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Traditions of Oahu

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See Also...
Genealogy and Birth
Tries to Join Kaua'i and O'ahu
Battles with Pe'ape'a
Gets Fire From 'Alae Hen
  Maui's Death

Kaehaikiaholeha, whose kino wailua 'uhane (spirit body)(a) was known as Nihooleki, was born in Keauhou, Kona, on the Big Island and then went to live at Kuukuua, in Pu'uokapolei, Wai'anae, on O'ahu, where he married a woman from Kaua'i. Kaehaikiaholeha became the ruling ali'i of Wai'anae and its greatest fisherman. With his marvelous pa hi aku (pearl-shell hook for catching aku) named Pahuhu, he fished all the headlands along the coast; he knew all the fish and fishing grounds of the district.


Kaehaikiaholeha left his parents and a younger sister in Wai'anae and went to live in Waimea, Kaua'i, the birthplace of his wife. When he arrived there, he became the ali'i of Kaua'i because his wife was its ali'i. He fished everyday with his pa Pahuhu; when he lowered it, the aku came up and filled the canoe. His fishing canoe was a double-hulled canoe ten anana (fathoms) long, with twenty paddlers to steady it while he fished.


After Kaehaikiaholeha died, his body was returned to Kuukuua, in Wai'anae, and laid out in a corpse-house. His parents prayed for his spirit and strengthened it until it went about as if it were a live person again. After this revival, his spirit returned to Waimea, Kaua'i, and married his former wife; while they lived together, the wife didn't recognize this spirit as her former husband. His new name was Nihooleki. He slept all day, not eating; only his wife ate, and she ate only 'ai (vegetable food), without i'a (fish).

One day his wife got hungry and went to her brothers for 'ai and i'a. Her brothers asked her, "Where is your husband?"

"He is sleeping in the house."

"Your husband is strange! If all he does is sleep, how can he keep your belly satisfied, except perhaps with our i'a?"

Nihooleki heard these words, and when his wife returned, he said, "Don't your brothers have a pa?"

"A pa­yes."

"Go get it and bring it here."

When his wife arrived at her brothers' place, they asked her, "What brings you here?"

"To get a pa hi aku for your brother-in-law. "

"Good, he will support you now; here is a pa that will catch ten aku, and one that will catch twenty aku." The wife returned with a pa and called out to her sleeping husband:

Wake up, Nihooleki,
Wake up, Nihooleki,
The nights go by,
The days go by,
A fisherman's eyes are wakeful,
Wake up, here is our pa.

Nihooleki asked: "Which pa?"

"The lalakea (white-finned reef shark)" she replied.

"The fish won't bite that pa," Nihooleki answered; then he chanted:

We will catch only two aku,
One for the male god,
One for the female god, (b)
The paddlers' hands will be crippled,
Where is the small Pahuhu?
So a man can eat and have leftovers,
The pa hanging from the gable,
Guarded by the Noio, (c)
Swept by the current to Maka'ena,
The place where aku is plentiful,
So the sharing will be a pleasure,
The lazy ones will eat,
The hungry of the uplands of Waiahulu will eat(d)

The wife went back to her brothers. "What brings you here?" they asked.

"My husband said the fish won't bite this pa, it will bring in only two aku, not enough to make the sharing of the fish a pleasure."

"Where is the pa that the fish will bite?"

"My husband said it is hanging from the gable of the house, guarded by the Noio."


They went to look for it and found the pa Pahuhu, guarded by the Noio, who was the bird-sister of Nihooleki. When the wife returned to the house where her husband was sleeping, she called out, "Here is the pa Pahuhu." Nihooleki chanted:

The pa that fish will bite,
So the sharing will be a pleasure
The lazy ones will eat,
The hungry of the uplands will eat,
At Waiahulu.

The wife threw the pa into the palm of his hand; he got up and kissed it and wept because since he had died, he had not been fishing. Now that he had his pa, Nihooleki said to his wife: "Go and get a canoe from your brothers; not a canoe five anana long, not a single canoe, but a double canoe ten anana long; after you get the canoe, ask for twenty paddlers." (e)

The wife went back to her brothers.

"What brings you here?" they asked.

"Your brother-in-law needs a canoe."

"Yes, we have a canoe five anana long."

"Not that canoe­the double canoe ten anana long."

"A lie. There is no double canoe; nor could he paddle one by himself."

The sister said, "The double canoe is there in the canoe shed." A search was made and the double canoe was found where it had been left.

