Always click on the LEGENDARY SURFERS icon to return to this homepage. LEGENDARY SURFERS
A Definitive History of Surfing's Culture and Heroes
By  Malcolm Gault-Williams
This Chapter Updated:  6 January 2008



Volume 1, Chapter 4

1800's surfing image

Aloha and welcome to Chapter 4 of Volume 1 of LEGENDARY SURFERS.

Surfing came from the marine-based culture of Polynesia and the earliest surfers no doubt were watermen in ways that went beyond just riding waves.  Many of the famous Polynesian and Hawaiian legends are filled with surfers – some identified as such and some not.  Certainly, we know that most all long ago Hawaiians surfed – men, women and children.  Herein is a collection of some of the most notable legends of Polynesian and Hawaiian watermen from before the time of the written word – from the time of the mele (songs, poetry, sometimes chants and sometimes presented in hula form).  Some were known surfers, while others can only be guessed as such. Here are a number of these stories -- far from a complete set, but some of the most famous.

Image courtesy of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.


  •  Hawaiian Chain Discovered
  •  Second Trip to Hawaii and First Settlement
  •  Hawaii, Sawaii, Tonga?
  •  Later Voyages of Hawai`iloa
  •  Hawai`iloa, Ki & Kanaloa Descendents
  •  The Legend Examined
  • UMI
  • "PIKOI THE RAT KILLER" By Westervelt
  • Some Sources

  • Hawai`iloa

    According to 19th Century Hawaiian folklorist Abraham Fornander, “the earliest reminiscences of the Hawaiian branch of the Polynesian family refer to a far western habitat on some very large island or islands, or perhaps continent, as the birthplace of their ancestors.  This land was known under many names, but the most frequently occurring is ‘Kapa-kapa-ua-a-Kane.’  It is also called ‘Hawaii-kua-uli-kai-oo‘ (Hawaii with the green back, banks or upland, and the dotted sea).”

    This ancestral home was said to be “situated in Kahiki-ku, or the large continent to the east of Kalana-i-Hau-ola, or the place where the first of mankind were created.” Seventeen generations  after the same Flood (ke kai-a-Kahinalii) upon which the Biblical story of Noah is based -- on the east coast of Kapakapaua-a-Kane, in an area called Ka `Aina kai melemele a Kane (“Land of the yellow sea of Kane”)  -- there lived “a chief of high renown and purest descent.”   Chief Hawai`iloa (“the great burning Hawa” or sometimes “the straits of the great burning Hawa”),  also called Ke Kowa i Hawai`i,  was a noted fisherman and a great navigator.   We can only assume that he was also a surfer.  Also, it is quite probable that many of the legends attributed to him are collected legends of the exploits of several men.

    In Hawaiian folklore, Hawai`iloa is a traceable descendant of the first man Kumu Honua and his wife Lalo Honua, who lived in the land called Kalana i Hauola.  This line went all the way down to Aniani Ka Lani, Hawai`iloa’s father, and Ka Mee Nui Hikina, his mother.   Hawai`iloa’s other three siblings were Ki, who settled in Tahiti, Kana Loa, who settled in Nukuhiwa, and Laa-Kapu.

    Hawai`iloa and his brothers were born on the east coast of Ka `Aina kai melemele a Kane (the land of the yellow or handsome sea of Kane).   Hawai`iloa was not only a distinquished man of his community, but also a noted fisherman famous for his fishing excursions which could take as long as a month-to-a-year to complete.  During this time, he would roam about the ocean in his big canoe (wa`a) -- called also an “island” (moku) -- with his crew and navigators (poe ho`okele and kilo-hoku).

    Hawaiian Chain Discovered

    On one of Hawai`iloa’s longer fishing excursions, his principal navigator Makali`i said, “Let’s steer the canoe in the direction of Iao, the Eastern Star, the discoverer of Land [Hoku hikina kiu o na `aina].  There is land to the eastward, and here is a red star, hoku`ula (Aldebaran), to guide us, and the land is there in the direction of those big stars which resemble a bird.”

    So, they took to the direction of Iao (Jupiter, “the eastern star”),  the red star (the rising Aldebaran in the constellation of Taurus)  and the Pleiades.   The red star, situated in the lap of the goats (a constellation) was henceforth called Makali`i after the navigator.  Some other red stars in the circle of the Pleiades were called the Huhui-a-Makali`i (“Cluster of Makali`i).

    By taking this route, Hawai`iloa and crew discovered a group of islands far from their western homeland.   These islands have been generally considered to be the Hawaiian chain, though this is not certain.  If it was Hawai`i, then archeological evidence suggests a direct link between Hawai`i and Hiva -- the Marquesas Islands.   In Fornander’s translations, not all the islands in the Hawaiian chain had been formed by this time.  “When Hawai`i Loa arrived here, there were only the two islands of Hawai`i-Loa [Hawai`i] and Maui-au-Ali`i [Maui],” wrote Fornander, “but during his time and close afterwards the volcanoes on Hawai`i and on Maui began their eruptions; and earthquakes and convulsions produced or brought to light the other islands.”

    The Hawaiian scholar Kepelino has all the islands in place upon Hawai`iloa’s first landing on the western end of the archipelago.  “First he saw the island of Kaua`i, but he kept on sailing and found O`ahu and then the islands of the Maui group, then, seeing the mountains of Hawai`i, he kept on until he reached that island.  There he lived and named the island after himself.  The other islands from Maui to Kaua`i were named for his children and probably for some who sailed with him.   Here are the names of this children:  Maui was the eldest, O`ahu younger, and Kaua`i the youngest.  These names he gave to the three large islands, but the smaller islands were perhaps named for those who accompanied him.”

    The voyagers “went ashore and found the land fertile and pleasant,” wrote Fornander, “filled with `awa, coconut trees... and Hawai`iloa, the chief, gave that land his name.  Here they dwelt a long time and when their canoe was filled with vegetable food and fish, they returned to their native country with the intention of returning to Hawai`i-nei, which they preferred to their own country.”

    Hawai`iloa and crew returned to their homeland.  There, they were delayed a long while in their own country and amongst their own relatives,  before returning to the newfound land.  The time spent in Hiva was possibly due to their efforts to build enthusiasm and interest in the new land.

