Stories from Hiva
(the Marquesas Islands)
E.S. Craighill Handy
Illustration: Turtle Petroglyph
from Hatiheu, Nukuhiva, Marquesas
"[The people of Hiva] knew perhaps thirty or forty real and mythical islands in the ocean space around them"
After the settlement of the islands by voyagers from the west, the
people of Hiva continued to voyage, among their own islands, and
between the islands of Hiva and other groups. Handy gives the following
motives for leaving one's home island: "expulsion i
n war, famine, . . .a spirit of adventure and restlessness, and
revelations of seers which led the people to set out on definitely
organized expeditions for exploration" (Native Culture 19).
Oral traditions of voyaging also indicate the following economic
motives: to obtain materials not available on one's home island, such
as red bird feathers or high quality adze stone; or to bring plants,
animals, or people from one island to another. The people of Hiva also
travelled in canoes among their islands of Hiva to make war, to obtain
human sacrifices from other tribes, or to take revenge for an attack.
Trading among the islands of Hiva took place because each island had a
special product or two that people on other islands desired:
"Nukuhiva...produced the best eka, the turmeric root used to make a
saffron-scented cosmetic with which they covered their bodies. Fatuhiva
in the south produced the best carved bowls for use in feasts and
" (Dening 48). The people of Nukuhiva went to the uninhabited island of
Eiao to get basalt for making stone adzes, and the people of Hiva Oa
would go to Nukuhiva to trade for the adzes; Ua Huka was noted for its
pounders; Ua Pou for its porpoise-tooth crowns (Handy Native Culture
23). Porter reports that the people of Nuku
Hiva also went annually to Eiao, to the northwest, to get the red tail
feathers of the tropic bird (Handy 20).
[Two traditional voyaging
stories--"Aka's Voyage for Red Feathers"
and "Pepeiu"--are included below.]
Voyages of Exploration
The people of Hiva left their islands in search of other lands (He
fenua 'imi, "land seeking"; Hawaiian:
'imi honua). Porter reports: "The grandfather of Gattnaewa sailed with
four large canoes in search of land, taking with him a large stock of
s and water, together with a quantity of hogs, poultry, and young
plants. He was accompanied by several families and has never been heard
of since he sailed" (quoted in Handy Native Culture 19).
Porter also says he heard that "more than eight hundred men, women and
children" departed from the islands of Hiva in search of land. One
group ended up on Roberts' Island
(Eiao, NW of Nukuhiva). A few days after the canoes depart on these
voyages of expl
oration, "the priests come lurking to the houses of the inhabitants of
the valley, whence they sail, and in a squeaking affected voice, inform
[the inhabitants] that [the voyagers] have found a land abounding in
breafruit, hogs, coconuts, everything that can be desired,and invite
others to follow them, pointing out the direction to sail, in order to
fall in with this desirable spot. New canoes are constructed, and new
adventurers commit themselves to the ocean, never to return" (quoted in
Handy Native Cul
According to one oral tradition, a large double-hulled canoe named
Kaahua from a tribe called Tuoo under the chief
Te-heiva voyaged east from Puamau on the northeast coast of Hiva Oa and
landed at a land called
Tefiti. Kaahua had several houses built on i
ts deck and "carried a great quantity of breadfruit paste." Its gunnels
were so high, the crew had "to climb up the sides from the bottom to
pour the bilge water out." Some of the crew stayed in
Tefiti, while others returned to Puamau (Handy Native Cultur
Flight after Defeat in War
Two oral traditions recall flight by canoes from Hiva to the Tuamotus
after defeat in war. In the first case, the Fiti Nui tribe of Hiva Oa
fled for Tahuata on bamboo rafts. The wind blew them south to the
Tuamotus. In the second case, after losing a batt
le, the people of Hana Pa'a Oa on the north coast of Hiva Oa left on
rafts and ended up on Takaroa in theTuamotus (Handy Native Culture
David Porter reports: "Temaa Tippe and his whole tribe, about two years
since, had many large double canoes constructed for the purpose of
abandoning their valley and proceeding in search of other islands,
under the apprehension that they would be driven off their land by
other tribes. But peace took place, the canoes were taken to pieces,
and are now carefully deposited in a house, constructed for the
purpose, where they may be kept in a state of preservation to guard
against future contingencies" (quote
d in Handy Native Culture 19).
