Kanekua'ana is a mo'o,
or water lizard (a), who came from Kahiki and brought
with her the pipi, or pearl oyster, from which the estuary got its English
name ("Pearl Harbor, from the Hawaiian "Wai momi" or "Pearl
waters." She also brought 'opae (shrimp), nehu (anchovies), and other
kinds of seafood. Kamakau writes: Kanekua'ana "guarded all the district
of 'Ewa, and the natives from Halawa to Honouliuli had faith in
her. She cared specially for those related to her, but the blessings that
came to them were shared by all" (Sterling and Summers 51). The pearl
oysters was abundant up until the 19th century: "Not six months after
the hau branches were set up [to place a kapu on a nearshore fishing area],
the pipi were found in abundance--enough for all of 'Ewa--and fat with
flesh. Within the oyster was a jewal called a pearl (momi), beautiful
as the eyeball of a fish, white and shining; white as the cuttlefish and
shining with the colors of the rainbow--reds and yellows and blues, and
some pinkish white, ranging in size from small to large" (Kamakau
Ka Po'e Kahiko 83). The pipi began disappearing around the mid-19th
century. Mary Kawena Pukui tells this tradition about their disappearance
(Sterling and Summers 50):
The pipi was called
the "i'a hamau leo" or "fish with a silenced voice."
It was not the pipi that was silent but the people who gathered them,
for it was kapu to utter a sound lest a breeze arise suddenly to ripple
the surface of the water and the pipi would vanish completely. Those
who gathered the pipi gestured and pointed like deaf mutes until they
had all they wanted.
I have heard (not
from a Hawaiian source) that it was muddy deposits on the sea floor
that caused the disappearance of most of the pipi in that locality.
According to the Hawaiians, it was the wrath of Kanekua'ana that made
her take them back to Kahiki.
In the olden days
kapu were imposed on certain sea foods several months a year to allow
them to multiply and increase. Then the kapu was lifted and the people
were permitted to help themselves. In this way the food supply was insured
year after year.
One day, an old
woman went to get some sea weeds and found a number of large pipi which
were kapu at the time. They looked good to her so she took them and
placed them in her bag under the sea weeds. The konohiki or head man
came to look into the bags of the fishers and found the prohibited pipi
in her bag. He emptied it into the sea and scolded her. She knew that
she was wrong and answered nothing. After gathering enough sea weeds
for herself, she departed for her home.
The konohiki followed
her and demanded payment. She pleaded with him not to be harsh because
she was a widow and poor but he kept insisting until she gave him a
coin, all the money she had. (This was a post-European period and the
Haole had brought money to Hawaii nei.) Kanekua'ana, the guardian of
the pipi saw all this and became very angry. She was fond of this old
widow to whom she was related. The emptying of the basket she felt was
just but the following after and the demanding of payment for the pipi
he had already returned to the sea was unfair. That night her spirit
took possession of a neighbor who often acted as her medium and told
all of those present that she was taking the pipi to Kahiki from whence
she brought them. Only a few would be left but they would never be as
numerous as they formerly were. Kanekua'ana kept her promise to take
most of the pipi away, for only a few can be found in the water there
No where else in
all Hawaii were there so many kinds of bivalves as in Pearl Harbor.
There were large and small ones, thin-shelled and thick-shelled ones
beside the pipi, famed in legends and chants. These, too, have dwindled
in number (Mary Kawena Pukui, "Ke Awa Lau o Puuloa," Hawn.
Hist. Soc. Report #52, 1943).
(a) Mo'o, or water lizards, were guardians of fishponds,
of which there were several in Pu'uloa, and were worshiped by the people
of the area in order to assure an abundance of fish. These spirits lived
in the water, and appeared black, from 12-30 feet long. Other mo'o guardians
of O'ahu were Laniwahine of Uko'a fishpond in Waialua, Hauwahine at Kawainui
and Ka'elepulu in Kailua, and Laukupu in the fishpond at Maunalua Bay
(Kamakau Ka Po'e 82-85). The mo'o family was said to have migrated
under Mo'oinanea to Hawai'i from Tahiti, where the mo'o was worshiped
by the royal Oropa'a family (Beckwith Mythology 128). The mo'o
first landed on O'ahu and lived at Waolani and Pu'unui in Nu'uanu Valley
before moving to other places in the islands (Sterling and Summers 37).
For more on the Mo'o gods, see "1.
Mo'o" in "'Aumakua of Kona, O'ahu.").