    Second Trip to Hawaii and First Settlement

    Finally, Hawai`iloa and a new crew again set sail for the islands he had named.  This time, Hawai`iloa brought his wife and children and an unusually large amount of men-steersmen, navigators, ship builders and others.  According to Kepelino, Hawai`i-nui sailed to Hawai`i the second time with eight steersmen.  Because of their skill in observing stars, each one was renamed after his favorite star.  They were:  Makali`i, the famous steersman and great farmer; Iao; Kahiki-Nui; Hoku `Ula (named, possibly after the star Aldebaran); Maiao; Kiopa`a (“fixed,” a name for Polaris, the north star; also called Hokupa`a); Unulau; Polohilani (possibly the star Schedir in Cassiopeia).

    Supposedly, Hawai`iloa was the only man who had his wife and children along with him.  If this was so, then it was most likely due to space limitations.  On this voyage, the ka Hoku Loa, the Morning Star, was the special star they steered by.

    In the various Hawai`iloa legends, the ocean Hawai`iloa and his fellow voyagers traversed is called by different names.  These include:  Ka Moana-kai-Maokioki-a-Kane (the spotted, many-colored ocean),  Kai Holo-o-ka-I`a (the Ocean where the fish run),  and Moana-kai-Popolo (the blue or dark-green ocean).  After traversing the long distance, Hawai`iloa and his entourage arrived finally at the islands Hawai`iloa had previously named after himself and his son or children.   Again, the legends differ.  Some have it that these events occurred early enough to the point where there were only two islands in the Hawaiian chain.  Others have all islands in place.  The multiple-islands legend has Hawai`iloa naming not only the big island for himself and Maui after his first-born son, but also O`ahu after his daughter (and O`ahu-a-Lua [Honolulu] after her foster parent Lua), and Kaua`i after his younger son.

    Hawaii, Sawaii, Tonga?

    If the island group where Hawi`iloa and clan settled was not the Hawaiian chain, it was no doubt somewhere within the confines of what is classified as Polynesia.   Added both to the uncertainty of where exactly Kapa-kapa-ua-a-Kane or Hawaii-kua-uli-kai-oo was located, is the uncertainty of where exactly Hawai`iloa settled.  Three Polynesian groups -- the Hawaiian, Samoan and Tongan -- have an island by the same name, with slight dialectical difference.  Each claim the honor of having been first peopled and first named by people from the west.

    The Hawai`iloa legend itself is just part of the epic Hawaiian legend of Kumuhonua (the first man) and indicates, according to the earliest traditionally handed down recollections of the Hawaiian people, that Hawai`i was first peopled by emigrants from a land far to the west of it.  Fornander admitted, “whether the Hawaii to which the legend refers be the Hawaii of the North Pacific, the Sawaii of the Samoan group, or the Jawa of the Asiatic Archipel, they did not come there from the east, north, or south, but from lands and seas in the far distant west.”  Furthermore, “The Hawaiians considered themselves as emigrants, not as autochthones, of the Hawaii of which the legend speaks.”

    The Hawa or Hawai`i that most Polynesians refer to as being the birthplace of their ancestors, Fornander mused, must certainly lay far to the west of Polynesia.   This may be the case of the original inhabitants that arrived with Hawai`iloa, but archaeological evidence suggests the major cultural link to be Hiva (the Marquesas Islands),  over 1600 years ago.  “The argument for a Marquesan origin of some of the early settlers,” wrote Dennis Kawaharada of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, “is based in part on linguistic and biological evidence.”   Archaeologist Patrick Kirch wrote, “Indeed, the close relationship between the Hawaiian and Marquesan languages as well as between the physical populations constitutes strong and mutually corroborative evidence that the early Hawaiians came from the Marquesas.”

    “Adzes, fishhooks, and pendants,” continued Kawaharada, “found at an early settlement site at Ka Lae on the Big Island of Hawai`i resemble those found in the Marquesas.  Also, the Marquesas Islands are the best departure point for sailing to Hawai`i from the South Pacific because they are closer and farther east (upwind) than the Society Islands or the Cook Islands, two other possible sources of early migrants.”

    Later Voyages of Hawai`iloa

    Hawai`iloa, according to legend, made several voyages afterwards between Kapa-kapa-ua [Hiva?] and Hawai`i to find his brothers and see if they had any children who might become husbands or wives to members of his party back on Hawai`i.

    Hawai`iloa made these voyages to “the extreme south (i ka mole o ka honua).  Leaving from Lae o Kalae, in Ka`u, and following the stars of Ke Ali`i-o-Kona-i-ka-Lewa (Canopus) and the stars of Hoku-kea o ka Mole Honua (the Southern Cross or “Star-cross of the bottom of the earth”), Hawai`iloa and crew made it to Tahiti and other islands to the south.  On Tahiti, he found his brother Ki, who had settled there and called the island after one of his own names.  Together, the brothers sailed southward (i ka mole o ka honua) and found other uninhabited islands.   When they finally returned to Hawai`i, they had with them Ki’s first born son Tu-nui-ai-a-te-Atua as a husband for Hawai`iloa’s daughter O`ahu.

    Hawai`iloa, Ki and party returned to Lae o Kalae, steering by the Hoku-`Iwa stars and the Hoku Poho ka `Aina.

    Tui-nui-ai-a-te-Atua and O`ahu had a child named Kunuiakea, who was born at Keauhou, in Puna, Hawai`i.  Puna was a fertile land and was named after Tui-nui-ai-a-te-Atua’s (Kunuiaiakeakua) own birthplace, Puna-Auia, in Tahiti.  Kunuiakea became a chief of the highest rank (kapu loa) and from him sprang all the race of chiefs in Hawai`i (welo ali`i).  From the great navigator Makali`i sprang the common people (welo kanaka).  The priests (welo kahuna) were “one and the same with the race of the chiefs from the beginning.”

    Other later voyages of Hawai`iloa included a trip to Sawai`i (Somoa), where he placed some of his offspring.  They, in turn, became the ancestors of Sawai`i, thereafter called Hawai`i-ku-lalo (Hawai`i rising downwind).

    Hawai`iloa later revisited Tahiti where he found his brother Ki had returned and forsaken the religion they were born into together; the religion of Kane, Ku and Lono.  Instead, Ki now worshipped Ku-waha-ilo [maggot-mouthed Ku], the man-eating god (ke akua `ai kanaka).  Hawai`iloa soon left Tahiti after quarreling with his brother on this issue.

