By Anthony Pignataro and Anu Yagi
In her sprawling 2006 book Rough Riders: Hawai‘i’s Paniolo and their Stories, author Ilima Loomis (who also reports for The Maui News) told the story of Eloise Taniguchi, who grew up on Kipukai Ranch on Kauai and “resolved from an early age that she would never marry a cowboy.” Life in Hawaii is rarely so simple, however, and Eloise eventually met Eddie Taniguchi, a one-eyed, third-generation paniolo.
“I didn’t think we were going to fall in love, really, with one another,” Eloise told Loomis. “But then when my parents had condemned my husband, from his head to his toe, that’s when I made up my mind: If they’re going for looks, I don’t go for looks.”
It’s a familiar love story, sure, but there’s something familiar about most love stories, which above all reassure us that the affection and affirmation we want is not only real, but potentially close by. Love stories can be sweet to the point of syrupy sickness, but they can also serve as cautionary tales of what happens when emotional attraction runs wild.
Hawaii is such a romantic place, we thought we’d celebrate Valentine’s Day with a selection of some of the islands’ best love stories. Some come from Hawaii’s deep mythology, while others have more grounding in fact. But all of them have one commonality: the attractive forces between two people are not to be taken lightly.
Plus one of the tales features a detachable flying vagina.
We’ll start with a famous one. He was a tall and powerful man, full of confidence and intelligence–the greatest warrior of his time.
“She was beautiful, she was imperious and intelligent,” wrote the historian Cummins E. Speakman, Jr. in his 1978 book Mowee.
They were Kamehameha and Kaahumanu, the powerful Hawaiian chief who used cunning, skill and overwhelming military force to unite most of the islands and the Hana-born woman who would become his favorite wife.
According to Hawaiian historian S. M. Kamakau, Kamehameha’s love for Kaahumanu was no joke. “All her requests were granted,” Kamakau wrote. “She was allowed to enter the meetings of the high council.”
But Kaahumanu’s love for Kamehameha was more than just the love of a woman for a man.
Apparently, Speakman wrote, Kaahumanu had a thing for chiefs. Historians assume she was saddened by Kamehameha’s 1804 death, but she didn’t exactly live the life of a solitary widow after he died. In fact, Kaahumanu was, through new marriages, able to succeed where her first husband had failed.
After Kamehameha’s death, Kaahumanu “virtually kidnapp[ed]” Kauai’s chief Kaumualii, Speakman wrote. She then married him, finally bringing Kauai formally into the Hawaiian Islands. But she didn’t stop there: upon Kaumualii’s death, Kaahumanu married his son.
Like Speakman said, the woman loved chiefs. ❤
It’s with fascination–and some forgiveness–that we read King David Kalakaua’s tome, The Myths and Legends of Hawaii–The Fables and Folk-Lore of a Strange People. This collection of stories is “a curious mixture of authentic Hawaiian oral traditions recast in a Victorian Gothic style,” as Glen Grant describes in the book’s foreword, and showcases the “political and cultural contexts” of Hawaii circa 1888. And while all mythology evolves, Kalakaua’s work is a stunning example of the dramatic metamorphosis of Hawaiian myth after its having “undergone one hundred years of tremendous upheaval” in a time when “cultural relativism was an unknown concept to [those] who promulgated the notion that evidence of cultural decline was in fact a sign of progress.”
Though Grant points out that “the simplicity and beauty of the original tale sometimes seems lost in these Gothic embellishments,” that which is baroque is inherently beautiful and Kalakaua’s cadence is kingly, albeit clunky. As “the first royal monarch to circumnavigate the globe,” Kalakaua was an exceptionally learned and traveled man and his “frequent allusions to Greco-Roman and medieval times” make evident both his intimate understanding of Western lore and his apparently keen desire to elevate Hawaiian culture in world-view. No more is this evident than in his telling of “Hina, The Helen of Hawaii.”
