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


A Chapter in Volume 1 of LEGENDARY SURFERS

Wa`a by Herb Kane.

Aloha and welcome to Chapter 5 of Volume 1 of LEGENDARY SURFERS.

As surfing emerged and developed in Western Polynesia between 1500 B.C. and 400 A.D., successive waves of Polynesian sailing expeditions explored and settled all of Polynesia. Double-hulled voyaging canoes covered thousands of miles of open ocean. They were guided only by celestial bodies, the flight of the golden plover3 and other birds, and sets of ocean swells as aids to primitive navigation – known today as “wayfinding.”

Legendary early-Twentieth Century surfer Tom Blake marveled: “No more daring and courageous sea journeys are to be found in history.” Indeed, by 800 A.D., the only other significant seagoing explorations on the planet had been made by Phoenicians sailing the coast of Africa, Irish travelers reaching Iceland, and Vikings discovering the Faroe Islands between Norway and Iceland.

After the major period of Polynesian expansion was over, there were later voyages solidifying the links between the islands. In this period of ali`i voyaging, the most famous of the voyaging chiefs is Mo`ikeha. Mo`ikeha’s name has become synonymous with “great king” in Hawaiian; his voyaging taking place between 1000 and 1100 A.D.

Image courtesy of Herb Kane.


  • The Pa`u of Lu`ukea
  • Some Sources

  • Varying Beginnings

    Hawaiian folklorist Abraham Fornander‘s version of the legend of Mo`ikeha has him originally as an ali`i nui (high chief) from Moa`ulanuiakea, Tahiti, where he lived with his wife Kapo, and his first child La`amaikahiki.

    Kalakaua, another noted Hawaiian folklorist, has Mo`ikeha and `Olopana as brothers from Hawai`i. According to this legend, they were grandsons of Maweke, an Hawaiian chief of the Nanaula line and ali`i nui of O`ahu. Maweke had three sons. The father of Mo`ikeha and `Olopana was Mulieali`i, whose first of three sons was named Kumuhonua. Compared to Kumuhonua, who became ali`i nui of O`ahu, Mo`ikeha and `Olopana had very small land holdings. The two younger brothers were dissatisfied with their lot on O`ahu, so they went to Waipi`o, on the Big Island of Hawai`i. There, `Olopana married Lu`ukia, a grand-daughter of Hikapaloa, ali`i of Kohala. Mo`ikeha did not marry while he lived in Waipi`o. Instead, he adopted a son named La`a, a son of Ahukai and a descendent of Paumakua, a famous voyaging chief of east O`ahu who “visited all foreign lands then known to the Hawaiians.”

    In the Kalakaua version, Mo`ikeha and `Olopana left Hawai`i in five canoes after a hurricane and floods devastated Waipi`o. The brothers sailed far to the south and landed at Ra`iatea, where they took possession of the land. `Olopana became the ruler and Mo`ikeha his chief adviser. Mo`ikeha’s house and heiau were called Lanikeha (“heavenly resting place” -- possibly a variant of Laniakea; an Hawaiian word for Ra`iatea).

    The Pa`u of Lu`ukea

    Another varying legend has Hawaiians `Olopana and Lu`ukia arriving in Tahiti [Kahiki], after moving from Hawai`i.12 While in Kahiki, Mo`ikeha became infatuated with `Olopana’s wife Lu`ukia and soon took her as his lover. Interestingly enough, `Olopana harbored no ill feeling toward Mo`ikeha. In fact, he approved of his brother’s affair. Around this time, `Olopana was appointed kuhina nui (highest officer) of Tahiti-nui.

    A Tahitian named Mua lusted after Lu`ukia, also. She discouraged him, but he was persistent. Seeing Mo`ikeha succeeding where he had failed, Mua decided to cause as much trouble between them as he could, in an effort to persuade Lu`ukia to turn out Mo`ikeha in favor of him.

    In the Kalakaua version that places Mo`ikeha and `Olopana in Ra`iatea. He has Mo`ikeha’s brother `Olopana becoming jealous of the growing prosperity and popularity of Mo`ikeha. Simultaneously, native ali`i Mua had ambitions of replacing Mo`ikeha as chief adviser.

    Mo`ikeha was a reknowned athlete and surfer. In addition to wave riding, he would often join in land games such as pahe`e (sliding or skipping a wooden dart for distance) and `olohu (rolling a stone wheel for distance). At the fields where the games were held, people gathered to cheer the winners. Lu`ukia would often hear the cheering. One day, Mua happened to be with Lu`ukia when both heard the yells. He said, “Lu`ukia, do you hear the cheering at the ali`i’s games?”

    “Yes,” Lu`ukia answered, “I hear the cheering.”

    “I don’t think the cheering means well for you,” he said. “No, Mo`ikeha is publicly defaming you.”

    How exactly he meant this is not clear, but for some reason, Lu`ukia believed that Mo`ikeha was somehow shaming her in public, got mad at him, and decided to cut him off, sexually. She ordered her attendants to bind up her wahi huna (private parts) with cord to prevent Mo`ikeha from touching them. Accordingly, Lu`ukia was tied from her waist down to midway down her thighs. The ends of the cords were hidden in the lashing, so it was not easily undone. The kind of lashing used was the same as the lashing used to secure the covers of water gourds and also to lash together the parts of single and double-hulled canoes. It was strong stuff! This type of lashing was later termed the pa`u of Lu`ukia.

