Not long after Tahiti was moved away
from Ra'iatea,1 there lived in the district of Mahina
in Tahiti-To'erau (North-Tahiti) a fine elegantly formed woman of high rank,
whose name was Nona (Of-hushed). She had long carnivorous teeth, and as
she had acquired the terrible propensity for cannibalism, which obtained
for her the sobriquet of Vahine'ai-ta'ata (Man-eating-woman), her husband,
who was high chief of the house named Tahiti-To'erau, forsook her, and she
lived alone in her home shaded with coconut trees on her own hereditary
land near the sea. There she gave birth to a beautiful little girl, whom
she named Hina (Gray) and whom she brought up tenderly, as befitted her
rank, concealing from the child the human prey which she procured for herself.
At the foot of the great projecting cliff of Tahara'a (Barrenness), conspicuous
for its red clay, is a great cave bordering on the sea, forming a tunnel
open at each end, through which pedestrians can pass at low tide so as to
save going round the hill, and it is famed to this day as Nona's hiding
place, where she waylaid passers-by and slew them to eat, sometimes cooking
and sometimes devouring them still warm and bloody.
In the days of Nona, people gradually became very scarce in that region,
and homes lay mysteriously desolate. But a handsome young man named Mono'i-here
(Favorite-perfumed-oil) had escaped the wily woman, and he had become much
attached to her daughter Hina, whose affections he won as she verged to
beautiful womanhood. They clandestinely met at a cool sequestered spot,
called Oro-fara (Fara-fern), where there is a spring, called Rati (Splash),
which watered Hina's bathing pool-still called Te-hopura'a-vai-o-Hina (The
bathing pool of Hina)-and close by a cave, which in their time it is said,
was not known to exist, as at their bidding it opened and closed in the
Protecting the Bay of Matavai (Face-of-water) is a broken line of reefs,
called the Chain-of-Light-Rocks (To'a-tea), and there Nona, who was an expert
fisherwoman, frequently went to obtain fish for herself and her child. While
she was thus employed the two young people, Mono'i-here and Hina, met, feeling
safe and free. Hina had the habit of carrying a basket of food to her lover
when he was concealed in the cave, and in approaching him they would exchange
the following passwords:
Hina. "Mono'i-here is the man, Hina is the woman!"
Mono'i-here. "Where is your mother, Nona, with long teeth?"
Hina. "She is on the long reef, on the short reef, catching fish
for us, my lover. Oh foundation of rock, break open!"
Then the rock would burst open and out would come the lover, and they
would pleasantly while the hours away until the time approached for Nona
to return home, when Mono'i-here would either return to the cave or go to
his home in the distance, as circumstances guided, always cautiously avoiding
an encounter with her.
But there came a time when the mother began to miss the food and so wondered
how her daughter could consume so much in her absence, and she determined
to solve the mystery. So one day, after cooking their usual supply of food,
she feigned indisposition and went to bed, then she snored deeply and appeared
to be in the soundest sleep. Finally Nona saw her daughter stealthily approach
the food, take out choice morsels, place them in a basket, and go noiselessly
out. When Nona saw the course girl was taking she took a short cut, halting
here and there to keep sight of her, until she turned up into the shady
nook; then Nona, arriving before her, ascended into a pua tree, where she
could see and hear unobserved. As Nona had never known of the existence
of the closed-in cave, she was soon astonished at what she witnessed, and
she repeated to herself the passwords, so as to remember them. She kept
motionless until the lovers had held their interview and parted, when she
quickly descended from the tree and returned to her bed at home, while her
unsuspecting daughter leisurely followed and found things there just as
she had left them.
The following day, after partaking of food and putting some by, Nona
took leave of her child, saying she was going to prepare torches for night-fishing.
But she quickly went to the lovers' haunt, and standing by the cave she
spoke, imitating Hina's tone as nearly as she could. But Mono'i-here, detecting
the fraud, replied: "You are not Hina; you are Nona the woman with
But she had learned the magical words, and fiendishly said: "Oh
foundation of rock, break open!"