    Hawai`iloa revisited Tahiti a third time and Hawai`i-ku-lalo (Sawai`i) a second time, holding a meeting with those people at Tarawao.  Finding that these people still persisted in following after the man-eating god Ku-waha-ilo and that they had become addicted to man-eating, he renounced them, passing a law called “he Papa Enaena,” forbidding anyone from Hawai`i-Luna (upwind Hawai`i) from ever going to the southern islands for fear they would go astray, be converted to this new religion, and become cannibals.

    Fornander has Hawai`iloa also visiting some western land that was neither Kapa-kapa-ua or i ka mole o ka honua.  Travelling westward, he used Mulehu (Hoku Loa) as his guiding star.  He found a land where there lived “people with turned-up eyes” (Lahui maka-lilio); Asians.  Travelling across this land to the northward and west, he came to the country called Kua-hewa-hewa, part of a very large land expanse.  Returning from this country, he brought back with him two white men (poe keokeo kane).  On his return voyage he used the star Iao to help guide the way.  After landing, Hawai`iloa had the two white men married to Hawaiian women (a ho`omoe i ko`onei po`e wahine).

    Hawai`iloa made one last journey back to the southern and eastern shore of Kapakapaua-a-Kane and took with him his grandchild Kunuiakea in order to teach him navigation and long distance voyaging.  When they returned, Kunuiakea brought with him two stewards (he mau ha`a elua), one called Lehua and the other Nihoa.  They settled on the two Hawaiian islands which bear their names.  As konohiki (land stewards), they were put under the charge of Kaua`i, Hawai`iloa’s youngest son.

    Hawai`iloa, Ki & Kanaloa Descendents

    According to many of the legends, the descendants of the brothers Hawai`iloa and Ki peopled nearly all the Polynesian islands.  From Ki came the people of Tahiti, Borabora, Huahine, Taha`a, Ra`iatea and Mo`orea.

    Hawai`iloa’s lesser mentioned brother Kanaloa peopled Nukuhiwa, Uapou, Tahuata, Hiwaoa, and other islands of the Hiva group (Marquesas).  On Nukuhiwa, Kanaloa married a woman from the man-eating people, from whom sprang the cannibals who live on Nukuhiwa, Fiji, Tarapara, Paumotu (Tuamotus) and lesser islands in western Polynesia.  Despite what some of the legends may indicate, the people of Hawai`i and Tahiti never fully converted to cannibalism.

    The Hawaiian scholar Kepelino concluded, “Hawai`i-nui was perhaps a chief or perhaps not; he was a man of high standing (ke kanaka ko`iko`i), as I see it.”   Fornander noted, “In the first age, from Hawai`i Loa to Wakea, the royal authority and prerogative were not very well defined.  The chiefs were regarded more in the light of parents and patrons (haku), than as moi and ali`i-kapu, although they enjoyed all the honor and precedence due to their rank.  This state of things was considerably altered by Wakea, his priest and successors, yet even so late as the time of Kanipahu, who refused the government, it is evident that the royal authority was not well settled in the olden times (`aole he ano nui o na `li`i ka wa kahiko loa `ku).”

    The Legend Examined

    Scholars have questioned the authenticity of the Hawai`iloa legend because of similarities between biblical stories and stories in the tradition of Kumuhonua.  “The legend seems to be a summary of statements contained in many other legends and genealogies,” noted historian Bruce Cartwright.  “At the time it was recorded in writing, many Hawaiians had become Christianized and were familiar with Biblical history.  The temptation to interpret certain incidents similar to those in Biblical history as being in fact the Hawaiiian rendering of Biblical events seems to have influenced the translators.  This unfortunate condition has more or less discredited the ancient legends on which the legend of Hawaii-loa is based, branding them, in the opinion of many modern students as ‘doctored accounts, influenced by Christianity.’“

    Both Kamakau and Kepelino, early Hawaiian writers on the tradition of Hawai`iloa, were Christian converts.  The similarities between the biblical stories and the legend of Hawai`iloa include the Hawaiian god formed by the trinity of gods Kane, Ku and Lono; the creation of the first man (Kumuhonua) out of clay and the first woman (Lalo Honua) out of the rib of the first man; Kanaloa, angry that he was denied `awa, rebelled against god and later seduced the first woman, after which the first man and woman broke the law of Kane and fell from grace; and the Hawaiian Noah is called Nu`u, who survived the great flood in a large vessel with a house on it.

    Randie Kamuela Fong, representing the traditionalist response, wrote, “after careful review of Fornander’s version of the Kumuhonua tradition, the Hawai`iloa portion bears no resemblance to any biblical account.  The names, places, and basic settings and plots give us no reason to question their age and authenticity.  Further, Patience Bacon of the Bishop Museum remembers kupuna (elders) being interviewed” in the 1920’s and 30’s “by Tutu Puku`i.  The kupuna spoke of Hawai`i Loa as their ‘reality.’“

    Probably closest to the mark are Abraham Fornander‘s impressions.  “I am inclined to think,” wrote Fornander, “that the legend of Hawii-loa represents the adventures and achievements of several persons... which, as ages elapsed, and the individuality of the actor retreated in the background, while the echo of his deeds was caught up by successive generations, were finally ascribed to some central figure who thus became the traditional hero not only of his own time, but also of times anterior as well as posterior to his actual existence... In much later times the same process was repeated, when the Hawaiian group was overrun by princely adventurers from the South Polynesian groups, who incorporated their own legends and their own versions of common legends on the Hawaiian folklore, and interpolated their own heroes on the Hawaiian genealogies.”


    (NOTE: This section taken from the last chapter of Volume 3: Great Women Riders of the Wooden Era and also the Mamala.)

    Ke-kai-o-Mamala (the Sea of Mamala), the ocean west of Waikiki off the coast of Honolulu, was named after one of Hawaii’s earliest known legendary woman surfers -- Mamala.

    Mamala rode at a time when Hawaiian history was kept orally, only, so it is virtually impossible to separate the facts from the myths.  Both are included here.

    The harbor area of Hono-lulu was once known as Kou.   Kou hosted a number of primo surf spots, including ‘Ula-kua (black red), Ke-kai-o-Mamala (the sea of Mamala), and Awa-lua (double harbor).