TWO VOYAGING STORIES FROM THE ISLES OF HIVA
Aka's Voyage for Red Feathers
[The story of Aka is from E.S. Craighill. Handy's Marquesan Legends
(Honolulu: Bishop Museum 1930, 130-131). The story is from Puamau on
the island of Hiva
A man named Aka wished to get feathers to make a feather headdress for
his daughter. Aka was not a chief. He gathered a crew for his canoe and
told his relatives to prepare food for the voyage. He then looked about
for some one to guide him, and finally s
elected two boys. He chose them because he had seen that, when the
children were sailing boats, the boats of these two boys always went
straight to the desired place.
They set out, and after they had gone a little way, the boys said to Aka, "There is land ahead. What land is it?"
"It is Motani," replied Aka.
"What can be gotten there?" inquired the boys.
"Meie (a species of herb used for perfume)," replied
Aka. "I have been there before and gathered the herb for my daughter."
After they had sailed on for a long time, the boys said again, "There is land ahead. What land is it?"
"It is Moutona," said Aka.
"What can be gotten there?" asked the boys.
Aka replied, "Mouomatito no te tahia (a species of grass which was
plaited and used in a game played by girls). I have been there before
and gathered the grass for my daughter."
By this time the boys were anxious to go back, for the birds Aka wanted to get were tapu to their families.
They sailed on for a long time and again there was the same questioning. The boys said, "There is land ahead. What land is it?"
Aka replied, "It is Kau kau o meia."
"What can be gotten there?" the boys asked.
"Pehe no te tahi (string
figures)," Aka said. "I have been there before and gotten the
pehe." (According to the informant Aka had landed there on a previous
voyage, made cord from the fiber of banana stumps, and learned or
pehe. This is another s tory.)
They sailed on as before, and again the boys said, "There is land ahead. What is that land?"
"It is Oautona (Aotona or Rarotonga)," Aka replied.
The boys asked, "What can be gotten there?"
"Huukua (red bird feathers)," Aka replied. "We will land there."
The place, which they first sighted, was the place where the birds
were, but the boys said, "We must go over to the other side of the
island or we shall be heard."
The island was really uninhabited, but the boys did not want Aka to
land where the birds were, because the birds were tapu to them. When
the voyagers had beached the canoe, the boys ran away from the others
and went to the valley, in which the birds lived
. They built a house there, which had a hole in the top but was closed
on the sides. They then got in the house and scraped coconut meat. When
they had a pile of scraped coconut, they kindled fire by rubbing two
sticks together, and threw the coconut on t
he fire. The birds smelled the burning coconut and came flying in from
all directions to see what it was. They circled about, and then plunged
down through the hole in the roof. When the house was almost full, the
boys closed the hole in the roof. One of the boys then went to Aka and
told him to come on with him. Aka entered the house and picked the
feathers from the living birds, letting them go after they were picked.
They could not fly, because they had no wing feathers. When Aka had
enough feathers, h
e divided them among his crew for payment. Then they sailed home.
Fuller, more detailed variants of this story of Aka's voyage to Aotona
[Rarotonga] are found in Von den Steinem's Marquesan Myths, translated
At the death feast for the chief Puakauooa in Ta'aoa (a valley on the
southern coast of Hiva
Oa), Aka and other heroes looked for flowers and fruits to make
garlands for the women at the feast. They found tiare (gardenia), pua
(flower), koute (hibiscus),
puanetae, faa (pandanus fruit), hinano (pandanus flower), inou (a kind
of lilac), katiu (a small cucumber), and hukou (a fruit); but Aka
wasn't satisfied with these flowers because they wilted in the hot sun.