    After competing in the games, Mo`ikeha returned home to Lu`ukia. He could tell by her looks that something was wrong, but the problem went unspoken. That night, climbing into bed, Mo`ikeha was surprised to find Lu`ukia still wearing her pa`u (skirt). Even though it was out of the ordinary for her to wear clothes to bed, Mo`ikeha still didn’t say anything. He bided his time, intending to eventually find out the reason for Lu`ukia’s unusual behavior. By the fourth night, Lu`ukia still wore her pau to sleep and so the next night, Mo`ikeha unfastened the pau and discovered the lashing over her genitals.

    “Why are you bound up like this?” Mo`ikeha demanded.

    Lu`ukia still refused to speak to him about it. From early evening until midnight, Mo`ikeha urged her to tell him the reason for the lashing, but she remained silent. Throughout the rest of the night, Mo`ikeha contemplated this recent change in Lu`ukia.

    “I don’t understand you,” he complained. “Here we were living happily, and now you won’t even speak to me. What have I done to make you bind yourself up like this?” Lu`ukia still remained silent about it.

    “Very well then,” Mo`ikeha declared, “since you no longer want me, I’ll go somewhere else.”

    It’s possible Mo`ikeha went further than making this statement, before going to sea. In Kamakau’s translation, Mo`ikeha left Kahiki and sailed for Hawai`i because he had “opened the food-offering calabash of his older brother `Olopana and had been caught undoing the chastity belt of `Olopana’s wife Lu`ukia -- the `aha or sennit cord binding called Lu`u-a-na-ko`a-i-ka-moana. He was severely criticized and so he went off to sea.”

    Mo`ikeha’s Voyage (Back) to Hawaii

    Before leaving either Kahiki or Ra`iatea (depending on which translation one favors), Mo`ikeha asked his best friend Kamahualele to make ready his double-hulled canoe.

    “Let’s go to Hawai`i,” Mo`ikeha told him. “Here I’m tormented by my love for Lu`ukia; but when the ridge-pole of my house Lanikeha disappears below the horizon, I’ll no longer think of Tahiti.”

    Kamahualele, in turn, directed his paddlers to get the double-hulled canoe ready. Mo`ikeha planned to take his sisters Makapu`u and Makaaoa; his two younger brothers Kumukahi and Ha`eha`e; his priest Mo`okini; and his na kanaka koikoi (prominent men), ho`okele (navigators); kahuna punahele (favorite priests), and kiu nana (lookouts).

    Early one morning at dawn, at the rise of the navigation star ka hoku ho`okelewa`a (possibly Sirius), Mo`ikeha boarded his double-hulled canoe with his fellow hoa holo (fellow voyagers) and left Tahiti.

    “Mo`ikeha,” proudly wrote the modern day organizers of Kaua`i’s Mo`ikeha Cup sailing race, “was taught to read the movements of the ocean tides, the position of the stars and the changing seasons. He learned about building canoes and good health habits to survive long voyages. In a time when travel was perilous Mo`ikeha always arrived at his destination thanks in part to his physical discipline, spiritual strength and leadership qualities.”

    From the dawn of the morning they left Kahiki-nui (great Tahiti), to the sunrise of the day they spotted Hilo, on the big island of Hawai`i, all went well (holo pono). Kamahualele stood up and celebrated their arrival at Hawai`i with a mele that also gave the genealogy of the islands and the first settlers. Part of this mele went:

    Eia Hawaii
    Behold Hawaii

    E moku
    An island

    E Kanaka
    A People

    The full Fornander version goes like this:

    Eia Hawai`i, he moku, he kanaka
    Behold Hawai`i, an island, a man

    He kanaka Hawai`i, e-
    A man is Hawai`i

    He kanaka Hawai`i
    A man is Hawai`i

    He kama na Kahiki
    A child of Kahiki

    He pua ali`i mai Kapa`ahu
    A royal offspring from Kapa`ahu

    Mai Moa`ulanuiakea Kanaloa
    From Moa`ulanuiakea Kanaloa

    He mo`opuna na Kahiko,
    Descendant of Kahiko

    laua o Kapulanakehau
    and Kapulanakehau

    Na Papa i hanau
    Born of Papa,

    Na ke kamawahine a Kukalani`ehu,
    The daughter of Kukalani`ehu

    laua me Kahakauakoko
    and Kahakauakoko

    Na pulapula `aina i paekahi
    Sprouts of land in a line

    I nonoho like i ka Hikina, Komohana
    Placed evenly to the East, to the West

    He like ka moku i lalani
    Arranged evenly in a line

    I hui aku, hui mai me Holani
    Joined to, joined from Holani

    Puni ka moku o Kaialea ke kilo
    Kaialea, the seer, circumnavigated the islands

    Naha Nu`uhiwa, lele i Polapola
    Left Nukuhiwa behind; landed on Borabora

    O Kahiko ke kumu `aina
    Kahiko is the source of land

    Nana i mahele ka`awale na moku
    He divided and separated the islands

    Moku ke aho-lawai`a a Kaha`i
    Severed the fish-line of Kaha`i

    I `okia e Ku-Kanaloa
    Cut by Ku-Kanaloa

    Pauku na `aina, na moku
    Divided up were the lands, the islands

    Moku i ka `ohe kapu a Kanaloa
    Cut by the sacred bamboo knife of Kanaloa

    O Haumea Manukahikele
    Of Haumea Manukahikele

    O Mo`ikeha ka lani nana e noho
    Mo`ikeha is the chief who will live there

    Noho ku`u lani ia Hawai`i-a-
    My chief shall dwell in Hawai`i

    Ola!  Ola!  O Kalana-ola!
    Life!  Life!  Set life free!

