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Kalikiano Kalei

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A Story of Kauhuhu, the Shark God of Molokai
By Kalikiano Kalei
Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2008
Last edited: Sunday, February 24, 2008
This short story is rated "G" by the Author.
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Ancient Hawaiians worshipped many different gods, all of which populated their animistic pantheon of deities. According to Hawaiian custom, some of these gods would assume the form of a particular animal when it suited them, an attribute found also in a number of religions (including that of ancient Greece). This is a story of the Shark God of Molokai, Kauhuhu, as it came down in the form of mele (stories) passed from generation to generation in the oral tradition of the islands. Molokai was known to the ancients as 'Molokai of the Powerful Prayers', due to the great mana (spiritual power) attributed to the priests of that island.



Kamalo was one of the kahunas (priests) of the Ali’I High Chief Kupa, on the island of Molokai nui a Hina.   Kupa had a house built within temple walls in the valley called Mapulehu, which ended in the harbor, now called Aikanaka.  Kamalo's temple was a short distance away in the village of Kalua’aha, which faced the channel between Molokai and Maui. 

Kamalo had two sons, Kekipi and Keha, and a beautiful daughter, Lanilani, who thrived in the village and delighted in the brilliant colors of the sunrise and sunset.  The boys were handsome, strong young men and possessed the very courage of the spirits of sky and sea, often accomplishing great deeds of daring. Lanilani, whose name means ‘The sky’, ‘heavens’, or ‘heavenly’, was known all across the island as the fairest, cleverest, and most beautiful of all the young maidens of Molokai, but Lanilani equaled the strength and spirit of the boys in most things and had always been a brave and spirited girl. The boys promised to grow into strong warriors and lovely Lanilani was renowned for her love of the ocean and surfing. Kamalo was very proud of them all and patiently taught them the ways of the Heiau (temple), so they knew that those things that were sacred to the gods must not be touched.

The High Chieftain Kupa came to his home in the valley during certain seasons and everyone knew he was there when they heard the beating of his Pahu drums (a drum carved from coconut palm wood).  In his home, two very special Heiau Pahu drums were kept, carefully covered with sacred Tapa cloth.  When he chose to, with his unique skill he could communicate his thoughts clearly to his priests through the beating rhythms of those special Pahu.

It was during a fishing trip to Maui when Kupa was away for an extended time, that Kamalo's adventurous sons decided to see the chief's great drums for themselves.  Lanilani cautioned them to obey their father’s wishes, but they laughed and quickly dismissed her sisterly concerns. Shortly thereafter they raced along the beach and climbed over the ridge to Kupa's Heiau (temple).  There they cautiously entered the chief's home and, lifting the folds of the sacred Tapa, marveled at the large, magnificent drums that had been carved from great coconut palm trunks.  The heads of these Pahu were covered with the stretched skin of a Tiger Shark and the decorations were of giant waves and figures of Manoakua (ancestral shark spirits). Truly marvelous drums they were and the boys were amazed at the skill with which they had been cut from the native wood. They ran their hands over the craftsmanship and tapped ever so lightly with their fingertips, delighting to the powerful vibration given off by the stretched shark skin.  However, temptation proved too great, and the boys soon began to beat upon the drums with enthusiasm.  The loud echoes of their drumming reached many ears as they beat upon the great sharkskin drum heads.

Several of Kupa's followers who were nearby heard the drums, but dared not enter the chief's Heiau.  Instead, they waited, listened and watched until the boys took their leave, noting the identity of the irreligious intruders.  Upon Kupa's return, his followers told him of the boys' transgression.  The chief became furious and immediately called upon his Mu (Heiau sacrifice seekers) to take the lives of the boys and present their bodies at the Heiau alter in sacrifice to the Great God Ku. And so was it soon done.

When Kamalo learned of the death of his sons, a heavy bitterness filled his heart and his will became bent on revenge.  He realized that he was no match for Kupa, so he consulted with various kahunas and seers throughout Molokai.  He prepared gifts and sacrifices to take with him, making his way from one kahuna to another.  Despite the power of these kahunas, each one was fearful of Kupa and would not help Kamalo, instead sending him on to another kahuna further along the shore of the island.

