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The Legend of the First Pearl Fish Hook

Grandmothers of long ago passed along stories of the old ways of the Hawaiian Islands. As with other people living close to the earth and relying upon the resources of land and sea, Hawaiians were continually aware of the creative forces, including gods and goddesses, in their daily living. To these they turned for blessings and ceremonials of thanksgiving.

Here is one of these legends, as recited by a wise storyteller:

Ka'eha was a fisherman of Kona on Hawaii. He stood beside his dying father, his heart heavy with sorrow. The old man opened his eyes and spoke: "Do not be sad, my son. I have lived long, and my time has come to die. Throw my bones into the sea, and the gods will give you a good gift."

Ka'eha obeyed his father's dying words. When he returned to the place where he had thrown the bones, he found them gone. He looked carefully for the gift his father had promised and found a shell of pearl. He took it up and looked long at its beauty. Then he separated the halves and tossed one to the sea. From the other he carved an aku hook.

That was the first pearl aku hook and it proved a good gift indeed. It was a sacred hook which seemed to call these fish. With it Ka'eha became a great fisherman, and his fame went all about these islands.

One day, when he was fishing, a great aku leaped from the sea. It took the hook, and Ka'eha pulled with all his strength, eager to land that great fish. But his line broke, and the aku swam away carrying the sacred hook.

For days Ka'eha was filled with sadness. Then hope came. Perhaps some other fisherman had caught that fish and found the hook! He journeyed all about Hawaii, but heard nothing of the hook that he had lost.

Finally he went to other islands, but had no news until he came to windward Oahu. There, as he paddled near the shore, he saw white-capped terns dipping and circling over a house just as they dip and circle over a school of aku. "My hook is there!" he thought, and beached his canoe.

"These are the houses of a chief," he was told.

"Then I shall visit him," Ka'eha thought, for he too was of chiefly family.

He was made welcome and stayed for many days. Always the white- capped birds circled and dipped above the house where fishing gear was kept. But nothing was said of aku fishing. Ka'eha heard nothing of a sacred hook. "Perhaps the chief does not know its powers," he thought. "If only he would go aku fishing!"

But something very different happened. Ka'eha married the chief's daughter and settled down as son-in-law of the chief. Had he forgotten the pearl hook? Much time passed.

Then one day the chief said, "Tomorrow, O Ka'eha, my men go aku fishing with Kaneiki, my son. I have heard that you too are a fisherman. Will you go?"

All the young man's longing for his sacred hook returned, but he answered quietly, "Yes, I will go."

"Good!" said the chief. "Then tomorrow you shall be head fisherman. Be ready at the rising of the morning star."

But Ka'eha thought, "I must make sure that we take the sacred hook. He did not rise before dawn, but lay upon his mats, waiting.

"Ka'eha!" He heard the voice of Kaneiki outside his sleeping house. His brother-in-law was ready to start. He had a hook. That Ka'eha knew. Ka'eha knew also that this was not the sacred hook, so he lay as if still sleeping.

"Ka'eha!" The call came again. Kaneiki was angry that the young man was not ready and chanted:

The paddles make a rattling sound And the bails of the fishermen too, O Crab Claws!

The name Crab Claws angered Ka'eha, for it meant one who talks much and does nothing. However, he did not show his anger, but chanted quietly:

A white shell is the hook of Kaneiki A lifeless thing, a lifeless thing to use. Where is the many-coloured hook? Take that worthless hook back to your father. Kaneiki.

The brother-in-law looked at the white shell in his hand. "Ka'eha lies in his sleeping house," he thought. How does he know what shell I have? He must be very wise." And Kaneiki went to get another hook.

"Come now!" Ka'eha heard the call once more. "I have a good hook for you."

But Ka'eha knew that this still was not his sacred hook. "It is useless!" he called in answer. "Only the many-coloured hook will catch aku today."

Again and again this happened. Kaneiki could find no hook that pleased his brother-in-law, and at last the chief's hook bowl was empty. What should he do? Suddenly he remembered a hook found some time ago in the stomach of a big fish. The chief had stuck that hook in the thatch of the house where fishing gear was kept. "It is an old and useless hook," he had said.

"That is the only hook left," Kaneiki thought. "I shall take it."