    Ola ke ali`i, ke kahuna;
    Long live the chief, the priest,

    Ola ke kilo, ke kauwa;
    Long live the seer, the servant,

    Noho ia Hawai`i a lulana;
    They shall dwell quietly in Hawai`i

    Lani mo`opuna i Kaua`i
    The grandchildren will sing out on Kaua`i

    O Kaua`i ka moku-a-
    Kaua`i, the island

    O Mo`ikeha ke ali`i.
    Mo`ikeha, the chief.

    The Diffusion of Mo`ikeha’s Crew

    After Mo`ikeha‘s voyaging canoe landed at Hilo, there began the first of several amicable defections. Kumukahi and Ha`eha`e liked the `aina (land) around Hilo so much, they stayed behind on the Big Island when Mo`ikeha’s canoe departed. Sailing from Hilo, on the western side of Hawai`i, Mo`ikeha and crew -- now minus two -- passed along the northern coast of the until they put in at Kohala. Attracted to the Kohala coast, Mo`okini and Kaluawilinau got off here.

    From Kohala, Mo`ikeha and the diminishing crew put in on the east coast of Maui, at Hana. Here, Honua`ula decided to get off and remain.

    Sailing on, Mo`ikeha and the remaining crew passed between the islands of Lana`i and Moloka`i. Directly off shore from Kawela, Mo`ikeha’s best friend Kamahualele spotted a fishing canoe outside Kala`au Point. Coming up to it, Kamahualele found out the canoe belonged to a fisherman named Kakakauhanui, who fished in this area regularly. Mo`ikeha was impressed with Kakakauhanui, who was a large, well-built man who appeared powerful and fearless.

    “I’m going to leave you here,” Mo`ikeha told Kakakauhanui just before resuming his voyage, “but when I find a place for us to live, I’ll send someone to bring you to me.”

    Mo`ikeha, sailing on, arrived at O`ahu, where his sisters departed ship.

    “We wish to reside here,” they told their brother, “where we can see the cloud drifts of Tahiti.”

    With Makapu`u and Makaaoa joining the list of departees, Mo`ikeha and company now added up to himself, his friend Kamahualele, the two paddlers Kapahi and Moanaikaiaiwe, Kipunuiaiakamau and companion, and the two lookouts, Kaukaukamunolea and his friend.

    So writes Fornander. The Kamakau and Kalakaua versions are different. Kamakau gives the following list of people let off the canoe as it sailed through the Hawaiian Islands from east to west: Moa`ula, who remained at Punalu`u, Hawai`i; Paha`a and Pana`ewa, who remained at Lahaina, Maui; La`amaomao, who stayed at Haleolono, Kaulako`i, Moloka`i; and Poka`i and Mo`eke, who remained at Wai`anae, O`ahu.

    Kalakaua recorded that Mo`ikeha sailed from the harbor of Opoa on Ra`iatea. The double-hulled canoe was nearly a hundred feet long and the crew numbered over 40. It included the prophet, poet and astrologer Kamahualele; the priest Mo`okini; and La`amaomao, the director of the winds.

    After an apparently uneventful 2,500 mile voyage, Mo`ikeha arrived at Ka`u, where a joyous crowd greeted the canoe and water and provisions were replenished. The canoe then proceeded to Cape Kumukahi and Kohala on Hawai`i, where it was welcomed by the ali`i nui Kaniuhi. Situated along the Kohala coastline, Mahukona was the main seafaring port on the Big Island. Here, navigators were trained in their arts. “Before embarking on any voyage navigational leaders would travel to Mahukona heiau to receive their blessings before leaving the island chain. From there, the voyagers went to Honua`ula, on Maui. Mo`ikeha was warned by his priest and seer not to go to `Ewa to visit his father Mulieleali`i, so he sailed north around O`ahu, stopping only at Makapu`u and Makaaoa. The voyage officially ended when the canoe landed on Kaua`i, near Kapa`a.

    Mo`ikeha’s Marriage on Kaua`i

    After Mo`ikeha and crew left O`ahu, they arrived at Kaua`i. Fornander has them setting anchor at Wailua, near Kapa`a. Most legends have them in the area of a famous Kaua`i surf break named Maka`iwa, between Wailua and Kapa`a. It was dark by the time they arrived, so they didn’t land right away. Instead, they moored their canoe offshore. Early the next morning, people saw this double-hulled canoe floating offshore with the kapu sticks of a chief aboard. The canoe was brought ashore and the travellers disembarked.

    Their arrival coincided with a rise in the swell at the eastside beaches on Kaua`i. Ancient Hawaiian stories, songs and chants -- meles -- recall surfing areas and even individual surf breaks on every island in the Hawaiian chain. For the island of Hawai`i, 49 individual surfing spots have been identified through songs and legend; 17 on O`ahu; 19 on Maui; 3 on Nihau; 1 on Molokai; 1 on Lanai and; 16 on Kaua`i.

