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The Hawaiian Iliad


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Kaupepee, who might have governed Molokai in the twelfth century, had
he not chosen war as his vocation, was a believer in home rule. He
did not like the immigrants who were swarming northward from Tahiti
and Samoa. Though they resembled his own race, to be sure, and
spoke a language he could understand, he regarded them as greedy
and revolutionary, and they worshipped strange gods and sometimes
misused the people among whom they had cast their fortunes. So
Kaupepee resigned his kingship to his brother, and became a fighter,
a devastator. With some hundreds of hardy men at arms and the finest
ships of the time, hewn from Oregon pines and Canada spruces that
had drifted to the islands, he bitterly harassed the other kingdoms,
dashing ashore at the principal towns in buccaneer fashion, laying
violent hands on their stores, capturing their handsomest women,
breaking the taboo in their temples, killing a dozen of their men,
then flying to his canoes again, hoisting his red sails, and putting
off before the astonished people knew exactly what had happened.

This prince had fortified himself in quite a modern fashion at Haupu,
in his native kingdom. From the land side the tract was reached
only by a narrow dike which he had walled across with lava blocks,
a tunnel beneath this obstruction affording the only exit toward the
mountains. On the ocean front he had also built his forts of stone,
although the sea boiled five hundred feet below and the plateau ended
in an almost sheer precipice. Deep ravines on either side of the
stronghold bent around it to the rocky neck, thus making the place
almost an island. In these ravines were narrow paths by which his
people descended to their boats, secreted on the dark and winding
waters or hoisted on the rocks. This was the Troy of the Pacific;
Kaupepee was the Paris, and here he brought his Helen, who was Hina,
the most beautiful woman of her day, and the wife of a chief in
Hawaii. Kaupepee, encouraged by his oracles, inflamed by reports of
the woman's charm, had been lurking along the coast for some time,
watching for his opportunity. It came when Hina ventured into the
sea to bathe on a moonlight evening. Kaupepee, dashing from his
concealment, intercepted her escape, shouted to his men who were
in waiting behind a wooded point, and while the woman's friends and
attendants fled shrieking to the shore, he lifted her into his canoe,
paddled away to his double barge a half mile out, placed his lovely
captive in a shelter on board, and began the return voyage. The drum
could be heard in the village rousing the people, and lights twinkled
among the trees, showing that a pursuit was intended. In vain. The
dusky Menelaus may have put to sea, but he never appeared in view of
the flying ships. During the two days occupied in the run to Molokai
the prisoner refused food, and begged to be put to death. She was
assured that no harm was intended to her. On arriving at the fort of
her captor she was surprised by the appearance of women who had been
stolen from her villages before, and who were now to be her maids; nor
could she restrain an exclamation of pleasure when she was ushered into
what for the next eighteen years was to be her home. It was hung and
carpeted with decorated mats; its wooden frame was brightly painted,
festooned with flowers, and friezed with shells; couches of sea-grass
were overspread with cloth beaten from palm fibre; heavy curtains hung
at the doors; ranged on shelves were ornaments and carved calabashes,
while there was a profuse array of feathered cloaks and other modish
millinery and raiment.

All, from Kaupepee to the humblest soldier, had paid the respect to
her that was the due of a queen. She was told that she could enjoy
a certain amount of liberty, and if she suffered from her slight
captivity she was asked what might be thought of her new lord whose
heart she had absolutely in her keeping, and who was therefore less
free than she. This pretty speech and the really kind treatment she
had received, together with a hearty and needed meal of fruit, fish,
potatoes, and poi, caused her to look on her situation with less of
despair. She belonged to a simple race, whose moral code was different
from ours; she was more luxuriously surrounded than she had ever been
before; Kaupepee was bold and handsome; he was, moreover, strangely
gentle in her presence, thoughtful of her comfort, and--well, she
fell out of love with her old husband and in love with the new.

Matters were not so very dull while the war lord was away on his
forays. A considerable populace had been drawn to Haupu, and there
were dances and feasts, games, excursions, trials at arms, races, and
swimming matches, in which Hina shared when it pleased her. Reservoirs
for water, storehouses for food, and parks of ammunition were also to
be established, for none could tell when the fort might be attacked. A
long time passed before it was besieged. That time might never have
come had not Hina left at home two sons with long memories. For
years, as they approached manhood, they devoted themselves to rousing
the people of all the islands and preparing a navy that should be
invincible. Kaupepee kept himself informed of these measures, and now
and again discouraged them by swooping on their shipyards, destroying
their craft, and running off with a priest or two for a sacrifice. This
kind of thing merely hastened his punishment, and in time ten thousand
soldiers in two thousand boats were sighted from the battlements
of Haupu. A land force was sent to attack the stronghold from the
hills. Kaupepee's brother could not prevent this. He was allowed to
remain neutral. He foresaw the inevitable. When he implored the chief
to give up Hina, save himself and his warriors, and agree to a future
peace, Kaupepee would not listen. He had a thousand men, well armed,
and his enemies had an almost life-long hate to gratify. "If my day
has come," he said, "let it be as the gods will. When the battle is
over, look for me on the walls. I shall be there among the dead." The
king went away with bowed head, for he knew he should never see the
defender of Molokai again.