Then the cave opened. She entered quickly, seized the hapless young man,
and killed and feasted on him. She looked for his heart but could not find
it, and leaving his bones and vitals thrown together she left the cave,
which closed after her, and she returned to prepare her torches as she had
Meanwhile, Hina went with her basket to the cave and was surprised when
no response came to her from within, and as the rock opened at her bidding
she encountered the ghastly spectacle in the cave. What remained of Mono'i-here
was still warm, and Hina at once sought for and found the heart, which was
still pulsating. This she placed next to her own heart and guided by it
went home to act.
In the absence of her mother she got the trunk of a banana tree and laid
it in her bed to counterfeit her body, and to simulate a head upon her pillow
at one end of it she placed an 'a'ano (coconut-water-bottle). Then she covered
all up in her tapa sheet and fled in fear from the home of her childhood,
until she arrived at the adjoining district of 'Uporu (Ha'apape or Point
Venus). Still guided by the pulsating heart of her lost lover, she stopped
at the house of a fine young chief, named No'a (Sweet-odor), who was famed
for his hairy though handsome person and who with all his household received
her cordially, and she was at rest.
When Nona returned home with her torches she prepared supper, and thinking
Hina was having a nap in her bed she called her; but no voice came. After
calling several times, Nona became enraged and threatened to eat her daughter.
But as there was still no response she furiously exclaimed: "Here I
come, O Hina; will devour you!"
So saying, she rushed to the bed, laid hold of the banana effigy of her
daughter, and bit into it through the sheet, when, to her great surprise,
she found that the girl had outwitted her, and she exclaimed: "Ah,
you have escaped!"
Early on the following day, Nona set out to recover her daughter. Ascertaining
the course she had taken, Nona went on and on enquiring for Hina until she
also arrived at the house of the hairy chief, No'a. When she saw Hina, she
made a rush to seize her, but the chief seeing how terror stricken the girl
was, and hearing her say that Nona was a savage woman and would kill her,
he intercepted Nona's grasp. Then with muscular strength, Nona grappled
to strangle him; but he overpowered and strangled her and so ended the life
of the famous Nona of the cave of Tahara'a.
In course of time, Hina who married her protector and deliverer, gave
birth to a son, who was named Pu-a'a-ri'i-tahi (Cluster-of-first-small-roots).
Another son, named Hema (Deceived), followed and she had no more children.
The two boys became fine young men, and they were adepts in surf-riding.
One day as they were preparing to go out for their sport, the mother asked
the elder son, Pu-a'a-ri'i tahi, to dress her hair. But he did not comply,
and she said, "Ah, your wife will not be a woman of distinction."
Then, as Hema came by, she asked him to dress her hair, which he readily
did. As he combed out her long glossy locks and braided them, he discovered
a louse and taking it out he showed it to her. She said: "Your wife
will be a notable woman."
As time went on, Pu-a'a-ri'i-tahi took to himself a wife named
(Redness), and she bore him five sons, named, Arihi-nui-apua (Great-enchanted-cord),
Ta-oe-a-pua (With-deviation-of-dolphin-head), Orooro-i-pua (Rub-dolphin-head),
Te-mata-tui'au-ia-ro'o (The-changing-eye-of fame), and Te-mata-a'a-ra'i
The son Hema obtained a goddess for a wife in the following manner:
One day his mother told him to go in the early morning and dig a hole
in the eastern bank of Vai-po'opo'o (Hollow-river) at Ha'apape (Point Venus),
in which he must conceal himself, and then he would see a beautiful woman
from the netherlands who would come to a pool close by to bathe. He would
find her very strong, and so he must catch her from behind unawares by her
hair and before putting her down carry her past four houses in bringing
So at daybreak Hema went and did as directed, and just as the first rays
of the sun appeared he completed his hiding place and concealed himself
within it. In a little while he saw approaching from an opening in the earth
the goddess described. She quietly entered her bathing place, dived and
swam in the water, and when she had bathed herself and wrung out her long
flowing hair, which covered her graceful form, she stood upon the bank adjusting
it close by Hema with her back turned towards him. Then he approached her,
quickly twisted some hair around his wrist and thus secured her as she strongly
endeavored to escape him. He at last bore her up in his arms and was carrying
her homewards when, after passing two houses, she begged to be released.
