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The Japanese Sword


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

More than two centuries before Columbus reached America on its Atlantic
side a Japanese junk visited the western shore. The tradition is too
vague to specify whether the navigators attempted a landing or not,
but as their boat was small and could not have been provisioned for a
voyage of thousands of miles, it is probable that they took on fresh
supplies of food and water before they put about and started on the
homeward journey. They never saw Japan again, for their vessel went
to wreck on Maui, whose king personally rescued five of them,--three
men and two women. This was the second appearance in the Hawaiian
islands of "white people with shining eyes." When the captain of the
junk reached the shore he still carried the keen sword of steel he had
girded on in the expectation of an attack from savages. There was no
attack. He and his mates were received with kindness, and provided with
houses, although they shocked the multitude by their ignorance of the
taboo, the men and women eating from the same dishes. It was explained
that their gods were poor, half-enlightened creatures, and that it was
as well to let them alone until they should learn truth and manners.

In time these castaways took Mauians to husband and wife, the
captain's sister marrying the king himself, but the captain was held in
superstitious reverence because of his sword. The natives had daggers,
knives, axes, adzes, hammers, and spears of stone, bone, shark teeth,
and fire-hardened wood, but metals were unknown to them, and this long,
glittering blade, that cut a javelin stem as the javelin would crack
a rib, was a daily wonder. It was the common belief on that island
that whoever wielded the weapon would win a victory, though his
enemies should be thousands in number. This belief was comforting,
but it did not last, for Kalaunui, king of Hawaii, undertook in the
year 1260 the subjugation of the whole group, and although his force
was defeated with great slaughter on Kauai, he had subdued Maui,
Oahu, and Molokai, for the time being, with his fleet of two thousand
well-manned, well-armed canoes.

In the great fight on Maui the Japanese warrior fought to the last,
but was struck down by a Hawaiian captain, one Kaulu, who buried the
precious sword on the spot where he had taken it, and recovered it
by starlight. Knowing that the king would demand it if it were seen,
he gave it in charge of his mother Waahia, a seer of such renown and
verity that she accompanied the army at the request of its leaders. The
old woman concealed the blade in the hollow of a rock. Unhappily for
her cause, she had not foreseen the result of this campaign, for the
expedition met its Waterloo on the shores of Kauai, hundreds of the
men being drowned or slain by slings and javelins before a landing
could be made. King Kalaunui was made prisoner, the kings of Maui,
Oahu, and Molokai, whom he had taken with him as hostages for the
surrender of their islands when he should return, were released, and
a remnant of the invading force, under lead of Kaulu, returned. The
queen was filled with wrath at the failure of this expedition, and
rebuked Kaulu for treachery and cowardice,--Kaulu, who had stood by
his lord to the moment of his capture, and who had wrested the magic
sword from its owner.

Burning under this charge, he sought his mother and asked what
he should do to disprove it. She replied that he should not only
be cleared by the king himself, but he should marry the king's
daughter. The queen began at once to negotiate for the release of her
husband. That monarch was confined in a hut, surrounded by a stone
wall and strongly guarded, but was, nevertheless, treated with the
respect and distinction worthy of the Napoleon that he was. A fleet
of canoes with many spears was offered in exchange; but, with the
spoils of battle still in their possession, the victors only smiled
at this. Next came an offer of twenty feather cloaks, with stone axes,
ivory, and whalebone; but this, too, was rejected. A third proposition
by the queen was that the ruler of Kauai should wed her daughter and
agree to a perpetual peace. This came to nothing. Several attempts
were made to renew the war, but they fell flat, for the experience had
been too bitter and the people refused. Three years thus passed,--a
time sufficient to convince the queen of her political weakness. She
had almost resigned hope when old Waahia sought an audience at court,
and said, when she had received permission to break the taboo and speak
before the councillors, that she, and she alone, could rescue the king,
but she would not undertake this unless the chiefs would promise to
grant her request, whatever it might be, on their lord's return.

This pledge they gave with the understanding that it was not to affect
life or sovereignty or possessions, and the seer left for Kauai, with
but a single oarsman, in the morning. She arrived while the new-year
festivities were in progress, and everybody was in good-humor. There
were music, dancing, chanting of poems and traditions, feasting, and
much swigging of spirits, not to speak of indulgences that would have
shocked civilization. Unannounced, a weird-like, commanding figure,
Waahia sought the presence of the court. She had come, she said, to
make a final offer for the release of the royal prisoner: the offer
of a sword that flashed like fire, that was harder than stone, that
broke spears like reeds, that gave to its owner supreme fortune and
supreme command. The fame of the bright knife had gone abroad ere this,
and an offer had at last been made that carried persuasion with it. The
liberty of the king was promised when it should be brought. But first
she wished the prisoner's assurance that on his return he would give
his daughter in marriage to her son, since the young people loved
each other, and the marriage would also remove the disgrace that the
queen had angrily tried to fix upon Kaulu.

This was agreed to, and a few days later the old woman reappeared at
the palace with the splendid weapon,--one that would still be splendid,
for such blades are not made nowadays,--and with general rejoicing
at the possession of this wonder, the chiefs liberated Kalaunui, and
he returned to Hawaii, cured of ambition for leadership and military
glory. His daughter was married to Kaulu, captain of the royal guard,
and kings were their descendants. For many years the glittering prize
remained with the ruling house of Kauai, but its virtue had fled when
the invincible Kamehameha undertook the conquest of the islands and
their union under a single king, for he succeeded in that enterprise,
as Kalaunui had not.

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