    Among the earliest of the best known surfing areas was Kaua`i’s curving surf at Maka`iwa, located either near the Holo-Holo-Ku heiau in Wailua or in the Kapa’a area.35 Although Maka`iwa’s exact location is unknown, it is either what is known by surfers today as “Coco Palms“ or the break known as “Horners.” Coco Palms is off the east coast from where many coconut trees still stand along the shore. It breaks both in summer and winter, is usually bumpy, but is excellent for body surfing due to its sandy bottom. Horners works year ‘round and can produce thick left shoulders, but really only gets good during Kona winds. Since Wailua is on the windward side of the island, the northeast trade winds blow onshore producing bumpy surf most of the year. When the offshore Kona winds kick in, wave shape improves.

    The locals were gathering at Maka`iwa to go surfing, when Mo`ikeha and crew drew their canoe onshore. In this crowd were the two daughters of the ali`i nui of Kaua`i, Ho`oipoikamalanai and Hinauu. Mo`ikeha and crew joined the locals and surfed with them this morning.

    “In ancient times,” Duke Kahanamoku, the father of modern surfing told his biographer, “the Polynesians lay great spiritual importance to their surfing.” So, it was natural for a newcomer to the island to jump in the surf and ride waves straight off the boat.

    Mo`ikeha was a handsome man with dark reddish hair and a tall, commanding figure. He was also a good surfer. When Ho`oipoikamalanai and her sister Hinauu saw him, they immediately fell in love with him and decided to take him for their husband. 1960’s surf champion Phil Edwards, recalling this legend, once commented -- perhaps from experience -- that “surfers have that effect on tender, young girls.”

    For his part, Mo`ikeha, too, was struck by the beauty and grace of the two sisters. The love bug was working overtime as Mo`ikeha decided to take one of them to be his wife.

    After riding the surf for a while, Ho`oipoikamalanai and her sister returned home and told their father about the new arrival and their feelings towards him. They concluded:

    “We wish to take that young chief as a husband for one of us.”

    Puna approved. Orders were issued that Mo`ikeha be brought to the two ali`i women. Mo`ikeha and entourage were sent for and brought in the presence of the king. In the end, the love of these two young women being mutual, both Ho`oipoikamalanai and Hinauu took Mo`ikeha to be their husband. Less unusual than two sisters having the same husband, was one man with more than one wife, so this worked out for Mo`ikeha, too. Much later, Mo`ikeha became ali`i nui of Kaua`i, after the death of his father-in-law Puna. Mo`ikeha subsequently established control over both Kaua`i and O`ahu, and registered a dynasty that lasted 200 years. “So don’t tell me surfing doesn’t lead to bigger things,” added 1960’s stylist Phil Edwards.

    Mo`ikeha’s Kids

    Mo`ikeha had five children by Ho`oipoikamalanai and Hinauu -- all boys. His three sons by Ho`oipoikamalanai were named Umalehu, Kaialea, and Kila; the two by Hinauu were named Kekaihawewe and Laukapalala.

    In the Kamakau version of Mo`ikeha’s marraige, he married one woman whose name was both Ho`oipoikamalanai and Hina-`au-lua. Mo`ikeha’s three children were Ho’omali`i, named for the skin of `Olopana; Haulani-nui-ai-akea for the eyes of `Olopana; and Kila, for Lu`ukia, the wife of `Olopana and his former lover.

    Kalakaua’s version of the marraige has Mo`ikeha married to Ho`oipo, after winning the right to do so in a canoe race devised by Puna, the ali`i of Wailua and the father of Ho`oipo. Puna sent a servant with a palaoa (a carved and consecrated whale tooth) to the island of Ka`ula, southwest of Kaua`i. Nine suitors raced to the island to be the first to bring the whale tooth back. Mo`ikeha won the race by sailing to Ka`ula with the help of La`amaomao, his director of winds. La`amaomao had a calabash that contained all the winds of Hawai`i, which he could call forth by chanting their names. In this version, Mo`ikeha had seven sons with Ho`oipo; the third was Kila.

    Kila, The Chosen One

    The dominant version of the legend of Mo`ikeha has him working hard to make his two wives and five children happy, giving his undivided attention to the bringing up of his boys in Wailua. Thoughts of his old flame Lu`ukia were far from his mind. But, after a while, he began to feel the need to see his son La`amaikahiki -- his child by his first wife Kapo, back on Tahiti. He drew his five Kaua`i sons together and revealed his plans:

    “I’m thinking of sending one of you boys to bring your elder brother [back] to Hawai`i.”

    His Kaua`i sons got excited and each one wanted to go. “Let me go! Let me go!”

    When Mo`ikeha saw there would be much contention among his sons on who was to go, he devised a test to determine who should be chosen to go to Kahiki.

    “Let each of you make a ti-leaf canoe,” he told them, “and sail it across the river, one after another. The one whose canoe lands between my thighs shall be the one to go and bring your brother here.”

    Mo`ikeha took his sons to the river in the order of their birth. He proceeded to the opposite riverbank and sat down at the edge of the water facing the wind. Meanwhile, the boys proceeded to a point right across and upwind from their father. The oldest boy set his canoe down in the water and aimed it toward the desired point, but it missed the mark. The second boy set his canoe down in the water and missed the mark also. The third and fourth boys also took their turns and they, too, failed to hit the mark. Finally, Kila, the youngest son, took his canoe and set it down in the water and sailed it directly to his father and passed between his thighs. When his brothers saw that their youngest brother had won, they became very angry and from then on they tried to devise some way of killing him.

