Adventure

10 Amazing Hawaiian Folk Tales To Experience On Your Vacation

On your next vacation in Hawaii, discover 10 amazing Hawaiian folk tales that will explain the “Aloha State” – “the paradise of the Pacific.”

Islanders joke that “Hawaii, not just volcanoes and pineapples.” Actually, Hawaii is the legendary land of gods and goddesses, including Pele, the hot-headed goddess of the volcano, and Maui (son of Hina-lau-ae and Hina).

Studying Hawaiian mo-olelos (stories) provided a new perspective on what I experienced on my vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii. The origin stories reveal the native Hawaiian’s respect for nature. I share below:

Hawaiian Folk Tale

Pele immigrated from the far distant land of Hapakuela (located at the edge of the sky) to live on Hawaii-net. She arrived first but her family followed afterward. Her mother was Kahinalii; her father was Kanehoalani. She had two brothers named Kamohoalii and Kahuilaokalani.

Big Island of Hawaii (final home of Pele)

Originally, Pele resided on Kauai island. Next, she moved to Kalaupapa, (on the island of Molokai). She made her bed in the crater of Kauhako. Still not content, she next traveled to Puulaina and dug out a crater. Soon bored, she decided to dwell in Haleakala. Pele hollowed out a crater for her home. Her final home is located on Kilauea, on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Land of the Volcano

The goddess Pelehonuamea (Pele) was enraged when Kahawali flew down a hill faster on his sled. Her incandescent rage bubbled up. She pounded her feet until the earth quaked. The hill split in two. Then she screamed for fire to follow her. Bubbling black lava spewed forth.

Thunder cracked. Lightening rent the sky. She summoned her ministers of vengeance to follow her down the hill. Turning around to see the goddess of doom in hot pursuit, Kahawali ran away from the burning lava.

Water of Life

The four Hawaiian gods of water are named Ku, Lono, Ka-ne and Kanaloa. Originally domiciled in Kahiki, they came down to the seas and immigrated to the Hawaiian islands. Kahiki is defined as lying above the skies. Originally, they made their home Nuuanu Valley (which is now Honolulu).

Akaka Falls

Across the vast terrain of the Pacific Ocean, Polynesians worshipped the four gods. Water is the source of life. “If any one is dead and this water is thrown upon him, he becomes alive again. Old people bathing in this water go back to their youth.”

Sun’s Rays

The god Maui was disturbed that the sun departed the land too quickly for his mother Hina to dry her kapa (cloth) during the day. So he decided to create a rope to snare the sun. He cut down coconut trees and harvested the fiber of the coconut husks to weave a strong cord.

He then climbed Haleakala mountain to snare one Sunbeam after another and hold it captive. Maui warned the Sun that he would kill it. The Sun bargained to go down more slowly if Maui would let it live. This is why the sun lowers its face later in the day depending on the season. This is also why Maui’s nickname is the “slower of sun.”

Fire’s Origin

Hina and her four sons (Maui-mua, Maui-hope, Maui-kiikii, and Maui-o-ka-lana) could not understand why they sometimes glimpsed the red flame of a fire dancing on the shoreline when they rowed their canoe. They would head back to cook their fish but the mud-hens (alae) would scratch it out. As the keepers of the fire, they were charged with protecting it.

Sunset at Fairmont Orchid

But Maui-mua would not be dissuaded so he convinced the alae to tell him where fire lived. Told to find “a green stick,” he still could not bring forth fire. But when alae told him a dry stick, he brought forth fire. But his revenge on alae was to rub the mud-hen’s head red with blood. And so the fire’s flame glows red for all to see.

Na Lua’i a Pele

The goddess Pele staged the fountains of creation wherever her volcanic temper exploded. In the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, visitors can witness the Destruction Trail. The volcano erupted on Kilauea Iki in November 1959. According to the National Park System (NPS), it was “one of her most impressive displays of the 20th century.”

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)

It lasted 15 weeks. There were 17 separate eruptions. The lava shot “geyser-like fountains” 1,900 feet (580 meter) in the air.

Bananas

The goddess of the volcano (Pele) carried the banana to Hawaii. The sweet flesh of the banana is hidden under its coat of yellow skin. It grows high in the banana trees in fertile Hawaii.

Lady finger bananas

But according to legend, it is unlucky to dream of bananas. If you want to pack a banana for your lunch on the beach, hide it in your backpack. Do not meet a person carrying bananas.