So he let her go, thinking she would walk by his side. But in a moment she
sped away and disappeared through the opening in the ground which closed
returned home dejected, and when he told his mother what had happened
she told him to go again the following morning for the goddess, taking
not to release her until they had passed four houses in coming home. He
could not eat that day from overanxiety to obtain the beautiful wife,
before daybreak he was again in his hiding place by the river awaiting
return. She came earlier than on the previous day intending to avoid
intruder, and hastily she bathed herself and stood again upon the bank
near Hema, who then caught her as before and carried her, struggling to
all the way home.
Finding that the people of the upper world had seen her in company with
Hema and that they regarded her as his wife and becoming attached to him
and all his, she consented to remain with them, and she, a goddess married
Hema a mortal man, according to the religious rites of their time. The name
she received in this upper world was Hina-tahutahu (Hina-the-magician),
because of her supernatural origin and her power to do many wonderful things,
such as healing the sick, reading people's thoughts, and foretelling things
to happen. She bore Hema two children, Arihi-nui-apua (Great-enchanted-net-cord)
and a giant red-headed ('ehu) child, who was hairy like his grandfather
and whose names were Ta-fa'i-'iri-'ura (By-revelation-the-red-skinned),
Vai-ta-fa'i (Fixed-by-revelation), and Ta-fa'i-uri-i-tetua-i-Havai'i
evolutions of appellations that were caused by the development of circumstances,
but all of which have resolved themselves in Tahiti and other groups into
the name Tafa'i simply.
At an early age Tafa'i showed that he inherited from his mother supernatural
powers and that he was in touch with the gods; the elder son was simply
an earthly chief and was obscured by his illustrious brother. The early
childhood of the two boys was pleasantly spent with their cousins and other
children, their chief amusement being top spinning, sailing little canoes
ih shallow water, light ball playing, and bathing and swimming.
But a time came when they wanted new games. Tafa'i's cousins made balls
of clay, which they rolled along the ground, and the first one whose ball
cracked in revolving became the loser in the play. So Tafa'i asked his mother
how to make solid balls, and she directed him to get fine-grained sand from
the sea to mix with the clay and then to dry the balls well before using
them. This he did, and when he went to play with them, his cousins cried:
"Ah, dear Tafa'i, come and let go yours."
But he answered: "No, the first must be first, and the last must
come in last." So they rolled their balls in regular turns until all
were cracked but Tafa'i's and he became the winner. So it happened that
to the great vexation of the others he always won the game.
Then they took a fancy to the game called totoie (toy canoe), in which
was used a stick sharpened at one end, and steadied at the other with a
rudder made from the rib of a coconut leaf. The toy was placed on the surface
of the waves a little way out in the sea, whence it floated to the shore,
and the winner in this amusement was the one whose totoie arrived on shore
first. Tafai's mother directed him to make his toy of a piece of convolvulus
stem, which being very light proved a great success, and again he came out
victorious. Then his cousins were so vexed and jealous that they fell upon
him and stunned him, so that they thought he was dead, and they buried him
in the sand. But his mother, knowing at once what had happened, went to
the spot where he lay apparently lifeless and resuscitated him. But when
questioned about the matter, he tried to screen his cousins.
So it happened that as Tafa'i grew up he excelled in everything he did;
and that out of spite and jealousy his cousins often used violence upon
his person and left him as dead just as often his mother rescued him and
restored him to life, and he never complained. At last his father, Hema,
becoming aggrieved at the unkind treatment of his son by his nephews, took
leave of this world and went down to Po (Darkness) to live.
When Tafa'i was still a youth, his mother imparted to him all her magical
powers, which he received by opening his mouth over the crown of her head,
and then he felt prompted to do great deeds and to travel, which his mother
let him do with suitable men.
At length Tafa'i reached man's estate. A great red man was he, modeled
by the gods. He had bright curly auburn hair, his head and shoulders towered
above all other tall men in Tahiti, he had penetrating brown eyes, his hands
were large and strong, and his fingernails were long and pointed. Whenever
he walked his majestic tread left footprints upon the most hardened ground.
He became famous throughout the land for his wisdom and skill in all he
did. Without tuition he excelled in every art of his time, and his bravery
and generosity won for him the respect and love of all in Tahiti, so that
he was unanimously elected toa-upo'o-tu (chief-warrior) by all the warrior
chiefs contemporary with him.
