Cecilia Kapua Lindo: The Spirit of 'Ohana and the Polynesian Voyagers (1980)
Herb Kawainui Kāne: Children of the Long Canoe (1996)
Sam Low: Sea of Islands (2000)
Dennis Kawaharada: Voyaging Chiefs of Kāne‘ohe Bay (1999)
Polynesian Migration and Voyaging Stories, edited by Dennis Kawaharada
Introduction, Voyaging Chiefs of Havai'i, with a Bibliography (1994)
Ru and Hina – Tahiti
Hiro – Tahiti
Tafa‘i – Tahiti
Tangiia and Tutapu – Tahiti
Rata – Tuamotu
Aka – Marquesas Islands
Pepeiu – Marquesas Islands
Ru – Cook Islands
Te Erui Ariki – Cook Islands
Ruatapu – Cook Islands
Hawai‘iloa – Hawai‘i
Mo‘ikeha – Hawai‘i
Pa‘ao – Hawai‘i
Wahanui – Hawai‘i
Kupe – Aotearoa
Hotu Matua – Rapanui
Dennis Kawaharada: The Discovery and Settlement of Polynesia (1999)
Dr. Harold St. John and Kuaika Jendrusch: Plants Introduced to Hawai’i by the Ancestors of the Hawaiians (1980)


Teuira Henry, from Ancient Tahiti (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1928)

At Hiva, Ra‘iatea, lived a chief named Ra‘a-mau-riri (Sacredness-holding-anger), whose wife was Taetae-fenua (Land-peak), by whom he had four sons, named Mea-e-hi‘o-i-mua (Person-to-look-before), Mea-e-hi‘o-i-muri (Person-to-look-behind), Mea-e-hui-te-tae (Person-to-reach-sidestroke), and Ti‘a-pae-rairai (Stand-on-thin-side). Then his wife died, and Ra‘amauriri took to himself a second wife, named Fai-mano-ari‘i (A thousand-royal-revelations), who bore him a giant son, named Hiro (Trickster), so named after Hiro, god of thieves, who became his guiding spirit.1
While yet a young lad, Hiro went to Tahiti and lived at ‘Uporu (Ha‘apape) with his maternal grandfather, named Ana (Cave), the senior teacher in the school called Tapu-ata-i-te-ra‘i (Sacred-cloud-in-the-sky). There Hiro’s four brothers had been placed as students, and while he was still too young to join them, he acquired a greater knowledge than they of the chants that he heard by listening from outside. Hiro grew so fast that he was soon the biggest youth in all ‘Uporu, and one night he stole up on to the ridgepole of the schoolhouse where his grandfather, who was blind, was teaching, and this he continued to do during six consecutive nights, at the end of which he had absorbed into his person all that was taught in the school. When he was admitted as a student he recited all the chants so well that the teachers were amazed, and his grandfather said that there was nothing more at the school for him to learn. It is said that Hiro’s pastime at ‘Uporu was to play with sand, which he easily heaped up into hillocks which are still standing along the shore.2

When he became a man, he inquired of his grandfather what were the requirements of man. His grandfather replied:

“Provide yourself with a home, and marry a wife.“

“If I do so,“ said Hiro, “what must I do with the wife?“

“Cherish and feed and clothe her,“ was the reply.

“That would be unprofitable,“ said Hiro,3 and so he went on disapproving of everything that Ana told him a man should do. Then he inquired what tricks man was capable of doing, and when Ana enumerated: lying, deceiving, and thieving.

Hiro exclaimed: “Yes, stealing is good; that is a profitable thing; it will be satisfying to a man.“

So Hiro decided to become a thief under the protection of Hiro, god of thieves; and he began by stealing young breadfruit and coconut trees (taking the precaution not to do so from lands close by). He planted these trees on his own grounds.

Hiro was a great pig hunter. Early one morning Hiro told his grandfather that he was going far up inland to a sacred place called Ou-tupuna (Ancestor’s-stronghold) for a branch of an ‘ava tree named ‘Ava-tupu-tahi (Solitary-‘ava), famed for its age and immense size. His grandfather cautioned him to be careful not to desecrate the sacred grounds. Hiro went there, and on his arrival, he was greeted by two men, keepers of the premises, named Taru‘i-hau (Exceeding-darkness) and Te-rima-‘aere (The-hand-in-space). They asked him what his errand was, for, said they, “No man dares enter here.“ When Hiro told them what he wanted, they refused to allow him to break a branch or to approach the sacred ‘ava. They yielded not to his entreaties and finally threatened to take his life if he would not depart.

Much vexed, Hiro struck off some branches from the ‘ava tree with his spear but by enchantment the two keepers caused them to reunite and grow again in their places. Hiro also used enchantment, made the tree grow very high, again broke off its branches, which remained upon the ground unaffected by the further invocations of the keepers. Then he pulled the tree up by the roots.

