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Punaʻaikoaʻe

koeʻkea flying in a blue sky
Koaʻekea or white-tailed tropicbird (NPS Photo/J. Wei)

It was dark in the cave. You could hear the silence. Punaʻaikoaʻe, the chief of Oʻahu, didn’t know where he went wrong. He had become the captive of his lover Kalamainuʻu.

The waves at Waimānalo had been sublime for surfing, but suddenly he was overcome by the beauty of a woman who approached him on the water, Kalamainuʻu. He followed her on his surfboard to a cave on the island of Molokaʻi where she took him as her lover. And now he was held captive. He soon found out from the brother of Kalamainuʻu, Hīnale, that she was not a human woman. She was a moʻo (a giant supernatural shape-shifting lizard).

Punaʻaikoaʻe told Kalamainuʻu that he desired the chilled waters of Poliʻahu (the deity of snow) from the island of Hawaiʻi. He convinced her to ascend Maunakea and gather water so that he could quench his thirst. Before she left, Punaʻaikoaʻe secretly punched holes into her huewai (water gourd). This allowed the water to drain from it as she attempted to bring it to him. This delayed her return, which allowed him to flee to Kīlauea volcano and put himself under the protection of his former wife’s family, the family of Pele. Pele was driven to be with Punaʻaikoaʻe for his good looks and looked for any opportunity to protect him from Kalamainuʻu because of how he had been treated.

Vexation consumed Kalamainuʻu when she realized that she was tricked. She summoned the moʻo from all parts of the Hawaiian archipelago and together they swarmed to the edge of the home of Pele. At the craterʻs edge, she threatened to fill the volcano with phlegm to extinguish the flames of the crater unless Punaʻaikoaʻe was released to her. In her rage, she did not realize that she was standing on Kapalikapuokamohoaliʻi, the sacred cliffʻs of Peleʻs oldest brother. Soon she felt an unbearable heat radiate beneath her feet. Volcanic ballistics exploded into the air and the heat from the volcanic gasses was so intense that all of Peleʻs adversaries died between the clefts of the Kīlauea volcano. Kalamainuʻu fled and plunged into a pond called Lokoaka in order to survive the eruption. Kalamainuʻu barely escaped with her life and was not able to reclaim Punaʻaikoaʻe as her own.

You are able to see a part of this story take place right up to this very day. The kinolau (the many body forms taken by a supernatural being) of Punaʻaikoaʻe in the form of the bird koaʻekea continues to fly over the home of Pele. From the sacred cliffs of Kapalikapuokamohoaliʻi, you are able to see the Koaʻekea, or white-tailed tropic bird, and the consecrated protection it has under the domain of Pele.

Having been shared by many Hawaiians over long periods of time, different versions of moʻolelo may vary, in some cases significantly.
Read more about moʻolelo relating to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Last updated: October 28, 2020