The Legend of Kamapua'a

as retold by Veronica S. Schweitzer

Kamapua'a. photo credit: Herb Kawainui Kāne

Here is what happened and has been long forgotten:

Fire and water must rule together.

(Perhaps we thought it easier to remember only the power of fire, forgetting the sharp sting of pain. Many honor the goddess of the volcano, Pele, as the only one.)

Life comes from the cascading waterfalls in lush Hamakua and Kohala. Life comes from the fertile green land in the north. Without water, Pele is barren.

In the fertile mountains reigns Kamapua'a, once Pele's lover. Now pictured as a feral hog, he wasn't born repulsive. Angry as he appears, he wasn't born bitter and ugly. Pele didn't always rule. Kamapua'a was born with heart.

Here is what happened.

Many years before Pele and her family set foot on the island of Hawaii, Kamapua'a was born to Hina, in the cool mountains of Koolau on Oahu.

Hina's husband Olopana, an influential chief, was already an old man while fair Hina was in the spring of her youth. Dutifully she shared his bed, but her heart longed for her husband's younger brother Kahiki-ula. She often invited her handsome brother-in-law to go berry-picking. He accompanied her gladly to cool springs and creeks. They talked intimately about the lore of herbs. Olopana, aware of his advancing age, resented their friendship, but didn't interfere. Only Hina herself knew if Kahiki-ula was also her lover.

When she gave birth, however, Olopana refused to acknowledge the baby-boy as his son.

'Let Kahiki-ula claim him,' he said bitterly to his estranged wife. 'I name this child Kamapua'a, or Hog-Child.' His throat was choked with anger and revenge.

The boy grew up to be extremely handsome, smart and strong. He grew tall, gifted with a powerful and fiery temperment, and blessed with sparkling black eyes. He was god-like, and, born to Hina, he had god-like skills, able to change appearances and then to duplicate his own appearance around him.

The hatred of his father, which only increased as Olopana witnessed the boy's talents, hurt the young man deeply. Kamapua'a didn't understand. He wanted to be loved and accepted. Instead Olopana scorned and mocked.

Hardened by this first cruel blow of fate, Kamapua'a allows anger to take over his soul. He left his home bitter with thoughts of vengeance burdening his young heart.

Kamapua'a found shelter in the hills, and, still carried by his own charisma enlisted a few dozen young men to play hard on his side. Together they plundered and pillaged Olopana's lands. One day, drunk with new power, Kamapua'a had his upper body and head tattooed in black and menacing designs. He shaved his head, and grew a short black bristle on scalp and chin. He cut himself a short cloak out of the skin of a wild hog, and wore it, hairy side out. Did he look like a hog? Some would say so, but there are no mirrors in the mountains and the ever moving rivers deceive.

After months of ravaging the lands, Kamapua'a was captured. With the help of those who remembered his former beauty, he escaped, and brutally murdered Olopana.

Kamapua'a traveled to Maui. No longer adolescent nor naive, the child in him continued to hunger for a loving father. He found Kahiki-ula, now engaged to Hina.

'I do not know you,' said Kahiki-ula, 'I have no son.'

If Kamapua'a held any lingering feelings of compassion, hope, or love, they were swallowed by the black deluge of bitterness. From now on Kamapua'a plundered, killed and ravaged without discrimination, changing himself into the true appearance of a wild hog as he pleased, and seducing women as he desired.

One day his boat harbored in one of the lush green valleys between Waipio and Pololu on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kamapua'a traveled south towards the crater of Kilauea. Here he heard about a gorgeous young woman, Pele, who had come to the volcano with her sister Hi'iaka and two brothers, Moho and Kamakaua. Stories spread about Pele's beauty matched only by her fiery temperament. Kamapua'a, intrigued, found her, saw her, and fell deeply in love.

'Love me. Be my wife,' he pleaded. He didn't know how repulsive and hideous the black tattoos and the stubbles are to her. All he knew was that he wanted to be loved, still, always and forever.

Pele turned away in disgust. 'You are a pig and nothing but the son of a pig,' she shrieked. Kamapua'a, his hurt digging ever deeper, shut off his heart one more time. In anger he decided that if she would not welcome him gladly as her partner, he would submit her forcefully as his friend. He planned an attack with his companions. Kamapua'a and Pele each invoke their own gods, those of storm and rain, those of fire, those of love, forgiveness and fate.

'If you drown me with water, you will still not have me as a woman,' she laughed.

'If you burn me with fire, your own barrenness will starve you,' he retorted.

In the deadlock of their destiny, Pele yielded. Then Kamapua'a embraced her, and his anger vanished. While they lay as lovers, he became again beautiful, soft, intelligent and strong. For a few glorious moments Kamapua'a breathed as the man he was meant to be. In the arms of Pele he came home to the love he so needed and he gave to her the love that no one wanted.

But Pele was afraid and confused by this sudden transformation and she withdrew as soon as their bodies sought distance from each other.

'Not again,' she whispered. 'Leave me alone. I came here to be queen. But you are more powerful than I. Stay away. Take the lush green valleys of Hilo, Hamakua, and Kohala. Keep them wet and fertile. I'll stay here in Ka'u and Kona and balance your rain with the fire of the sun.'

She slipped away from him, hiding herself and her family in the tunnels and caverns of Kilauea. Kamapua'a called and called. As if in answer, the earth shook. When Kamapua'a looked up the slope, he saw hot lava streaming down. The molten stone, slithering towards him, set bushes and trees ablaze on its relentless course. With intense horror and dismay Kamapua'a realized that his beloved Pele would be buried underneath the lava. 'Aye, Pele, good-bye!,' he exclaimed as he fled and plunged into the ocean, seeking respite from the burning earth. He swam the ocean in the form of a fish now named after him, humu-humu nuku-nuku apua'a.

He knew that Kohala, eternally moist with rain, was his to rule, even if he would never set foot on the land of Hawaii again.

Did he know that Pele didn't perish in the flow? Three seasons later she gave birth to their child, Opelu-nui-kauhaalilo. This child became the ancestor of certain chiefs and common people. Pele, sensing the magnitude of Kamapua'a shining through in the child, now missed her lover deeply. How she longed for his cooling presence. Her love chants, heard across the mountains, remain in vain.

Kamapua'a reigns without ever returning to land. He protects the pigs in Kohala. He protects the abundance of Hawaii by roaming the falls. But more than anything, he protects the pain of a wounded heart.

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Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.