Aka and Pepe-iu:

Two Voyaging Stories from the Isles of Hiva

(the Marquesas Islands)

Collected by E.S. Craighill Handy

Illustration right: Turtle Petroglyph from Hatiheu, Nukuhiva, Marquesas



"[The people of Hiva] knew perhaps thirty or forty real and mythical islands in the ocean space around them" (Dening 14).

After the settlement of the islands by voyagers from the west, the people of Hiva continued to voyage, among their own islands, and between the islands of Hiva and other groups. Handy gives the following motives for leaving one's home island: "expulsion in war, famine, . . .a spirit of adventure and restlessness, and revelations of seers which led the people to set out on definitely organized expeditions for exploration" (Native Culture 19).

Oral traditions of voyaging also indicate the following economic motives: to obtain materials not available on one's home island, such as red bird feathers or high quality adze stone; or to bring plants, animals, or people from one island to another. The people of Hiva also travelled in canoes among their islands of Hiva to make war, to obtain human sacrifices from other tribes, or to take revenge for an attack. Trading among the islands of Hiva took place because each island had a special product or two that people on other islands desired: "Nukuhiva...produced the best eka, the turmeric root used to make a saffron-scented cosmetic with which they covered their bodies. Fatuhiva in the south produced the best carved bowls for use in feasts and ceremionies" (Dening 48). The people of Nukuhiva went to the uninhabited island of Eiao to get basalt for making stone adzes, and the people of Hiva Oa would go to Nukuhiva to trade for the adzes; Ua Huka was noted for its poi pounders; Ua Pou for its porpoise-tooth crowns (Handy Native Culture 23). Porter reports that the people of Nuku Hiva also went annually to Eiao, to the northwest, to get the red tail feathers of the tropic bird (Handy 20).

[Two traditional voyaging stories--"Aka's Voyage for Red Feathers" and "Pepeiu"--are included below.]

Voyages of Exploration

The people of Hiva left their islands in search of other lands (He fenua 'imi, "land seeking"; Hawaiian: 'imi honua). Porter reports: "The grandfather of Gattnaewa sailed with four large canoes in search of land, taking with him a large stock of provisions and water, together with a quantity of hogs, poultry, and young plants. He was accompanied by several families and has never been heard of since he sailed" (quoted in Handy Native Culture 19).

Porter also says he heard that "more than eight hundred men, women and children" departed from the islands of Hiva in search of land. One group ended up on Roberts' Island (Eiao, NW of Nukuhiva). A few days after the canoes depart on these voyages of exploration, "the priests come lurking to the houses of the inhabitants of the valley, whence they sail, and in a squeaking affected voice, inform [the inhabitants] that [the voyagers] have found a land abounding in breafruit, hogs, coconuts, everything that can be desired,and invite others to follow them, pointing out the direction to sail, in order to fall in with this desirable spot. New canoes are constructed, and new adventurers commit themselves to the ocean, never to return" (quoted in Handy Native Culture 20).

According to one oral tradition, a large double-hulled canoe named Kaahua from a tribe called Tuoo under the chief Te-heiva voyaged east from Puamau on the northeast coast of Hiva Oa and landed at a land called Tefiti. Kaahua had several houses built on its deck and "carried a great quantity of breadfruit paste." Its gunnels were so high, the crew had "to climb up the sides from the bottom to pour the bilge water out." Some of the crew stayed in Tefiti, while others returned to Puamau (Handy Native Culture 131).

Flight after Defeat in War

Two oral traditions recall flight by canoes from Hiva to the Tuamotus after defeat in war. In the first case, the Fiti Nui tribe of Hiva Oa fled for Tahuata on bamboo rafts. The wind blew them south to the Tuamotus. In the second case, after losing a battle, the people of Hana Pa'a Oa on the north coast of Hiva Oa left on rafts and ended up on Takaroa in theTuamotus (Handy Native Culture 20-21).

