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The Great Famine






Category: IN THE PACIFIC

Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Hua, the licentious king of Maui,--who kept a hundred hula dancers,
was drunk for days together on awa, and spared no wife or daughter
of a friend or subject if she took his fancy,--had been chafing
under the restraints imposed or attempted by his high priest, a
blameless man whose age and long service should have gained even a
king's consideration. It was approaching a new-year feast (the end
of December), toward the close of the twelfth century, and Hua had
made such levies on his people for useless wars and wasteful orgies
that the old man was moved to protest. Hua paid no attention to him,
but loudly ordered his hunters to go to the mountains and bring him
some water-birds for his table.

"Those birds can be found only by the sea," ventured the priest.

"You countermand my orders, do you?" roared the monarch.

"I gave no order," protested the venerable man.

"Hark you," insisted the king. "My men are going to the mountain. If
they find the birds there--and they will--you shall be slain as a
rebel and a false prophet."

Seeing that his master desired his death, the priest bowed and made no
answer. He went to his sons, who were studying for the priesthood,
prevailed on them to fly to Mount Haleakala, and probably hoped
to follow them, but being slow and lame with years, the hunters had
returned before he could escape. They bore their prey, the water-birds,
and said they had found them inland. Knowing this to be a lie, told
by the king's command, the priest said, "These birds came from the
sea. You can smell it upon them. Look." And he cut open two or three
of their bodies. "Here are little fish and bits of seaweed they have
eaten within the hour."

Enraged at the discovery of his paltry subterfuge, the king caught up
a spear and thrust it into the old man's heart. Though everything is
permitted to a king, the people could not repress a groan of horror,
and one by one they stole away from the spot, fearful of what might
follow this sacrilege. Well might they fear. The body of the priest
had barely reached the wooden cross that marked the temple-ground
as sacred when its bearers dropped it upon the earth and fled, for
a sudden fever smote the ground; hot, stifling winds began to blow;
the images of the gods wailed and moaned; the sky was red and dripped
blood, and the altar that was to have received the body sank through
the rock, leaving a hole from which gushed steam and dust. At that hour
every well, brook, and spring in the island went dry, save a rill in
a cave back of Hana that the gods devoted to the daughter-in-law of
the murdered priest and to the old woman who attended her, while a
nightly dew fell thereafter about the sons of the dead man, providing
drink to them and encouraging a growth of fruit and taro sufficient
for their needs.

In a day or two the people were desperate. Their crops were withering,
the forests shedding their leaves. Some men killed their neighbors
and drank their blood; others drank from the ocean and their increased
thirst drove them mad; a few took poison; several offered themselves as
sacrifices and were forthwith killed on the altars; but in vain. Prayer
and offering were unheeded. The wickedness of the people in submitting
to a king like Hua had brought its punishment. Frightened, repentant,
maybe, Hua himself fled to Hawaii, and his retainers scattered
themselves in Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai. They could not escape the
curse. Like the Wandering Jew, they carried disaster with them. Blight,
drouth, thirst, and famine appeared wherever they set foot, and though
the wicked king kept himself alive for three and a half years, he
succumbed to hunger and thirst at last, and in Kohala his withered
frame ceased to be animate. To this day "the rattle of Hua's bones
in the sun" afford a simile in common speech. And the wrath of the
gods was heavy, so that the people died by thousands.

Hua being dead, the survivors looked anxiously for a return of rain and
of life to the islands, and many turned to Naula, of Oahu, imploring
him to intercede with the gods in their behalf. This priest was of
great age, and was reverenced and feared. He could command the spirits
of the living, as well as the spirits of the dead, and talk with them,
far from the place where their bodies lay in trance. He had descended
into hell, had risen to paradise, and had brought back from the region
of the blessed a calabash of the water of life. The animals knew
and obeyed him so well that when he journeyed to Kauai and his canoe
capsized, a whale swallowed him and vomited him forth on the beach at
the very spot where he had intended to land, while at another time two
sharks towed his vessel against a head wind with such speed that the
sea fowl could hardly keep him in sight. Clearing his eye by a fast
and prayer, he climbed to the topmost height of the Waianae Mountains
and closely scanned the horizon. The earth was as brick, and the sky as
brass, and the sea as silver, save in one quarter: a tiny blur on the
universal glare could be seen, he fancied, over Maui. He would wait,
in order to be sure. Yes, in the morning the vapor was still there.

"The sons of the murdered priest are in Maui. I will go to them,"
he said, and descending to the shore he entered his canoe alone, with
neither oar nor sail, yet in the dawn he was at Maui, and the cloud
was now plainly seen waving about the great peak of Hanaula. From their
eyrie on the mountain the two young men had seen the approach of Naula,
for his boat shone in the dark with a moon-like radiance. They knew
that it bore some message for them, and when the old man arrived at
Makena landing they were there to meet him. His white beard swept
the earth as he bowed, and they bent low while waiting for him to
speak. "You are the sons of the most worthy priest who was slain by
Hua," he said. "That evil man has expiated his crime, and his bones
lie unburied in the light. The people suffer and die. The punishment
for Hua's crime has been severe and long. Let us join our prayers to
the gods that they may turn to mercy. I am Naula."

The elder of the sons replied, "Great priest, we will gladly pray
with you for our people, but first tell me of my wife. Is she alive?"

The old man wrapped his head in his cloak and put against his forehead
an amulet of stone. After some moments of silence he flung off the
covering and spoke, "She lives, and is well. The gods have cared for
her in the valley back of Hana."

This announcement carried joy to the heart of the questioner, and he
began at once the erection of an altar, the aged priest sprinkling
it with blessed water and placing beside it the phallic symbol of the
trinity. The invocation was over, but no living creature appeared in
the desert to serve as a sacrifice. A rustling was heard among the
dead bushes and the snout of a black hog was thrust out. Before it
could escape they had seized the creature, with a cry of joy, lifted
it to the altar, stabbed it again and again, and its blood flowed
over the stones. Then all bent about it and prayed with fervor. As
they prayed their shadows grew fainter, and the hot wind lulled. A
low rumble was heard in the south. They looked up. The heavens were
darkening. The rain was coming. "Praise the gods, who are merciful
and who receive our sacrifice!" the priests cried. And with that
immolation the days of suffering were over.





Next: Kiha's Trumpet

Previous: A Visit Of Pele



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