Tafa'i 's first great deed for the good of his country was the cutting
of the sinews of this fish, Tahiti, to render it stable, and after accomplishing
this he said they must cut the sinews of all the islands around Tahiti,
which were detached parts of the fish, and that they must also go on and
draw up new land from the sea. So a great double canoe was built, which
he named the Anuanua (Rainbow), and valiant navigators and a priest were
chosen to accompany him. He himself was the pilot and astronomer. He took
his ta'o (an ironwood shoulder spear 12 feet long and pointed on both ends),
which no other man in Tahiti could lift, and his paddle, which no one else
could wield; and he prepared a great long line of ro'a, attached to an immense
wooden fishhook, which was filled with magic at his touch. His men prepared
their fishhooks and lines, which he also enchanted, and after the usual
religious ceremonies they set out to sea.
went northwest to little Tahiti
(Mo'orea-the-offshoot), and they
thrust their spears into its quivering sinews and made it stable; they
southwest to Maia'o-iti (Little-claw), which had fallen away from
and soon made it stable. They went north of Tahiti and found the islets
of Tetiaroa (Standing-afar-off) struggling to rise above the foaming
So they threw down their hooks and drew them up one by one. Then with
spears they cut the sinews and fixed the islets in their present
They went on eastward and found that Me-tu (Standing-thing; the island
of Meti'a) was already fixed in its place. Then Tafa'i said they must
other regions and fish up land, and they came to the Tai-o-va'ua (
) and there beneath the mighty breakers, found the extensive Tuamotu
which they fished up and which ever since has remained as beautiful
and islets fringed with beds of coral of all hues and with pearl
To these he added the high Mangarevan group and other hilly islands
that were also struggling to rise.
They went on exploring the trackless ocean northward and drawing up islands,
which they discovered by observing the sea dancing over them, until at last
they perceived a mighty commotion apart from all others, and on approaching
it they found the Hawaiian group all huddled close together beneath the
surface. Tafa'i first drew up Ai-hi (Bit-in-fishing, now called Hawaii),
whose high twin mountains rose from their watery bed and went on rising
until they reached an amazing height and were lost among the clouds, and
whose shores extended beyond the horizon. Owing to the great volcano perpetually
burning, this island was afterward named Havai'i-'a (Burning Hawai'i)
by the Tahitians to distinguish it from the island of Havai'i to the south.
Tafa'i next drew up Maui, which he named Maui after the hero, Maui of eight
heads, who detached the sky from the earth. This island also rose to a wonderful
height. So they went on until all the islands were drawn up, and then those
intrepid navigators went south and returned with people to dwell on the
beautiful new land, bringing with them their gods, their chiefs and bread-fruit
and other plants.2
At length the emigrants of the north and their kindred in the south,
regretted that they were so widely separated from each other, and Tafa'i,
who had returned home, conceived a plan to remove the Hawaiian islands to
the south. He and his seaman prepared strong ropes, and invoking the gods
to their aid they attached each island to the canoe. When all was made ready,
Tafa'i warned his people to be guarded against breaking the sacredness of
the spell that was to pervade their great undertaking. No one must speak
or look back when in motion, on pain of displeasing and losing the aid of
the gods. The great canoe moved off drawing the ropes, united in one, each
man plying his paddle and looking steadily ahead, when soon a magical spell
caused the islands to yield and follow in a most orderly manner, and onward
Shouts of applause which the navigators were rejoiced to hear, arose
from the land but they swerved not from their purpose and still kept silence.
All nature chimed in rejoicing, and above the sound of the steady breeze
and rippling sea arose the chorus of people and birds singing, cocks crowing,
hens cackling, dogs barking and occasionally pigs grunting, while overhead
the sea gulls screeched their contentment. Still the mariners did not look
back, nor did they speak, and the islands moved on.