Boiling Rocks

Hina called on her son Maui to fight Kuna (a giant lizard) who kept sending sticks, leaves, and water over the falls where she dried her kapas. Kuna had caused Hina’s cave to flood when he blocked it with a boulder. Hearing his mother’s call, Maui awoke from a dream. In the night sky, he saw her image like a cloud in the Hawaiian sky. Jumping in his canoe, he paddled to Hilo to observe the Wailuku River (translated the Waters of Destruction).

The only solution was to damn the river. Seeing Maui brandishing his club, Kuna quickly crawled away from his scene of mischief. He hid above the falls in a gorge. Then he jumped into the river to escape Maui’s rage. This is why Maui called on the goddess Pele to send him hot stones in the river. The water turned boiling hot for the giant lizard.

Rainbow Falls

Maui and Kuna then jumped out of the caldron to fight above the thunderous waterfalls. Maui clobbered him with his war club and the lizard fell over 80-foot Rainbow Falls. He still lies there today, a lizard transformed into a giant rock. And Maui continues to battle the tricky lizard.

Rainbow Falls

Water, sticks, and stones beat Kuna (the rock), just like the lizard tried to drown Hina. The boiling waters above Rainbow Falls constantly relive the heated battle of Maui and Kuna, according to legend.

Hawaiian Island Cat

Popoki is the Hawaiian word for cats. Unlike the mythical whales that swam the seas and the birds that owned the skies, the cat did not roam the islands until 250 years old. According to research, Captain James Cook traveled with cats on his ships. Some jumped off board during his visit to the islands in the 1770s. A native discovered the cat and saved it. Today, feral cats roam the Hawaiian islands.

Hawaiian popoki (translated cat)

On my first night at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island, I met a black cat who traveled between tables at the restaurant. He happily slowed his stroll to allow a 4-year-old girl to pet him. Although we called “meow meow” to him, he only spent a few minutes by our table.

This friendly black cat is nicknamed Midnight. Hotel guests love to stroke him. I think this “popoki” deserves his own Hawaiian folk tale.

Popoki Folk Tale

Midnight is a lava rock that sprang to life when a wave washed over him. A fish popped out of the water and landed on the rock. It bounced up like a kitten. The curious kitten looked up the beach and saw a man stepping into a dugout canoe. He raced down the beach to go fishing. Maui laughed as the black cat jumped into his lap. After a day spent fishing together, Maui dropped the kitten back at the beach. The feline sat alone as the sun sets.

And so each day ends on the Big Island of Hawaii with a black blanket laid over the land, sea, and mountains. But the black cat named Midnight stays awake all night to watch over and protect Maui and his family.

“Midnight” (the Fairmont Orchid cat)

“May there always be warmth in your Hale, fish in your net, and Aloha in your heart.” – Midnight

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Jenn
    September 9, 2022 at 8:58 pm

    What fun stories! I love the one about Maui snaring the sun, and it’s neat to see the lady finger bananas – we called them “bumpies” where I grew up in Jamaica, they are so tasty! Thanks for sharing these tales.

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 2:32 am

      My favorite folk tale is also how Maui snared the sun to help his mother dry her cloth! Such an enterprising use of the fiber from the coconut! BTW the finger bananas were harvested that morning at our hotel. Delish!

  • Reply
    Amy
    September 9, 2022 at 10:32 pm

    Such a fun post! I heard the Rainbow falls story but not the others. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 2:34 am

      There are so many Hawaiian folk tales; I can’t wait to research more stories. It adds such depth to what I see on the Big Island, such as the volcanic craters and waterfalls.

  • Reply
    Fiona Mai
    September 10, 2022 at 12:55 am

    Such an interesting post! I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii but never heard of these folk tales before. My favorite ones are the tales about Popoki and the bananas. Hawaii is such a dreamy land full of myths and legends.

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 2:36 am

      I agree! I invented the story about Popoki because I think the cat deserves its own Hawaiian fairy tale! It amused me that carrying bananas caused bad luck.

  • Reply
    Catherine - Savvy Family Travel
    September 10, 2022 at 10:14 am

    These are too fun! We are taking the kids to Big Island next year, for my volcano obsessed kid.
    Glad I know to hide my bananas now!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 5:21 pm

      Oh your son will love the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. I will be writing a separate post about my tour. Destruction Trail is unbelievable. Enjoy!

  • Reply
    Linnea
    September 10, 2022 at 12:31 pm

    This makes me want to go back to Hawaii! All the stories about Pele are always so interesting!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      It has been over two decades since I visited Hawaii so I am excited to be back. I just wish I had the time and money to island hop!