His two sons-in-law, Utunui and Pepeu, tell him: "Kula (red feathers) make the best ornaments."
When Aka asked, "Where can we get kula?" the two sons-in-law replied,
Aotona; our father Mahaitivi knows how to get there." Then Utunui and
Pepeu went to their father's house at Poitopa [above Atuona on Hiva
Oa] and asked him for directions. The fathe
r told them the voyage is long and difficult and they must prepare lots
of food--raw and cooked ma (fermented breadfruit), coconuts, raw and
cooked taro, raw and cooked kape (dry land taro).
The father and two sons argued over how long the voyage would take; the
father saying seven months, and Utunui twelve. Utunui recited the
Pohe, Iti, Aoa-Manu, Mataiki, Ehua, Uaua, Uahaa-metao, Takuua, Veo,
Napea. (These are nam
es of the stars or constellations that served as guides to the months
and seasons of breadfruit; in the Isles of
Hiva, as in Hawai'i, the names of the stars and months and their order
vary considerably according to different informants.)
The father then explained that in Aotona, the voyagers would find the
birds Matakia and
Vaefati, who were his inoa ("name friends; those with whom one has
exchanged names, so that each has claim to the wife and property of the
The two boys returned to Aka and told him to build and provision a
canoe as directed by their father had told them, and find paddlers. 140
men are found to man the double-hulled canoe and the voyagers leave.
The first island they saw was Mohutane (a small island south of Hiva
Oa). Utunui asked the inhabitants what they use to make garlands.
"Meie bark," was the reply. Aka said, "No good."
Then they arrive at Fatu Hiva (south of Mohutane). Utunui asked the inhabitants what they use to make garlands.
"Auona, a fragrant bouquet" is the reply. Aka said, "Not for my daughter. It wilts in the sun."
The canoe landed at the following islands of the Hiva group and learned what the people of each island used for garlands:
Tahuata (north of Fatuiva): garlands are made from Kiita (?);
Fatu Huka (north of Hiva Oa): garlands are made from feathers from the gannet and cape pigeon.
Ua Huka (northwest of Fauuku): garlands are made from tiare (gardenia)
Ua Pou (southwest of Ua Huka): garlands are made from pua (flower)
Nuku Hiva (north of Ua Pou): garlands are made from red eka (a dye)
Eiao (northwest of Nuku Hiva): garlands are made from fao blossoms.
None of the isles of Hiva had the red feathers Aka and his sons-in-law
were seeking. From
Eiao, the canoe travelled west onto the open ocean. The star Iti
appeared, "the star of the heavy sea, the star of the wind." (This star
marks the approach of the st
ormy months of the southern hemisphere winter, which begins in May.)
The star Iti said, "Whose canoe?"
Pepeu and Utunui said, "It belongs to us."
Iti said, "Who are you?"
They responded: We are Pepeu and Utunui, Mahaitivi's boys. We are going to
The stars said, "Go on," and they travelled on.
(Four more stars appear--Tuhua, Takuua, Veo, Mahina--and the same dialogue takes place.)
The voyage was so long, food and water ran out. One hundred of the
paddlers died; forty men remained. The voyagers finally reached
Fitinui, then Aotona. The chief Feafea welcomed them. After a nights
rest, they built a house using coconut leaves lashing i
t together with hau bark cordage. They erected the posts, put up the
crossbeam and rafters, arranged the coconut leaves, then thatched the
roof with grass. They laid stakes along the wall and made a door. The
next morning the men picked, peeled and grated coconut; then grated it
and roasted it inside the house. The smell attracted a large flock of
Two odd-looking birds approached to see if anyone is in the
houseŃMatakika, a bird with an ulcerous face;
Vaekoki, a lame bird; Then two birds came and mated. In each case no
one in the house laughed, so each bird went back and reported the house
When the flock entered the house, Aka shut the door, and his men caught
the birds and plucked their red feathers, filling 40 baskets for the
forty survivors; Aka told them to fill 100 more for the children and
the wives of the 100 men who had died; so the men filled the remaining
100 baskets. Then they let the birds go.