But finally the sound of hula drums and flutes arose, with songs of rejoicing
from the people, and this so stirred the hearts of the seamen that all except
Tafa'i could no longer contain themselves, and with one common impulse they
stood upon their seats and looking back began to dance and sing also, when
suddenly the charm was broken, the ropes snapped, and they were forsaken
by the gods! As a result of the impetus, before the islands became stationary,
Havai'i-'a went forwards and Kaua'i and Ni'ihau backwards, the middle
islands remained close together, and detachments from the island coasts
formed islets. In vain did the seamen and people offer invocations and oblations
to the gods to return, nor did the prayers of Tafa'i, who was blameless,
prevail. So they were obliged to abandon the enterprise, and the Hawaiian
islands have remained forever an isolated group, standing grandly away in
The next great thing Tafa'i determined to do was to explore the interior
of the earth and recover his father from the region called Po. His
mother agreed to show him the road down, and his brother, Arihi-nui-apua,
begged to be allowed to accompany him, and no fear of hardship on their
way could dissuade him from his purpose, as he had smitings of conscience
for having been one who had caused his father to leave this world.
Hina-tahutahu caused the earth to open for the
travellers, who after
passing through long tunnels at last came to an open place where they saw
a house, which was inhabited by an old blind woman called Uhi (Yam). By
this time Arihi-nui-apua, who unlike Tafa'i was merely mortal, became very
tired and hungry. So they went quietly into the house, where they found
Uhi setting out her food to eat, talking to herself as she did so. She laid
together two pieces of breadfruit, two pieces of taro, two packages of pota
(taro-top-spinach), two cups of coconut sauce, and two cups of water. Then
as she was eating Arihi-nui-apua took one portion of each thing before her
and ate also, so that when she felt for more she found nothing and at last
exclaimed: "Who is this little maggot that has come here to Po?"
Tafa'i answered: "It is I,
The old lady said: "Ah, be seated properly."
She took a beautiful thing that was covered with
'ura (red) feathers,
which Tafa'i motioned his brother not to touch. This was her fishhook, which
was attached to magical cord, and as she threw it out Tafa'i evaded it;
but Arihi, fascinated with its beauty, picked it up, and as she pulled it
in, caught him under the arm. She drew him to her like a fish, and he drew
back with all his might, running in centrifugal motion. Feeling grieved
for his brother, Tafa'i exclaimed: "Oh Uhi, set aside your fish lest
the great shark approach you! His friend [shark] is in the sea."
There were sharks and whales in the sea and a great octopus in a grotto
ornamented with trumpet shells.
But Uhi replied exultingly: "He shall not escape. This is the fishhook
Puru-i-te-maumau (Sodden-by-holding-fast), and the line, Shark-in-the-Milky-Way,
not that of Hina."
Then Tafa'i seized the line and rescued the prisoner, and the old woman
finding her hook loose exclaimed: "Ah! There is a person here by me,
can you restore my sight?"
Tafa'i replied: "I can restore it." So saying, he took a coconut
and cast it on her eyes, and immediately her sight was restored.
The old woman saw the young men for the first time and expressed her
pleasure at seeing them. When she inquired what service she could render
them for this great cure Tafa'i asked her to tell them where his father
dwelt and what she knew about him. Uhi replied that Hema dwelt farther on
in a forest, where the gods heaped their garbage, that they had taken out
his eyes and given them as toys to the girls who braided mats for the orators;
and that they had filled his eye sockets with excrements of birds. Then
she charged two little attendants to accompany the two brothers, who went
to rescue the poor man. Finally they arrived at the woody region where Hema
was, and quickly snatching him up Tafa'i bore him away in his arms with
all the speed that his wide strides could give and before any of the gods
were aware of it the three fugitives from the lower regions arrived safely
up in this world of light. Tafa'i bathed and clothed and fed the unfortunate
Hema, and though blind, Hema was made happy with his wife and children,
with whom he then found his brother's family on most friendly terms.