“The story of the Iliad is a dramatic record of the love and hate, wrong and revenge, courage and custom, passion and superstition, of mythical Greece” writes Kalakaua. “[It] embraces in a single brilliant recital events which the historic bards of other lands, lacking the genius of Homer, have sent down the centuries in fragments. Human nature has been substantially the same in all ages, differing only in the ardor of its passions and appetites as affected by the zone of its habitat and its peculiar physical surroundings. Hence almost every nation, barbarous and civilized, has had its Helen and its Troy, its Paris and its Agamemnon, its Hector and its demi-gods; and Hawaii is not an exception.”
Just as Sparta’s Queen Helen and her abduction/seduction by Troy’s King Paris was the impetus of the Trojan War, Hawaii’s Hina was the crux of legendary warfare in the isles: “Hina, the most beautiful maiden in all Hawaii; Hina, whose eyes were like stars and whose hair fell in waves below the fringes of her pau; Hina whose name has come down to us through the centuries garlanded with song.”
Foreboding filled Hina’s mother Uli, a sorceress, ahead of Hina’s first marriage to Hilo’s Hakalanileo–a recent descendant of the more prominent of “alien chiefs” who came in the twelfth century, “near the close of the final migration of Tahiti, Samoa, and perhaps other islands of Polynesia.” Uli warned that Hakalanileo “guard her well, for I can see that some day the winds will snatch her from you, and you will behold her not again for many years.”
Sure enough, six years later, Hina was stalked and snatched from Hilo and “the winds that bore her hence filled the sails of the great barge of Kaupeepee”–a young chief who prided himself in tracing his lineage several centuries prior and hailed from Molokai as the eldest son of the isle’s “resolute old chief [Kamauaua, who] had from their infancy instilled into his sons a hatred of the southern spoilers and a resolution to resist their aggressions to the bitter end.”
The capture of pretty ladies was not uncommon then, when warfare was frequent but “of plunder rather than conquest… Women were sometimes the booty coveted by [Kaupeepee’s] buccaneers and during their raids many a screaming beauty was seized and borne to their stronghold on Molokai, where in most instances she was so kindly treated that she soon lost all desire to be liberated.”
Such was the case with Hina, who at first was grieved by the separation from her two sons Kana and Niheu and “dreams [of] the home for which she had been ravished.” But soon Hina was swayed by Kaupeepee’s “love [which] gently wooed her thoughts from the past and made sweet the bondage which he shared with her.”
For upwards of two decades, Hina and Kaupeepee lived together in Haupu, a “well-nigh impregnable” fortress on Molokai’s north end where “the mountains hug the ocean so closely as to leave nothing between them and the surf-beaten shores but a succession of steep, narrow and rugged promontories jutting out into the sea, and separated from each other by gorge-like and gloomy little valleys gashing the hills and, like dragons, forever swallowing and ejecting the waves that venture too near their rocky jaws.”
But when Hina’s sons reached manhood–each endowed by Uli with supernatural powers–the warrior pair and their legion set out to solve the mystery of their long-disappeared mother. But as Kaupeepee had promised Hina upon their meeting, “You are like no other woman; I am like no other man. Such companionship has approval of the gods, and you will leave Haupu only when its walls have been battered down and [I lie] dead among the ruins,” he again avowed that “should Haupu be taken [for Hina’s sake], go and count the corpses around its walls, and you will not blush to see how the son of Kamauaua has died!”
And die he did. “The slaughter was frightful… Not one of Haupu’s defenders escaped…” writes Kalakaua. “Kaupeepee and the last of his devoted band sprang from the blazing building to die at the throats of their enemies… Hina was found uninjured, and, while there was great joy to her in the embrace of her sons and aged mother, she wept over the death of Kapeepee, who with his love had made light her long imprisonment… Hina returned to her husband in Hilo, after a separation of nearly eighteen years, thus bringing to close one of the most romantic legends of early Hawaiian chivalry.” ❤
One of the great aspects of Hawaiian mythology is that the ancients weren’t shy about making their tales dark. In fact, some, like the story of Sweetheart Rock on Lanai, are pretty much Greek tragedies.
As is usually the case, our story concerns a beautiful maiden and a young, strapping warrior. Pehe, the maiden from Lanai, fell in love with Makakehau, the warrior from Lanai. In fact, Makakehau translates as “misty eyes,” expressing just how smitten he was with Pehe.
