body was thrown to the top of the mountain above Olowalu, becoming Līhau Peak. From this vantage point, she can see her beloved son and daughter-in-law.
Whereas a diamond is a symbol of everlasting love in various western cultures, we Hawaiians have only to gaze across the enduring landscapes of our islands to reaffirm what love can mean to us.