Hanohano wale noʻoe
E ke anuenue o Mānoa
Ku kamahaʻo ʻo Kahalaopuna
Pua lei a ka ua me ka makani
Famous is the story of
The Rainbow Goddess of Mānoa
Kahalaopuna, the sacred one
Born of the wind and the rain
(Cabral, Boyd & Makuakane)
During the days of Kākuhihewa, ruling chief of O‘ahu from about 1640 to 1660, Kahaukani ((K) Mānoa wind) and Kaʻaukuahine ((W) Mānoa rain) were brother and sister twins.
When the children were grown up, their foster parents decided they should be united; they were married and Kahalaopuna was born to them – a uniting of the Mānoa wind and rain. She is deemed of semi-supernatural descent.
A house was built for her in a grove of sandalwood trees at Kahaiamano (some say the home was at Kahoiwai) on the way to Waiakeakua, where she lived with a few devoted servants. The house was embowered in vines and two poloulou (tabu staves) were kept standing beside the entrance (to indicate that they guarded from intrusion a person of high rank.)
Kahalaopuna “was so beautiful that a rainbow followed her wherever she went.” “Her cheeks were so red and her face so bright that a glow emanated therefrom which shone through the thatch of her house when she was in.
A rosy light seemed to envelop the house, and bright rays seemed to play over it constantly. When she went to bathe in the spring below her house, the rays of light surrounded her like a halo.”
She was betrothed in childhood to Kauhi, a young chief of Kailua.
When she was grown to young womanhood, she was so exquisitely beautiful that the people of the valley would make visits to the outer puloulou at the sacred precinct of Luaʻalaea, the land adjoining Kahaiamano, just to get a glimpse of the beauty.
Two men, Kumauna and Keawaʻa, had never seen Kahalaopuna, but they fell in love with her from the stories told of her. They would weave and deck themselves lei of maile, ginger and ferns and go bathing at Waikīkī and boast of their conquest of the famous beauty.
When the surf was up, it would attract people from all parts of the island. Kauhi, the betrothed of Kahalaopuna, was one of these. The time set for his marriage to Kahalaopuna was drawing near, and as yet he had not seen her, when he heard the assertions of the two men.
“How strange indeed was the behavior of your intended wife, Kahalaopuna! She went dancing two nights now, and on each night had a separate lover.”
Kauhi eventually believed them and he went into a jealous rage, stating he would kill Kahalaopuna.
He took her to the back of the valley; Kauhi struck her across the temple with a heavy bunch of hala nuts. The blow killed the girl instantly, and Kauhi hastily dug a hole under the side of the rock and buried her; then he started down the valley toward Waikiki.
As soon as he was gone, a large pueo (owl – a god and a relative of Kahalaopuna) immediately started digging out the body and restored life back to Kahalaopuna.
Kauhi then took Kahalaopuna to the ridge between Mānoa Valley and Nuʻuanu and killed her again. The owl, again, scratched her out and revived her. This was repeated again and again at Nuʻuanu and then in Kalihi. Finally, at Pōhākea, on the ʻEwa slope of Mount Kaʻala, he killed her again; this time the owl was not able to free and revive her and the owl left.
There had been another witness to Kauhi’s cruelties, ʻElepaio, a little green bird (a cousin to Kahalaopuna.) As soon as this bird saw that the owl had deserted the body of Kahalaopuna, it flew straight to her parent, Kahaukani and Kauakuahine, and told them all that had happened.
There was disbelief that anyone in his senses, including Kauhi, could be guilty of such cruelty to such a lovely, innocent being, and one, too, belonging entirely to himself.
In the meantime, the spirit of Kahalaopuna discovered itself to a party who were passing by; and one of them, a young man, moved with compassion, went to the tree indicated by the spirit, and, removing the dirt and roots, found the body.
He wrapped it in his kihei (shoulder scarf), and then covered it entirely with maile, ferns and ginger, and carried it to his home at Mōʻiliʻili. There, he submitted the body to his elder brother, who called upon two spirit sisters of theirs, with whose aid they finally succeeded in restoring her to life. They kept her last resurrection secret.
Kauhi was caught and subjected to a test. He lost and he and the two false accusers are put to death. His spirit, however, enters a man-eating shark, which lurks along the coast until it catches the girl out sea-bathing and finally consumes her body so that resuscitation is impossible.
Kumauna and Keawaʻa were, through the power of their family gods, transformed into the mountain peaks on the eastern side of Mānoa Valley.
Just above Puʻu o Manoa (Rocky Hill at the top of Punahou School) is another hill known as Puʻu Pueo. This was where the Owl God, Pueo, resided.
Today, you can still find the spirit of Kahalaopuna (the Princess of Mānoa) in the ānuenue (rainbows) spanning Mānoa Valley. (Information here is from Nakuina, Beckwith, Fornander, Thrum, Westervelt and Kalākaua.)
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Anna Derby Blackwell says
“maile, fern, and ginger” – would that be the awapuhi kuahiwi? because the ginger now used for lei was a post-contact introduction.