David Porter reports: "Temaa Tippe and his whole tribe, about two years since, had many large double canoes constructed for the purpose of abandoning their valley and proceeding in search of other islands, under the apprehension that they would be driven off their land by other tribes. But peace took place, the canoes were taken to pieces, and are now carefully deposited in a house, constructed for the purpose, where they may be kept in a state of preservation to guard against future contingencies" (quoted in Handy Native Culture 19).


Aka's Voyage for Red Feathers

[The story of Aka is from E.S. Craighill. Handy's Marquesan Legends (Honolulu: Bishop Museum 1930, 130-131). The story is from Puamau on the island of Hiva Oa.]

A man named Aka wished to get feathers to make a feather headdress for his daughter. Aka was not a chief. He gathered a crew for his canoe and told his relatives to prepare food for the voyage. He then looked about for some one to guide him, and finally selected two boys. He chose them because he had seen that, when the children were sailing boats, the boats of these two boys always went straight to the desired place.

They set out, and after they had gone a little way, the boys said to Aka, "There is land ahead. What land is it?"

"It is Motani," replied Aka.

"What can be gotten there?" inquired the boys.

"Meie (a species of herb used for perfume)," replied Aka. "I have been there before and gathered the herb for my daughter."

After they had sailed on for a long time, the boys said again, "There is land ahead. What land is it?"

"It is Moutona," said Aka.

"What can be gotten there?" asked the boys.

Aka replied, "Mouomatito no te tahia (a species of grass which was plaited and used in a game played by girls). I have been there before and gathered the grass for my daughter."

By this time the boys were anxious to go back, for the birds Aka wanted to get were tapu to their families.

They sailed on for a long time and again there was the same questioning. The boys said, "There is land ahead. What land is it?"

Aka replied, "It is Kau kau o meia."

"What can be gotten there?" the boys asked.

"Pehe no te tahi (string figures)," Aka said. "I have been there before and gotten the pehe." (According to the informant Aka had landed there on a previous voyage, made cord from the fiber of banana stumps, and learned or invented pehe. This is another story.)

They sailed on as before, and again the boys said, "There is land ahead. What is that land?"

"It is Oautona (Aotona or Rarotonga)," Aka replied.

The boys asked, "What can be gotten there?"

"Huukua (red bird feathers)," Aka replied. "We will land there."

The place, which they first sighted, was the place where the birds were, but the boys said, "We must go over to the other side of the island or we shall be heard."

The island was really uninhabited, but the boys did not want Aka to land where the birds were, because the birds were tapu to them. When the voyagers had beached the canoe, the boys ran away from the others and went to the valley, in which the birds lived. They built a house there, which had a hole in the top but was closed on the sides. They then got in the house and scraped coconut meat. When they had a pile of scraped coconut, they kindled fire by rubbing two sticks together, and threw the coconut on the fire. The birds smelled the burning coconut and came flying in from all directions to see what it was. They circled about, and then plunged down through the hole in the roof. When the house was almost full, the boys closed the hole in the roof. One of the boys then went to Aka and told him to come on with him. Aka entered the house and picked the feathers from the living birds, letting them go after they were picked. They could not fly, because they had no wing feathers. When Aka had enough feathers, he divided them among his crew for payment. Then they sailed home.


Fuller, more detailed variants of this story of Aka's voyage to Aotona [Rarotonga] are found in Von den Steinem's Marquesan Myths, translated by Marta Langridge:

At the death feast for the chief Puakauooa in Ta'aoa (a valley on the southern coast of Hiva Oa), Aka and other heroes looked for flowers and fruits to make garlands for the women at the feast. They found tiare (gardenia), pua (flower), koute (hibiscus), puanetae, faa (pandanus fruit), hinano (pandanus flower), inou (a kind of lilac), katiu (a small cucumber), and hukou (a fruit); but Aka wasn't satisfied with these flowers because they wilted in the hot sun.