The next morning, the men prepared food for the voyage home, loaded the
canoe with the food and the baskets of feathers, and departed. They
paddled for a long time, as long as the period of a large breadfruit
harvest, then landed at Ta'aoa (on Hiva
eir home island). The women on land saw that only a few men were
returning; they lamented the men who were missing. Aka brought the
baskets ashore and gave them to the women whose husbands had not
Then Aka went to his house with his wife and daughter and two
sons-in-law. The next day, Aka and his wife made a girdle of kula
feathers for their daughter, the wife of both Utunui and
Pepeu. Utunui and Pepeu kept their baskets of feathers. Fao came down
and bought Utunui's and Pepeu's feathers and made a garland for
himself. Others made the feathers into garlands, head ornaments
(paekua) and girdles for women and men.
[According to Rarotongan oral tradition, a red-feathered bird called
the kura once lived on Rarotonga island. It was associated with summer:
"Summer comes, the kura is flying about." The kura became extinct after
guns were introduced to the islands by Wes
A red-feathered bird called a kula was also known in historical times
in Fiji. Its red feathers were valued for ornamenting mats and
headdresses. The feathers were traded with the Tongans, who then traded
them with the Samoans. In the Society Islands Capt
ain Cook traded red feathers he had obtained in Tonga.]
[NOTE: The story of Pepeiu is from Taiohae, Nukuhiva. It appears in
E.S. Craighill Handy's Marquesan Legends (Honolulu: Bishop Museum
1930); pp. 127-129.]
Toni [a tau'a, or inspirational priest] lived at Taiohae;
Te-pua-i-mohui, a fisherman, was his son; Pepe-iu was his daughter.
When the son went fishing, the daughter remained up in the valley with
her father. Three times when Tepua-i-mohui returned from f
ishing, he gave none of his catch to his father and sister. The next
time the young man went fishing, Toni dressed Pepe-iu in all her
finery, anointed her head and body, and sent her to the seashore to
await the return of the fishermen, along with the oth
er people who had come for fish. Everyone marvelled at Pepe-iu's beauty.
When her brother returned he said, "Who is that pootu--that fine
looking girl." They told him it was his sister. "Come and get your
fish," he called to her.
Pepe-iu waded out in the shallow water with a basket. As Te-pua-i-mohui
filled his sister's basket with mullet, he told the other men to paddle
out. Pepe-iu was lured to follow the canoe out into deep water. When
Pepe-iu came into deep water these fish be
gan threshing about, tearing the girl's flesh. She ran to the shore and
returned to her father, weeping and covered with wounds and blood. Toni
asked her what had happened, and the girl recounted the story of her
brother's mistreatment of her.
For three days Toni anointed his daughter every day. After the third
day at midnight, he told Pepe-iu to take a handsome loin cloth and
other ornaments. They went to the seashore, where there was a double
Na-humu-o-Taka-oa. When the cock crew Toni told the girl to get into
"But these are fish," said Pepe-iu.
"Never mind," replied her father, "this is your canoe."
When they put the canoe in the sea the two humu wriggled. "Now you will go to Aotoka
(Rarotonga). When you have gone three or four days you will come to a land which says 'A-o, a-o, a-o, a-o.' That will be Aomeika
(Ao, low; meika, banana; perhaps the isla
nd of Tubuai). You will pass by that land. You will sail on eight days longer and come to a land which says,
'Tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti." That is Aotoka."
The humu went off with the girl. They passed Aomeika and Oahuaa as Toni had told them to do.
Finally, eight days after they had passed Oahuaa, Pepe-iu heard "Tup-ti,
tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti, tup-ti."
"This is my Aotoka," said the girl.
"Long Humu, Short Humu, let us go up inland." Pepe-iu took her finery and the humu and carried them up into the temple named
Aavehie. (This is also the name of a temple at Taiohae.)
