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)


From Fornander, Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-lore, Vol. IV (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1916-1917)

Wahanui was the chief (ali‘i), Kilohi the prophet (kaula), and Hawai‘i the land they lived in. Wahanui sailed in a double-hulled canoe from Hawai‘i to Kaunolu, on the southern tip of Lana‘i. He went because he had sworn, “I will trample on the chests of Kane and Kanaloa (hehi i ka houpo o Kane laua o Kanaloa), then return to Hawai‘i.”1

Kane and Kanaloa once lived together with their younger brother Kane‘apua at Kaunolu, Lana‘i. They were three gods who sometimes changed into other forms, Kane and Kanaloa having the bodies of birds and Kane‘apua having a human body.

One day, Kane and Kanaloa became very thirsty, so they sent Kane‘apua to the uplands of Lana‘i to get water at a spring called Nanaihale. Arriving at the spring with his water gourd, Kane‘apua urinated by the weedy edge before stooping to fill the gourd; he did not know that his urine seeped into the spring. When he arrived home and met Kane and Kanaloa, they took the water gourd and drank to satisfy their thirst. They discovered that they had drunk urine instead of water, so they flew off, leaving Kane‘apua on Lana‘i.2

One day Kane‘apua sat on the headland at Kaunolu. He saw the double-hulled canoe of Wahanui sailing by, so he called out from the shore: “Whose canoe is that?”

“It is Wahanui’s,” replied Kilohi.

“Wahanui is the chief, who is the prophet?”


“Where is the canoe sailing?”

“It is sailing to Kahiki; Wahanui wants to trample on the chests of Kane and Kanaloa.”

Kane‘apua called out: “Why not let me come too?”

Kilohi answered: “The main hull of the canoe (ke wa‘a) is already full.”

“If the canoe is full, let me ride on the cross-beams (‘iako).”

“They are also full.”

“Let me ride on the port hull (ama) then.”

“That is full too.”

This conversation went on until Kane‘apua had mentioned every part of the canoe, trying to get a seat. After being denied a seat anywhere, Kane‘apua called out: “Return, a storm is coming.”

Kilohi replied: “Who are you to tell my lord his canoe should return?”

The canoe continued on from Kaunolu to Ka‘ena point [on the west end of Lana‘i], where it encountered a heavy wind; soon after this a storm arose, and the canoe was overturned. Wahanui got a cramp in the cold water and the supplies were soaked. The travelers returned to land at Lele in Lahaina.

After sleeping there, they set out again the next day. As the canoe sailed past Kaunolu, Kane‘apua again asked for a seat, and again the prophet, Kilohi, told him there wasn’t any room. The canoe left for Kahiki and was swamped in another storm and forced to return to shore. On this return, Wahanui realized that the boy Kane‘apua knew more than his prophet, Kilohi. So when they departed again, Kane‘apua was given a seat and the canoe sailed on.

There were two sailing masters aboard, Ho‘okele i Hilo and Ho‘okele i Ka‘u. Kane‘apua sat behind the sailing masters. Suddenly, a grey mist covered them, so thick that the aft couldn’t be seen from the bow. The canoe sailed on and arrived at the land of Kanehunamoku,3 a land which appeared to them in the form of a dog.

Kilohi said to Wahanui, “It’s a dog; let’s return to Hawai‘i to rub noses with our children and wives before the man-eating dog of Hina devours us!” These words made it clear to Wahanui that Kilohi did not know much; they all would have been killed if Kane‘apua had not joined them.

Kane‘apua said: “You are mistaken, Kilohi; that is the land of Kanehunamoku. It recognizes you as a newcomer (malihini). When its dark shadow moves away, the sky will brighten. A man on the island is calling out now.” When they drew nearer to the island, they saw a man gathering coral for food, a deadly food. Soon after this they left the land of Kanehunamoku behind and continued on their way.

After they had sailed for some time they looked up and saw two hills, Paliuli (Dark cliff) and Palikea (Light cliff), towering above and ahead of them. These two hills were two demi-gods (kupua) belonging to Kane and Kanaloa, who wanted to kill the travelers. Kane‘apua said to Wahanui and Kilohi: “If those hills tumble down on us, we will all die. These hills of Kane and Kanaloa will destroy us.”

Kane‘apua then called out to Paliuli and Palikea: “Return below; if I am killed, you two will be ashamed.”

At his words, the two hills lowered themselves in shame, and the travelers were saved from death. Kane‘apua then said to Wahanui: “You remain floating here while I dive below. My grandmother Honunuikua‘ea‘ea (‘Great turtle with reddish brown back’) is down there; if her back turns toward us, we will die, but if her face turns toward us, we will live.” He dove down and called out: “Honunuikua‘ea‘ea, turn your face up.”

She turned her face up: “Whose offspring (kupu) are you?”


“What is your name?”


The grandmother swam forward, crying, and then asked him: “What brings my lord here?”

“I need a rope to moor the canoe.” She gave Kane‘apua her intestines (na‘au) and Kane‘apua rose to the surface and moored the canoe with them.

Kane and Kanaloa opened the calabash in which the winds of La‘amaomao 4 were kept. The winds came up, a storm arose, the sea became rough, the waves beat down, and puna coral was thrown up onto the beach. This storm lasted ten days. When the winds abated, the danger was over; no spirit (kupu) remained; only a dog belonging to Kane‘apua remained.

The travelers then went ashore on the sandy beach. Kane‘apua said to Wahanui: “Go until you find three men lying face up; they are Kane, Kanaloa, and Mauli.5 Trample on the chests of the three of them and return, but don’t look back.” Wahanui did as he was told and returned.

