Why are some religions “real” while others are “superstitions,” “myths,” and “legends”? 1905 / today.


(By Rev. W. D. Westervelt in Paradise of the Pacific.)

The fountain source of the Mississippi has been discovered and re-discovered. The origin of the Polynesian race has been a subject for discovery and re-discovery. The older theory of Malay origin as set forth in the earlier encyclopædias is now recognized as untenable. The Malays followed the Polynesians rather than preceded them. The comparative study of Polynesian legends leads almost irresistibly to the conclusion that Polynesians were Aryans, coming at least from India to Malaysia and possibly coming from Arabia, as Fornander of Hawaii so earnestly argues. It is now accepted that the Polynesians did not originate from Malay parentage, and that they did occupy for an indefinite period the region around the Sunda Straits from Java to the Molucca Islands, and also that the greater portion of the Polynesians was driven out from this region and scattered over the Pacific in the early part of the Christian Era. The legends that cluster around Wakea have greatly aided in making plain some things concerning the disposition of the Polynesians. By sifting the legends of Hawaii-loa, we learn how the great voyager becomes one of the first Vikings of the Pacific. His home at last is found to be Gilolo of the Molucca Islands. From the legends we become acquainted with Wakea (possibly meaning “noonday” or “the white time” and his wife Papa (“earth”), the most widely remembered of all the ancestors of the Polynesian race. Their names are found in the legends of the most prominent island groups, and the highest places are granted them among the chief dieties. Their deeds belong to the most ancient times—the creation or discovery of the various islands of the Pacific world. Those who worshipped Wakea and Papa are found in such widely separated localities that it must be considered impossible for even a demi-god to have had so many homes. Atea or Wakea was one of the highest gods of the Marquesas islands. Here his name means “light.” The Marquesans evidently look back of all their present history and locate Atea in the ancient home land. Va-tea, in the Society Islands, Wakea in Hawaii and New Zealand, Makea-Vakea and Akea are phonetic variations of the one name when written down by the students who made a written form for words repeated from generation to generation by word of mouth alone. Even under the name Wakea this ancient chief is known by most widely separated islands. The only reasonable explanation for this widespread reference to Wakea is that he was an ancestor belonging in common to all the scattered Polynesians. It seems as if there must have been a period when Wakea was king of chief of a united people. He must have been of great ability and probably was the great king of the United Polynesians. If this were the fact it would naturally result that his memory would be carried wherever the dispersed race might go.

In the myths and legends of the Hervey Islands, Vatea is located near the beginning of their national existence.” Then there came upon the ancient world Te Vaerua, “the breath” or “the life.” Then came the god time—Te Manawa roa, “the long ago.” Then their creation legends locate Vari, a woman whose name means “the beginning,” a name curiously similar to the Hebrew word bara, to create, as in Gen. 1:1. Her children were torn out of her breasts and given homes in the ancient mist land, with which without any preparation or introduction, Hawa-iki is confused in a part of the legend. One of the children of Vari dwelt in a “sacred tabu island” and became the god of the fish. Another sought a home “where the red parrots’ feathers were gathered”—the royal feathers for the high chief’s garments. Another became the echo-god and lived in the “hollow grey rocks.” Another as the gods of the winds went far out “on the deep ocean.” Another, a girl, found a home, “the silent land,” with her mother. Wakea, or Vatea, the eldest of this family remained in Avaiki (Hawaii) the ancestral home—”the bright land of Vatea.” Here he married Papa. This Ava-iki was to the Herveyites of later generations the fiery volcanic under-world. When the long sea voyages ceased after some centuries, the islanders realized that Ava-iki was very closely connected with their history. They had but a misty idea of far off lands, and they did know of earthquakes and lava caves and volcanic fires—so they located Ava-iki as the secret world under their islands. This underworld with legendary inconsistency was located on the ocean’s surface, when it became necessary to have their islands discovered by the descendants of Vatea. According to the Hervey legends, Vatea is the father of Lono and Kanaloa, two of the great gods of the Polynesians. They are twins. Lono has three sons, whom he sends away. They sail out through many heavens and from Ava-iki “pull up” out of the deep ocean two of the Hervey islands. The natives of the Hervey group supposed that the horizon around their group inclosed the world. Beyond this world were heaves after heavens. A daring voyager by sailing through the sky line would break out from this world into an unknown world or a heaven bounded by new horizons. Strangers thus “broke through” from heaven to heaven, sometimes making use of the path of the sun. Thus about twenty-five generations ago Raa (possibly Laa, the Hawaiian), broke down the horizon’s bars and established a line of kings in Raiatea. So also when Captain Cook came to the Hervey Islands the natives said: “Whence comes this strange thing? It has climbed up (come up forcibly) from the thin land the home of Wakea.” He had pierced the western heavens from which their ancestors had come. Continue reading


William Hyde Rice’s Hawaiian Legends in English, 1923.

