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The Various Graves Of Kaulii


Source: Myths & Legends Of Our New Possessions & Protectorate

When the Hawaiians were discovered by Captain Cook, in 1779, they had
not been visited by white men, so far as any native then living could
remember. At all events, they had acquired only a fair assortment
of vices and not many diseases. Human sacrifice and the worship
of phallic emblems and effigies of their gods and dead kings were
common. The king expected everybody to fall prostrate before him
when he appeared and pretend to go to sleep,--to be of as little
account as possible. And the people were pliant and willing under
their restraints. They allowed that the king was absolute master. Yet
they were contented usually and not ill looking; lithe and graceful,
too, and gay, fond of sports and swimming, lovers of music, dancing,
flowers, and color, friendly in disposition, and good-natured. Except
in shedding a few of their beliefs with the taking on of more clothes,
they have not changed greatly. As to cannibalism, white men have
become too numerous and too tough for eating, anyway, and they feel
safe in any native company of Pacific Islanders in these times.

Hawaiians claim that they never were cannibals, and that if they ate
such of Captain Cook as they did not return to his second in command it
was because they were absent-minded or mistook him for pork. They had
ceased to believe him a god, for he had displayed infirmities of temper
and consideration that led to his death. A tradition of theirs may
account for a once general belief in their man-eating propensities. It
dates back to the chieftaincy of Kaulii, in Oahu. The people were
careful in the sepulture of their chiefs, fearing that enemies might
find the remains and commit indignities on the senseless relics,
or that the bones might be used for spear-points and fish-hooks,
such implements having magic power when they were whittled from the
shins of kings. To prevent such a possibility, so soon as the spirit
tenant had gone the wise men took charge of the body and prepared it
for the grave. This they did by first cutting off the flesh, which,
being transitory and corruptible, they said was not worthy to be kept,
so was therefore burned; then cleaning the skeleton, soaking it in
oil, and painting it red with turmeric. This melancholy, if gaudy,
object was tied in a parcel and buried in some cave or cranny where
no foeman would be likely to find it. Sometimes the bodies were sunk
at sea, with rocks tied at the feet, and the hearts of Hawaiian kings
were often flung into the molten lava of Kilauea.

Kaulii was chief in Oahu in the seventeenth century. Most of his
ninety years he had faithfully devoted to killing other chiefs and
the people of other islands, wherefore he knew that many would try to
find his bones and break them. Just before his death he enjoined his
councillors to place his skeleton in some receptacle whence it could
not easily be taken. After his death his head councillor took it into
the mountains and was gone for several days. When he returned he sent
an invitation to every one whom his messengers could reach to share
in a feast in memory of the dead chief. Free lunch was just as great
an incentive in that century as it will be in the next. They came,
those faithful people, afoot and in boats, and camped in thousands
near the kitchen. After the games had been dutifully performed--for
funerals were seasons of cheer in those times--the dinner was served
to the assembly. There were boiled dogs, roots, fruits, fish, sour
beer, and poi.

When the last calabash had been emptied and the company had taken
a long breath, an elder in the party asked the councillor if he had
obeyed his master's command and buried the skeleton where it would
be safe from the vendetta that pursues an enemy to the grave. The
councillor made an embracing gesture above the multitude. "Here,"
he cried, "are the graves of Kaulii. His bones can never be disturbed

The people looked about the grass and under their dishes, and, seeing
nothing, asked to be enlightened. Then the councillor explained that
he had not only cleaned the bones of his dead lord, but had dried and
pounded them to a fine meal, had stirred them into the mass of poi
which these warriors and statesmen had enveloped, so that every man
who had shared in that feast was a grave. And they agreed that he was
a faithful and sagacious servant, and passed a resolution to keep his
memory a bright green for several years after he was dead. They say
that was the only time they ate a man, and they did not know it then.

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Previous: The Cannibals

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