Kane‘apua said: “Wrap me up in a kapa cloth streaked with colors (‘oni‘oni‘o) and say that I am your god, Kane‘apua.” When Wahanui heard this, he kneeled down before Kane‘apua and made an offering (mohai) of all the valuables he had brought with him. For the first time, the travelers realized that their guide was the god Kane‘apua. A crowd gathered – the silent ones (ke namu), the noisy ones (ke nawa), the angry ones (ka huhu); they asked: “Where is your god?”

“He is standing here.”

“E! you have a big god!”

“Yes, he could devour all of you without satisfying his hunger.”

Then Kane‘apua said: “When you get to the house, don’t sit in the good places (kahi maika‘i) or you will die; sit in the bad places (kahi ‘ino‘ino) and you will live.” When the travelers arrived at the house, they followed the instructions given to them.

Some months passed; then they prepared to return home. Before they departed, Kane‘apua gave Wahanui a double-bodied person (he mau pilikua ‘elua).6 The back of one was joined to the back of the other; their ribs (iwi ‘ao‘ao) were fused together. There were two heads, four hands and feet, and four eyes. If one body went to urinate or defecate, the other had to go along, too, even if it didn’t want to urinate or defecate; and so the two bodies went everywhere together. Wahanui decided to take this curiosity (milimili) with him back home to Hawai‘i. Kane‘apua told him: “Don’t show it to anyone until you reach home; otherwise, you will be killed.”

On the return voyage, Wahanui landed first at Kaua‘i. A great crowd of people gathered, including the ali‘i Kupakoili and his seer (kilokilo) Luluupali. When the crew heard the shouting of the people on land, they leaped off the canoe onto shore; Wahanui joined them with his pilikua. When the people saw it, they gave a mighty shout.

When Kupakoili heard the shout, he asked his prophet, Luluupali: “How can I get that pilikua?”

Luluupali answered: “Kill the ali‘i and his men and destroy the canoe with fire.”

Kupakoili’s desire was fulfilled. Wahanui was killed and the pilikua taken.

A crew member, one of the bailers, escaped by diving underwater. Afterwards, he slept with a woman of Kaua‘i and settled there as a fisherman.

This man went fishing often, taking a large quantity of food with him when he went. His wife was puzzled by this and asked him about it. He answered: “What’s wrong with taking all this food? It can easily be brought back in again.”

One day he went fishing, and the right wind blew, carrying him over the ocean to Hawai‘i. He landed there and told the people that Wahanui and his followers had all been killed on Kaua‘i, that only he had escaped. The people of Hawai‘i were called together to prepare for avenging the death of their ali‘i. They sent canoes to Kaua‘i and invited Kupakoili and his people to come to Hawai‘i to take all the canoes and the wealth for themselves. Every man, woman, and child on Kaua‘i came to Hawai‘i.

When they arrived on Hawai‘i, they were slaughtered; no one escaped.

NOTES (revised in 2014)

The story of Wahanui is found in English and Hawaiian in Fornander’s Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-lore, Vol. IV (516-523). It is labeled as a ka‘ao (legend, tale, novel, romance, usually fanciful.") Another version of the Wahanui story is found in Kamakau’s Tales and Traditions (104-105).

1. “Wahanui” means “Big mouth.” The Hawaiian for “trample on the chests of Kāne and Kanaloa” is “Hehi i ka houpo o Kane laua o Kanaloa.” The phrase uses the same verb, "hehi," found in the following proverb from Mary Kawena Pukui's 'Ōlelo Noe'au (No. 1637):

Ka'upu hehi 'ale o ka moana. The ka'upu bird that steps on the ocean billows. A ship.

According to Pukui-Elbert, ka'upu is "perhaps Laysan albatross," which "breeds on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Ni‘ihau, and Moku Manu." In the proverb, the albatross is a metaphor for a ship sailing over the ocean swells. The verb “hehi” has a wide range of meanings: "stamp, tread, trample, pedal, step on; trampling. Fig., to repudiate, deny, desecrate, loathe, break (as taboo)" (Pukui-Elbert dictionary). "Ka'upu hehi 'ale, billow-treading ka'upu" is used in the dictionary as a usage example for the word ka'upu.

The phrase “hehi i ka houpo o Kāne laua o Kanaloa” suggests sailing to Kahiki, which Wahanui does in this ka'ao. Kanaloa was the god of the sea; the moana, or deep sea is also associated with the god Kāne, as in the following proverb, also from Pukui's 'Ōlelo Noe'au (No. 1729):

"Ke kai lipolipo polihua a Kāne," The dark-blue ocean of Kāne." The deep sea out of sight of land.

2. The Pukui-Elbert Dictionary (1965) translates Kāne‘āpua as “Kāne-fish trap”; but “‘āpua” also means “disloyal,” “disobedient,” “rebellious.”

3. Kānehunamoku is the “hidden island of Kāne.” This is an island on which Kāne and Kanaloa lived; it is sometimes thought of as a cloudland floating between heaven and earth and a paradise where pious people were allowed to live with the gods, enjoying the delights of earth without labor or death. The life-giving waters of Kāne are said to be found on this island. See Beckwith (67 ff.) for various traditions connected with this land.

4. La‘amaomao is the deity who controls the winds, which are kept in a calabash.

5. Mauli, the third god mentioned here, is perhaps Mauli-ola, identified in the Pukui-Elbert Dictionary (1965) as “a god of health” whose name means “Breath of life.” “Mauli” also means “heart,” “seat of life,” “spirit.” As a god of health, he fits with Kaāne and Kanaloa who are life-giving gods.

6. “Pilikua” is translated as “giant” in Fornander; however, from the description in the text, it seems clear that the storyteller is referring to a double-bodied person (i.e., Siamese twins). “Pili kua” means “joined at the back.”