    Look at an island map of O’ahu and you can still see Ke-kai-o-Mamala, the Sea of Mamala still marked.  The surf spot of the same name broke through a narrow entrance to the harbor, straight out from a grove of coconut trees belonging to the chief Honoka’upu, which bore his name.   This is in the area now known as Ala Moana, Rock Pile, Inbetweens and Kaisers – contemporary surf spots at the mouth of the harbor channel, just east of Magic Island.

    Ke-kai-o-Mamala broke “straight out from a beautiful coconut grove... [at] Honoka`upu and provided some of the finest waves in Kou,” wrote Finney and Houston.  “The break was named after Mamala, a famous surfer and a pominent O`ahu chiefess.  She was a kupua, a demigod or hero with supernatural powers who could take the form of a beautiful woman, a gigantic lizard, or a great shark.”   She was a mo-o,” added Patterson, “-- sometimes a gigantic lizard or crocodile; sometimes a beautiful woman.

    According to legend, she was first married to another kupua, the shark-man Ouha.  Mamala and Ouha would often drink awa together and played konane (pebble checkers) on the smooth konane stone at Kou.

    Mamala, by all accounts, was a wonderful surf rider.  Skillfully, she rode the roughest waves.  She apparently liked to surf far out from shore, in rough seas, when the winds blew strong and whitecaps rolled in disorder into the bay of Kou.  The people on the beach, watching her, would clap and yell in recognition to her extraordinary riding.

    One day, the coconut grove chief Honoka`upu decided he wanted Mamala as his wife.  Apparently, she was amenable and left Ouha to go live with her new husband.   Feeling loss-of-face, Ouha got angry and first tried the belligerant approach, trying to do Honoka`upu in.  Driven away, he fled to lake Ka-ihi-Kapu, toward Waikiki.  There, he appeared as a man with a basketful of shrimp and fresh fish, which he offered to the women of the place, saying, “Here is life (a living thing) for the children.”  He opened his basket, but the shrimp and fish leaped out and escaped into the water.

    After this, the women of Ka-ihi-Kapu made fun of Ouha, further ridiculing the god-man.  Ouha, like the other ancient legendary characters of Polynesia and most of the rest of us, could not endure anything that brought shame and disgrace upon him in the eyes of others.  Consequently, Ouha cast off his human form forever and became the great shark god of the coast between Waikiki and Koko Head.

    Mamala was remembered ever afterward both by the surf spot named in her honor and also in a song about her triangular love affair called the Mele (song) of Honoka`upu.”   Two parts of the song go like this:

    The surf rises at Ko`olau,
    Blowing the waves into mist,
    Into little drops,
    Spray falling along the hidden harbor.

    There is my dear husband Ouha,
    There is the shaking sea, the running sea of Kou,
    The crab-like sea of Kou...

    Prepare the awa to drink, the crab to eat.
    The small konane board is at Hono-kau-pu,
    My friend on the highest point of the surf.
    There is a good surf for us.

    My love has gone away.
    Smooth is the floor of Kou,
    Fine is the breeze from the mountain.
    I wait for you to return.
    Will the lover return?

    I belong to Honoka`upu,
    From the top of the tossing surf waves,
    The eyes of the day and the night are forgotten.
    Kou is the day, and to-night
    The eyes meet at Kou.

    I wait for you to return,
    The games are prepared,
    Pa-poko, pa-loa, pa-lele,
    Leap away to Tahiti
    By the path to Nuumehalani,
    Will that lover return?

    The Honolulu area’s ancient Hawaiian name is Kou.  Kou hosted a number of primo surf spots, including Ka-lehua-wehe, known as a meeting place for O`ahu chiefs in ancient times and today known as Waikiki.  A little to the east of Kou was a break called Ke-kai-o-Mamala, The Sea of Mamala.  It broke through a narrow entrance to the harbor straight out from a beautiful grove of coconut trees belonging to the chief Honokaupu.  The grove bore his name, Honoka`upu.

    Ke-kai-o-Mamala broke “straight out from a beautiful coconut grove... [at] Honoka`upu and provided some of the finest waves in Kou,” wrote Finney and Houston.  “The break was named after Mamala, a famous surfer and a pominent O`ahu chiefess.  She was kupua, a demigod or hero with supernatural powers who could take the form of a beautiful woman, a gigantic lizard, or a great shark.  She was a mo-o -- sometimes a gigantic lizard or crocodile; sometimes a beautiful woman.

    According to legend, she was first married to another kupua, the shark-man Ouha.  Mamala and Ouha would often drink awa together and played konane (a form of checkers) on the smooth konane stone at Kou.

    Mamala was an outstanding surf rider.  Skillfully, she rode the roughest waves.  The surf in which she delighted rose far out in the rough sea, where the winds blew strong and whitecaps were on waves which rolled in rough disorder into the bay of Kou.  The people on the beach watching her filled the air with resounding applause when they clapped their hands over her extraordinary athletic feats.

    One day, the coconut grove chief Honoka`upu decided he wanted Mamala as his wife.  Apparently, she was amenable and left Ouha to go live with her new husband.   Feeling ridiculed, Ouha was angry and tried at first to injure Honoka`upu and Mamala.  Driven away, he fled to lake Ka-ihi-Kapu, toward Waikiki.  There he appeared as a man with a basketful of shrimp and fresh fish, which he offered to the women of the place, saying, “Here is life (a living thing) for the children.”  He opened his basket, but the shrimp and fish leaped out and escaped into the water.

    The women of Ka-ihi-Kapu further ridiculed the god-man.  Ouha, like the other ancient legendary characters of Polynesia, could not endure anything that brought shame and disgrace upon him in the eyes of others.  Consequently, Ouha cast off his human form and became the great shark god of the coast between Waikiki and Koko Head.

    The beautiful Mamala was remembered afterward in the surfing place named for her and in a song about her triangular love affair called the Mele (song) of Honoka`upu.”   Two parts of the song go like this:

    I wait for you to return,
    The games are prepared,
    Pa-poko, pa-loa, pa-lele,
    Leap away to Tahiti
    By the path to Nuumehalani,
    Will that lover [Ouha] return?
    I belong to Honoka`upu,
    From the top of the tossing surf waves,
    The eyes of the day and the night are forgotten.
    Kou is the day, and to-night
    The eyes meet at Kou.