Early in the morning the fleet put out from its harborage, where
the gods had been invoked and the priests had declared the omens
kindly. The mother of Hina stood in the prow of one of the first
canoes, her white hair blowing about her head in snaky folds,
her black eyes glittering. A fire burned before her on an altar of
stone, and on this she threw oils and gums that yielded a fragrant
smoke. As the walls of Haupu came in sight, bristling with spears,
she began a battle-song, which her warriors took up, crew by crew,
until the mighty chant echoed from the crags and every heart thrilled
with the hope of conflict. As the boats advanced almost within reach
of the slings from the citadel, the land army was seen advancing
over the mountains far in the distance. Haupu would be beleaguered
shortly. Kaupepee gathered his people around him, told of the odds
against them, and confessed that the end might be defeat, adding that
if there was one whose heart failed him the gates were open and he
could leave, freely, with the good-will of all who stayed.

Not a man moved. With one cry of "Close the gates!" they declared
for death, if so be that the gods were against them. The chief smiled
and prepared for the defence. Some cried that the shore was crowded
with enemies. Kaupepee replied, in Spartan phrase, "Our spears will
be the less likely to miss." A messenger arrived offering terms if
Hina were given up. The answer was, "She is here. Come and take her."

The land force had been making a demonstration against the narrow
bridge of rock that led to the fortress, and had succeeded so well,
according to a prearranged plan, that almost the entire garrison had
crossed the plateau to that side, when shouts of triumph arose from
the ravines. The enemy had entered them and was smashing the boats
of Kaupepee to fragments. That cry of defiance was mis-timed. In a
few moments a thunderous roar was heard that echoed through the abyss
and paralyzed the hands of those who were attacking the gates. The men
who had run to the walls, on hearing the shouts below, had let loose,
into the depths, a deadly avalanche of earth, rocks, and timber. When
the dust of it had drifted out, scores, hundreds, of dead and dying
were seen half-buried in the fallen mass. Armed with spears, knives,
and axes, a little company sprang over the parapet, and, running down
the narrow trail to the bottom, despatched the survivors,--all save a
few who swam to the reserve boats, and six who were carried up to the
fort for sacrifice. One majestic chief, who had led this attack from
the sea, avoided knives and missiles and drew away in safety with the
other few who escaped. He was one of the sons of Hina. "He is brave;
I am glad he remains unharmed," said Kaupepee.

For several days the siege went on, the men within the defences taking
heart from this first success, that had cost the enemy two thousand
men. The sea approach was abandoned, and now that Kaupepee's boats were
destroyed or injured, so that he could not get away, the assailants
concentrated their efforts on the landward side. They had devised a
movable wall of wood, heavily braced, like that used by the Romans and
Assyrians in their military operations. Foot by foot they gained the
isthmus and slowly crossed it, those immediately behind this defence
being protected from the slings and javelins of the garrison,--that
reached those at a greater distance, however. On a rainy night they
pushed this wall against the gates, found the entrance to the tunnel,
and at dawn were ready for the final assault. It began with a downpour
of spears and stones, before which it was impossible to stand. Then
the heavy slab that masked the inner door to the tunnel was lifted,
and in another minute five thousand men were pouring over the walls
and through the passage. Not one man attempted flight. Contesting
every inch of ground and fighting hand to hand, the men of Molokai
retired before the invaders. There was an incessant din of weapons
and voices. At last, the garrison--the fifty who were left of it--and
their chief were crowded to the temple in the centre of the plain. One
of the besieging party scrambled to the roof and set it afire with a
torch. The fated fifty rushed forth only to hurl themselves against the
hedge of weapons about them. Kaupepee was transfixed by a spear. With
his last strength he aimed his javelin at the breast of a tall young
chief who suddenly appeared before him,--aimed, but did not throw;
for he recognized in the face of the man before him the features
of the woman he loved,--Hina. The javelin fell at his side and he
tumbled upon the earth, never to rise again. Every man in Haupu was
killed, and its walls were levelled: Hina was found in her cottage,
and although she bewailed the death of her lover, she rejoiced in
her restoration to her mother and her sons.

Next: The Hawaiian Orpheus And Eurydice

Previous: The Little People

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