His two sons-in-law, Utunui and Pepeu, tell him: "Kula (red feathers) make the best ornaments."

When Aka asked, "Where can we get kula?" the two sons-in-law replied, "In Aotona; our father Mahaitivi knows how to get there." Then Utunui and Pepeu went to their father's house at Poitopa [above Atuona on Hiva Oa] and asked him for directions. The father told them the voyage is long and difficult and they must prepare lots of food--raw and cooked ma (fermented breadfruit), coconuts, raw and cooked taro, raw and cooked kape (dry land taro).

The father and two sons argued over how long the voyage would take; the father saying seven months, and Utunui twelve. Utunui recited the twelve months: Pohe, Iti, Aoa-Manu, Mataiki, Ehua, Uaua, Uahaa-metao, Takuua, Veo, Nana, Tuhua, Napea. (These are names of the stars or constellations that served as guides to the months and seasons of breadfruit; in the Isles of Hiva, as in Hawai'i, the names of the stars and months and their order vary considerably according to different informants.)

The father then explained that in Aotona, the voyagers would find the birds Matakia and Vaefati, who were his inoa ("name friends; those with whom one has exchanged names, so that each has claim to the wife and property of the other).

The two boys returned to Aka and told him to build and provision a canoe as directed by their father had told them, and find paddlers. 140 men are found to man the double-hulled canoe and the voyagers leave. The first island they saw was Mohutane (a small island south of Hiva Oa). Utunui asked the inhabitants what they use to make garlands. "Meie bark," was the reply. Aka said, "No good."

Then they arrive at Fatu Hiva (south of Mohutane). Utunui asked the inhabitants what they use to make garlands. "Auona, a fragrant bouquet" is the reply. Aka said, "Not for my daughter. It wilts in the sun."

The canoe landed at the following islands of the Hiva group and learned what the people of each island used for garlands:

Tahuata (north of Fatuiva): garlands are made from Kiita (?);

Fatu Huka (north of Hiva Oa): garlands are made from feathers from the gannet and cape pigeon.

Ua Huka (northwest of Fauuku): garlands are made from tiare (gardenia)

Ua Pou (southwest of Ua Huka): garlands are made from pua (flower)

Nuku Hiva (north of Ua Pou): garlands are made from red eka (a dye)

Eiao (northwest of Nuku Hiva): garlands are made from fao blossoms.

None of the isles of Hiva had the red feathers Aka and his sons-in-law were seeking. From Eiao, the canoe travelled west onto the open ocean. The star Iti appeared, "the star of the heavy sea, the star of the wind." (This star marks the approach of the stormy months of the southern hemisphere winter, which begins in May.)

The star Iti said, "Whose canoe?"

Pepeu and Utunui said, "It belongs to us."

Iti said, "Who are you?"

They responded: We are Pepeu and Utunui, Mahaitivi's boys. We are going to Aotona."

The stars said, "Go on," and they travelled on.

(Four more stars appear--Tuhua, Takuua, Veo, Mahina--and the same dialogue takes place.)

The voyage was so long, food and water ran out. One hundred of the paddlers died; forty men remained. The voyagers finally reached Fitinui, then Aotona. The chief Feafea welcomed them. After a nights rest, they built a house using coconut leaves lashing it together with hau bark cordage. They erected the posts, put up the crossbeam and rafters, arranged the coconut leaves, then thatched the roof with grass. They laid stakes along the wall and made a door. The next morning the men picked, peeled and grated coconut; then grated it and roasted it inside the house. The smell attracted a large flock of kula bird.

Two odd-looking birds approached to see if anyone is in the houseÑMatakika, a bird with an ulcerous face; Vaekoki, a lame bird; Then two birds came and mated. In each case no one in the house laughed, so each bird went back and reported the house was deserted.

When the flock entered the house, Aka shut the door, and his men caught the birds and plucked their red feathers, filling 40 baskets for the forty survivors; Aka told them to fill 100 more for the children and the wives of the 100 men who had died; so the men filled the remaining 100 baskets. Then they let the birds go.