Twenty men boarded the canoe and paddled it to Nihooleki, who recognized it as the canoe he had when he was alive. He said to his wife, "Are you the favorite of your brothers?"


"Then go and ask for twenty men to go with me and steady the canoe while I fish."

When the crew Nihooleki asked for was ready, it went to the canoe landing and remained there with the others, thinking they all were going fishing at the crow of the cock, as was customary. When the cock crowed once, the other fishermen at the canoe landing got into their canoes; when the cock finished crowing, they went fishing. Nihooleki's men waited for him until daylight, and when he didn't show up, they went back home. Nihooleki was lying down at home, thinking. His wife called out to him: "Get up, go­it is the cool time for fishing, when the sun won't make you drowsy."

"I will go fishing at sunrise." At sunrise Nihooleki rose, got the ka (bailing cup) and the hokeo (gourd for fishing gear), and put on his malo (loincloth). Then he went to the canoe landing with his paddlers, pushed the canoe out, and anchored it at sea. After his crew boarded it, they paddled out. Nihooleki brought out his pa Pahuhu, and the aku came up and filled the canoe; the men paddled in and threw the fish onto shore; then they paddled out again, and the canoe was filled for a second time, and the fish again were thrown onto shore; and so it went until six canoes loads of aku had been piled up on the beach. The wife gave away some, the pigs ate some, the lazy ones ate some, some were cleaned and salted; yet the pile of fish was so big, some fish still remained.(f)

People came down from the uplands with 'ai (poi), ko (sugar cane), mai'a (bananas), and many other kinds of delicious things to eat and traded for the fish; when they returned upland, others heard about the fish and came down to the sea and returned upland with fish.

Nihooleki and his paddlers went far out to sea, where his brothers-in-law were fishing; when Nihooleki passed by their canoes, they saw his fine body and called him Pu'ipu'iakalawai'a ("Stout-bodied fisherman"), and this became Nihooleki's third name (g). They approached Maka'ena, in Wai'anae, and saw the land of O'ahu. Nihooleki again fished there and filled the canoe with aku; he told his paddlers to eat the fish and they ate until they were satisfied (h), then threw away some and left some carelessly about the canoe. They went on and landed at Kaunolu on Lana'i, fished again, caught more fish, and ate until they were satisfied. They went on and arrived at Keauhou, in Kona on Hawai'i, where Nihooleki told his paddlers, "Go ashore while I stay in our canoe. Take one aku each, twenty aku for twenty of you. At that shed of coconut leaves in front of the house where the women are seated, throw the fish down and come back without looking behind"(i).

When the paddlers jumped off the canoe, Nihooleki turned it around, and when the paddlers returned, they paddled back to Kaua'i in one day, where Nihooleki's brothers-in-law were fishing. Nihooleki brought out his pa, and the aku came up and filled his canoe; the brothers-in-law saw the canoe full of fish, so full that the crew had to stand up in the canoe (j). When this canoe came ashore, Nihooleki seized two aku, and offered them, one to the male fishing god, one to the female; he bathed and returned home and said to his wife, "Go to the paddlers and give them the aku in the canoe." Nihooleki returned home and slept. The fish that remained from his catch was left to rot.

The fishing continued like this for a long time, and the news of the abundant fish eventually reached Kamapua'a in the uplands of Waiahulu. He said, "If I could get down to the seashore, I could get some fish." Kamapua'a was pehu ("hungry," "swollen," "sick with dropsy") and couldn't walk; he was also very heavy, so his men had to carry him on shoulder poles down to the sea.

Before going fishing one day, Nihooleki told his wife, "A pehu man is coming down from the uplands; greet him as if he were your husband, as he is my friend."

After Nihooleki left for fishing, Kamapua'a arrived and peered into the opening to the house. The wife said, "Go away, you smelly man!" Kamapua'a went to sit down by the pig house with his men and waited for Nihooleki to return.

When Nihooleki returned with fish, he flew to Kamapua'a and kissed him; then he said to his wife, "You are strange! I told you to take care of my friend, but no! What of it? I am leaving with my friend, while you stay here." Nihooleki ordered fish to be given to his friend. Kamapua'a's men gathered up some fish, and still some were left over (k).

When Nihooleki and Kamapua'a were ready to leave Waimea for Wai'anae, Nihooleki said to his wife, "Give the child you are carrying my name, Kaehaikiaholeha; here are my la'au (club) and my 'ahu'ula (feather cape), the tokens of recognition should my child search for me."

