The Hawaiian Orpheus And Eurydice

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.

The Hawaiian Iliad The Head And The Tail Of The Serpent facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail