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Traditions of Oahu

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See Also...
  Voyaging Chiefs
Rescues his Brother
Returns to O'ahu

Nu'upia was the father, Halekou the mother, and Puniakai'a, the son; their 'aina was Kane'ohe. The parents were ali'i of Ko'olauloa and Ko'olaupoko. (a) Puniakai'a was very good looking, without blemishes or deformities, his back, front, and sides straight like the pali.

Puniakai'a wanted to go to the beach one day to catch a pauhuuhu (a baby uhu, or parrot fish), so his mother took him, and he caught one and named it Uhu-maka'ika'i.(b) He raised it until it was full grown, then set it free to live in the open sea. It was the parent of all fish (ka makua o na i'a a pau loa).


One day people from Makapu'u point to Ka'o'io point in Kualoa were called to go fishing, and Puniakai'a went along. At the fishing spot, Puniakai'a called out to Uhumaka'ika'i:

E Uhumaka'ika'i
Come here, come here,
Come, come here, Come, come here,
Here I am, Puniakai'a,
Bring all of the fish,
The stench will rise on the beach,
The pigs will eat some and leave some,
The dogs will eat some and waste some.(c)

Responding to the chant, Uhumaka'ika'i called all the fish from the depths to the surface of the sea, and they came up onto the beach. The people gathered up the fish, salted some, and gave some away, and still there was fish left, so the pigs and dogs ate the rest.(d) The news of this great catch spread along the coast and reached Ka'alaea, a woman whose beauty was without equal in all of Ko'olau.(e)
Ka'alaea's ten brothers arrived first, each in his own canoe, and Ka'alaea came in the eleventh. They landed on the beach where the fish had come ashore. Ka'alaea sat on the sand, not wandering around, but calmly watching the men and women gathering fish.

Puniakai'a saw the beautiful Ka'alaea sitting there quietly, not a gadabout like the other women, so he said to his mother Halekou, "E Halekou, I am going to get that woman for myself because she is very beautiful, without blemishes or deformities; her beauty is equal to mine." Halekou agreed, "Yes, she should be your wife; you two are alike in body, goodness, and beauty. Go after that woman for yourself."

Puniakai'a approached Ka'alaea and asked her to be his woman, and she agreed. Then he told her, "When we go before our mother, don't be bashful; go and sit on her lap."(f)

They went before Halekou, the mother, and Ka'alaea sat on her lap; in a little while, Halekou ordered the men to load fish into the ten canoes of Ka'alaea's ten brothers, just as all the other canoes that came had been loaded. Thus, the wealth of fish was a valuable tribute to all the people, and Halekou paid tribute to Ka'alaea, as did Nu'upia, the father, and Puniakai'a. Ka'alaea only gave herself as a gift, but this gift was greater than the gifts of Puniakai'a and his parents.

When the gift-giving was over, Ka'alaea returned home with her brothers and parents. Then Puniakai'a asked Halekou if he could go and live with Ka'alaea, and she replied, "E my child, listen, when you go to live with your wife, you will be treated cruelly and return home shortly."

After Halekou spoke to her son, Puniakai'a went to Ka'alaea's place and the two of them lived together as man and wife. At meal times Puniakai'a's brothers-in-law prepared the food, and Puniakai'a sat on the lap of one of them while they fed him. This treatment continued for a long time; Puniakai'a just ate and slept with his wife.

One day while they slept, an aunt of Ka'alaea came by with some people going crabbing. This aunt said, "E Ka'alaea, wake up and go crabbing with us. What do you do all day? You only sleep, wake up, pick the dried mucous out of your eyes, catch flies, and eat!" While she was talking, Puniakai'a was watching from beneath the soft, gauzy kapa covers. The aunt didn't know he was awake and listening.

Puniakai'a was very angry at her words, so he sulked and refused to answer his brothers-in-law, or to eat with them as before. The brothers-in-law wondered why he was sulking. Puniakai'a stayed in bed night and day for three weeks, so the brothers-in-law assembled all the men, women, and children in one place, and asked them, one by one, who had insulted Puniakai'a. No one confessed.

Then they asked Puniakai'a who had insulted him, and he told them, "Our aunt insulted me. One day while my wife and I slept, this aunt came with some others and said 'E Ka'alaea, wake up and come crabbing with us. What will you gain by just sleeping, getting up, picking the dried mucous out of your eyes, catching flies, and eating?' While she said this, I was lying down, peeking through the gauzy kapa covers, and I became very angry."

When the brothers-in-law heard this, they ordered the aunt beaten to death. Puniakai'a returned home to his mother. Halekou asked him what had happened, so he told her. She cried out, "See! I told you you would be treated cruelly at your wife's house, and now you know."

After a few days, Puniakai'a set out to visit Kaua'i. He went to Ka'ena Point in Wai'anae where some people sat lashing a canoe, preparing to go to Kaua'i. Puniakai'a asked them, "Where are you going?"