    Some time after this, Kila’s older brothers invited him to go and play at shooting arrows. Their parents, however, knew that the boys had no love for their youngest brother, so Mo`ikeha did not allow Kila to join them. The older brothers pretended to be kind to Kila in every way possible, but their father still refused to allow him to go.

    At last, when it was almost time for Kila to undertake his trip to Tahiti to bring La`amaikahiki to Hawai`i, Mo`ikeha gave Kila permission to join his older brothers in their sport. Mo`ikeha said:

    “My son, I’m not going to keep you away from your brothers any longer. The journey you are about to undertake may take you away from them forever, so you may accompany them from now until you leave. In the days following the kapu days of the temple, you shall sail for Tahiti.”

    “You must not permit me to accompany my brothers for I might get killed,” Kila warned his father. “I think you ought to provide them with a god so that they will fear the god and in that way they will be prevented from killing me. Then I think it will be safe for me to accompany my brothers.”

    Mo`ikeha recognized the boy’s good judgement and called his sons together. He told them that they must now have a god. His sons, excluding Kila, rebelled against this, refusing the idea altogether. Mo`ikeha took this as a sign that it still was not safe for Kila to hang with his brahs.

    Neither Kamakau nor Kalakaua mention the rivalry between the older brothers and the youngest, nor the test of the ti-leaf canoes. However, a test involving toy canoes is a motif in Polynesian voyaging tradition. For instance, the story of Tafa`i includes a version of this test, where Tafa`i made a twig canoe that beat the twig canoes of the other boys to shore.

    Kila’s Voyage to Kahiki

    When all was ready for Kila’s voyage to Tahiti to retrieve Mo`ikeha’s first son by his first wife, Mo`ikeha advised his youngest son Kila:

    “When you sail from here, go by way of O`ahu and call on your aunts; they are living on the windward side of O`ahu, facing Moloka`i. When you call on them, they will recognize you.”

    Mo`ikeha had personally selected his son’s crew. Mo`ikeha’s friend Kamahualele was to be Kila’s hoa hele (travelling companion); Kapahi and Moanaikaiaiwa were the hoewa`a (paddlers); and Kaukaukamunolea and his friend were selected as kiu (pilots).

    Kapunuiaiakamau and companion were ho`okele (navigators) and steermen. In case the canoe was in danger of running aground, Kamahualele would call out: “Kapunuiaiakamau, hold on!” Then he and his companion would hold back the water and the canoe would come to a stop.

    As he was about to sail, Kaua`i natives Hooholoku and a friend asked to join the crew. These were accepted and, upon the wishes of Kamahualele, Kila took on Kuaiwilu and Kauineno, making a grand total of thirteen in all.

    At the dawn of the day the kahuna had designated for departure, as the navigation star hoku-ho`okele-wa`a (Sirius?) rose, Kila set sail for O`ahu.

    Arriving offshore of windward O`ahu, where his aunts lived, Kila hove to and called out:

    “My greetings to you, Makapu`u and Makaaoa.”

    “Who are you?” they replied.

    “I am Kila of the uplands, Kila of the lowlands, Kila-pa-Wahineikamalanai. I am the offspring of Mo`ikeha.”

    “Is Mo`ikeha still alive, then?” they asked.

    “He is still alive,” Kila assured them.

    “What is he doing?” they asked.

    “Dwelling in ease on Kaua`i, the sun rising and setting; the surf of Maka`iwa breaking unevenly; the kukui blossoms of Puna changing; the waters of Wailua spreading out. He will live and die on Kaua`i.”

    “What brings you here?”

    “I am searching for a chief.”

    “What chief?” they asked.

    “La`amaikahiki,” Kila declared. He then departed O`ahu and made for Kala`au Point, where lived Mo`ikeha’s fisherman friend -- the one he had met en route to Kauai`i -- Kakakauhanui. Kila again called out, as he had to his aunts; more, he visited all the people left by Mo`ikeha on his original voyage from Tahiti to Kaua`i. After doing so, he set sail for Kahiki.

    The Search for La`amaikahiki

    Arriving in Tahiti, Kila and crew landed at Moa`ulanuiakea-iki, where Kupohihi -- one of Mo`ikeha’s uncles -- was living. According to legend, Kupohihi was a human rat, a member of the rat clan. They called upon him because they were out of food. Kila called out to his grand uncle the same way he had his aunts and the crew was given food.

    The crew then went on to the royal house of Mo`ikeha. After staying there for a few days, they went back to Moa`ulanuiakea-nui, landing on the beach. Kila and Kamahualele set out to call on Lu`ukia, Mo`ikeha’s old flame. When Kila arrived at Lu`ukia’s residence, he called out:

    “My greetings to you, Lu`ukia.”

    “Who are you?”

    “I am Kila of the uplands, Kila of the lowlands, Kila-pa-Wahineikamalanai. I am the offspring of Mo`ikeha.”

    “Is Mo`ikeha still alive then?” she asked.

    “He is still alive.”

    “What is he doing?”

    “Dwelling in ease on Kaua`i, the sun rising and setting; the surf of Maka`iwa breaking unevenly; the kukui blossoms of Puna changing; the waters of Wailua spreading out. He will live and die on Kaua`i.”

    “What brings you here?” she asked him.

    “I am searching for a chief.”

    “What chief?”

    “La`amikahiki,” he said of his half-brother.