Anyway, Makakehau–though romantic and dashing–was also a tad bit jealous. So much so that he imprisoned Pehe in a cave right on the peninsula shore between Manele Bay and Hulopo‘e. Then one day, a fierce storm rose while he was away, drowning Pehe before he could return and rescue her.
Stricken with grief, Makakehau is said to have carried Pehe’s body to the top of the sea stack that towers over the peninsula, entombed her within it and then leaped to his death. Today locals (and state tourist officials) refer to the sea stack as Sweetheart Rock.
And there are bones buried there, as well, though according to George C. Munro’s The Story of Lanai, a 1921 archaeological expedition determined that they were merely those of dead sea birds. ❤
And now for something even darker. Princess Nahiena‘ena and Prince Kauikeaouli (who later became Kamehameha III) lived in the early half of the 19th century. They were brother and sister, but like many royals, that didn’t stop them from becoming tender lovers. They hooked up in 1834 (when she was 19) but the missionaries, wet blankets that they were, became enraged and expelled Nahiena‘ena from the church.
Backing down, Nahiena‘ena married Leileiohoku instead, but it was too late–she was already pregnant with Kauikeaouli’s child. A pariah from the church and her own people, Nahiena‘ena gave birth alone. Her child died shortly after the birth, and then she died at the all too young age of 21. It’s said that after he became king, Kamehameha III often visited her grave in Lahaina.
The writer Wayne Moniz fictionalized much of this for his short story “The Cruel Sun,” which he included in his 2009 book Under Maui Skies (published by Koa Books in Kihei).
“There were few documents about the couple, and those were dry narratives merely of what took place,” Moniz wrote in his book. “In this story, as author, I could provide a chance for readers to listen in on their affections, their dreams, and battles with personal demons and missionaries. If I’ve caught you up in the love shared by these two, then I will have succeeded as a writer.” ❤
KAPO’S DETACHABLE (FLYING!) VAGINA
Today, the Pele myth is the most infamous of our igneous isles’ lore. Prolific artworks in her honor aside, Pele’s renown is perhaps best (and most humorously) evidenced in the phenomena whereby thousands of tourists, under the sway of modernized lore, have mailed back to their hotels the small stones they’d stolen as souvenirs, with notes c/o concierges that beg forgiveness of the fire goddess for having transgressed her.
Popular as Pele is, many are already aware of her legendary love affair with the Lohiau, a young chief of Kauai, and the myriad scandalous stories that surround what American ethnographer Martha Beckwith describes in her book Hawaiian Mythology (considered a seminal scholarly work on the subject) as a myth which “continues at great length.”
So in the interest of time, we’ll skip ahead to the lesser (though no less intriguing) part of the Pele tale where she’s saved from Kamapua‘a (a horny pig demigod) by her sister Kapo’s detachable flying cooch.
Depending on the version of legend to which you adhere, Pele has four to 40 sisters. Kapo is one of them–a daughter of the sorceress Haumea–and “with her flying vagina is worshiped as an akua noho… a god who possesses the deified dead and gives commands or foretells events through [her] worshipers.”
Kapo is said to have “entered a growing tree to save her human husband, thereby so infecting it with deity as to be poisonous to all who cut it,” writes Beckwith. “The flash of light which marks the entrance into the tree of the god of lightning is a very old conception… [and] may derive from a primitive idea like that reported from Dobu [an island in Papua New Guinea], where people believe that fire from the pubes [yes, pubes] of flying witches is seen at night. This would explain such incidents in Hawaiian story as the display of her person by a supernatural woman to frighten off a malicious ghost, or the use of her skirt to raise a thunderstorm.”
“Kapo’s power to separate her female sexual organ from her body,” Beckwith writes, “gives her the name of Kapo-kohe-lele (Kapo with the traveling vagina).” To give Pele time to escape an attack by the overly amorous Kamapua‘a, Kapo lures him away with her flying vagina, which went as far as Oahu’s massive Koko Crater–the frilled-edge declivity of which is said to be an impression of Kapo’s cooch. ❤