- Ka mo‘olelo o Hi‘iakaikapoliopele: ka wahine i ka hikina a ka lā, ka u‘i palekoki uila o Halema‘uma‘u (The Epic Tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele: Woman of the Sunrise, Lightningskirted Beauty of Halema‘uma‘u)
Close to a hundred and fifty years ago, Hawaiians were reading in their newspapers some of the best-known European fairy tales and selections from The Arabian Nights, as well as popularized versions of Robinson Crusoe and Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. From 1834 to 1948, well over a hundred Hawaiian-language newspapers were circulating in the islands, and while they published news from around the world, they recognized the power of storytelling, too. With the advent of an independent press after 1861, most of them featured stories—Hawaiian and foreign—on the front page. All stories were carefully selected for their entertainment value, but especially the Hawaiian ones often had political subtexts and were recognized as needing to be preserved for future generations. In different versions, the tale of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele (Hi‘iaka in the bosom of Pele) was printed at least a dozen times: a favorite for sure in Hawai‘i and an epic that, like The Odyssey or the Kalevala, deserves to be a worldwide favorite.
Hi‘iaka’s story is a long narrative that focuses on the interaction of gods and humans and tells of a perilous journey of great scope, in this case from Hawai‘i at the southern tip of the island chain to the northern island of Kaua‘i and back. It is a female quest, not only because Hi‘iaka conducts it but also because her task is set by her powerful older sister, Pele, the volcano goddess. With the help of her magical skirt and her woman friends, Hi‘iaka is to bring Pele’s lover, Lohi‘auipo, back to her in her fiery home. In the process, she must defeat arrogant mo‘o (dragonlike lizards), trick lecherous men, and even revive Lohi‘au from death. And the drama is hardly over when she and Lohi‘au face Pele. It is a wonder-filled tale where passions run high, and the desires and domains of the two sisters are not necessarily in harmony with one another. Pele and Hi‘iaka are, respectively, the oldest and the youngest of nine sisters; the power of Pele is clear, but the story’s heart is the journey of the verdant and healing Hi‘iaka.
Ka mo‘olelo o Hi‘iakaikapoliopele was first published in the Hawaiian-language newspaper Ka Na’i Aupuni with daily installments from January 1905 to November 1906. Signed by Ho‘oulumāhiehie—which may be a pseudonym, since the name means “to inspire delight” (p. 431)—this text is the most extensive of the many versions of the tale that appeared in serial form in the newspapers starting in 1861. The tale also belongs to a much larger tradition of narratives about Pele and offers insight into Hawaiian knowledge and history, from religion to poetry and dance, healing arts, and storied places. Hi‘iaka’s epic was and still is a favorite in Hawai‘i, partly because Pele’s powerful presence continues to be felt there and also because many of the chants that mark Hi‘iaka’s journey are part of the contemporary hula repertoire.
Ho‘oulumāhiehie’s participation in and engagement with tradition is prominent in his rendition of Hi‘iaka’s story. He does not hesitate to discuss other versions and compare his own to them. This metacommentary, along with the frequent invocation “e ku‘u makamaka heluhelu” (my dear reader), offers an immediate indication of how self-consciously Ho‘oulumāhiehie is presenting his story as part...