  • Reply
    simplyjolayne
    September 10, 2022 at 2:57 pm

    What great stories and history. I love that they continue to live on and be shared in articles such as yours.

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 5:19 pm

      I was determined to tell the stories about their famous Hawaiian his and goddesses as it is integral to the native Hawai’i culture. Thanks for reading.

  • Reply
    Anita
    September 10, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    I have never been to Hawaii, so it was interesting for me to learn about this place as the legendary land of gods and goddesses and te get more knowledge about their folk tales. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 5:18 pm

      I was so excited to find a book written over a century ago that described numerous Hawaiian folk tales.

  • Reply
    Sarah
    September 10, 2022 at 5:49 pm

    Great post! This was fun to read. I think my favorite was the bananas!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 7:11 pm

      I wish Pele would give me a banana!

  • Reply
    Joanna
    September 10, 2022 at 6:24 pm

    I love these old stories and how people use them to understand and connect natural phenomena, etc. They give a fascinating insight into the culture of a people.

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 7:10 pm

      My favorite thing when my kids were small was to read them folk tales from other cultures. I find them fascinating. I am so glad that Hawaii keeps the past alive.

  • Reply
    Mayi
    September 10, 2022 at 7:02 pm

    These are such fun stories. I love the one about the bananas. I have never been to Hawaii so it would be interesting to see if people carries bananas outside.

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 10, 2022 at 7:08 pm

      I broke the rule because my hotel harvested tiny bananas and gave me one before Sunrise Yoga class. I did come down with a cold next day!

  • Reply
    Ashley
    September 10, 2022 at 9:20 pm

    This is so interesting! Haven’t been to Hawaii yet but it’s on my list!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 11, 2022 at 2:51 am

      I hope you get to visit. It’s like visiting the US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico – a different state of mind place.

  • Reply
    Sara Essop
    September 11, 2022 at 3:38 am

    I love reading folk tales, and this was a fun read. I didn’t know that Captain James Cook travelled with cats!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 11, 2022 at 3:41 pm

      I think sailors would have brought cats on board to kill the rats and mice on a ship. I was fascinated that dogs preceded cats as living on the Hawaiian islands. There are so many cats here today.

  • Reply
    Katy
    September 11, 2022 at 10:33 am

    Some awesome stories! Particularly enjoyed Na Lua’i a Pele and her temper!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 11, 2022 at 3:42 pm

      I love Pele too! I think she is the most important god in Hawaii folk lore.

  • Reply
    Susanna
    September 11, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    What a lovely guide to accompany exploring Hawai’i! Learning about folklore is a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the place you visit. I enjoyed learning about the Native connection to all the elements like water and sunlight. Thanks so much for sharing these stories!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 11, 2022 at 2:17 pm

      I agree. I find I appreciate a new country or region where I vacation if I can learn about the culture. Hawaii is rich in folk lore and the connection to nature.

  • Reply
    Anja
    September 11, 2022 at 3:02 pm

    Love that Hawaiian folklore! I only been to Hawaii once and visited some of the small shrines and sacred places, it was so wonderful!

  • Reply
    Andrea
    September 11, 2022 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing these. They are so interesting.

  • Reply
    Hannah
    September 11, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    Love this! Hawaii has so much rich history embedded in their state. I have been to the Big Island before, it was actually my first Hawaiian Island I visited when I was 15! My family and I did go to the Volcano National Park. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 11, 2022 at 6:07 pm

      You were so lucky to visit the Big Island with your family. It is so family-friendly with all the snorkeling, hiking and swimming.

  • Reply
    Tish
    September 11, 2022 at 11:54 pm

    Terri I loved the folk lores! So interesting
    The cat of course is a surprise as well
    Thanks

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 12, 2022 at 4:08 pm

      I am so glad you enjoyed the Hawaiian folk tales, including my invention of the Popoki folk tale.

  • Reply
    tiffy roxxx
    September 12, 2022 at 3:51 pm

    Thank you for sharing, such a fun read! I never knew there were these Hawaiian folk tales.

    • Reply
      Terri
      September 12, 2022 at 4:07 pm

      I was so impressed to learn about these ancient Hawaiian folk tales when I began touring the Big Island, especially tales of Pele.

  • Reply
    Natalie
    September 13, 2022 at 2:11 am

    I love this post, Terri! Such a great way to enhance a travel experience to learn about the destination’s folk tales. I love reading folk tales from around the world, and I will definitely revisit this post next time I’m planning to go to Hawaii 🙂 Thank you for putting this together!

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