More Hawaiian Legends and Fun Facts

The Legend of Hinaikeahi and Hinaikawai

Hala'i Hill, a familiar landmark rising some three hundred feet above Hilo Intermediate School, is a distant vent from Mauna Loa that last erupted some 10,000 years ago. The hill is actually one of a complex of three cinder and spatter cones prominent in Hawaiian mythology: Hala'i Hill, Pu'u-honu and Pohaku-nui. The southernmost of the three hills, Pohaku-nui, was home to the 'alae from which the demigod Maui learned the secret of fire. Maui was so impatient with the 'alae's deception that he is said to have rubbed the poor bird's forehead raw. The Hawaiian mudhen's naked forehead has been red ever since that fateful encounter. But the legend of Maui's sisters, Hinaikeahi and Hinaikawai, is perhaps the most fantastic of the tales surrounding the three hills.

Long ago, on the slopes of Hala'i Hill there lived a beautiful chiefess named Hinaikeahi. Hinaikeahi was wise and kind, and beloved by her people. The Hala'i soil was rich and fertile, and bananas, sweet potatoes and sugar cane thrived. Groves of breadfruit trees, expectant with ripened 'ulu, flourished in every direction. And taro was cultivated along the banks of the nearby Wailuku River. Supplementing their diet with fresh fish caught from the sea, Hinaikeahi and her people prospered.

Then came a terrible drought. For months the people watched helplessly as their fields withered under a cloudless sky. First, the taro, then the sugar cane, bananas and sweet potatoes shriveled and died. Parched gardens crumbled into dust and blew away. Even the bay, once so generous during times of plenty, was barren.

When the people had consumed the last lump of desiccated yam, Hinaikeahi ordered them to build a great imu at the summit of Hala'i Hill. Although there was no food to cook, they obeyed, for their chiefess had always led them wisely. Famished, they prepared a large pit and lined it with firewood and porous stones.

When at last they had finished, Hinaikeahi turned to her followers and said, "I will climb into the imu, and you must cover me with leaves and earth." Immediately the people began to wail in protest. "Do not stop me," she continued, "for my sacrifice is the only way for you to be saved. On the third day you are to open the pit, and you will find food for all."

The people did as they were told and waited for three long days. Each day, they grew weaker as they mourned for their beloved chiefess. But Hinaikeahi was not an ordinary woman. She was Hina-of-the-fire, bestowed by her mother, the goddess Hina, with special powers. On the first day Hinaikeahi dove through the underworld and emerged as a stream. On the second day, she became a pool by the sea. And on the third day she arose as a cleansing spring.

Returning to her people, she ordered them to open the earthen oven. The people uncovered the imu and stared in disbelief. It was filled with taro, sweet potatoes, pork and chicken; more than enough food to carry them through the famine. There was great rejoicing, and the story of Hinaikeahi's transformation traveled far.

In the meantime, the long drought had also devastated the gardens on the neighboring hill, Pu'u-honu. Pu'u-honu was the home of Hinaikawai, Hina-of-the-water. Hinaikawai had always been envious of her older sister's beauty and power. When she heard of Hinaikeahi's miracle, she decided to sacrifice herself in the same manner. She, too, ordered her people to dig an imu, then climbed in. Three days passed, and no sign came for her people to open the oven. After five days, a dark cloud arose above Pu'u-honu, and the anxious people uncovered the smoldering pit. Instead of finding food, they found ashes, all that remained of Hinaikawai.

Hinaikeahi mourned her sister's senseless death. If Hinaikawai had used her own powers, she could have brought on rain to end the drought! Hinaikeahi invited her sister's people to Hala'i Hill, where they were fed and cared for.

To this day, a crater remains at the summit of Hala'i Hill, all that is left of an ancient imu. Nearby, on Pu'u-honu, there is no crater, for the people there buried the imu when they discovered the remains of their chiefess. It is said that once a cinder cone becomes inactive, it is unlikely to ever erupt again. But the legends of fire that surround the Hala'i Hills are lasting testament to a volcanic past.

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