Volume 24 1915 > Volume 24, No.95 > Review[s], p 113-115
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“PELE AND HIIAKA,” a myth from Hawaii. By N. B. Emerson. Published by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Limited, 1915.

“LEGENDS OF OLD HONOLULU.” By W. D. Westervelt. Published by the press of Geo. H. Ellis Co., Boston, U.S.A.

WE have received from our fellow member, Mr. W. D. Westervelt, copies of the above two works, which we desire to bring under the notice of our members, for the reason that any thing that relates to the Polynesian Race should be known to them, although these two works are local, and deal with some of the traditions of the Hawaiian Islands alone.

The first thing that strikes us is that little or nothing of the legends here gathered is known outside the Islands from whence they originated. Whilst this is the case generally, there are points here and there where we come across some attenuated references to legends to be found in other parts of Polynesia; but on the whole these points of contact are few and far between. Dr. Emerson's work, which runs into 250 pages, is the story of Pele, the goddess presiding over the celebrated volcano of Kilauea on the island of Hawaii. It is in the form of a series of poems with recitative interludes, very much, in that respect, like the Rarotongan story of Ono-kura, which is equally long, and of the same type of song and recitative.

Those who have attempted the translation of Polynesian poems know the difficulty of translating into English these ancient compositions, and we think Dr. Emerson has made a great success in his rendering of the Native version into readable English. To understand these compositions, it is necessary for the translator to place himself in the same mental attitude as the composer, i.e., he must think in the language in which they are composed in order to get the meaning of the poem, and then put the translation into English that shall be understood. This means that a literal translation is not always to be followed. This is the course Dr. Emerson has followed, and without deviating from the original too much, has given us a readable story that well illustrates the Polynesian order of mind.

The story is in reality the adventures of Pele's sister Hiiaka in search of Lohiau, a young chief whom Pele desired as a husband; she meets with many adventures on the way, which offers an opportunity of exhibiting her supernatural powers. In the end Hiiaka secures the young chief for herself.

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We may point out that one of the points of contact with the traditions of Southern Polynesia is to be found in the name of Pele herself, for her full name is Pele-honua-mea, and this name by well-known letter changes, is the Maori Para-whenua-mea, which stands for some great convulsion of nature, which indeed does Pele herself, for she is the author of all the volcanic outbursts of Hawaii. Hiiaka also (although not known to the Maori in that form), means, when put into Maori, (Hiti-ata, or Whiti-ata), a phenomena of nature, i.e., the “Rising Morn.”

Again we find, in the account of the doings of Pele, on the first arrival of her party at the islands, when she landed at the north west group and passed from there to the south east on her way to her final home in the volcano of Kilauea, that we have the same story, or rather a modified form of it, of the adventures of Nga-Toro-i-rangi, who being benumbed by the cold of Tongariro, called to his sisters to send fire from Hawaiki, and on their doing so, the fires sprung up at various places along the way, which are now denoted by either hot springs or some other form of volcanic activity.

We are glad to see on page 115, note (21) that Nanai is an ancient name of Lanai Island, for this is the name given in one of the Rarotonga traditions to one of the islands of the Hawaiian Group, but in the southern dialect form—Ngangai.

We have noted a few other points that we should have liked to discuss with the learned author of this book, but, alas! the Doctor is no more. He was on his way from Alaska, where he had been for a holiday, and on his way back suddenly died on the steamer. His loss will be felt by many a Polynesian scholar, for he was in the fore rank of those who have devoted many years of his life to the translation of Hawaiian legends. His was a most pleasant personality; and we offer to his relations our sincere sympathy in the loss of one so universally esteemed.

The second work named at the head of this paper embodies 277 pages of legends relating generally to the neighbourhood of Honolulu, and the author has thrown them into a simple readable form. Like so many stories of this nature they deal largely with the supernatural, indeed, perhaps, more so than is to be found in the Southern Groups. Tupuas enter into nearly all of them, for the supernatural was ever present to the Polynesian, and in old times the priests were constantly in (pretended) communication with the personified powers of nature.

We find in these stories little that touches the similar kinds of tales of the south; they are nearly all purely local with purely local colouring, and it appears to us that none of them can be called historical. We miss the same group of stories that surround so many of the truly - 115 historical recitations of, for instance, those of Tahiti, Rarotonga, and New Zealand. At the same time we are able to recognise here and there a few slight incidents that are to be found also further south, but always in an attenuated form. For instance, on page 175, we read the same incidents as are told of the celebrated canoe of Rata, but the Hawaiian story substitutes rats for birds as the bearers of the canoe to the water. Notwithstanding the fabulous incidents that accompany this story, there is no doubt but that the events occurred in the Samoan Islands, with which group Rata is closely connected. In the Hawaiian story the hero is called Kawelo, and unfortunately, due to the practice in Hawaii of joining the definite article on to the noun, we do not know if this name should be in the southern dialects, Tawero, or Te Wero.

The story of “Chief man-eater” (Ke Alii-ai-kanaka) is dated about the middle of the 18th century by the author, but it seems to us that it may, with equal probability be assigned to the times of the chief known to southern Polynesians, as Kai-tangata, (Man-eater), who is a well-known historical character that flourished some time in the ninth or tenth century.

In the story of “Lepe-a-moa” we come across the same idea of the magic dart, by which the hero finds his way, as in the Maori account of the adventures of Whare-matangi and his finding of his father; not that the stories are identical, but the ruling ideas are the same.

In the event of a second eddition being called for, we would suggest to the author to abandon the use of the term “Hervey Islands,” for that name has long been superseded by “Cook Islands.” Few people now know where the islands are when referred to under the former name. A better name than either would be the Rarotonga Group, for that is the seat of most of the Native Lore of the South Pacific. We may also point out that the Makea, on page eleven, is certainly not identical with Atea in New Zealand; indeed Makea is only once mentioned in Maori history that we know of, and then it refers to one of the Rarotongan family of that name.

Mr. Westervelt has done good service to the cause this Society was especially founded for, and we trust he will continue to add to the several works on Polynesian History and Traditions he has already given to the world. He would place us all under very much greater obligations if he could, by any means, induce those who now have the keeping of the late Judge Fornander's Native MS., from which, in his learned work on “The Polynesians,” he has given just a few quotations that only serve to wet one's appetite to get them printed, and we know these documents were partly prepared for the press some little time ago.