    “Your brother is hidden on the mountain of Kapa`ahu,” she told him. “We haven’t seen him [in a long time].”

    Kila retired back to Lanikeha, Mo`ikeha’s residence at Moa`ulanuiakea. Later, Kamahualele and Kila looked for La`amaikahiki for many days, but were unable to locate him as he was in hiding for some reason. Kila finally gave up and rested for awhile.

    On the day before the kapu nights, Kila told Kamahualele:

    “You had better get our double-hulled canoe ready for our return voyage. I’ve decided to give up the search. Let’s go back and tell Mo`ikeha we couldn’t find La`amaikahiki. Perhaps Mo`ikeha will send someone else to continue the search.”

    Kamahualele carried out Kila’s orders, but was unwilling to give up the search. He thought it over and went to find Kuhelepolani, an aged female kahuna of `Olopana’s. He brought her to Kila.

    “Let’s delay our voyage home for a while to see if this old woman can find the chief for us,” he advised Kila. “She is a kahuna to `Olopana. Perhaps she can direct us to your brother’s secret residence.”

    Kila was encouraged by this new approach at finding his half-brother, but was unfamiliar with some of the Tahitian customs.

    “What is a kahuna?” he asked of Kamahualele. “What can she do?”

    Kamahualele described the character and rites of the priestess. Then Kila insisted that the kahuna help him perform the rites that would allow him to see La`amaikahiki.

    Seeing Kila’s genuine desire to reunite with the son of his father from his first marraige, the kahuna Kupelepolani explained to Kila what he needed to do.

    “After tomorrow, you will find La`amaikahiki on the mountain of Kapa`ahu. When we hear the beating of the drum Hawea, the drum which belongs to your father, Mo`ikeha, you must place a human sacrifice on the altar at Lanikeha, your father’s heiau; then you will be able to see your brother. The drumbeat is a signal for sacrfice during the kapu nights. Tomorrow night is the night of the strictest kapu (kapu loa), and it has always been so from your father’s time.”

    On the evening of the following day, the drum of La`amaikahiki was heard. Hearing the drum, Kamahualele was ordered to find a person for the sacrifice and to place the corpse on the altar according to the instructions of the aged priestess. During this night, when the drum was heard, Kuhelepolani came to Kila and asked him:

    “Did you hear the drum? The time has come when you will see your brother. Follow me wherever I go.”

    All that night and the next day, Kila followed the instructions of the aged kahuna. At evening, when they arrived near the place where La`amaikahiki was living, Kuhelepolani told him:

    “Let us remain here until we hear the drum again. Then you will enter into the mua (the house where people worship within the temple). When we get to the door of the mua, go in and conceal yourself in one of the corners; remain in your hiding place until your brother enters the house. Then be watchful; the one who approaches and strikes the drum is La`amaikahiki; after the priests line up and begin the prayer service (ka`i ka `aha), call out to him.”

    Kila and Kuhelepolani remained where they were until they heard the beating of the drum. That evening, after the sun had set, they approached the door of the mua and Kila went in and hid himself. When he entered the mua, Kuhelepolani rose and walked away, as it was the law (kanawai) that women were forbidden to join the priests at the kapu houses. Not very long after Kila had entered the mua, La`amaikahiki came in and went and stood before the drum, where he remained awaiting the arrival of the priests. Shortly thereafter the priests entered. One of them offered a blessing (pule), after which they prepared to begin the service. At that moment, Kila came forth and cried out:

    “My greetings to you, La`amaikahiki.”

    “Who are you?” asked a surprised La`amaikahiki.

    “I am Kila of the uplands, Kila of the lowlands, Kila-pa-Wahineikamalanai. I am the offspring of Mo`ikeha.”

    “Is Mo`ikeha still alive then?”

    “He is still alive,” responded Kila.

    “What is he doing?”

    “Dwelling in ease on Kaua`i, the sun rising and setting; the surf of Maka`iwa breaking unevenly; the kukui blossoms of Puna changing; the waters of Wailua spreading out. He will live and die on Kaua`i.”

    “What brings you here?” asked La`amaikahiki.

    “I’ve been sent by our father to come and take you to him as he is very anxious to see all his children together. I’ve been looking for you since my arrival here, but I was unable to find you; just as I was about to give up the search and return to Hawai`i, an old woman came to me and told me how to find you.”

    La`amaikahiki immediately prepared to accompany his brother to Hawai`i, as Mo`ikeha wished. La`amaikahiki took his priests and his god Lonoikaoualii, and set sail for Hawai`i with the men who had come with Kila. When they were approaching Kaua`i, La`amaikahiki began beating his drum. Mo`ikeha heard his drum and ordered everything, the land as well as the house, to be made ready for the reception of the chief La`amaikahiki. Upon the arrival of La`amaikahiki and Kila, the high priest of Kaua`i, Poloahilani took La`amaikahiki and his god Lonoika`ouali`i (“Lono at the Chiefly Supremacy”) to the heiau. It is said that La`amikahiki was the first person to bring a akua (god) to Hawai`i.

    Kamakau’s version of Kila’s voyage to Tahiti goes like this:

    Mo`ikeha sent all three sons to Tahiti to bring La`a back to Hawai`i. Mo`ikeha had designated La`a, the first born, as heir to his lands and titles. The youngest son Kila was placed in command of the canoe, the same one Mo`ikeha himself sailed from Kahiki to Kaua`i. “He first taught Kila the way to sail over the ocean and to study the stars.”