The keepers called to their aid a boar named Mo‘iri (Swallow-whole), of prodigious size and possessed by a man-devouring demon, so that it terrorized men who chanced to pass near the place. Soon it came rushing towards Hiro. He met it with his spear, which he thrust through its open mouth, and killed it, consigning the evil spirit to Po (Darkness). Then the two men stepped forwards with their spears to fall upon Hiro, but he warded off their spears, caught his assailants by the hair, beat their heads together, and killed them.

Hiro tied the two men together by the hair of their heads and placed them thus across his spear, with the great ‘ava tree at one end and the pig, Mo‘iri, tied by its four legs, at the other. Then he raised his spear upon his shoulders and carried home his burden as though it were nothing. On arriving home late in the afternoon, Hiro found his grandfather sitting beneath a spreading breadfruit tree, and before him he threw down his load upon the ground with three tremendous thuds and a crash.

“What have you there, Hiro?“ asked the old man.

“The pig, Mo‘iri,“ was the answer.

“What is it that crashed?“ he asked.

“The famous solitary ‘ava,“ said Hiro.

“And what produced the other two heavy sounds ?“ asked the old man.

“The two men, Tauri-hau and Te-rima-‘aere, whom I have slain.“

“Aue, aue! (Alas, alas!)“ said Ana, sorely mortified. “You have committed a great crime!“ But when Hiro explained everything to him his anger ceased.

Hiro buried the two men in his marae, after which he purified himself for domestic work by bathing in the sea. He made an oven in which he baked the great pig and some taro, and then he prepared the ‘ava drink by chewing up the roots, according to custom, and in a few moments his work was done; he had filled forty ‘umete (wooden trough) with pulp and poured on water and strained out the ‘ava juice ready to drink.

The old man was astonished when he was told that forty ‘umete of ‘ava had been prepared so quickly, and he asked to feel his grandson that he might form an idea of his size. So Hiro sat down while his grandfather stood up, and although Ana was a man of fine stature he found that his hands could reach up only below Hiro’s shoulder blades, which caused him to exclaim: “You are indeed an immense man, and your mouth must hold a great deal more than that of an ordinary person. It is not surprising then that you have masticated all the ‘ava so soon.“

They feasted on the famous pig and drank freely of the ‘ava, which they found very good. Hiro ate three-fourths of the pig and drank thirty ‘umete of the ‘ava and was only moderately filled; his grandfather was amply satisfied with a hind leg of the pig and two ‘umete of ‘ava. From this event arose the saying, formerly common in Tahiti and the Tuamotus: “Te pua‘a o Mo‘iri, e te ‘Ava-tupu-tahi“ (“The pig Mo‘iri and the ‘Ava-tupu-tahi“).4

Hiro acquired a great passion for navigation and visiting lands far away. He became skilled in hewing canoes out of solid logs and was the first builder of large canoes with planks sewn together, which he called pahi (ship).5

A day came when Hiro conceived a strong desire to go and visit his parents in Ra‘iatea, and his grandfather agreed to let him go. He built himself a big canoe with a keel and planks sewn together, which was the first of the kind ever made in the Society Islands. He loaded it with many nice things to take as presents to his parents and also a feather cloak and girdle for himself to wear befitting his rank. Astern upon the deck he erected an altar, at which to offer prayers and upon which he placed choice food for the gods. He invited his four half-brothers to accompany him, to which they willingly agreed, and after all the usual ceremonies they launched the canoe and one fine morning in beautiful weather set sail for Ra‘iatea.

When they were well out to sea Hiro desired to take a nap, and before doing so he told his brothers that they would probably meet with flocks of birds, which would alight upon their canoe, in which case if they saw a flock of large white birds accompanied by a beautiful red bird they must by no means kill them, as it would be Tane-manu (Bird of the god Tane) and his train. Great trouble would ensue were they to commit so grave an offense against the god Tane. Hiro went to sleep, and soon many birds came soaring overhead. Finally a flock of beautiful white birds with the great elegant red Tane-manu conspicuous among them alighted upon the water, sometimes flying on to the rigging of the canoe and eating food off the altar, revealing the goodwill of Tane.

Meanwhile, the four brothers were preparing breakfast upon a floor of sand fixed across the stern of the canoe, and with poles and paddles they beat down and killed some of the birds for meat and also struck and stunned Tane-manu, forgetting Hiro’s caution in their excitement. Apparently dead, Tane-manu lay unnoticed upon the altar.

Hiro slept on soundly.