Pepe-iu came to the bathing basin. The chief came, found her in his
pool and claimed her as his woman. At that time the women of Aotoka did
not know how to bear children. When a woman was with child, her abdomen
was cut open to release the child and the w
oman died. Taro was their only food; they had no breadfruit. They ate
their food raw, not knowing how to cook. Pepe-iu taught them how to do
all these things.
Pepe-iu became pregnant and said to Tau-me-tini, "We will have to have
breadfruit to feed the child. You must go to Hooumi and bring back some
to plant." (According to my informant all the breadfruit were formerly
Hooumi, a valley on the southeast end of Nuku Hiva. There were no
breadfruit trees in Taiohae.)
Now Tau-me-tini was a younger son. He had only two hundred and eighty
men under him. Ohe-popo was his older brother; on his half of the
island he had twenty-eight hundred men. Ohe-popo went to Hooumi before
his younger brother was ready and brought back m
any branches of the breadfruit tree. These grew rapidly at first, and
then died. [Breadfruit will grow only from young root stocks, or
Pepe-iu instructed Tau-me-tini to make a canoe. This was finished in three moons.
She also instructed him to carry seven amakiko (kernels of candlenuts
mounted on the midrib of a coconut leaf, the native house lamp). These
were to be used to keep awake the woman who owned the breadfruit trees
until she was so sleepy that she could keep awake no longer.
Tau-me-tini arrived at Hooumi. For six successive nights he burned his
amakiko, one each night. On the seventh night the woman fell into a
heavy sleep. Tau-me-tini and his men, following Pepe-iu's advice,
filled their canoe with roots and young sprouts of breadfruit. They
were gone when the woman woke up. Tau-me-tini planted the roots on his
Aotoka. The breadfruit trees grew and bore fruit.
The older brother, Ohe-popo, angered by his own lack of success with
the breadfruit and at his younger brother's success, attacked
Tau-me-tini and drove him with his woman and his two sons into the
mountains. They had no food and sent their two sons down to steal some
breadfruit. The trees were guarded by two tuhuka, named Otu-puou-hooa
Ima-poka-haoa. These men caught the older of the boys up in a tree and
carried him to the feast place. The boy was asked why he was stealing
the chief's fruit. "For my mother," he said. "We have no food."
The two tuhuka then fell into an argument, one desiring to kill, the
other to save, the boy. Finally he was brought to the chief who ordered
an oven built on the feast place. Then the chief strangled, cooked, and
ate the boy. Meanwhile Pepe-iu knew what w
as happening, so she told Tau-me-tini to go to Nukuhiva again, using
the humu of Taka-oa as his canoe. She taught him her genealogy.
Tau-me-tini came back to Taiohae on the humu and recited the genealogy
to Pepe-iu's people, thus identifying himself, and told of their
unhappy plight. Toni, who was a tau'a (priest), had gone to
Hakamoui, on the island of Ua Pou. Tau-me-tini went seeking him but
when he reached Hakamoui, Toni had gone on before him to the next
valley. So they went from valley to valley until at last, when they had
made the complete circuit of the island, Tau-me-tini came up with the
elusive inspirational priest.
Tau-me-tini and Toni built the canoe Tia-te-ani for the expedition to
Aotoka. Six other war canoes went with them with two hundred and eighty
warriors in each. Toni's power
(mana) supplied their food: on the first day out, they speared and
captured a grea
t skate. So it was with other fish every day.
In Aotoka, Pepe-iu saw one day a man's skull lying in the sand, moving
from side to sideŃshe knew by this sign that her father was coming.
When they arrived at
Aotoka, the tuhuka who had recommended that Pepe-iu's son be killed
when he was caught in the b
readfruit tree, came out in the water, seized Tau-me-tini's canoe and
attempted to pull it ashore. They caught him, dragged him out to sea,
and cut off his head. The head was given to Pepe-iu's other son to wear
on his loin cloth. (The wearing of heads or parts of heads of slain
enemies on the loin cloth was the custom in war times.) Pepe-iu's
people joined forces with Tau-me-tini's and attacked and defeated the
warriors of the older brother,
Ohe-popo, whom Tau-me-tini killed.