Undaunted by this, Kamalo was determined and pressed onward.  Eventually, he came to the high sea cliffs on the north of the island overlooking Kalaupapa and Kalawao.  At the bottom stood a Sacred Heiau dedicated to the Great Shark God, Kauhuhu.   With great care, Kamalo climbed slowly down the high precipice and approached the kahuna of the Heiau. 

After hearing Kamalo, the kahuna told him, "Go to the great cliffs below Kalawao, to the cave called Anapuhi, the Cave of the Eel.  There you will find the great Shark God Kauhuhu himself, guarded by Waka and Mo-o, his dragon watchers.   Gaining his favor is your only hope to avenge your sons." The kahuna could give him no further help, but hospitably fed him and slaked his thirst with the juice of the Noni fruit before he journeyed on. Once departed, Kamalo made his way to the cave of his last hope, a sacrificial black pig slung across his shoulders.   These final miles took a toll on him and left him weary to the bone.

The shark god's watchers saw Kamalo approaching and gleefully told each other that a fish was coming to be eaten by their master.  But as he drew nearer, something in Kamalo's expression won their sympathy and they called to him to go away from this place, lest he lose his life.  

"I seek revenge for my sons,” Kamalo said, "I have no care for myself." Then he proceeded to tell them how the High Chieftain Kupa had had his sons slain for beating the sacred Pahu drums.  He described his travels throughout Molokai in search of a force powerful enough to help him.  He told them that Kauhuhu was his last hope and that if he was refused, he had no wish to further live.

Waka and Mo-o contemplated Kamalo's story and due to the eloquence of Kamalo’s words and his great skill in expressing himself, their hearts were now heavy for him and his loss.  To their great surprise, they suddenly found themselves inclined to help this poor mortal.

"We shall help you," Waka said, "but in so doing, we forfeit our own lives if your cause does not please our master.  You must be very carefu to do just as we say." 

"Hide in that pile of seaweed and fish bones there," Instructed Mo-o.  "Watch for eight great waves to come in from the ocean.  Kauhuhu will arrive on the last one.  If he sees you, he will eat you before you have a chance to speak.  So, you must be absolutely silent until an opportunity is made clear.

Kamalo did not have to wait long, for soon huge surf began to roll in to shore.  Waves crashed against the cliffs, each one climbing higher and higher until the eighth one rose up and was caught by the wind.  In a great gust, spray and foam were carried into the cave and suddenly Kauhuhu the Shark God was there in all his awful presence.  Before the wind even died down, however, Kauhuhu took his human form.

"I smell a man!" His voice thundered against the cave walls.  "Where is he?" 

Waka and Mo-o assured him that no man was among them, but the Shark God searched the cave walls and peered into every shadow before he was satisfied.  Just as he turned his attention away from the matter, the black pig squealed.  Kauhuhu leaped into the pile of seaweed and fishbones and plucked up Kamalo.  In an instant, Kamalo found himself halfway into the shark god's mouth. 

"E!… Kauhuhu, listen to my prayer!  Then you can eat me!" Kamalo cried.

Surprised and intrigued, Kauhuhu released Kamalo and agreed to listen to his story, which Kamalo told in detail.  As he reached the conclusion, describing how he was turned away by all the kahunas of all the gods, even the mighty Kauhuhu was overcome with pity for Kamalo. 

"Had you come here for any other purpose, you would have been killed." Kauhuhu said.   "But your cause is just and sacred and therefore you are the only man who has stood in my presence and kept his life.  I will be your Kahu, your guardian, and I will punish those who have acted against your sons. But there is a dear price that must be paid, also…"

Thereupon, Kauhuhu accepted Kamalo's offer of the black pig.  Then Kamalo received his instructions.  His first task was to go back to the Heiau of the Shark God.  From there he had to carry the kahuna over the cliffs to his own Heiau at Kaluaaha.  There they were to build a special fence of Kukui wood and put up the sacred white Tapa Kapu staffs.  Then, when they had amassed four hundred black pigs, four hundred red fish and four hundred white chickens, they were to wait for the arrival of the shark god…but not before Kamalo had instructed his beautiful and clever daughter Lanilani, to go to the High Chieftain’s Heiau, bearing fruit and fish as gifts for the Chief and to act as his concubine.