When the food was cooked his brothers ate heartily of it, much enjoying the fat flesh of the sacred birds. They set aside a share for Hiro, and when he awoke and sat to eat he found the pieces of bird much more delicate than all other sea birds, and seeing the red bird on the altar he at once knew what had happened and upbraided his brothers, saying that they were thus bringing sure destruction upon them all. Hiro then took Tane-manu, and after handling him tenderly and invoking the god Tane to renew his life, he soon saw the bird revived, whereupon the bird flew away, his head drooping with sorrow at the unkind treatment he had received.

When Tane-manu reached Tane in the sky, Tane said the names of Hiro’s brothers, according to their ages; the bird nodded assent at each name, then held up his head as soon as Tane mentioned the name of the one who had stunned him, and thus it was made clear that the evil had happened to the bird while on the canoe.

Again Hiro went to sleep, and then came a strong current in the sea, followed by a tempest, in the midst of which the brothers saw proudly sitting upon the billows the bird Tane-manu sent by the god Tane to preside over the elements. They roused Hiro, who at once ordered the sails to be put down, and shortly afterwards the storm subsided, when they set sail again. So it happened that the same disturbance took place whenever Hiro fell asleep and ended after he awoke. Finally as he again prepared to sleep, he said one more storm worse than all the others would come, and he told his brothers to awaken him as soon as the sea began to show indications of the storm’s approach. While Hiro slept the wind changed for the worse and came from all four quarters of the horizon at once. The sea became rough and the canoe was swamped. When Hiro awoke, he exclaimed to his brothers: “Now we are lost. Why didn’t you wake me as I told you to?“

Soon Tane-ma‘o (Shark of Tane) came and demanded Hiro’s elder brother, and Hiro answered: “Have you no pity? My ship is swamped, my altar is washed away, my goods are all wet-“

“Give me my prey or you shall die also,“ Tane-ma‘o replied, and he seized Mea-e-hi‘o-i-mua, and swallowed him whole. Then he swallowed the other three brothers, one after another. Hiro tried to save each, but to no avail. The shark allowed Hiro to kiss the last brother, then carried him away in his jaws.

Hiro then sank down to the bottom of the sea in his capsized canoe, and there he slept. During the night he heard two voices by him saying: “Give! give the canoe to us, Hiro; awake!“ Looking around, he asked who these were, asking for his canoe.

“We are those who turn upright capsized canoes,“ they replied, and so Hiro welcomed them and let them turn up his canoe. He fell asleep again and was awakened by two more persons, saying: “Give, O give!“ and when he inquired who they were, they answered, “We are canoe-bailers.“ And so with Hiro in it, they sent the canoe like a shot up to the surface of the sea and there bailed out the water and disappeared.

It was just daylight when Hiro set sail once more for Ra‘iatea, his native isle. [Hiro landed on Ra‘iatea and laid out his clothes and gifts to dry. Two forest nymphs stole his feather cloak and feather girdle. Hiro trapped them at their bathing pool and kept them captive until they gave him back his possessions.]

As evening set in, Hiro swore vengeance upon Tane-manu, whom he had resuscitated by invocations to the god Tane. He found that the home where the bird roosted was near by, and as the bird was out at sea still, Hiro dug a hole beneath the roost, made his bed in it, and laid down to rest while waiting for the bird to return.

While yet asleep, Hiro heard a spirit’s voice, saying, “Take him, Hiro, Take him!“ and as he awoke, he reached up his long arms and secured Tane-manu tightly in his grasp. But the bird was very strong and struggled hard until he escaped, then took flight up to the first sky, to the second sky, and to the third sky, with Hiro, undaunted, following. Then they descended to earth and alighted on the island of Rurutu, whence the bird swam to Ra‘iatea. Hiro swam after him. Because of this swim Hiro had ever after a rank, sodden odor, which was compared to that of coconut husk steeped in water.

On arriving in Ra‘iatea, Hiro found the weary bird perched upon a nono tree, his head drooping. Panting for breath, Tane-manu was unable to go farther. When he saw Hiro, he exclaimed: “Let me live, O Hiro, let me live!“

Hiro said that as Tane-manu had been the cause of all his troubles he deserved to die, but he merely banished him. Thus ended the earthly career of the beautiful red bird, Tane-manu, who returned to Tane in his tenth sky, where he ever afterwards remained.6

At last Hiro went to his parents’ abode and there dwelt a long time. Hitherto he had lived a bachelor life, indifferent to the fair sex; but in Ra‘iatea he at last conceived a strong attachment for a most beautiful woman named Vai-tu-marie (Clear-still-water), who was the wife of a noted warrior named Tutae (Dung), and he determined to possess her himself. So he made advances to the man, sometimes feigning friendship and again aggravating him to hostility, until one day the warrior raised his spear to strike him, when Hiro caught him by the head and broke his neck. Thus freed of the husband, Hiro took possession of the wife, of whom he became very fond, and by her he had two children, a son, named Marama (Moon), and a daughter, named Pi-ho (Splash-and-shout), and everything went on harmoniously between them until the children had grown up.

