Amongst the islands of the Hawaiian group is one named Lānaʻi. Beautiful, fertile and productive, its people are orderly and self-governing, but subject to the crown of Hawaiʻi, and loyal subjects of the Kamehameha. Among the natives of this island linger many traditions of the past, both curious and poetical. (Halcombe, 1867)
There’s a small island between Hulopo’e and Mānele off the southern coast. There is a tradition of how this place, and particularly the little island, came to be called Pu‘upehe, that was first recorded in 1867 by Walter M. Gibson, then owner of large portions of Lānaʻi, who reportedly learned the account from the chief, Pi‘ianai‘a, who was on Lānaʻi with Kamehameha I.
Gibson published the account under the title of “The Tomb of Puʻupehe, A Legend of Lānaʻi,” in the island newspaper, the Hawaiian Gazette of March 3, 1867.
Observed from the overhanging bluff that overlooks Puʻupehe, upon the summit of this block or elevated islet, would be noticed a small platform formed by a low stone wall. This is said to be the last resting-place of a Hawaiian girl whose body was buried there by her lover Makakēhau, a warrior of Lānaʻi.
Puʻupehe was the daughter of Uaua, a petty chief, one of the dependents of the king of Maui, and she was won by young Makakēhau as the joint prize of love and war. These two are described in the Kanikau, or Lamentation, of Puʻupehe, as mutually captive, the one to the other.
The maiden was a sweet flower of Hawaiian beauty. Her glossy brown, spotless body “shone like the clear sun rising out of Haleakala.” Her flowing, curly hair, bound by a wreath of lehua blossoms, streamed forth as she ran “like the surf crests scudding before the wind.” And the starry eyes of the beautiful daughter of Uaua blinded the young warrior, so that he was called Makakēhau, or Misty Eyes.
He feared that the beauty of his dear captive would cause her to be coveted by the chiefs of the land. His soul yearned to keep her all to himself. He said: “Let us go to the clear waters of Kalulu. There we will fish together for the kala and the aku, and there I will spear the turtle. I will hide you, my beloved, forever in the cave of Malauea.”
“Or, we will dwell together in the great ravine of Palawai, where we will eat the young of the uwau birds, and we will bake them in ki leaf with the sweet pala fern root. The ohelo berries of the mountains will refresh my love. We will drink of the cool waters of Maunalei. I will thatch a hut in the thicket of Kaohai for our resting-place, and we shall love on till the stars die.”
Makakēhau left his love one day in the cave of Malauea while he went to the mountain spring to fill the water-gourds with sweet water. This cavern yawns at the base of the overhanging bluff that overtops the rock of Puʻupehe. The sea surges far within, but there is an inner space which the expert swimmer can reach, and where Puʻupehe had often rested and baked the honu or sea turtle, for her absent lover.
This was the season for the kona, the terrific storm that comes up from the equator and hurls the ocean in increased volume upon the southern shores of the Hawaiian Islands. Makakēhau beheld from the rock springs of Pulou the vanguard of a great kona,—scuds of rain and thick mist, rushing with a howling wind, across the valley of Palawai.
He knew the storm would fill the cave with the sea and kill his love. He flung aside his calabashes of water and ran down the steep, then across the great valley and beyond its rim he rushed, through the bufferings of the storm, with an agonized heart, down the hill slope to the shore.
The sea was up indeed. The yeasty foam of mad surging waves whitened the shore. The thundering buffet of the charging billows chorused with the howl of the tempest. Ah! where should Misty Eyes find his love in this blinding storm? A rushing mountain of sea filled the mouth of Malauea, and the pent-up air hurled back the invading torrent with bubbling roar, blowing forth great streams of spray.
This was a war of matter, a battle of the elements to thrill with pleasure the hearts of strong men. But with one’s love in the seething gulf of the whirlpool, what would be to him the sublime cataract? What, to see amid the boiling foam the upturned face, and the dear, tender body of one’s own and only poor dear love, all mangled? You might agonize on the brink; but Makakēhau sprang into the dreadful pool and snatched his murdered bride from the jaws of an ocean grave.
The next day, fishermen heard the lamentation of Makakēhau, and the women of the valley came down and wailed over Puʻupehe. They wrapped her in bright new kapa. They placed upon her garlands of the fragrant na-u (gardenia). They prepared her for burial, and were about to place her in the burial ground of Manele, but Makakēhau prayed that he might be left alone one night more with his lost love. And he was left as he desired.
The next day no corpse nor weeping lover were to be found, till after some search Makakēhau was seen at work piling up stones on the top of the lone sea tower.
The wondering people of Lānaʻi looked on from the neighboring bluff, and some sailed around the base of the columnar rock in their canoes, still wondering, because they could see no way for him to ascend, for every face of the rock is perpendicular or overhanging. The old belief was, that some akua, kanekoa, or keawe-mauhili (deities), came at the cry of Makakēhau and helped him with the dead girl to the top.
When Makakēhau had finished his labors of placing his lost love in her grave and placed the last stone upon it, he stretched out his arms and wailed for Puʻupehe, thus:
“Where are you O Puʻupehe?
Are you in the cave of Malauea?
Shall I bring you sweet water,
The water of the mountain?
Shall I bring the uwau,
The pala, and the ohelo?
Are you baking the honu
And the red sweet hala?
Shall I pound the kalo of Maui?
Shall we dip in the gourd together?
The bird and the fish are bitter,
And the mountain water is sour.
I shall drink it no more;
I shall drink with ʻAipuhi,
The great shark of Manele.”
Ceasing his sad wail, Makakēhau leaped from the rock into the boiling surge at its base, where his body was crushed in the breakers. The people who beheld the sad scene secured the mangled corpse and buried it with respect in the kupapau of Mānele. (This piece is from the story printed in the Hawaiian Gazette in 1867; Halcombe noted – The Tomb of Puʻupehe – Sorrow Without Hope.)