When the wife heard this bequest, she wept, realizing this person was her former husband, Kaehaikiaholea. When the other ali'i of Kaua'i and the brothers-in-law heard that Nihooleki was actually their ali'i, they chased after him, but Nihooleki and Kamapua'a dove into the sea and surfaced at Kuukuua in Wai'anae. One Kaua'i ali'i, Pohaku-o-Kaua'i ("Rock of Kaua'i") pressed after them, and remains to this day as a stone in Wai'anae.

As the two friends approached the house of Nihooleki's parents and younger sister, they stopped at the corpse-house where Nihooleki's body lay. Nihooleki told his friend: "Listen, go to our parents and ask them for my things; under the threshold is the mahiole (feather helmet); under the sleeping place of our younger sister is the 'ahu'ula (feather cape); at the foot of the sleeping place is the lei niho palaoa (whale-tooth necklace); at the inside corner of the house is the kahili (feather standard)(l). Take our younger sister as your wife because she is big and beautiful." Kamapua'a went to the parents and younger sister, and did as his friend had told him to do­he married Nihooleki's sister. Kaehaikiaholeha, also known as Nihooleki, entered the corpse-house and disappeared. Thus ends this story.


This traditional story of Nihooleki has been translated by Esther T. Mookini from the Hawaiian text in Fornander, Vol. 4, 488-497. Aku was caught in great quantity during spring and summer, when it was fat and plentiful. Kepelino says that aku is the most delicious fish (Titcomb 61). Nordhoff notes "it is no exaggeration to call it the herring of the South Seas. Its flesh is rich, palatable, and nourishing, and one can eat it with relish every day" (235). A good pa hi aku (lure-hook for catching aku) was a highly prized possession and given a name. (See the the tradition of 'Ai'ai, note 18, for a description of the pa hi aku and its use.) Nordhoff writes: "[Tahitian bonito-fishermen in the 1920's] are invariably the onwers of large collections of pearl-shell shanks, collections which they care for, polish and look over as if the bits of shell were jewels. Three or four of my elderly friends have rolls of flannel with little pockets into which each shell fits­the whole stowed away carefully at the bottom of an old camphor-wood box. It is not easy to get a glimpse of such a collection, only examined and gloated over when the owner is alone. Each shank is named; Patiti (Thunderbolt), Ahimaa Poipoi (Morning Oven), and Ahimaa Ahiahi (Evening Oven) are typical names. The two latter signify that when the fisherman starts out in the morning or afternoon with that particular hook, the women at home kindle the native ground oven (ahimaa) before the return of the canoe, so sure are they of the shell's success. The owner of a valuable shell hestitates to display it for a reason obscure to a stranger, but clear to the man who knows the Polynesian. An old and highly successful bonito-hook is property almost beyond price, cherished not only for its utilitarian value, but because in the course of forty or fifty years it has acquired in the catching of countless fish a tremendous charge of mana. To display it is to run the risk of having a friend ask for it, and to the Polynesian, such a request is difficult, it not impossible, to refuse" (239). (For more on aku fishing, see note g in "'Ai'ai.")

(a) In the Hawaiian belief system, the spirit leaves the body after death and goes to dwell with his or her ancestors; or if the body has not started to decompose, he or she might be prayed back into the body; or he or she might remain as a spirit among the living, as in this legend.

(b) "When the aku fishing canoes and malau (bait tank) canoes came ashore, the women would separate the tabu fish for the men's eating houses from those for the free eating, 'ainoa, of the household. First the head fisherman went ashore with fish in his right and left hands and went into the Ku'ula heiau to pay homage to the gods. He cast down the fish for male 'aumakua and for the female 'aumakua, and then returned to give fish to the canoe men, to those who had done the chumming, and to those who had done the actual fishing" (Kamakau,Works 73-4).

(c) Deep-sea aku fishermen looked for the noio, or noddy tern, to find aku because the aku and the noio were found together feeding on the same small fish. Kamakau describes the scene: "The place where the aku would be was where the noio birds gathered above the piha [a herring], the nehu pala [anchovy] and the other small fishes that leaped above the surface to escape the snapping of the aku. Then the noio would swoop down screeching over the fish. These birds were companions of the aku and the kawakawa [a type of bonito]--where these fishes went, the birds sought them out" (Works 72).