The next morning, the men prepared food for the voyage home, loaded the canoe with the food and the baskets of feathers, and departed. They paddled for a long time, as long as the period of a large breadfruit harvest, then landed at Ta'aoa (on Hiva Oa, their home island). The women on land saw that only a few men were returning; they lamented the men who were missing. Aka brought the baskets ashore and gave them to the women whose husbands had not survived.

Then Aka went to his house with his wife and daughter and two sons-in-law. The next day, Aka and his wife made a girdle of kula feathers for their daughter, the wife of both Utunui and Pepeu. Utunui and Pepeu kept their baskets of feathers. Fao came down and bought Utunui's and Pepeu's feathers and made a garland for himself. Others made the feathers into garlands, head ornaments (paekua) and girdles for women and men.

[According to Rarotongan oral tradition, a red-feathered bird called the kura once lived on Rarotonga island. It was associated with summer: "Summer comes, the kura is flying about." The kura became extinct after guns were introduced to the islands by Westerners.

A red-feathered bird called a kula was also known in historical times in Fiji. Its red feathers were valued for ornamenting mats and headdresses. The feathers were traded with the Tongans, who then traded them with the Samoans. In the Society Islands Captain Cook traded red feathers he had obtained in Tonga.] Pepe-iu

[NOTE: The story of Pepeiu is from Taiohae, Nukuhiva. It appears in E.S. Craighill Handy's Marquesan Legends (Honolulu: Bishop Museum 1930); pp. 127-129.]

Toni [a tau'a, or inspirational priest] lived at Taiohae; Te-pua-i-mohui, a fisherman, was his son; Pepe-iu was his daughter. When the son went fishing, the daughter remained up in the valley with her father. Three times when Tepua-i-mohui returned from fishing, he gave none of his catch to his father and sister. The next time the young man went fishing, Toni dressed Pepe-iu in all her finery, anointed her head and body, and sent her to the seashore to await the return of the fishermen, along with the other people who had come for fish. Everyone marvelled at Pepe-iu's beauty.

When her brother returned he said, "Who is that pootu--that fine looking girl." They told him it was his sister. "Come and get your fish," he called to her.

Pepe-iu waded out in the shallow water with a basket. As Te-pua-i-mohui filled his sister's basket with mullet, he told the other men to paddle out. Pepe-iu was lured to follow the canoe out into deep water. When Pepe-iu came into deep water these fish began threshing about, tearing the girl's flesh. She ran to the shore and returned to her father, weeping and covered with wounds and blood. Toni asked her what had happened, and the girl recounted the story of her brother's mistreatment of her.

For three days Toni anointed his daughter every day. After the third day at midnight, he told Pepe-iu to take a handsome loin cloth and other ornaments. They went to the seashore, where there was a double canoe called Na-humu-o-Taka-oa. When the cock crew, Toni told the girl to get into her canoe.

"But these are fish," said Pepe-iu.

"Never mind," replied her father, "this is your canoe."

When they put the canoe in the sea the two humu wriggled. "Now you will go to Aotoka (Rarotonga). When you have gone three or four days you will come to a land which says 'A-o, a-o, a-o, a-o.' That will be Aomeika (Ao, low; meika, banana; perhaps the island of Tubuai). You will pass by that land. You will sail on eight days longer and come to a land which says, 'Tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti." That is Aotoka."

The humu went off with the girl. They passed Aomeika and Oahuaa as Toni had told them to do.

Finally, eight days after they had passed Oahuaa, Pepe-iu heard "Tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti."

"This is my Aotoka," said the girl.

"Long Humu, Short Humu, let us go up inland." Pepe-iu took her finery and the humu and carried them up into the temple named Aavehie. (This is also the name of a temple at Taiohae.)