    After departure, the canoe was becalmed off Malae Point, near Wai`anae, where Kila and his two brothers met Poka` and Mo`eke, two of Mo`ikeha’s original crew members from the voyage to Hawai`i. When asked about his father, Kila replied:

    “He is enjoying surfing at the stream mouth, body surfing from morning to night on the waves of Ka`ohala in the sheltered calm of Waimahanalua -- the openness of K`wa and its swaying kalukalu -- the two hills that bear Puna like a child in arms-the diving place at Waiehu where the taro grows as big as `ape -- the curling of the waves at Maka`iwa -- his beautiful wife, my mother Ho`oipo-i-ka-malanai. Mo`ikeha will die on Kaua`i; he will not return to Kahiki lest his feet be wet by the sea.”

    The canoe proceeded on to Moloka`i, Maui, and Hawai`i, then left from Kalae in Ka`u for Kahiki. In Kahiki, they found `Olopana was the high chief, Lu`ukia the chieftess and La`a the heir to the kingdom. `Olopana persuaded Kila not to take La`a to Hawai`i. Instead, Kila became “a chiefly ancestor for the chiefs and commoners of Hawai`i and Maui.” The oldest brother, Ho`okamali`i, settled in `Ewa on O`ahu. Haulani-nui-ai-akea, the second oldest, settled on Kaua`i and became an ancestor of chiefs and commoners on Kaua`i. After `Olopana‘s death, La`a sailed to Hawai`i on his own.

    In Kalakaua’s version of Kila’s voyage to Tahiti, La`a was Mo`ikeha’s adopted son, born in Hawai`i (not Tahiti, as Fornander and Kamakau have it), a descendant of the famous O`ahu voyaging chief Paumakua. La`a accompanied his foster father Mo`ikeha and foster uncle `Olopana to Ra`iatea in the Society Islands after their home in Waipi`o Valley was devastated by a flood. La`a remained in Tahiti, not returning with Mo`ikeha to Hawai`i, because La`a had become the heir to `Olopana, the ruler of Ra`iatea.

    Kalakaua wrote that in his old age, Mo`ikeha longed to see La`a and ordered his men to repair the voyaging canoes. He also had a special gift made for him . a cloak of mamo feathers. “As but a single small yellow feather of the kind used in a royal mantle is found under each wing of the mamo, the task of securing the many thousands required was by no means a brief or easy service. As the choicest feathers alone were used, the garment was one of the most brilliant and elaborate ever made on Kaua`i and represented the labor of a hundred persons for a year.” Mo`ikeha “put Kila in charge of bringing La`a to Hawai`i.”

    Mo`ikeha put his fourth Kaua`i son Kila in charge of the voyage because of Kila’s courage and skill as a navigator. Kila was stoked to be going on such a long voyage. He provisioned a fleet of double-hulled voyaging canoes in a few days with “dried fish, dried banana and plantains, coconuts, yams and potatoes and poi and paiai, fresh fruits and cooked fowls and pigs for early consumption. Large calabashes of fresh water were also provided, but frequent baths largely diminished the craving for that necessity.” Sacrifices were offered, the auguries were pronounced favorable, and the fleet of canoes set sail for the south.” Kamahualele, Mo`ikeha’s friend and astrologer, went along as both a navigator and counselor to Kila. Three of Kila’s brothers went along on this trip.

    After a smooth voyage, Kila found La`a in Tahiti and presented him with Mo`ikeha’s gift, the feather cloak. `Olopana objected to La`a going to Hawai`i until La`a promised to stay in Hawai`i only a short while, then return to Tahiti. La`a went to Hawai`i, visited Mo`ikeha on Kaua`i, and married three women, returning to Ra`iatea only after Mo`ikeha’s death.

    According to the legend as recorded by Fornander, La`amaikahiki lived on Kaua`i for a time, then moved over to Kahiki-nui, on Maui. This place was named for La`amaikahiki’s homeland, in honor of h63im. The place was windy, however, so La`amaikahiki went over to the west coast of the island of Kaho`olawe. Here, La`amaikahiki lived until his return to Tahiti. Because La`amaikahiki lived on Kaho`olawe and, later set sail for his original home from that island, the ocean to the west of Kaho`olawe has been named: Kealaikahiki, “The Road to Tahiti.”

    La`amaikahiki Brings the Hula to Hawaii

    Some time after La`amaikahiki returned to Tahiti, Mo`ikeha died. His corpse was taken to the cliffs of Ha`ena and then ceremonially deposited. Soon after this, Kila assumed the chieftainship of the island. He followed in his father’s footsteps as king of Kaua`i, as was the wish of his late father, his mother, aunt, and his mother’s father. Fornander writes, however, that “comparing the two legends” of Kila and La`a, “Kila abandoned the island of Kaua`i and established himself on Hawaii, where he obtained possession of the valley of Waipio, the former land of his uncle Olopana.”

    When La`amikahiki heard from Hawena that Mo`ikeha had died, he decided to return back to Kaua`i and bring back the bones of his father. So, he sailed back to Kaua`i, appearing first off the Ka`u coast. By evening of the same day, his canoe was moored on the beach at Kailiki`i.