It happened one day as Hiro and two artisans, named Topa (Fall) and To-vana‘a (Thy-herald), were building a canoe and the wife, Vai-tu-marie, and two companions were talking in a house close by, that the two artisans overheard then discussing the qualities of their husbands, and in an unguarded moment, Vai-tu-marie laughed concerning Hiro’s strong odor while the other two women were boasting that it was not so with their husbands. This little episode the men repeated to Hiro, who had not heard it, and he became very angry and bided his time for revenge upon his wife.

One day while he was alone, sewing on the planks of his canoe, his wife was passing by, and calling her to him he bade her aid him by getting into the canoe and drawing the sennit in while he drew it out. This the wife willingly did, but as she was not accustomed to such work Hiro contrived by jerking the sennit to make it hard for her to guide it, and in a little while she cried:

“O Hiro, my finger is pinched!“

“Which finger?“ said he.

“My little finger,“ she replied. So he released her, and in a little while another finger got pinched and was freed, then another, and another in the same way, until at last her whole hand was caught. Then Hiro tightened the cord around her wrist and would not release his wife in spite of all her cries and entreaties, but taunted her by repeating what she had said and asking her if it was customary for women to depreciate their husbands in the eyes of others.

“O Hiro,“ exclaimed the poor woman writhing in agony, “I have not depreciated you, I have praised you to all my friends; regard not this passing remark as evil speaking, and let me go.“

“No,“ said Hiro, “I will not let you go; you are tied with sennit, and you will be inclosed in a wall of shifting sand.“

Knowing then that he meant to kill her, she said: “O Hiro, remember how you have loved me, witness my agony in this painful position, and consider yourself avenged for all my thoughtlessness. If I die, I shall belong to the gods, but spare my life now, O Hiro, and let me go.“

But Hiro got into the canoe and brutally kicked his poor victim to death. Then he dug a shallow grave in the sand beneath the chips of his canoe and there buried her, thinking that no one had witnessed the scene; but a man who was passing by heard her pitiful cries and saw all by peeping into the shed from the outside, at the risk of losing his own life and quite powerless to save hers.

While this tragedy was taking place, their son Marama was out surf riding, which was his favorite diversion. When he returned home, not finding his mother and seeing a mat that she had been making lying with the strands scattered around as if left for a short time, he went to the canoe shed and asked his father where she was. Hiro, fearing his son, replied: “I do not know.“

Then feeling impelled by an invisible power, Marama went towards the spot where his mother lay, and moving the sand away he found her calm and beautiful in death. He bore her body away and buried it in sacred ground in her marae, and then he went to a distant point and sat alone on the seaside, mourning deeply for her and refusing to take nourishment or receive comfort from anybody. His father did not dare approach him. As days thus passed, and Marama neither ate nor drank, feeling anxious for him Hiro sent his daughter Pi-ho, to try to console her brother and bring him home, which after great difficulty she at last succeeded in doing. Hiro felt himself condemned in the eyes of his son and avoided falling into his hands by taking frequent long voyages, fearing that he might avenge the death of his mother upon him. But, not being of the fierce nature of his father, Marama did not seek his life. They built a ship together, which they named Hotu-tai-hi (Fruitful-fishing-ground ).7

Hiro became a great navigator and explorer, and he resolved to build himself a ship for his voyages greater than any that had been seen before. So accompanied by two experts, named Memeru (Fish) and Mata‘i-e-ha‘a (Wind-for-work), he went to Ra‘iatea to look for suitable timber for his work. Preferring hard mountain wood, they explored the ravines and highlands, but did not find suitable trees until they arrived at a beautiful valley named Tu-mata-ri‘i (Stand-by-Pleiades), the dominion of King Puna (Source), whose home, named Vae-a-ra‘i (Divider-of-the-sky), was high up, nestling in the woods in the recess of the valley. After slyly marking the trees they wanted they returned home. The next thing Hiro had to do was to find access to King Puna’s dominion, in order to chop down and take possession of the trees that the King very much coveted.

[Hiro tricked King Puna out of his trees by giving the King’s retainers fish to eat. Once the retainers accepted the fish, Puna was obligated to reciprocate by allowing Hiro to cut down trees. Puna tried to discourage Hiro from cutting down the trees by deprecating them, but Hiro, not to be denied, went and cut them down anyway.]