    Another version:

    The surf rises at Ko`olau,
    Blowing the waves into mist,
    Into little drops,
    Spray falling along the hidden harbor.

    There is my dear husband Ouha,
    There is the shaking sea, the running sea of Kou,
    The crab-like sea of Kou...

    My love has gone away...

    Fine is the breeze from the mountain.

    I wait for you to return...
    Will the lover [Ouha] return?
    I belong to Honoka`upu,
    From the top of the tossing surf waves...


    Forty miles from Ke-kai-o-Mamala, on the North Shore, Paumalu was known for its big waves, just as it is known, today, by the different name of “Sunset Beach.”

    “In earlier times,” wrote Finney and Houston, “it was called Paumalu, which literally means ‘taken secretly,’ referring to how a woman who caught more octopus than was permitted had her legs bitten off by a shark.”

    In another legend, “a prince of Kaua`i named Kahikilani crossed the hundred miles of open sea between his home and O`ahu just to prove his prowess in the great Paumalu surf.”

    As soon as he arrived he started surfing,” continued Finney and Houston in the re-telling of an ancient mele.  “Day after day he perfected his skill in the jawlike waves.  As he rode he was watched by a bird maiden with supernatural powers who lived in a cave on a nearby mountain.  She fell in love with the prince and sent bird messengers to place an orange lehua lei around his neck and bring him to her.  By flying around his head, the messengers guided Kahikilani to the bird maiden’s cave.

    Enchanted, he spent several months with her -- until the return of the surfing season.  Then the distant sizzle and boom of the waves at Paumalu were too much for Kahikilani to resist, and he left the maiden, but only after promising never to kiss another woman.  However, the excitement of the rising surf must have clouded his memory because almost as soon as he was riding again, a beautiful woman came walking along the white sand.  She saw him there, waited until he rode to shore, place an ilima lei around his neck, and kissed him.  His vow was broken.  He thought nothing of it and paddled back out to the breaking waves, but the bird messengers were watching.  They flew to tell their mistress of his infidelity.  When she heard their report, the bird maiden ran to the beach with a lehua lei in her hand.  Snatching the ilima lei from Kahikilani’s neck, she replaced it with the one made from lehua blossoms.  As she ran back to her cave, he chased her.  That was the last Kahikilani saw of the bird maiden, though, for halfway up the mountain he was turned to stone.”

    The bird maiden had “called on her `aumakua (family god) and the husband was turned to stone.”

    The image of Kahikilani can still be seen, today, with a petrified lehua lei around his neck on a barren ridge above Paumalu Bay, less than a mile from the Kamehameha Highway.  Someone renamed the image “the George Washington Stone.”


    In comparatively recent times, a story is told of an incident in the life of Umi-a-liloa, a rather unforgiving chief who ruled over the big island of Hawai`i and Maui during the late 15th and early 16th century.  The story reveals the less-than-noble character a life of privilege sometimes fostered.  For, while “Umi was a very capable lad,” he was, “also a swaggering, arrogant youngster of royal birth who felt he could do as he pleased because his father was the king.”   For surfers, the lesson lies in the price one can pay for competing in a surf contest.

    Around 1480,  “Chief Umi was living at Waipunalei,” wrote legendary early 20th Century surfer Tom Blake, when, “he and his friend attended a surfriding match at Laupahoehoe, being unknown there and in disguise.”   “Fearing for the safety of his son,” explained Patterson in Surf-Riding, Its Thrills and Techniques, “the king caused him to travel incognito when touring the island in search of pleasure or adventure.  On one of these trips young Umi, a lad of great physical strength, heard of a surfing carnival being held at Laupohoehoe near Hilo on the island of Hawaii.  He took his party to Hilo and there haughtily let it be known that he excelled at surfing.”

    “His arrogance was naturally challenged with enthusiasm by one of the petty chiefs,” Patterson continued.   His challenger, lesser chief Paiea, “knew all the surfs and the best one to ride,” recorded Kamakau, in Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii.  “It was the one directly in front of Laupahoehoe, facing Hilo.  It was a huge one, which none dared to ride except Paiea, who was noted for his skill.”

    Paiea “invited Umi to a surfriding match and offered a trifling bet which Umi refused.”   “When Paiea upped his bet to four double-hulled canoes,” wrote surf historian Ben Finney, “Umi accepted.”

    “The inspiration which caused surfing to reach its ultimate pitch of development,” wrote Patterson, “was the Polynesian desire and delight in gambling.  They were great gamblers and would stake their last remaining possession as a wager in a game.

    “They had plenty of leisure due to the productivity of the islands, and it is only natural that they should look for the most pleasant source of outlet for their energies.  They also possessed a keen interest in sports, most of which centered about water.  In sporting events, surfing offered the greatest opportunity to the high chiefs because the higher ranking men were always shown preference at surfing locations when the waves were high and the sea was on a rampage.  They were the only ones who could afford the ownership and care of superior boards which allow advantage in competition.

    “Early legends telling of surfing contests are almost entirely built up around petty or ranking chiefs in connection with some particular wager.”

    Kenneth Emory, an authority on Polynesian customs, wrote that, “Betting is quite unknown among the other islands of the South Seas.”  Emory advanced the theory that Hawaiians learned gambling from contact with Japanese fishermen, who were known to have reached the Islands by shipwreck and accidental discovery prior to the European landing in 1778.

    At any rate, “Gambling on surfing was practiced in that locality,” continued Kamakau.  “All of the inhabitants from Waipunalei to Kaula placed their wager on Umi, and those of Laupahoehoe on Paiea.”   “The wager made was a heavy one calling for four large outrigger canoes.  But the royal prince treated the wager lightly, meeting it with the assistance of his regal party.”

    “Umi and Paiea paddled out [in] the high surf, pushing their boards through the heavy breakers until they reached the open sea where they spent considerable time maneuvering for the best position.  They selected a large wave and paddled madly toward shore.  They had chosen the largest wave of the series and it could be seen lifting high into the air, and, at the very crest, throwing spray which was caught by the wind and blown again out to sea.  Presently, the force of the wave caught the boards and started them sliding along the slanting surface at the front of the crest.

    “They both stood up simultaneously, their feet firmly placed on the convex deck of the boards.  Magnificent surfers indeed, they were worthy of the keen attention that was given them from the shore by the many observers.  They came with great speed and apparently neither surfer experienced difficulty as he glided along the entire course, ending up between the two floats serving as the goal.  Umi won the contest and claimed his four canoes, leaving without revealing his identity.”