    That night, the people of Ka`u heard the beating of the pahu (drum), accompanied by the notes of an `ohe ka`eke (bamboo flute). The locals were surprised at this and rushed out to see where these sounds were coming from. Outside, they saw that the sounds came from aboard a double-hulled canoe and remarked:

    “It’s the canoe of the god Kupulupulu [a god of canoe builders].”

    When people heard that it was the canoe of Kupulupulu, they prepared vegetable food and pig as offerings to the god. At dawn of the next day, the canoe and the people on it were seen, and the people ashore cried out:

    “You makers of the sounds, here are vegetable food and pig; they are offerings for the god.”

    La`amakahiki did not stay long at Kailiki`i. He set sail again, going up the Kona coast. On his passage from Ka`u to Kona, La`amakahiki continued to beat the drum and play the flute, and he was treated as a god by the Kona people, just as he was by the people of Ka`u. It was on this visit that La`amaikahiki introduced hula dancing, accompanied by the drum, to Hawai`i.

    After receiving vegetables and pig from the Kona people, La`amaikahiki continued on his journey to Kaua`i, where he met his brother Kila and arranged to take the bones of Mo`ikeha to Tahiti. Soon after, the bones of Mo`ikeha were brought from Ha`ena. La`amaikahiki stayed a long time on Kaua`i teaching the people the art of hula dancing. From Kaua`i, he visited all the other islands of the group and thus the hula ka`eke (drum dance) spread to the other islands.

    After La`amaikahiki returned to Kaua`i from his tour of the other islands, he took his brother Kila and the bones of their father to Tahiti with him. The bones were deposited in the mountain of Kapa`ahu of Mo`ikeha’s own inheritance. La`amaikahiki and Kila also lived there until their death and nothing more was heard about these two brothers.

    Kamakau’s version of La`amaikahiki’s voyage to Hawai`i:

    After `Olopana‘s death, La`a sailed to Hawai`i, with Ka`ika`i-kupolo, the kahuna (priest); Ku-ke-ao-mihamiha, the kilo (seer); Luhaukapawa, the kuhikuhipu`uone (diviner); Kupa, the ho`oheihei pahu (drummer); Ma`ula-miahea, the kaula (prophet), and forty paddlers. The canoe sighted Maui and Moloka`i first and continued on to O`ahu. There, a man named Ha`ikamalama, at Hanauma, heard Kupa‘s drumming and rushed to Makapu`u to see where it was coming from. When he saw the canoe heading for Kane`ohe Bay, he rushed there. By the time La`a landed at a place which came to be called Na-one-a-La`a (“The sands of La`a”) in Kane`ohe, Ha`ikamalama had learned Kupa’s mele. He performed it by tapping his chest with his fingertips. He pretended he already knew about the drum so he could examine it and later make one himself.

    La`a settled at Kualoa and married three ali`i women -- Hoaka-nui-kapua`i-helu, Waolena, and Mano. All three became pregnant on the same day and gave birth on the same day. La`a “became an ancestor for chiefs and commoners of O`ahu and also for Hawai`i and Kaua`i. His chiefly descendants are found in the mo`o ku`auhau of Nana`ulu, Puna-i-mua, and Hanala`a-nui.”

    Kalakaua’s version: Once in Hawai`i, La`a visited several places, including Waialua, O`ahu, where his family was from. He visited Mo`ikeha on Kaua`i, then moved to Kualoa on O`ahu and consented to marry three wives, so that the blood lines of Paumakua could be carried on in its native land. The wives are the same three mentioned by Kamakau . Hoakanui, daughter of Lonokaeha; Waolena, daughter of a chief of Ka`alaea; and Mano, daughter of a chief of Kane`ohe. “The names of the children were Ahukini-a-La`a, Kukona-a-La`a, and Lauli-a-La`a, from whom in after generations, the pride and glory of the governing families of O`ahu and Kaua`i trace their lineage. From Ahukini-a-La`a Queen Kapi`olani, wife of Kalakaua, is recorded in descent through a line of chiefs and kings of Kaua`i.” After Mo`ikeha’s death, La`a returned to Ra`iatea and voyaging between Hawai`i and the southern homeland ceased.

    In either Kalakaua or Kamakau‘s version of the Mo`ikeha tradition, there is mention of Mo`ikeha’s grandson Kaha`i-a-Ho`okamali`i, who sailed to Kahiki to go sightseeing, departing from Kalaeloa, O`ahu. He brought back ulu (breadfruit) from `Epolu, and planted it at Pu`uloa, in `Ewa, O`ahu.


    To learn more about the modern revival of Polynesian Voyaging and Wayfinding, please visit the Bishop Museum and most especially the Polynesian Voyaging Society

    Some Sources

  • Abraham Fornander
  • Ben R. Finney
  • C. S. Stewart
  • David Malo
  • Desmond Muirhead
  • Duke Kahanamoku
  • Fragments of Hawaiian History
  • Hawaiian Almanac and Annual for 1896
  • Hawaiian Folk Lore
  • James King
  • Joseph Brennan
  • John Kelly
  • John Papa I`i
  • Kaupiku
  • Kenneth Emory
  • Kepelino Keauokalani
  • Knute Cottrell
  • Nathaniel Emerson
  • Northrup Castle
  • Phil Edwards
  • Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau
  • Thomas Thrum
  • Tom Blake
  • Traditions of Hawaii
  • William Ellis

  • More Resources

  • Special mahalos to Joshua Koki for use of his copyrighted background (blkbg.gif), one of my favorites!


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