Within a few days Hiro had cut down all the fine trees that Puna had tried to save by depreciation. He cleared the trunks of their branches and bark and hewed them into shape. Then with strong fau ropes, he and his men drew them down the valley over cliffs and ravines, as if it were merely light work. Thus King Puna was robbed of his fine aha-tea tree, his mara-uri tree, a toi (Alphitonia) tree, and a hauou (pua in Tahitian; Fagraea berteroana) tree. Hiro did not spare the trees sacred to the gods around the marae. He cut down a great tamanu (Callophyllym inophyllum), stripped the trunk of its branches and bark, split it up for planks for the bows of his canoe, and trimmed the branches for outriggers and crossbeams. He cut down a most sacred miro (Thespesia populnea) tree for planks for the after part of his canoe, and he took two tall straight breadfruit trees for planks for the deck houses. Then he went into the woods and cut down straight fau trees (Hibiscus tiliaceus) for paddles and for floor planks, and three slim hutu (Barringtonia asiatica) trees for masts. After all this depredation, Hiro and his men helped themselves to wood and thatch and reeds and all other material needed for a shed in which to build the canoe and for rollers to place under it, King Puna not daring to oppose them, as Hiro was too powerful and dangerous to vex.

These are the famous artisans who built Hiro’s canoe: Hotu (Fruitful), Hiro’s own chief artisan, and his assistant Tau-mariari (Rest-upon-waves); and the royal artisan Memeru of Opoa and his friend Ma‘i-hae (Fierce-disease)-men unrivaled in skill and energy. Hiro super intended the work, which was according to his modeling.

Amid all the required ceremonies and prayers and good omens, they set to work. On rising ground they erected a great shed thirty fathoms long, six wide, and five fathoms high, facing the sea endwise. The builders had their baskets of axes and adzes of stone, gimlets of coconut and sea shells, and sennit of fine tight strands, prepared and consecrated to the god Tane for this special purpose. Hiro marked out the keel, the knees, the beams, and the planks, and the men cut them into shape. All the material for the work was carefully sorted and handily placed in the shed, Hiro passing it to the men as they required it.

They set the keel of avai, toi, and mara wood, polished and firmly spliced together with hard spikes of wood secured with sennit, upon rollers in the shed and painted it with red clay mixed with charcoal so as to preserve it from wood borers. Then they fastened the knees onto the keel with spikes and sennit. Holes were bored into the keel and planks at even distances apart, and the men set to work in the following order: Hutu, the chief of Hiro’s artisans, worked on the outer side to the right of the canoe, and Tau-mariari, his assistant, worked on the inner side; Memeru, the royal artisan of Opoa, worked on the outer side to the left of the canoe, and his assistant, Ma‘i-hae, worked on the inner side. Each couple faced each other, fixing the planks in their places and drawing the sennit in and out in lacing the wood together; and the canoe soon began to assume form, the bows facing the sea. To make work light, they sang.

Te Pehe o Hiro (The Song of Hiro)

What have I, O Tane
O Tane, god of beauty?
’Tis sennit!
’Tis sennit of the host of heaven,
’Tis sennit for thee O Tane!
Thread it from inside, it comes outside,
Thread it from outside, it goes inside.
Tie it fully, tie it fast.
This is the fashion of thy sennit,
O Tane,
To hold thy canoe,
That she may go over long waves,
And over short waves;
To the near horizon,
Even to the far-off horizon.
This sennit of thine, O Tane,
Let it hold, let it hold!

Every seam and all the little holes in the wood from the keel and upwards were well caulked with fine coconut-husk fiber and pitched carefully with gum, which Hiro drew from sacred breadfruit trees of the marae, and when all the streaks were on, the canoe was washed out clean and dried well and painted inside and outside with red clay and charcoal. As the hull of the canoe reached almost to the roof, the builders could work no longer within the shed, and so they broke it away. Then the boards of the deck were set upon the beams and fixed in their places with spikes and sennit, and the ama (outrigger) of tamanu wood, which had been well steeped in water to preserve it from borers, was polished with limestone and firmly lashed with sennit on to the left side of the canoe, the upper attachment of wood forming across each end of the canoe a beam, called the ‘iato and lashed on to the right side in the same manner as on the left side. This was the song of the outrigger:

This is sennit for lacing on the crossbeams (‘iato),
The sacred sennit of Tane;
Now lace it on, tighten it to hold.
Lace it and wind
The sennit around it.
What will weaken it,
What will sever it,
When it holds with the sacred sennit,
With thy sacred sennit, O Tane?

Next came the finely carved towering ornaments for a rei mua (neck-in-the-front, the figurehead) and a rei muri (neck-behind, stern ornament), which were fastened on to their respective places, and they were named Rei-fa‘apiapi-fare (Necks-filling-up-the-house), because the shed was broken away to allow placing them and finishing the canoe. The two houses, called oa mua and oa muri (fore house and aft house), were set in their places and thatched with fara leaves, after which Hutu, the chief artisan, cut out the holes in the deck and down in the keel, in which he stood the three masts, before mentioned, which had been steeped in water, well seasoned, dried, and polished.