    Kamakau tells a different story:

    “The two rode the surf, and while surfing Paiea noticed that Umi was winning.  As they drew near a rock, Paiea crowded him against it, skinning his side.  Umi was strong and pressed his foot against Paiea’s chest and then landed ashore.  Umi won against Paiea...”

    While generally agreeing with Kamakau, both Finney and Blake have slightly different overall versions.  Finney wrote that Umi, “defeated Paiea and won the four canoes, but during the match Paiea’s surfboard had clipped Umi on the shoulder, scratching off some skin.”   Blake has it that, “Umi won the bet but in coming in over the surf, by accident or design, Paiea’s board struck the shoulder of Umi and scratched off his skin.”

    Duke Kahanamoku said that Paiea had won,  which makes the most sense to this writer, considering what happened later.

    According to Kamakau, “because Paiea crowded Umi against the rock with the intention of killing him Paiea was roasted in an imu (oven),”  in later years when Umi became the supreme king of the Big Island.  Finney wrote that after the contest, “Umi said nothing at the time, but when he later came to power as high chief he had Paiea killed and sacrificed to his god at the heiau at Waipunalei.”

    “When Umi became king,” agreed Patterson, “he made a trip to Hilo and caused Paiea to be killed in sacrifice to the gods at the Heiau temple, revengefully claiming that Paiea had allowed his board to bump him slightly while riding beside him in the surfing contest which had been held several years [previously].”

    No matter who won or whether Paiea was a good guy or bad, Umi’s revenge was extreme and Paiea’s end at the hands of Umi-a-liloa was the same.  “In short,” said Duke Kahanamoku, “in ancient days a surfer could lose more in a contest than mere material stakes; he could -- and sometimes did -- lose his life.”

    "Pikoi The Rat Killer"

    (From HAWAIIAN LEGENDS Of OLD HONOLULU by W. D. WESTERVELT, Boston, G.H. Ellis Press [1915])

    LONG, long ago in the Hawaiian Islands, part of the children of a chief's family might be born real boys and girls, while others would be "gods" in the form of some one of the various kinds of animals known to the Hawaiians. These "gods" in the family could appear as human beings or as animals. They were guardians of the family, or, perhaps it should be said, they watched carefully over some especial brother or sister, doing all sorts of marvellous things such as witches and fairies like to do for those whom they love.

    In a family on Kauai six girl-gods were born and only one real girl and one real boy. These "gods" were all rats and were named "Kikoo," which was the name of the bow used with an arrow for rat-shooting. They were "Bow-of-the-heaven," "Bow-of-the-earth," "Bow-of-the-mountain," "Bow-of-the-ocean," "Bow-of-the-night" and "Bow-of-the-day."

    These rat-sister-gods seemed to have charge of their brother and his sports. His incantations and chants were made in their names. The real sister was named "Ka-ui-o-Manoa" ("The Beauty of Manoa"). She was a very beautiful woman, who came to Oahu to meet Pawaa, the chief of Manoa Valley, and marry him. He was an aikane (bosom friend) to Kakuhihewa, the kin, of Oahu. They made their home at Kahaloa in Manoa Valley. They also had Kahoiwai in the upper end of the valley.

    The boy's name was Pikoi-a-ka-Alala (Pikoi, the son of Alala). In his time the chief sport seemed to be hunting rats with bows and arrows. Pikoi as a child became very skilful. He was very clear and far sighted, and surpassed all the men of Kauai in his ability to kill hidden and far-off rats. The legends say this was greatly due to the aid given by his rat-sisters. At that same time there was on Kauai a very wonderful dog, Puapualenalena (Pupua, the yellow). That dog was very intelligent and very swift.

    One day it ran into the deep forest and saw a small boy who was successfully shooting rats. The dog joined him. The dog caught ten rats while Pikoi shot ten.

    Some days later the two friends went into a wilderness. In that day's contest the dog caught forty and the boy shot forty. Again and again they tried, but the boy could not win from the dog, nor could the dog beat the boy.

    After a while they became noted throughout Kauai. The story of the skill of Pikoi was related on Oahu and repeated even on Hawaii, His name was widely known, although few had seen him.

    One day his father Alala told Pikoi that he wanted to see his daughter in Manoa Valley. They launched their canoe and sailed across the channel, leaving the marvellous dog behind.

    Midway in the channel Pikoi cried out: "Look! There is a great squid!" It was the squid Kakahee, who was a god. Pikoi took his bow and fitted an arrow to it, for he saw the huge creature hiding in a pit deep in the coral. The squid rose up from its cave and followed the boat, stretching out its long arms and trying to seize them. The boy shot the monster, using the bow and arrow belonging to the ocean. The enemy died in a very little while. This was near the cape of Kaena. The name of the land at that place is Kakahee. These monsters of the ocean were called Kupuas. It was believed that they were evil gods, always hoping to inflict some injury on man.

    Pikoi and his father landed and went up to Manoa Valley. There they met Ka-ui-o-Manoa and wept from great joy as they embraced each other. A feast was prepared, and all rested for a time.

    Pikoi wandered away down the valley and out toward the lands overlooking the harbor of Kou (Honolulu). On the plain called Kula-o-kahua he saw a chiefess with some of her people. This plain was the comparatively level ground below Makiki Valley. Apparently it was covered at that time with a small shrub, or dwarflike tree, called aweoweo. Rats were hiding under the shelter of the thick leaves and branches.

    Pikoi went to the place where the people were gathered. The chiefess was Kahamaluihi, the wife of the King Kakuhihewa. With her was her famous arrow-shooting chiefess, Ke-pana-kahu, who was shooting against Mainele, the noted rat-shooting chief of her husband. The queen had been betting with Mainele and had lost because he was a better shot that day than her friend. She was standing inside tabu lines under a shaded place, but Pikoi went in and stood by her. She was angry for a moment, and asked why he was there. He made a pleasant answer about wishing to see the sport.

    She asked if he could shoot. He replied that he had been taught a little of the art, so she offered him the use of a bow and arrow and at that he said, "This arrow and this bow are not good for this kind of shooting."

    She laughed at him. "You are only a boy; what can you know about rat-hunting? "

    He was a little nettled, and broke the bow and arrow, saying, "These things are of no use whatever."