"To Kaua'i," they answered.

"May I come with you?"

"Why not? It's a canoe."

They let Puniakai'a join them because they saw he was handsome. They landed at Wailua, Kaua'i, where a female ali'i lived. She desired the good-looking Puniakai'a for a husband, not caring whether he was wealthy or not. And here, this woman already had a husband, a putrid one, who lived on the other side of Kaua'i.

After they lived together for a while, Puniakai'a went with his wife to the beach and met two men preparing to go fishing. Puniakai'a asked them, "What are you going to catch?"

"'O'io (bonefish); we will get two kauna (two fours, or eight), not much more."

Puniakai'a said, "Well, I can bring fish from the open sea to shore, from the depths to the surface, so the people can gather some up, leave some, salt some and let the rest rot; the pigs and dogs will eat some, and waste some."

The men replied, "You lie, we have lived here all our lives and have never seen such a run of fish."

They argued about who was right; then Puniakai'a said, "Let's bet. I will wager my life against four large ahupua'a (a land division, often from the mountains to the sea), one for my back, one for my front, and two for my sides."

The fishermen agreed to the bet and give Puniakai'a fifteen days to bring in the amount of fish he claimed he could: if the fish did not appear within the fifteen days, Puniakai'a would lose; if the fish appeared, he would win.

While Puniakai'a dallied at home, eleven days passed, and only four remained before he would lose the bet. Then some men from Wai'anae and from Kaumakapili (an area of Honolulu) began preparing some canoes to return to O'ahu, so Puniakai'a told them, "Those of you from Wai'anae may return there, but the two of you landing to Kaumakapili, go up to Nu'uanu and look down toward Kane'ohe Bay for the open door of my house. Go there, where my mother Halekou will be, and say her son Puniakai'a told you two to tell her to go and call the fish Uhumaka'ika'i to come with all the fish to Kaua'i, or else in three days Puniakai'a will be baked to death in an imu (earth oven)."

The canoe left; during the voyage, it was aided by Keaumiki and Keauka, gods of the tides and winds and friends of Puniakai'a, so the men were able to reach Kou (the old name for Honolulu Harbor and vicinity) that evening. The men from Wai'anae had decided not to stop at home because of Puniakai'a's urgent request; they paddled till they ached­all to save his life.

After landing at Kou, the crew left the canoe and went up to Nu'uanu and looked down toward Kane'ohe Bay, where the door of Puniakai'a's house was open. They went down the pali, passed through the hala groves of Kekele,(g) and arrived at the house in Kane'ohe where Halekou, Puniakai'a's mother, was sitting on a pile of mats.

They greeted her and she greeted them. Halekou asked, "What brings you here?"

"We have a message from your son."

When Halekou heard this, she wept, as did all the ali'i and maka'ainana. She cried out, "Oh! we thought Puniakai'a was dead­but no! What did he say?"

"He told us to come and tell you to call the fish Uhumaka'ika'i to bring all the fish in the sea to Kaua'i because he has a bet with the ali'i of Kaua'i; if fish appear within fifteen days, Puniakai'a will live; if not, he will die. This is the twelfth day, so only three days are left."

"Perhaps the fish won't obey me­it may only obey my son; but I will try to call it and ask for its help," she replied.

Halekou rewarded the messengers with one ahupua'a, one kapa house, one food house, one fish house, and one sleeping house; and after receiving these gifts, the messengers decided to remain in Kane'ohe, promising they would die for Puniakai'a and not abandon him.

Halekou went with all the ali'i to the place where Uhumaka'ika'i swam free, the fishpond at Nu'upia, which is still there today. Halekou called out "Come here, come here, call all the fish, O Uhumaka'ika'i, from Kona (south) and Ko'olau (north), to Kaua'i, where your master is. Don't dally, don't delay, or your master will die in an imu." When she finished calling, the sea stirred, and Uhumaka'ika'i floated up below Halekou, who reached down for it as it came up and kissed it and let it go, saying, "Go quickly, or your master will die."

On the fourteenth day, the ali'i of Kaua'i prepared an imu, along with firewood, rocks, and ti-leaf coverings, so they could roast Puniakai'a the next day. That night, the fish traveled from Kona and Ko'olau, heading for Wailua. On the fifteenth day, Puniakai'a returned to the coast with his Kaua'i wife and sat at the beach headland, watching for his pet fish, Uhumaka'ika'i.

The night before during his sleep, Puniakai'a had a dream in which he heard his fish say: "Here I am, Uhumaka'ika'i, coming. Why did you abandon me and go alone to a strange land? No love for me? If I hadn't heard about your danger, you might have died!" Puniakai'a woke suddenly and thought about the meaning of the dream. He fondly remembered Uhumaka'ika'i.