Some years had elapsed after the travels of Tafa'i when the fame reached
Tahiti of Te-'ura-i-te-ra'i (Redness-of-the-sky), a beautiful princess
in south Havai'i-'a, who was to be obtained as a wife only by some
valiant hero. Tafai's cousins, the five sons of Pu-a'a-ri'i-tahi, decided
to go as aspirants for her hand, so they prepared a double canoe for that
purpose. Tafa'i told his mother that he wished to go also, and so she took
a coconut blossom sheath and laid it upon the sea, and it developed into
a beautiful single canoe, which they named Niu (Coconut) and which was soon
made ready for the voyage. His mother told him that his ancestral shark,
Tere-mahia-ma-hiva (Speedy-travelling-with-fleet), would accompany him,
and that he should address it as his guardian ancestor, which he agreed
The two canoes set out together. The double one was well manned with
seamen, a pilot, and an astronomer; the single one had Tafa'i alone, escorted
by the faithful shark, and it soon went far ahead of the other. Finally
when the five brothers approached the shores of Havai'i-'a, they saw awaiting
them their cousin Tafa'i, who was the first to greet them on landing. The
royal family of South Havai'i-'a was soon apprised of the arrival of the
young chiefs who had come to offer themselves to the princess, and they
were well received by them.
In the course of a few days the prowess of the young Tahitians was put
to the test, and the beautiful young Hawaiian princess was herself chosen
to be umpire for them. They were all girded and armed with spears for the
encounter. First they were told to pull up by the roots an 'awa tree which
was possessed by a demon, and which had caused the death of all who had
attempted to disturb it. Each man was to come forward according to his age.
Beginning with the eldest, Te-ura-i-terai said: "O Arihi-nui-apua of
Tahiti, come and pull up this 'awa, and chew it to drink and intoxicate
He went forward and thrust his spear in the stump of the tree, which
like a living thing immediately darted forth its roots and pierced and killed
him. Then came forward the second brother, Ta-oe-a-pua, who met with the
same fate, and so it was with the three older brothers, Orooro-i-pua, Te-mata-tauia-ia-ro'o,
and Te-mata-a'a-ra'i. Seeing that they were all dead, the princess said
to her parents: "That will do perhaps."
But the parents replied that the last man must try. Then it was Tafa'i's
turn and the princess said: "O Tafa'i, pause! Tafa'i with red skin,
who raised up Hawai'i, born to Hema, my sympathies! Come and pull up this
'awa, and chew it to drink and intoxicate Hawai'i."
The noble red giant advanced undaunted and thrust his spear at arm's
length into the stump of the 'awa. As the roots moved forwards to pierce
him, he held tight the end of the spear, and they twisted around it like
the arms of a devilfish, while he pushed the spear farther and farther into
the taproot until the whole plant yielded. He drew it out, raised it still
attached to the spear, beat and bruised the roots until they became powerless,
and laid it down. Then he turned to his cousins lying lifeless upon the
ground, and to the amazement of all the spectators he restored them to life.
Soon the Tahitians were ready to make the drink from the 'awa roots,
and as it was customary to have a feast on such an occasion, they asked
for a pig and necessary accompaniments. To this the royal family willingly
agreed, and the pig they were to have was the renowned Mo'iri (Whole swallower),
a monster that swallowed live things whole and whose fame had long ago reached
Tahiti. The slaying of this scourge to humanity was to be the last test
of dexterity to which the young men were to be put; and they were to advance
again according to their ages. So the young men, girded for the encounter,
stood with their spears, and with sennit in their hands to tie the pig.
The princess called out: "O Mo'iri, be sennit bound!"
Then rushing out of the woods, amid a cloud of dust which flew up under
its heavy tread, came the terrible snorting and grunting monster.
As the first champion dashed forward to catch the feet and throw the
pig down, he was swallowed whole, and one after the other of his brothers
shared the same fate, their spears making no impression upon the thick hide
of the animal. But as Tafa'i advanced, he thrust his spear down into the
throat of the pig as it opened its great jaws to swallow him. The pig was
slain, and immediately Tafa'i caused it to render up his five cousins, whom
he once more restored to life. A great shout of applause rent the air, and
Tafa'i was unanimously acknowledged to be the greatest hero that Havai'i-'a
had ever seen. The pig was the principal feature of the great feast that
followed, and all ate of it. The 'awa that the Tahitians made was pronounced
excellent and it rejoiced the hearts of the drinkers.
Finally the time came for the hero of the day to claim his bride. The
king and queen looked expectantly at Tafa'i and the princess, who had conceived
great admiration for him and was willing to give him her hand. But what
was their surprise when in the name of himself and his cousins he bade them
all farewell, saying: "Now fare you well. We are returning to our own
Then the Hawaiians of the South realized that they had offended the Tahitians
by their rigid treatment, and they could not prevail upon their visitors
to change their purpose. Soon the Tahitians departed in the same way that
they had come.