    The chiefess was really angry, and cried out, "What do you mean by breaking my things, you deceitful child? "

    Meanwhile Pikoi's father had missed him and had learned from his daughter that the high chiefess was having a rat-shooting contest. He took Pikoi's bows and arrows wrapped in tapa and went down with the bundle on his back.

    Pikoi took a bow and arrow from the bundle and persuaded the high chiefess to make a new wager with Mainele. The queen, in kindly mood, placed treasure against treasure.

    Mainele prepared to shoot first, agreeing with Pikoi to make fifteen the number of shots for the first trial.

    Pikoi pointed out rat after rat among the shrubs until Mainele had killed fourteen. Then the boy cried: "There is only one shot more. Shoot that rat whose whiskers are by a leaf of that aweoweo tree. The body is concealed, but I can see the whiskers. Shoot that rat, O Mainele!"

    Mainele looked the shrubs all over carefully, but could not see the least sign of a rat. The people went near and thrust arrows among the leaves, but could see nothing.

    Then Mainele said: "There is no rat in that place. I have looked where you said. You are a lying child when you say that you see the whiskers of a rat."

    Pikoi insisted that the rat was there. Mainele was vexed, and said: "Behold all the treasure I have won from the chiefess and the treasure which we are now betting. You shall have it all if you shoot and strike the whiskers of any rat in that small tree. If you do not strike a rat I will simply claim the present bet."

    Then Pikoi took out of the bundle held by his father a bow and an arrow. He carefully strung his bow and fixed the arrow, pointing the eye of that arrow toward the place pointed out before.

    The queen said, "That is a splendid bow." Her caretaker, however, was watching the beautiful eyes of the boy, and his general appearance.

    Pikoi was softly chanting to himself. This was his incantation or prayer to his sister-gods:

    "There he is, there he is, O Pikoi!
    Alala is the father,
    Koukou is the mother.
    The divine sisters were born.
    O Bent-bow-of-heaven!
    O Bent-bow-of-earth!
    O Bent-bow-of-the-mountain!
    O Bent-bow-of-the-ocean! {p. 163}
    O Bent-bow-of-the-night!
    O Bent-bow-of-the-day!

    O Wonderful Ones!
    O Silent Ones!

    There is that rat—
    That rat in the leaves of the aweoweo,
    By the fruit of the aweoweo,
    By the trunk of the aweoweo.
    Large eyes have you, O Mainele;
    But you did not see that rat.
    If you had shot, O Mainele,
    You would have hit the whiskers of that rat—
    You would have had two rats--two.
    Another comes--three rats--three!"

    Then Mainele said: "You are a lying child. I, Mainele, am a skilful shooter. I have struck my rat in the mouth or the foot or any part of the body, but no one has ever pierced the whiskers. You are trying to deceive."

    Pikoi raised his bow, felt his arrow, and said to his father, "What arrow is this?"

    His father replied, "That is the arrow Mahu, which eats the flower of the lehua-tree."

    Pikoi said: "This will not do. Hand me another." Then his father gave him Laukona (The-arrow-which-strikes-the-strong-leaf), but the boy said: "This arrow has killed only sixty rats and its eye is smooth. Give me one more."

    His father handed him the Huhui (The-bunched-together), an arrow having three or four sharp notches in the point.

    Pikoi took it, saying, "This arrow wins the treasure," and went toward the tree, secretly repeating his chant. Then he let the arrow go twisting and whirling around, striking and entangling the whiskers of three rats.

    Mainele saw this wonderful shooting, and delivered all the treasures he had wagered. But Pikoi said he had not really won until he had killed fourteen more rats, so he shot again a very long arrow among the thick leaves of the shrubs, and the arrow was full of rats strung on it from end to end hanging on it by forties.

    The people stood with open mouths in silent astonishment, and then broke out in wildest enthusiasm.

    While they were excited the boy and his father secretly went away to their home in Manoa Valley and remained there with Ka-ui-o-Manoa a long time, not visiting Waikiki or the noted places of the island Oahu.

    Kakuhihewa, the king, heard about this strange contest and tried to find the wonderful boy. But he had entirely disappeared. The caretaker of the high chiefess was the only one who had carefully observed his eyes and his general appearance, but she had no knowledge of his home or how he had disappeared.

    She suggested that all the men of Oahu be called, district by district, to bring offerings to the king, two months being allowed each district, lest there should be a surplus of gifts and the people impoverished and reduced to a state of famine.

    Five years passed. In the sixth year the Valley of Manoa was called upon to bring its gifts.

    Pikoi had grown into manhood and had changed very much in his general appearance. His hair was very long, falling far down his body. He asked his sister to cut his hair, and persuaded her to take her husband's shark-tooth knives. She refused at first, saying, "These knives are tabu because they belong to the chief." At last she took the teeth--one above, or outside of the hair, and one inside--and tried to cut the hair, but it was so thick and stout that the handles broke, and she gave up, saying, "Your hair is the hair of a god." However, that night while he slept his rat-sister-gods came and gnawed off his hair, some eating one place and some another. It was not even.

    From this the ancient saying arose: "Look at his hair. It was cut by rats."

    Pawaa, the chief, came home and found his wife greatly troubled. She told him all that she had done, and he said: "Broken were the handles, not the teeth of the shark. If the teeth had broken, that would have been bad."

    Pikoi's face had been discolored by the sister-gods, so that when he appeared with ragged hair no one knew him--not even his father and sister. He put on some beautiful garlands of lehua flowers and went with the Manoa people to Waikiki to appear before the king.

    The people were feasting, surf-riding and enjoying all kinds of sports before they should be called to make obeisance to their king.

    Pikoi wandered down to the beach at Ulu-kou [1] where the queen and her retinue were surf-riding. While he stood near the water the queen came in on a great wave which brought her before him. He asked for her papa (surf-board) but she said it was tabu to any one but herself. Any other taking that surf-board would be killed by the servants.

    Then the chiefess, who was with the queen when Pikoi shot the rats of Makiki, came to the shore. The queen said, "Here is a surf-board you can use." The chiefess gave him her board and did not know him. He went out into the sea at Waikiki where the people were sporting. The surf was good only in one place, and that [1. Near the present Moana Hotel.] was tabu to [all, except the ali`i and] the queen. So Pikoi allowed a wave to carry him across to the high combers; upon which she was riding. She waited for him, because she was pleased with his great beauty, although he had tried to disguise himself.