At daybreak he looked toward the sea, and saw it had turned brown with fish from the surface to its depths. Then Uhumaka'ika'i passed below him and he reached down and held the fish fondly, kissed it, and chanted gently, "'U (h), I didn't intend to leave you; when I left, I was just going to see the sights around O'ahu, then return to you, but I ended up staying here on Kaua'i, so you almost didn't find out about my mortal danger. If you hadn't come, I would have been killed!" Puniakai'a released Uhumaka'ika'i; then all the fish came ashore at Wailua; the water was filled with fish, from the deep sea to the dry sand. The people of Wailua and the ali'i who had bet with Puniakai'a agreed Puniakai'a had won. Puniakai'a gave all of Kaua'i to the owner of the canoe who had brought him from O'ahu, and the owner remained on Kaua'i as its ali'i, while Puniakai'a returned to O'ahu with his Kaua'i wife.


This story of Puniakai'a has been translated by Esther T. Mookini from the Hawaiian in Fornander, Volume 5, 154-163. Puniakai'a means "fond of fish" or "devoted to fish." Like Puniaiki (in the story of 'Ai'ai) and Nihooleki, Puniakai'a is criticized for laziness, but later proves his ability as a provider by bringing ashore a huge catch of fish.

(a) Nu'upia and Halekou are two fishponds on Mokapu Peninsula on the southeastern coast of O'ahu, in the land divsion called Kane'ohe; in the district of Ko'olaupoko that adjoins the district of Ko'olauloa on the windward coast of O'ahu. See Map of Kane'ohe Bay.

(b) Uhu (parrot fish) are found along all shores of Hawai'i and travel in schools. The school moves along behind a leader, sometimes in single file, sometimes in double file. The term for this formation is uhu-holo, or uhu-maka'ika'i ("roving or sightseeing uhu") (Titcomb 149).

(c) Cf. this farmer's chant to Kane (from Kamakau, quoted in Kirch and Sahlins), recited after the planting of a pondfield:

Pause and receive thanks, O god,
O Kane, O Kane-of-lifegiving-water;
Here is lu'au, the first leaves of our taro;
Turn back, and eat, O god;
May my family also eat,
The pigs eat,
The dogs eat.

The fact that pigs and dogs could be fed signified surplus food, i.e., plenty. Kirch and Sahlins point out that pigs and dogs represented a second order of food production, as these animals were raised on the primary foods­fish and vegetables such as taro. As such, pigs and dogs were highly prized and were used as tributes to the chiefs and offerings to the gods (pigs to the male deities, dogs to the female deities, since pork was forbidden to women) (172-3).

(d) Kane'ohe Bay was known for its swarms of uhu during May, June, and July; a spot on the Mokapu Peninsula called Keawanui was a noted feeding ground for the fish; stone-walled weirs were used to capture the schools (McAllister 185; Titcomb 149). Kenneth P. Emory, in Material Culture of the Tuamotu Archipelago (Honolulu: Bishop Museum 1975), gives an eyewitness account of the swarming of uhu near shore, similar to the swarming described in the legend of Puniakai'a: "While I was at Vahitahi in August 1930, the natives called our attention to great schools of parrotfish gathering so close together that they formed an almost solid mass moving slowly toward the lagoon passes, where they were moving out to sea. This, they said, happened every year at this time. The men rushed for their fishing spears, some of the children brought dry coconut leaves, and, moving slowly in the shallow water, they herded the separate schools to the shore. Surrounded by a semicircle of men, women, and children standing side by side and holding coconut leaves in the water, the fish were blocked from escape. When all were ready, the men speared the fish and flipped them onto the sand, the boys and girls flipped them out with their hands. In a few minutes scores of fish lay flapping on the beach" (193-4).

(e) Ka'alaea ("the ocher-colored earth") is the name of a valley and land division between He'eia and Waikane on the windward coast of O'ahu. 'Alaea, or ocher-colored earth, is highly valued as a dye, a medicine for treating internal hemorrhages, and an element in purification ceremonies. Hawaiians guarded "the smallest piece with the greatest care" (Handy et al., Hawaiian Physical Therapeutics, 17). Malo notes that 'alaea was made kapu by some fishing gods and that some fishermen who looked to these gods as their patrons would stretch "a line about their establishments to keep from entering therein anyone who had these [kapu] things about them; nor would they suffer these [kapu] things to be about their tackle" (208).

(f) Only a true son or daughter was allowed to sit on an ali'i's lap.

(g) Kekele: "The undulating plains in Kane'ohe at the foot of Nu'uanu Pali. It was a few years ago entirely covered with hala trees and the fragrance from the blossoms or ripe nuts of these trees scented the whole plains. It is always referred to in old songs and traditions as the sweet land of fragrance and perfume" (Sterling and Summers 221).

(h) "U" is a sigh or an exclamation of delight.


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