When they returned home after their fruitless errand, the Tahitians no
longer aspired to seeking famed beauties of other lands, but took suitable
wives from among their own countrywomen. Tafa'i married a fine young chiefess
of North Tahiti, named Hina (Gray), famed for her beautiful raven hair,
which when let loose, flowed down in waves to her feet and covered her graceful,
majestic form; and their attachment for each other was strong and lasting.
Tafa'i was prompt to go wherever duty called him in his own land and
also in other lands and, as old records everywhere show, was beloved for
his goodness and kind, generous deeds. On one occasion when he returned
home from a long voyage he found to his great grief that his wife was dead.
She had just suddenly died, and her body, still warm, was lying in state
upon an altar in the ancestral marae (place of worship), guarded by the
priest and elders of the family. Soon, in his sorrow, he determined to contend
for her even with the gods! So he inquired of the priest whither her spirit
had fled, and he told Tafa'i that it had left their sacred precincts and
was now with the spirits of other departed ones at Tataa about twenty miles
west of 'Uporu, which was their place of rendezvous on Tahiti before taking
flight for Paradise or Hades in Ra'iatea.
Tafa'i lost no time in seizing his great paddle and launching out into
the sea his single canoe (Niu); and then he swiftly darted over the smooth
water within the friendly reef and arrived at Pa'ea just at dusk, the right
time to meet the souls departing. There he found that his wife's spirit
had left some time before for Mount Rotui (Soul-despatching) on Mo'orea,
whither the spirits went to take their final departure for Te-mehani (The-heat)
in Ra'iatea, which was the last place whence they could return to
Onwards he sped across the channel to Mount Rotui, towering steep and
high up into the clouds, and soon he was upon its summit. But there too
he found that his lost Hina had gone on some time before! With unshakeable
purpose, Tafa'i descended the mountain and again took to his canoe, and
in the dim light of the waning moon, aided by a favorable breeze, he made
his canoe almost fly across the wide channel that separates the windward
islands from the leeward group. Then he took the shortest route up to Te-mehani
and he did not stop until he arrived at the spot on the mountain plateau
where the roads radiated, one to the cliff on the right, called the "Stone
of Life," from which spirits ascended to Rohutu-no'ano'a (Paradise-of-sweet-odor),
somewhere up in cloudland above the highest mountains of Ra'iatea
and the other to the cone on the left, from which they descended down in
the yawning crater of Te-mehani, which led to Po (Darkness).
The moon was almost setting and the morning star was heralding the day
when Tafa'i arrived at that place and was met by the god Tu-ta-horoa
(Stand-to-permit), who guarded the roads. Tafa'i inquired if Hina, his wife,
had passed by, and to his great relief the god replied that she had not
yet come. But he told Tafa'i to be quick and conceal himself in the bushes
in a precipitous nook close by and that he must rest to gain strength for
his undertaking to capture her in her flight, as that was the last place
whence spirits could be recalled to this world. Breathlessly Tafa'i seated
himself in his hiding place, and just as he recovered breath from his late
exertions he heard leaves rustling a little way off, and the god told him
to be ready, as Hina had just arrived.
Soon Tafa'i perceived the tall, familiar form of his wife with her hair
streaming down her back, and as she arrived upon the ridge of the rock by
which he stood she drew back as she scented a human being. Just as she was
about to ascend into the air to fly to the Stone of Life, where she would
have escaped him, he made a desperate leap up onto the ledge and into the
air and caught her by her flowing hair with his long fingernails. Hina struggled
to be released, as she was intent on going to the happy spirit world, but
her husband held her fast, and when Tu-ta-horoa told her that her
time had not yet come to leave this world she was prevailed upon to remain
longer with her husband. So they returned to 'Uporu, and as soon as Hina
re-entered her body, which was still well preserved, and opened her mortal
eyes, there was great rejoicing in their home and in all the district over
the safe return of Tafa'i and his wife from the border of the spirit world.