Then the canoe was completed. Hiro dedicated it to Tane, naming it Hohoio (Interloper), in commemoration of the manner in which the material for building it was obtained from King Puna’s land. Finally the day arrived for launching the canoe, and a great multitude assembled to the wonderful sight. The props were removed from the sides of the canoe, and the men held it ready to launch over the rollers. Hotu invoked gods Ta‘aroa, Tane, ‘Oro, Ra‘a, Ro‘o, and Moe, to their aid, and soon their presence was felt impelling the canoe. The rollers began to move, and then the canoe went forwards, slowly at first as the men’s hands steadied it and then swiftly and well poised as it gracefully descended alone and sat upon the sea, which rose in great rolling waves caused by a wind sent to meet it by the star Ana-mua [Antares in Scorpio], the parent pillar of the sky. The spectators greatly admired Hiro’s ship and raised deafening shouts. Then the canoe was made to drink salt water; it was dipped forwards and backwards in the waves of the great moving altar of the gods and thus consecrated to Tane. A marae was made for him in the little house aft of the deck, and the three masts were rigged with ropes and strong mats for sails and long tapa pennants streaming from them.

Within a few days the canoe was loaded with provisions. Great fish baskets were made of bamboo, filled with many kinds of fish, and attached to the outside of the canoe so as to be in the water. Bamboos and gourds were filled with water and stowed away on board, and there were fe‘i (bananas), taro, and mahi (fermented breadfruit) in abundance. A bed of sand and stones was made upon the deck, upon which to make a fire for cooking the food, and soon Hiro was ready to go to sea. Hiro was the captain and pilot, and he had other competent seamen, who like him were acquainted with the heavenly bodies and their rising and setting. Women and children also accompanied their husbands and fathers on board, and on one fine day, with a strong favorable wind, they set sail, applauded by many spectators, among whom were prisoners of war (called titi) whose shouts were heard above all others. They saw Hiro’s great pahi sail out to sea and disappear beyond the horizon, never again to return to Tahitian shores. Thus ended Hiro’s work in his native islands.8

Hiro prided himself on doing things that other men could not do. At the request of his son, he made fire by friction, using toa for the upper attrition and a stone for the under attrition, instead of pliant wood for both. Then Hiro told his son to wield on a hillside, without missing, an immense heap of stones of all shapes and sizes, instead of pebbles, in a game of timo, which Hiro was accustomed to doing with his great hands without difficulty. His son complied with the request and succeeded well until he came to the last stone, which as he was about to take it up Hiro kicked away and caused Marama to stumble. This enraged Marama; he struck the hill with his fist and caused a landslide, which left steep, bare rocks. Hence the ever-standing epithet relating to the hill, “Te mou‘a ta Marama i po‘ara“ (“The mountain which Marama hit“).

In Taha‘a are a number of rocks called Te-uri-a-Hiro (The-dogs-of Hiro). In a valley in Maupiti is a long rock called Te-pahi-o-Hiro (The ship-of-Hiro), one end of which got broken off in a fall from the mountain where it once lay; and on the seaside is a cliff on which are two indentations called Tuturira‘a-o-Hiro (Kneeling-prints-of-Hiro). At Porapora is a heap of stones called Te-timora‘a-o-Hiro (The-timo-game-of-Hiro); and upon a hill not far from it is a stone that has a metallic ring, called Te-oe-o-Hiro (The-bell-of-Hiro). In Huahine is mentioned a stone said to be a petrified man, who became so for neglecting to signal the arrival of Hiro’s ship; and upon a precipice in the strait is a rock called Te-hoe-o-Hiro (The-paddle-of-Hiro).9


This version of the story of Hiro is from Teuira Henry’s Ancient Tahiti (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1928, pp. 537-552).

The voyaging ali‘i Hiro is know throughout Polynesia-in Rarotonga and Aitutaki, his name is Iro; in Aotearoa he is known as Whiro; in Hawai‘i, Hilo.

From various genealogies, Hiro has been placed in the twelfth or thirteenth century. Hiro was also the name of the god of thieves in Hiva (the Marquesas); and Whiro was the name of the son of the sky father and earth mother who was an enemy of Tane. The character of the voyager Iro has taken on these aspects-he is both a trickster and a rebel.

An Aitutaki version of Hiro’s story was translated by J.T. Large and published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 12, 1908, pp. 133-139.

A Rarotongan version is given in “History and Traditions of Rarotonga,“ Part XIII, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 28: 1920, pp. 113-127.

1. In the Aitutaki version, Moe-terauri, the father of Iro, came to Enuakura [land of the red-feathered birds] from ‘Avaiki seeking after women. He made love to Akimano-ki-a-tu, a married woman. He first visited her on the two nights of the lunar calendar known as Iro and Oata. When the woman became pregnant Moe-terauri said to her, ‘If our child you are about to give birth to turns out to be a boy, I will call him by my two nights of the moon, Iro-nui-ma-Oata.’ The woman gave birth to a son, and he was so named accordingly. Iro lived and grew up to manhood at Enuakura. The ariki of the land at that time was Puna, who ruled his people the Ati-Puna.

