Hauʻoli Lā Aloha! Happy Valentine's Day!
Today, people around the world come together to celebrate love and companionship. In the spirit of this holiday, we are paying homage to not one but two famous love stories of old Hawaiʻi. The first is the Legend of Naupaka, followed by the Legend of how the ʻŌhiʻa Lehua tree came to be. Please enjoy these epic tales of everlasting love.
Author's note: I haven't included English translations for Hawaiian words in honor of February and Hawaiian Language month. I encourage readers to research and learn the meanings of names and terms to perpetuate the Hawaiian language in their own lives. Mahalo and Hauʻoli Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi -Haylin
Naupaka and Kaui
This Legend is one of the most well-known love stories in Hawaiian mythology, and like many others of its kind; it personifies the commonly found plant and imbues it with a sense of mysticism.
The story is set in old hawaiʻi, in the time when elemental gods and goddesses roamed the earth in their human forms. Naupaka, was an aliʻi wāhine. She was beautiful and was loved by her people for her kindness to all. One day, those around her noticed she had become overwhelmed with sadness. Word got back to her mother and father and when they found her, she was beside a mountain pool gazing upon her reflection. Her parents asked “dear daughter, why are you so sad?” she replied in a heavy tone, “I am in love with a handsome man named Kaui… but he is a makaʻāinana”. Due to her royal rank, she knew that they could never be together. Her parents were beside themselves seeing their daughter in such distress. They told Naupaka to take Kaui and consult the Kahuna at the Heiau to see if there might be a chance they could be together.
The pair arrived at the Heiau and pleaded with him sharing the purity of their love. Alas he shook his head and told the lovers that this decision is for the Akua. Suddenly, a torrent of lightning wind and rain appeared above them and with a loud clap of thunder, they knew they would not be permitted to be together. Naupaka took the flower blossom from her ear and tore it in two. She gave half to Kaui and told him to return to the seashore village while she remained in the mountains. “Goodbye my love, take this blossom for we will never see eachother again” The Naupaka plants near them were moved by their love and some believe that the two lovers live on as the two varieties of the plant. There is a coastal variety (Naupaka kahakai) and a mountain counterpart (Naupaka Kuahiwi) that grow in perfect halves of each other. Local superstition is that if you bring the two halves of the flowers together it will rain because the lovers are reunited for a short time and they rain their tears of happiness.
Beamer, Winona Desha. Talking story with Nona Beamer: Stories of a Hawaiian family. Bess Press, 1984.
ʻOhiʻa and Lehua
Many ages ago, in the lands of Pelehonuamea, the great goddess of Halemaʻumaʻu, there lived a young man named ʻŌhiʻa and his famously beautiful partner, Lehua. Lehua was said to have a face as round and glowing as the moon with eyes that glimmered like starlight, a back as straight as the pali—the great sea cliffs—and hair that rippled down it like a waterfall. Her heart was as kind and generous as her face and form were beautiful, and all who knew her loved her. ʻŌhiʻa His legs were as thick and strong as trees in the forest, his chest as broad as the pali, and his face was as smiling as the sun. His heart was brave and kind as his face and form were strong, and all who knew him loved him. The two lovers were said to be inseparable.
In the evening, ‘Ōhi’a would play his ‘ohe hano ihu, sending the gentle melody to Lehua’s ears. Lehua would always follow it into the forest to meet him. Sometimes they strolled the forest paths by moonlight, wandering down to the shore to swim or surf.
Lehua’s ‘aumakua was the little red ‘apapane. It loved to follow her into the forest and add its piping song to the flute’s melody. As her ʻaumakua, the little bird looked over Lehua with great care.
Hearing of how handsome ʻŌhiʻa was, Pele was interested to see for herself. The goddess transformed herself into a lovely young maiden and when she laid eyes on him she knew she wanted him for her own.
One evening, as ‘Ōhi’a played his flute before Lehua arrived at their meeting place, Pele presented as a gorgeous young maiden. She was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, with eyes that glistened like fire. She approached ‘Ōhi’a, who greeted her politely and continued playing his flute until Lehua arrived.
Pele, determined to win ʻŌhiʻa, appeared night after night to him, and night after night, he politely declined and waited for Lehua. Pele, growing tired of rejection, seemed once more, and the fire in her eyes glowed red. “Come, ‘Ōhi’a, leave that girl and be mine,” the goddess in human form told him.
“I am sorry, but my heart belongs to Lehua,” ‘Ōhi’a replied.
“Don’t you know who I am?” Pele asked.
“You are the great goddess, Pelehonuamea,” ‘Ōhi’a replied. “I am not worthy of you. I am content with my mortal love, Lehua.”
As the two spoke, Lehua arrived. ‘Ōhi’a put his arms around her and held her close. Pele glared at the couple engulfed with jealousy. The earth began to tremble. She stamped her feet, and lava spurted forth, creating a fiery ring around the couple, with a clear path to the goddess.
“Leave her behind and come to me, and you will live,” she told ‘Ōhi’a.
“I am sorry, oh Sacred goddess. Lehua is my very truest love. If I were to leave her, she would die, and without her, I would die,” ‘Ōhi’a replied.
“Then you shall die with her!” The lava from the cracks beneath them began to ooze toward the couple. The lava came within inches of the pair. The little ‘apapane darted about them, flitting at the lava as if he would fight it back with his wings, but the molten rock was inescapable. ‘Ōhi’a lifted Lehua above the glowing lava. It reached his feet and began to cover them. The ‘apapane darted high in the air and flew away, chirping as loudly as possible.
The lava began to heap around ‘Ōhi’a’s legs. He held his sweetheart even higher. By the time the ‘apapane returned, Lehua was sitting on ‘Ōhi’a’s shoulders, caressing his face and weeping. The ‘apapane had tried to rally the forest spirits to rescue lehua and her sweetheart, but none had enough power to stop Pele’s power.
Their love moved Hiʻiakaikapoliopele Peleʻs, sister and goddess of the forest and hula. She transformed them into something that will be inseparable. ʻŌhiʻa’s legs began to change into the wood. His skin became bark. His arms became branches. Plucking Lehua from his shoulders, he held her high in his branches, away from the lava crawling up his trunk. As he held her aloft, he felt his body stiffen.
He saw her hair billowing in the hot wind that blew across the lava. Sparks carried by the wind landed in her hair, looking like red and gold blossoms. Suddenly, the girl was gone, replaced by the flame-colored flowers which bear her name and are held tenderly by the stalwart ‘Ōhi’a.
Little ‘apapane continues to visit his beloved Lehua and, even today can be seen sweetly kissing her as she rests in ‘Ōhi’a’s leafy arms. Now the lovers are together forever, and the ‘Ōhiʻa Lehua tree is some of the first plants to grow out of fresh lava flows, eternally resilient despite the harshest punishment of Pele.
Local superstition surrounding this plant is to never pick the Lehua blossom on the way into the forest, only on the way out. If the lovers are separated as you enter the forest, Lehua grieves and droops. Her spirit is crushed, the spirits of the forest weep, bringing the rain, and the lei maker may become lost. Instead, the lei maker travels into the forest, gives thanks for the beauty of the forest, and asks permission to pluck the blooms. Then the sweet-natured and generous pair will offer the blossoms freely and keep the path home clear of trouble.