    She asked him for one of his beautiful leis of lehua flowers, but he said he must refuse because she was tabu. "No! No!" she replied." Nothing is tabu for me to receive. It will be tabu after I have worn it." So he gave her the garland of flowers. That part of the surf is named Kalehua-wike (The-loosened-lehua).

    Then he asked her to launch her board on the first wave and let him come in on the second. She did not go, but caught the second wave as he swept by. He saw her, and tried to cut across from his wave to the next. She followed him, and very skilfully caught that wave and swept to the beach with him.

    A great cry came from the people. "That boy has broken the tabu!" "There is death for the boy!"

    The king, Kakuhihewa, heard the shout and looked toward the sea. He saw the tabu queen and that boy on the same surf-wave. He called to his officers: "Go quickly and seize that young chief who has broken the tabu of the queen. He shall not live."

    The officers ran to him, seized him, tossed him around, tore off his malo, struck him with clubs, and began to kill him.

    Pikoi cried: "Stop! Wait until I have had word with the king."

    They led him to the place where the king waited. Some of the people insulted him, and threw dirt and stones upon him as he passed.

    The king was in kindly mood and listened to his explanation instead of ordering him to be killed at once.

    While he was speaking before the king, the queen and the other women came. One of them looked carefully at him and recognized some peculiar marks on his side.

    She exclaimed, "There is the wonderful child who won the victory from Mainele. He is the skilful rat-shooter."

    The king said to the woman, "You see that this is a fine-looking young man, and you are trying to save him."

    The woman was vexed, and insisted that this was truly the rat-shooter.

    Then the king said: "Perhaps we should try him against Mainele. They may shoot here in this house." This was the house called the Hale-noa (Free-for-all-the-family). The king gave the law of the contest. "You may each shoot like the arrows on your hands [the ten fingers] and five more-fifteen in all."

    Pikoi was afraid of this contest. Mainele had his own weapons, while Pikoi had nothing, but he looked around and saw his father, Alala, who now knew him. The father had the tapa bundle of bows and arrows. The woman recognized him, and called, "Behold the man who has the bow and arrow for this boy."

    Pikoi told Mainele to shoot at some rats under the doorway. He pointed them out one after the other until twelve had been killed.

    Pikoi said: "There is one more. His body cannot be seen, but his whiskers are by the edge of the stone step."

    Mainele denied that any rat was there, and refused to shoot.

    The king commanded Pikoi not to shoot at any rat under the door, but to kill real rats, as Mainele had done.

    Pikoi took his bow, bent it, and drew it out until it stretched from one side of the house to the other. The arrow was very long. He called to his opponent to point out rats. Mainele could not point out any. Nor could the king see one around the house.

    Pikoi shot an arrow at the doorstep and killed a rat which had been hiding underneath.

    Then Pikoi shot a bent-over, old-man rat in one corner; then pointed to the ridge-pole and chanted his usual chant, ending this time:

    "Straight the arrow strikes
    Hitting the mouth of the rat,
    From the eye of the arrow to the end
    Four hundred--four hundred!"

    The king said: "Shoot your 'four hundred--four hundred.' Mainele shall pick them up, but if the eye of your arrow fails to find rats, you die."

    Pikoi shot his arrow, which glanced along the ridge-pole under the thatch, striking rat after rat until the arrow was full from end to end -- hundreds and hundreds.

    The high chief Pawaa knew his brother-in-law, embraced him, and wailed over his trouble. Then, grasping his war-club, he stepped out of the house to find the men who had struck Pikoi and torn off his malo. He struck them one after the other on the back of the neck, killing twenty men. The king asked his friend. why he had done this. Pawaa replied, "Because they evilly handled my brother-in-law,--the only brother of my wife, 'The Beauty of Manoa.'"

    The king said, "That is right."

    The people who had insulted Pikoi and thrown dirt upon him began to run away and try to hide. They fled in different directions.

    Pikoi caught his bow and fixed an arrow and again chanted to his rat-sister-gods, ending with an incantation against those who were in flight:

    "Strike! Behold there are the rats -- the men!
    The small man,
    The large man,
    The tall man,
    The short man,
    The panting coward.
    Fly, arrow! and strike!
    Return at last!"

    The arrow pierced one of the fleeing men, leaped aside to strike: another, passed from side to side around those who had pitied him, striking only those who had been at fault, searching out men as if it had eyes, at last returning to its place in the tapa bundle. The arrow was given the name Ka-pua-akamai-loa (The-very-wise-arrow). Very many were punished by this wise arrow.

    Wondering and confused was the great assemblage of chiefs, and they said to each other, "We have no warrior who can stand before this very skilful young man."

    The king gave Pikoi an honorable place among his chiefs, making him his personal great rat-hunter. The queen adopted him as her own child.

    No one had heard Pikoi's name during all these wonderful experiences;. When he chanted his prayer in which he gave his name, he had sung so softly that no one could hear what he was saying. Therefore the people called him Ka-pana-kahu-ahi (The-fire-building-shooter), because his arrow was like fire in its destruction.

    Pikoi returned to Manoa Valley with Pawaa and his father and sister. There he dwelt for some time in a great grass house, the gift of the king.

    Kakuhihewa planned to give him his daughter in marriage, but opportunity for new experiences in Hawaii came to Pikoi, and he went to that island, where he became a noted bird-shooter as well as a rat-hunter, and had his final contest with Mainele.

    Mainele was very much ashamed when the king commanded him to gather up not only the dead bodies of all the people who were slain by that very wise arrow, but the bodies of the rats also. He was compelled to make the ground clean from the blood of the dead. He ran away and hid himself in a village with people of the low class until an opportunity came to go to the island Hawaii to attempt a new record for himself with his bow and arrow.

    Some Sources

  • Abraham Fornander
  • Ben R. Finney
  • Bishop Museum
  • Bruce Cartwright
  • Dennis Kawaharada
  • Duke Kahanamoku
  • Fragments of Hawaiian History
  • Nathaniel Emerson
  • Polynesian Voyaging Society
  • Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii
  • Surf-Riding, Its Thrills and Techniques
  • Tom Blake
  • Traditions of Hawaii
  • William Ellis

  • Additional Resources


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