The identity of the island Enuakura is not clear. In the Aitutaki story, it lies east of Vavau, which could be the northern islands of Tonga; thus Enuakura, could be an island or a place among the Cook Islands, the Society Islands, or the Austral Islands. In the “History and Traditions of Rarotonga,“ Enuakura seems to be a place name on the island of Vavau (identified as the northern group of Tonga); in a Tahitian tradition, Fenua-‘ura is mentioned in connection with the Austral Group, SE of Rarotonga; or it could be a small islet on the reef of Borabora (See the footnote on page 127 in the “History and Traditions of Rarotonga“). Vavau was also the ancient name of Borabora.

According to the Rarotongan tradition, Moe-terauri came from Vavau (the northern islands of Tonga) to ‘Upolu (Samoa) to court Akimano, who was the wife of Pou-ariki. He departed for ‘Upolu after Akimano became pregnant. He left her with four inheritances for his child: “the weapon called Nio-tamore; a loincloth called Tava-manava, a garment named Au-ma-tuanaki, and a wooden pillow named Te Veri“ (“History and Traditions of Rarotonga,“ Part XIII, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 28: 1920, p. 115).

2. Rarotongan Version: Iro grew up at ‘Upolu (Samoa) with his half brothers, who were children of Akimano by her husband Pou-ariki. One day, as he played with them, he knocked down his brothers’ sand hills, so they beat him to death. He came back to life; this happened three more times.

He secretly learned karakia (incantations or prayers) from two old blind relatives, then took care of the old men, bathing them, cleaning their sleeping house, feeding them, and chewing ‘awa for them. “He took the flesh of two coconuts, and squeezed them into the eyes of the blind men,“ which restored their sights. After Iro revealed to the old men that he was their grandson and he recited the karakia for a ceremony honoring the high-born chief who would supply them with things to eat, the old men placed him in charge of performing the ceremony.

3. Hiro’s belief that it would be “unprofitable“ to care for a wife foreshadows his brutal murder of his wife later in the story.

4. In the Aitutaki version, Hiro drank the beer called Aremango rather than ‘awa: He then went and stole a pig called Taapua, belonging to the Ati-Puna tribe. He coo ked it in an imu, and ate the whole pig himself. Then he drank the beer, and under its influence overturned one mountain on top of another. The sign or proof of his handiwork may be seen in the spur or ridge of rocks extending from the top of the mountain to the sea, and it is called to this day ‘Iro’s Rope,’ by which he overturned the mountain. [The hero Tafa‘i also slew a boar named Mo‘iri. See Tafa‘i in this collection.]

5. This innovation in canoe building (lashing planks together to form a hull) is attributed in the Rarotongan tradition of Tangiia and Tutapu to Ui-te-rangiora: “Ui-te-rangiora completed his vessel and launched it. This was the first pa‘i (a canoe made of planks rather than dug out from a single log) and the beginning of the dispersions of the people of ‘Avaiki [the Polynesian homeland] to various islands in the Pacific.“

6. The Rarotongan version of Iro’s battle with the god Tane: Iro found out from his mother that his father was Moe-tara-uri of Vavau (Tonga). He tricked the owners of a canoe that landed at ‘Upolu (Samoa) into going inland to look for their gods, then boarded the canoe, took command of the crew, and sailed to Vavau. When the canoe reached the outer breakers, Iro overcame the waves that threatened to smash the canoe on the reef. Then his father shouted from shore, “Who is this well-born ariki who is able to overcome the many waves of Vavau?“ Iro identified himself, and Moe-tara-uri was overjoyed and appointed Iro as ariki of Vavau.

Iro then voyaged back to ‘Upolu to get his brothers and bring them to Vavau. On the way back to Vavau, his brothers killed and tried to cook Take-aitu, a bird of Tane, the god of sailors. When Iro found out what his brothers had done, he demanded the bird, then tried to revive it by replacing with a stone the heart which had been thrown overboard.

The bird recovered enough to fly back to the land of the gods and Tane, but died there. Tane took revenge by sending a hurricane. Iro leapt into the water and held onto the canoe to keep it from capsizing. Tane tricked Iro by calming the seas; when Iro saw the fair weather, he climbed back into the canoe and laid down, planning to sleep from Pipiri (September) to Akaau (December). After Iro was asleep, Tane sent a strong gust of wind that capsized the canoe. When several of Iro’s brothers climbed onto the overturned hulls, Tane swept down and cut off their heads and took them to Matai-tonga. After searching the stomach of every fish in the sea for his brothers, Iro went to Matai-tonga. There he found their heads on the altar; he decided to punish Tane.

