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The Hawaiian Orpheus And Eurydice


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

Upon the slopes of Hualalai, just under the clouds and among the
fragrant sandal-woods, lived Hana and her son, Hiku. They made their
living by beating bark into cloth, which the woman took to the coast to
swap for implements, for sea food, for sharp shells for scraping the
bark, and she always went alone, leaving Hiku on the mountain to talk
to the animals, to paint pictures on the cloth, and to play on curious
instruments he had made from gourds, reeds, and fibre, for he could
play music that made the birds stop in their flight to listen. The
mother loved the son so much that she wished to keep him by her so
long as she lived, and that was why she never let him go with her to
the shore. She believed that if he visited the towns and tasted the
joys of surf-riding, shared in the games of the athletes, and drank
the beer they brewed down there, and especially if he saw the pretty
girls, he would never go back to his mountain home. And though Hiku
wondered what life was among the people on the shore, he was obedient
and not ill content until he had passed his eighteenth birthday.

As he sat one evening with eyes fixed on the far-off sea, sparkling
under the moon, the wind brought the hoarse call of the surf and a
faint sound of hula drums, and a sudden impulse came upon him to see
the world for himself. He called to his mother that he was going down
the mountain. She tried with tears and prayers and warnings to stay
him, but his resolution was taken, and off he went, saying that he
would be back again some day. Though he was as green as grass and
untaught in the practices of the settlements, Hiku was a fellow of
parts. He was not long in making a place for himself in society, and
his first proceeding was to tumble head over heels in love. His flame
was Kawelu. She received him graciously, flung wreaths of flower petals
about his neck in the pretty fashion of her people when he called,
as he did every day from sunrise until dark; and when he could row a
canoe and had learned how to swim and to coast over the breakers in
her company, he had gained paradise.

The day came, however, when these pleasures palled upon him, when he
wondered if his mother had kept on sorrowing, when he had a longing
to see his old home, to breathe the pure, cool air of the hills. He
was an impulsive fellow, so he kissed Kawelu and told her that he
must go away for a while; that she could not go with him, because his
mother would probably dislike her. He had not walked a mile before
he discovered that Kawelu was following secretly. He increased his
speed, yet still she followed, and presently this persistence on her
part began to anger him. The one thing he had taken from home was a
magic staff that would speak when questions were put to it, and the
youth now asked what could be done to turn the girl homeward. It told
him to order vines to spring so thickly behind him that she could not
break through, and they so sprang at his command. He could no longer
see Kawelu when he looked back, though he heard her voice calling
softly, reproachfully, and when he reached home, to the joy of his
mother, he knew that the girl must have given up the pursuit, as she
really had; for, discouraged by the steepness of the mountain and
the ever-increasing tangle of vegetation, she returned to her village.

This seeming indifference on the part of the young mountaineer was
more than she could bear. She lost interest in sports and work, fell
into a lovesickness, and though her father, the chief, sacrificed
many black pigs on her behalf, it was of no use,--she died of a
broken heart. They wrapped her body in the finest cloth, beaten by
the widow and her son, and placed it, with many lamentations, in a
burial cave hard by. Such was the dismal news that Hana took to her
son after she had been to the settlement to sell a batch of fabric,
and it filled Hiku with consternation, for he had intended to go back
for the girl as soon as he could reconcile his mother to the idea of
a daughter-in-law. He realized what a fool and a brute he had been,
and it was of little use for him to tear out his hair and roll upon
the ground in the way he did. He left his work and wandered among the
lava fields, muttering to himself, gesturing wildly, and beating his
breast. Finally it occurred to him to ask his staff how he could
amend for his wrong-doing, and was told there was but one way:
to rescue the girl from the place of the dead, in the pit of Milu,
on the other side of the island.

He lost no time in obeying this oracle, and on arriving at the wild and
lonely spot he made a swing of morning-glory vine, which here grows
very long, and let himself down, having first smeared himself with
rancid grease to make the shades believe he was dead. Thousands of
spirits were chasing butterflies and lizards in the twilight gloom of
the place or lying under trees. He despaired of being able to discover
the spirit of Kawelu. But she had seen him; she hurried to him; she
clasped him in a fond embrace; for she had forgiven his wrong conduct,
and now she was asking him, sympathetically, how he had died. He evaded
an answer, but bestowed on her a thousand endearments, the while he
was slowly working his way up the vine, in which he affected to be
merely swinging; then, just as she began to show alarm at having been
taken so far from her new home, he clapped a cocoanut shell over her
head and had her safe, a prisoner.

With the soul enclosed in the shell, he tramped back to her home,
living on wild fruits and yams on the way, and on poi that was offered
to him by strangers whom he met. The chief received him and his news
joyfully, but he did not know how to restore a soul to a body until
his oldest priest took the case in hand. Kawelu's corpse was taken
from the tomb, its shiny wrappings were removed and incantations were
performed about it. Then the priest raised a toe-nail, took the soul
from the shell and pressed it under the nail, working it upward with
both hands. It passed the ankle and knee with difficulty, but was
finally pushed into place in the heart. Kawelu gasped, opened her
eyes, sat up, embraced Hiku, and the people cried that their princess
was alive again. There was a great pounding of drums, much singing,
dancing, and feasting; every one wore wreaths, and Hiku was praised
without stint for his love and daring. The lovers were married, never
to part again. Kawelu remembered nothing of what had happened to her
after she was turned back by the vines on the mountain, and did not
know that her soul had been among the dead. And though he might have
taken a dozen wives when he succeeded his father-in-law as chief,
Hiku loved Kawelu so well that he never thought of taking even a
second helpmate. He brought his mother from her solitary hut on the
mountain, and she and the bride became very fond of one another. So
all the days of Hiku and Kawelu thereafter were days of happiness.

Next: The Rebellion Of Kamiole

Previous: The Hawaiian Iliad

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