Pepe-iu came to the bathing basin. The chief came, found her in his pool and claimed her as his woman. At that time the women of Aotoka did not know how to bear children. When a woman was with child, her abdomen was cut open to release the child and the woman died. Taro was their only food; they had no breadfruit. They ate their food raw, not knowing how to cook. Pepe-iu taught them how to do all these things.

Pepe-iu became pregnant and said to Tau-me-tini, "We will have to have breadfruit to feed the child. You must go to Hooumi and bring back some to plant." (According to my informant all the breadfruit were formerly in Hooumi, a valley on the southeast end of Nuku Hiva. There were no breadfruit trees in Taiohae.)

Now Tau-me-tini was a younger son. He had only two hundred and eighty men under him. Ohe-popo was his older brother; on his half of the island he had twenty-eight hundred men. Ohe-popo went to Hooumi before his younger brother was ready and brought back many branches of the breadfruit tree. These grew rapidly at first, and then died. [Breadfruit will grow only from young root stocks, or shoots.]

Pepe-iu instructed Tau-me-tini to make a canoe. This was finished in three moons.

She also instructed him to carry seven amakiko (kernels of candlenuts mounted on the midrib of a coconut leaf, the native house lamp). These were to be used to keep awake the woman who owned the breadfruit trees until she was so sleepy that she could keep awake no longer.

Tau-me-tini arrived at Hooumi. For six successive nights he burned his amakiko, one each night. On the seventh night the woman fell into a heavy sleep. Tau-me-tini and his men, following Pepe-iu's advice, filled their canoe with roots and young sprouts of breadfruit. They were gone when the woman woke up. Tau-me-tini planted the roots on his side of Aotoka. The breadfruit trees grew and bore fruit.

The older brother, Ohe-popo, angered by his own lack of success with the breadfruit and at his younger brother's success, attacked Tau-me-tini and drove him with his woman and his two sons into the mountains. They had no food and sent their two sons down to steal some breadfruit. The trees were guarded by two tuhuka, named Otu-puou-hooa and Ima-poka-haoa. These men caught the older of the boys up in a tree and carried him to the feast place. The boy was asked why he was stealing the chief's fruit. "For my mother," he said. "We have no food."

The two tuhuka then fell into an argument, one desiring to kill, the other to save, the boy. Finally he was brought to the chief who ordered an oven built on the feast place. Then the chief strangled, cooked, and ate the boy. Meanwhile Pepe-iu knew what was happening, so she told Tau-me-tini to go to Nukuhiva again, using the humu of Taka-oa as his canoe. She taught him her genealogy.

Tau-me-tini came back to Taiohae on the humu and recited the genealogy to Pepe-iu's people, thus identifying himself, and told of their unhappy plight. Toni, who was a tau'a (priest), had gone to Hakamoui, on the island of Ua Pou. Tau-me-tini went seeking him but when he reached Hakamoui, Toni had gone on before him to the next valley. So they went from valley to valley until at last, when they had made the complete circuit of the island, Tau-me-tini came up with the elusive inspirational priest.

Tau-me-tini and Toni built the canoe Tia-te-ani for the expedition to Aotoka. Six other war canoes went with them with two hundred and eighty warriors in each. Toni's power (mana) supplied their food: on the first day out, they speared and captured a great skate. So it was with other fish every day.

In Aotoka, Pepe-iu saw one day a man's skull lying in the sand, moving from side to side; she knew by this sign that her father was coming. When they arrived at Aotoka, the tuhuka who had recommended that Pepe-iu's son be killed when he was caught in the breadfruit tree, came out in the water, seized Tau-me-tini's canoe and attempted to pull it ashore. They caught him, dragged him out to sea, and cut off his head. The head was given to Pepe-iu's other son to wear on his loin cloth. (The wearing of heads or parts of heads of slain enemies on the loin cloth was the custom in war times.) Pepe-iu's people joined forces with Tau-me-tini's and attacked and defeated the warriors of the older brother, Ohe-popo, whom Tau-me-tini killed.