Nordhoff gives a more extensive listing of a fisherman's knowledge of seabird behavior as it relates to fishing in Tahiti: "A thorough understanding of the behavior and feeding habits of these birds is indispensable to the bonito-fisherman; it will save him many a mile of useless paddling and guide him to schools of fish, from which he can quickly load his canoe. The following sketchy bits of information will give an idea of the importance and scope of this bird-lore. "Bobbies, when in large flocks and unaccompanied by other birds, are apt to be over a school of albacore (ahi) or porpoise; or ordinary bonito travelling too fast for a canoe to come up with them. When the birds of such a flock dive repeatedly, but level off just before touching the water, they are following a school of flying-fish. When boobies are feeding close to a flock of feeding terns, but separate from them, the former are probably accompnying albacore, the latter bonito. Boobies and terns mixed and feeding eagerly, with cries of excitement, mean bonito which will take the hook and not travel too fast. A cloud of small white terns moving high and slowly above the sea is an indication of albacore too big to take on bonito tackle. One, two, or three white terns, circling rapdily indicate dolphin (mahimahi). A cloud of small dark terns with white caps (noio) unaccompanied by other birds, means very small bonito, not apt to take the hook. The presence of frigate-birds above the boobies is a sign of good fishing, but an indication of bad weather on the way. When tropic-birds are diving among other kinds, it is a sign that the small fry are too small to resemble a bonito-hook. And so on ad infinitum" (249-250).

(d) Waiahulu is a stream and area far upland in Waimea Canyon.

(e) Common fishermen went aku fishing in a single canoe with as few as one or two paddlers, with the fisherman at the back of the canoe acting as steerman while trolling; because Nihooleki is an ali'i, or chief, he can command a double canoe with twenty paddlers, an advantage in chasing schools of aku at sea.

(f) The standard for a great catch in Polynesia was that fish could be left behind to rot on the beach after everyone who wanted any had taken all that could be used. Robert Aitken reports on the use of this standard in Tubuai storytelling about the catch taken with rau ere (a coconut leaf sweep used to encircle fish so they could be scooped up with a net): "The share for each person, including as persons even the small children who had come out at the finish of the labor as spectators only, was about 20 fish. This is the mildest version of the story; other informants stated that many fish were left on the shore by those to whom they were distributed, as it was not worthwhile carrying home more than the families and their neighbors could consume. Another version of the story is that the boat in which the fish were loaded belonged to a Rurutu schooner then in port. The boat took one full load to the schooner, the fish being subsequently salted and dried, and taken to Rurutu; after delivering the boat-load to the schooner, the boat returned to the rau ere and took ashore enough fish to more than satisfy all those present. Still other versions soar beyond the limits to which even a fish story may aspire. It is certain, at any rate, that upon some former occasions vastly greater hauls have been made than those I have seen" (61-62). The same standard for a great catch (i.e., fish left behind to rot) is used in the story of Puniakai'a.

(g) The nickname "Pu'ipu'i-a-ka-lawai'a" was also given to the famous ali'i aku fisherman 'Umi-a-Liloa, who was noted as a strong canoe paddler (Kamakau, Ruling Chiefs 11, 20).

(h) "As the bonito expeditions start before the morning meal [i.e., at about four in the morning], the crews often eat raw fish while they work." MacGregor (111-112). The fishermen left before sunrise so they would arrive at the fishing grounds at daybreak when the aku were known to feed on surface fish.

(i) Keauhou is Nihooleki's birthplace; so Nihooleki has returned to share his catch with the people of Keauhou. It was common for the hero or heroine in a Hawaiian legend to travel from one end of the island chain to the other, endowing him or her with a heroic stature because of the great distance covered.

(j) "In a large school with the fish biting well, [a fisherman] can take 100 fish in less than half an hour" MacGregor (111).

(k) Kamapua'a, the pig demi-god, is a forest dweller representing the uplands; his friendship with Nihooleki symbolizes the close link between sea and mountain, the fisherman and the forest dweller. The traditional story of Kamapua'a doesn't mention Nihooleki, but contains an incident in which the pig demi-god is refused fish. Kamapua'a is living in the uplands of Waiahulu when he hears news of a great catch of fish at Kalalau. He descends to demand a share. His family and their fisherman Wailinuu fail to recognize him and refuse to give him any fish. Angered, he forces his parents and his brother to humble themselves, then takes on his pig form and devours the fisherman. (See Fornander Vol. 5, "The Legend of Kamapua'a," Chapter VII; and Mookini and Neizman, Chapters 13 and 14.) The fish that Nihooleki gives the pig god seems to heal him and invigorate him, to make him whole again, so that Kamapua'a is able to travel with the fisherman to O'ahu.

(l) These are symbols of Nihooleki's royalty; Nihooleki is apparently passing on to his friend Kamapua'a the right to rule Wai'anae.


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