Ka'eha met him at the door of his sleeping house. "That is the one!" he cried, taking the hook. Tears came to his eyes as he looked at this gift from his father and the gods. He put it carefully into a small gourd box which he wore on a cord about his neck. "Today we shall have good fortune in our fishing," he said. "Let us go."

They reached the landing place. "Remember, I am head fisherman," Ka'eha said. "We shall take this double canoe, and the paddlers must be strong men able to save it if it swamps."

The men listened with wonder. Of course they were good paddlers! But the sky was clear, and there was no sign of storm. Soon the canoe was launched, and the men paddled fast. Others had gone aku-fishing when first the morning star arose. Those early ones must not get all the fish!

"Look!" someone cried. "There are the other canoes! There the birds circle and dip. Let us paddle swiftly! Any moment the great fish may sound!" They paddled with all their might.

"Here!" called Kaneiki. "We are among the aku."

"Paddle farther," Ka'eha commanded, and the men turned to stare at him.

"The fish are here," repeated Kaneiki.

"Today, I am head fisherman," Ka'eha reminded him. "Paddle farther out."

Wondering greatly, the men obeyed. On and on they paddled until Oahu was only a dim gray line upon the ocean. "This is the place," Ka'eha said at last.

The others looked about. No white-capped birds! No aku! Again they stared at Ka'eha. What was he thinking of?

"Listen to my commands," the young man said. "Turn the canoe and paddle toward the shore. Paddle with all your might. Do not once look back. When I shout, leap into the sea."

Wondering greatly, the men obeyed. They did not see Ka'eha take the sacred fishhook from his gourd, but they heard the rush of aku following the canoe. They felt them splash into it. They felt the canoe sinking beneath the weight of fish. "Leap overboard!" They heard Ka'eha's shout, and leaped into the ocean, just as the canoe filled and swamped.

The paddlers were strong men, at home in the sea. They splashed the water from the canoe and bailed. Wondering greatly, they scrambled in once more. They had no fish, for Ka'eha had put the sacred hook back into its box, and the aku had all swum away. Silently the men paddled toward the shore.

As they came near Oahu and could see the breaking surf, Ka'eha repeated his commands: "Paddle toward shore with all your strength. Do not once look back. When I shout, be ready to leap into the sea." Again the rush and splash of aku! Again, the men leaped from the swamping boat. Again they emptied the canoe, then paddled toward the reef.

When they were over the reef, Ka'eha spoke once more. "Paddle steadily," he said. "Here I shall fish."

Again the men stared in wonder, and Kaneiki said, "It is useless to fish here. It is true that small fish swim over the reef, but not the great aku. To fish for aku here is useless, O Ka'eha!"

"Today I am head fisherman," the young man told them once again. "Paddle over the reef without looking back. Be ready to leap when I call to you." He took out his sacred hook and watched as the aku came rushing through the shallow water to splash into the canoe. "Leap quickly!" he shouted to the men as he put away his hook.

The paddlers leaped into the water just in time to prevent their boat's sinking to the coral. They waded to the beach, pushing the full canoe. The chief came, and a great crowd of servants and common people. All stared in wonder at the huge, silvery fish. "Never have I seen such a catch!" the chief exclaimed.

"Let these fish be shared," Ka'eha said. "This is my last command. Let the chief feast, and let common men feast also. This is a great day, for my sacred aku hook has returned to me." He took just two fish--one for his wife and one to offer in the heiau to the spirit of his father.

A long moment of silence told the master the deep interest of those who listened. At last Malu took out the pearl hook which Aukai had given him. He took it from an inner fold of his malo where he had kept it close to his body and very safe. "What of this, O master?" he asked.

"Ka'eha found a pearl shell. Do you remember? One part he returned to the sea. From that came many hooks, and this is one. This hook has been in my family for years. It brings good fortune in aku fishing. I have no son and give the hook to you, O Malu. Some day you will be head fisherman."

Malu could not speak, but Aukai knew his joy in the gift.

The good time went on--hula, riddles, games. When at last the guests went home, no one was empty-handed. Each had a bundle of food as well as some other gift. This had been a day of sharing, a happy memory for everyone, and for Keao and Malu a time never to be forgotten.

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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.