It is not recorded in Tahiti that Tafa'i ever again went away from his
native land, but it is stated that he and his wife lived long and happily
together and that to them was born a son whom they named Vahi-e-roa (Far-off-place),
probably in commemoration of the long voyages of Tafai'i to strange lands.
In the manuscript dictionary by Mr. Orsmond, under the heading of the
name Tafa'i are found these words: "A god was Tafa'i of red skin, who
raised up Havai'i. Charming is the legend of Tafa'i." In Tahiti his
memory is perpetuated in the form of the beautiful club moss (Licopodium
clavatum), named rimarima Tafa'i (fingers of Tafa'i ), which is said to
have sprung from his fingers after he left his earthly body and which grows
prolifically among the ferns over all the islands; the spores of the plant
are called Maiuu Tafa'i (fingernails of Tafa'i), which they are said to
This Tahitian version of the story of Tafa'i is from Teuira Henry's Ancient
The story of Hema and Tafa'i is told throughout Polynesia. He is known
as Kaha'i in Hawai'i, Tawhaki in Aotearoa, Tahaki in the Tuamotus, Ta'aki
in Rarotonga, and Tafa'i in Samoa. (See Beckwith, pp. 238-258, for
summaries of the variants of this tradition.)
In the Hawaiian 'Ulu-Hema genealogy, Hema is said to be the ancestor
of Maui chiefs. He was the son of 'Aikanaka ("Man-eater"; cf.
Nona, the cannibal grandmother of Hema in the Tahitian version). He was
raised in Hana, Maui. A chant tells of his birth and his deeds. After
the birth of a son named Kaha'i (Tafa'i), Hema sailed to Kahiki to get the
'ape'ula (red tapa; or apo'ula, wreath of red feathers) for his son. During
the voyage, Hema was seized by a bird and died in Kahiki. Kaha'i sailed
in search of his father, learned of his death, and returned to Hawai'i (Kamakau
1. The story of how the upwind islands of Tahiti
Nui move away from Ra'iatea
is told in Peter H. Buck's Vikings of the Pacific: According to one tradition,
Tahiti and the other upwind islands in the Society group were created from
the land between the islands of Ra'iatea and Taha'a. The story goes
that in preparation for a ceremony for 'Oro, the war-god, kapu were imposed
on the the district of Opoa: no cock could crow, no dog bark; no person
or pig could leave its dwellings. The wind died off and the sea grew calm.
However, a young girl named Tere-he went bathing in a river. The gods drowned
her for breaking the kapu. A giant eel swallowed her and was possessed by
her soul. The angry eel tore up the land between Ra'iatea and Taha'a
and swam to the east, becoming the windward islands of Tahiti; its back
fin formed the mountain of Orohena, which dominates the western end of Tahiti.
Another fin fell off and became the island of Mo'orea. Other bits of the
fish became the islands of Meti'a, Te Tiaroa, and Mai'ao-iti.
Buck interprets this story as meaning that the people who settled the
windward islands of Tahiti had fled Ra'iatea because of the tyrannous,
oppressive rule of the priests of 'Oro. The drowning of Tere-he may have
been an actual event that caused her people to flee.
2. The tradition of Hawai'i-loa by Kepelino and
S.M. Kamakau (Fornander,
Vol. VI, 266-281) attributes the discovery and settlement of Hawai'i to
a mariner named Hawai'i-loa. A second version of the Hawai'iloa tradition
is found in Kepelino's Traditions of Hawaii (Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1932,
74-77) under the title "Hawaii-nui." A discussion of this tradition
is found in "The Legend of Hawaii-Loa" by Bruce Cartwright (Journal
of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 38: 1929, 105-121).
3. In Hawai'i the story is told of the demi-god
to pull together the islands of Kaua'i and O'ahu-the two major islands that
are the farthest apart.) Like Tafa'i, Maui failed because a helper
(or his brothers) looked back after being told not to. (For the Maui
story, see J. Gilbert. McAllister's Archaeology of Oahu. Honolulu: Bishop
Museum, 1933; 126-7; Lyle A. Dickey's "Stories of Wailua, Kauai"
in Hawaiian Historical Society, Twenth-fifth Annual Report, Honolulu, 1917;
pp. 17-18; and Thomas Thrum's More Hawaiian Folk Tales, Chicago, 1923; 248-260.