[From the Preface of “Hawaiian Legends by William Hyde Rice”]

The collection of Hawaiian legends of which a translation is given in the following pages represents the work of many years by William Hyde Rice of Kauai. However, it is only within the last few years that Mr. Rice has translated the legends from his Hawaiian manuscripts. He has tried to make his version as literal as possible, preserving at the same time the spirit of the original Hawaiian, its flavor, rhythm, and phrasing. He has avoided adding modern embroidery of fancy, as well as figures of speech foreign to the Hawaiian language and to its thought and expression.


Mr. Rice has been exceptionally well prepared for this work, as he has been familiar with the Hawaiian language from his earliest childhood. In fact until he was twenty, he never thought in English but always in Hawaiian, translating mentally into his mother tongue. In 1870 when he became a member of the House of Representatives, during the reign of Kamehameha V, Governor Paul Kanoa and S. M. Kamakau, the historian, both well-known Hawaiian scholars, gave Mr. Rice much help with his Hawaiian, especially teaching him the proper use of various complicated grammatical constructions, and explaining obscure variations in pronunciation and meaning.

The sources of the legends in this collection are varied. A number of the stories Mr. Rice remembers having heard as a child, and now rare ones were gathered in later years. Many are from more than one source, but have corresponded even in details, and almost word for word. The legend of Kamapuaa, for instance, is one of the first which Mr. Rice remembers hearing. When a boy, the places mentioned in this story were pointed out to him: the spot where the demi-god landed, where he found the hidden spring, and where he rooted up the natives’ sugar-cane and sweet potatoes. The story of “The Small Wise Boy and the Little Fool” he has also been familiar with since childhood. The places mentioned in this tale can likewise be pointed out.

Most of the legends are from Kauai sources, but a number have been gathered from the other islands of the group. Whenever Mr. Rice heard of an old Hawaiian who knew any legends, he went to him, sometimes going to several to trace a special story, as for instance, the “Jonah and the Whale” story, “Makuakaumana”, which after a long search he finally procured from Mr. Westervelt. This curious story seem to be more modern than the others of the collection. While hunting for a reliable version of this story, Mr. Rice incidentally heard the story of “Manuwahi” at Heeia from an old Hawaiian.

“The Bird Man”, “Holuamanu”, “The Destruction of Niihau’s Akua”, and “The Girl and the Mo-o”, were obtained from Mr. Francis Gay, who is one of the best living scholars of the Hawaiian language. The Niihau legend was heard from several other sources as well. Mr. Gay also gave the legends of the “Rainbow Princess” and the “Shrimp’s Eyes”; the ti plants mentioned in the latter legend can still be pointed out, growing at the mouth of a little valley near Holuamanu. The Hawaiian manuscript of part of the Menehune story was obtained from J. A. Akina, while the story of the “Rain Heiau” was told to him in 1912 by a man named Naialau, who has since died at Kalaupapa. “How Lizards Came to Molokai” and Paakaa and Ku-a-paakaa” were told Mr. Rice by a man from Hawaii named Wiu, while the Rev. S. K. Kaulili, who is still living at Koloa, Kauai, gave him the most complete version of the “Rolling Island”.

During Mr. George Carter’s term as Governor, a reception was given in his honor, at Hanalei, where Mr. Rice was much interested in the very fine oli (chanting) of an old Hawaiian, named Kaululua. From him he obtained a number of legends, including that of “Ulukaa” from corresponding versions of other already in his collection. Other legends have been lost forever on account of ill-timed ridiculing by some chance companion, for Mr. Rice has found that the old people who know the legends are very sensitive, and when they find an unsympathetic auditor, refuse to continue their stories.

[It is often just as important to read the front matter and the back matter of a book than simply heading straight to the main text itself. Many times you can learn a lot of important information.

The stories credited to W. H. Rice found in the Hoku o Hawaii are probably the ones Rice collected over the years.]

(Rice, William Hyde. “Hawaiian Legends. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 3.” Honolulu: The Museum, 1923.)

Hawaiian Legends

Hawaiian Legends by William Hyde Rice

Wooden Kii found in Haleiwa, 1906.

[Found under: “This and That”]

Rev. W. D. Westervelt found a wooden akua image made of ohia that was 8 feet in length in a taro patch near the Haleiwa Hotel. This kalaipahoa was sent was sent to the museum of Kamehameha School.

(Na’i Aupuni, 8/30/1906, p. 3)

Ua loaa mai nei ia Rev W D Westervel...

Ka Na'i Aupuni, Buke II, Helu 76, Aoao 3. Augate 30, 1906.