Tane’s wife reported to the god that a man with a centipede mark all glowing on his back was asleep outside. Tane identified the centipede as the mark of Iro. Iro meanwhile had fastened all the openings of the house to entrap Tane, except for the opening in the roof. Tane flew up, but Iro caught him at the third heaven and threatened to throw Tane to his death. Tane pleaded for his life and promised to be Iro’s god and to give him “the seven lands and the four islands-Porapora, Taanga, Vaiau, and Moturea Then Iro let Tane go. Iro then went to Tahiti and dwelt on Mo‘orea, where he carved a rock into the likeness of a dog. He also fashioned a fishhook to fish for food for the “Pig of Iro.“

The Aitutaki version includes the following voyaging episode in which the trickster Iro is tricked: On a voyage from the upwind islands [Tahiti-nui] to the downwind island of Vavau in his canoe named “Tutakeke-nui,“ Iro was accompanied by a chief named Makeu, who sailed in a canoe named “Tutakeke-iti.“ This Makeu was a noted thief, his gods being Uri-kovaro and Mata-tanumi, the deities of thieves. During the voyage, Makeu threw his magic spells over Iro and the people in “Tutakeke-nui,“ and caused them to fall into a deep sleep; then he transferred Iro and his people and their belongings to “Tutakeke-iti“ while Makeu and his people took possession of “Tutakeke-nui“ and paddled away with it. Hence arose the saying, “The sleep of Iro on returning from Vavau was (like) falling asleep in winter and awakening in summer.“

7. In the Aitutaki version, the reason for Iro’s anger at his wife Vai-tu-marie was due to her joking with some women that she enjoyed sleeping with her paramour Taeta more than with Iro. After catching her hand in a canoe lashing, Iro beat her to death with the titia (wooden tool used for lashing) and buried her under the center skid supporting the canoe. His son Tai-marama ran away to the mountains and became a wild man of the woods out of grief for his mother.

8. In the Aitutaki version, the conflict between Iro and Puna is more violent: The Ati-Iro (clan of Iro) took a turtle, which was kapu to the Ati-Puna (clan of Puna). Iro sent his son Tautu to carry a small portion of the turtle to Puna, knowing that his son would be killed in carrying out the mission. Puna’s two taunga (priests or wisemen) told Puna, “Do not eat this offering: the rest of the turtle has been consumed by Iro at Motupae.“ Puna became very angry and killed Tautu, cutting off his head and flinging it on to his rubbish heap of food refuse.

Tautu’s spirit debated with Puna over whether Tautu had committed a sin. Puna’s wise men cleared Tautu of any wrongdoing since Tautu had not consumed the turtle. Hiro’s other son Tai-marama was called to slay the Ati-Puna in revenge for the death of Tautu. Marama told her, “You return and tell Iro to have the canoe Otutai all ready for launching and to get the Ati-Puna to stand at the side of the canoe opposite to the outrigger to assist at the launching while the Ati-Iro will take the outrigger side. Also to have the morning meal before daybreak. I will be there at sunrise.“

Pio returned to Iro and delivered Marama’s message to him, which Iro arranged to have carefully carried out, and on the following morning at break of day his people were all ready for the fray. They fetched the Ati-Puna and placed them on the katea side of the canoe as directed.

At sunrise Marama arrived; he grasped the stern-piece, while the Ati-Iro took the roaa (outrigger) side, and all was in readiness to launch the canoe. This was the song at the moving of the ancient Maori canoe Otutai--

Solo: Launch the canoe Otutai for Iro-nui
Hand the beater, step the mast, the mast Torutatai.
O, the multitude of Puna are without.

Chorus: O!

Solo: O, the multitude of Iro are within.

Chorus: O!

Solo: Pakiara’s black...Pakiara’s black...

Chorus: You will die beneath the canoe,
You will be die beneath the canoe.

The Ngati-Puna realized by the insulting burden of the song that they had fallen into a trap, but it was too late. When the canoe was lifted up, Marama overturned it on top of the Ati-Puna. The Ati-Iro had previously hidden their weapons in the bushes nearby, and when the canoe was thrown on to the Ati-Puna, the Ati-Iro seized their spears and slaughtered the Ati-Puna. Only a few of them escaped, fleeing to the ocean in their canoes. The land passed entirely into the hands of the Ati-Iro, hence the name “Marama, the warrior of Enuakura.“

9. The Rarotongan version gives the following landmarks associated with Hiro: On the summit of a mountain on Taha‘a appears in bold relief the paddle (turned to stone) of Iro’s canoe Otutai, the famous vessel itself-now transformed into a rock-reposes at the bottom of the lagoon between Ra‘iatea and Taha‘a, where it may be seen in calm weather, while the resounding wooden gong of Iro’s vessel is represented by a harmonious stone on the small reef-islet Opua at Porapora not far away.