Finally, when all was done as Kauhuhu had commanded, they would see a white cloud over the island of Lanai, huge and billowing and unlike any they had seen before.  When the cloud grew to cover the island, it would move against the wind until it reached the peaks above Mapulehu Valley.  Then a great rainbow would reach across the valley and Kauhuhu would be there to mete out punishment and avenge Kamalo's sons. 

Kamalo made his way to the Shark God's Heiau on swift feet.  He carried the priest up the cliffs to his home in Kaluaaha.  There, he took care of the priest as they together built the fence, put up the Tapa Kapu staffs and gathered the pigs, fish and chickens.  Kamalo, leading his daughter fair Lanilani aside by the hand, then called all the rest of those who were close to him together to live within the enclosure to wait for the promised events. Beautiful Lanilani was given fruit and fresh fish and told to take them to the High Chief’s Heiau and wait there upon the High Chief, tending to his every wish and whim. Finally all was done as Kauhuhu had commanded, and the rest waited, with their eyes turned toward the island of Lanai.

Day grew into weeks, and weeks into months as Kamalo waited with the patience of one who honors the word of the ancient Ama’akua spirits.  Then one day, a white cloud appeared, different than any he had seen before.  It grew rapidly and then began to move.  It came across the channel and rested in the highest peaks above the valley where Kupa lived.  From the midst of it and descending to the lush greenery below it, a magnificent rainbow appeared that spanned the entire valley, and Kamalo knew that the Shark God Kuahuhu had arrived.

Suddenly the winds picked up until they became a howling gale.  Black clouds rolled in, flashing with lightning and unleashing torrents of rain. The trees bent nearly in two with the force of the storm. It was a most terrible and chaotic explosion of natural fury.  The most devastating storm the land had ever seen.  The rain flooded down the mountain, destroying everything and sweeping objects from before its path.   Kupa's Heiau and house were torn apart into small fragments of wood and palm frond, and he himself was swept into the ocean along with his entire family and all his followers. Included in those who were swept into the sea was Kamalo’s young and most exquisitely beautiful daughter, Lanilani.  There the Shark God Kauhuhu's people waited in the bay, hundreds of black and gray shadows darting through the seething waters in anticipation of the feast to come.  The water beneath the surface teemed with ravenous sharks that fed on Kupa and the villagers until the harbor turned as red as blood itself.  Only beautiful Lanilani was spared by Kauhuhu, who changed her into a gray Tiger Shark and took her to be one of his mates under the deep blue ocean depths that lay at the foot of Molokai’s northern sea cliffs. Thereafter, due to the shocking slaughter of the High Chieftain and all of his relatives, the harbor was called Aikanaka, or “man-eater.”

Even as Kapu was killed, the storm raged on, destroying the surrounding area, yet turning from the Kapu staff and leaving everything inside of Kamalo's sacred fence untouched.  Thus, Kamalo and his people were spared the mad wrath of Kauhuhu’s feeding frenzy. Of Lanilani, it is said that to this day she watches over the people of Kamalo as their Manoakua (protective shark spirit). Today, whenever the great Hula Pahu (hula drums) are beat during celebrations and festivals on Molokai, it is said that she surfaces in the Kamalo Bay to secretly listen to the magic of those powerful, ancient vibrations.

It is also said that when great clouds gather in the high mountains on Molokai, and a rainbow spans from the Halawa Valley to the shores of Kamalo, one must keep a careful watch for the sudden storms, reminders of Kauhuhu’s wrath that sweeps down the valley to the Bay, from high up in the clouds above the volcanic slopes.


(Painting by artist Frank Frazetta)




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