Hawaiian moʻolelo—many of which have been passed down, recorded, and retold—provide those who learn from them glimpses into the perspectives of the people who wove these stories long ago.
While some moʻolelo convey moral wisdom and teach about human relationships, others encode observational knowledge and provide insight into how ancient Hawaiians viewed various meteorological and geological phenomena they saw. Such an example is found in the legend of Keaomelemele, “the girl of rarified atmosphere,” who was so skilled in the hula “that she seemed like a cloud moving over the ocean.”
To complete the hula training of her first students, Keaomelemele and her pupils danced for seven days at the mountain of Konahuanui on Oʻahu. It is here that Keaomelemele’s chanting caused Konahuanui to split apart from Waolani, forming the valley of Nuʻuanu. We learn from this epic that Hawaiian kahuna keenly observed the interactions between land and atmosphere and recognized that clouds and thunderous rainfall contributed to the land formations found in this wahi pana (storied place).
“A hala na la ekolu, aia no hoi na leo hula ke ulele mau la i ka po a me ke ao, aole he wahi mea a loaa iki he wahi hoomaha no ua Keaomelemele nei a me kona mau hoa hula a me na hoopaa. O keia loihi o ka hula ana i ke ao a me ka po, oia ke kuloa ana a me ka pupuweuweu ana o ka hula. O keia Keaomelemele no ka mea nana i hoomaka mua ke ano o ke kuloa ana, he la okoa ia e nana ia ai ke akamai i ka hula a me ka paa pono o ke mele mai ka mua a hiki i ka pau ana o na mea i ao ia, a ma kekahi la okoa aku, oia ka hoomaka ana e uniki, a oia ka ike ana o ka lehulehu.
I ka lima o na la o ka hula ana, aia hoi, hoomaka ae la ka mokupuni o Oahu nei e naueue me he olai la, a ke halulu mai la na nalu o na kuaau ae nei, a ke omamalu mai la na ao ma ka lewa, a ke nee paa iho la ka ohu ma luna o na kuahiwi a me na awawa, a kilihune iho la ke kulu paka ua ma luna o Konahuanui. A hala na la elima, ua oi loa ae ka naueue ana o ka aina nei, a ua meha mai la na leo hula ma loko o Kahuwailanawai, oiai ua hookuu aku la ua Keaomelemele nei e hooluolu iki ia ia a me kona mau hoa hula no ka manawa pokole loa.
I ka hiku o ka la, ua hookuu ia mai la e Kane ma na mea nani a pau. Ia Keaomelemele i olioli mai ai me kona leo nahenahe, oia kona hoomaka ana e uniki, ua hiki aku kona leo i mua o Kaumailiula a me ko lakou mau makua ma Kuaihelani, a ke hoopuni la ia Kealohilani, aia no hoi i keia wa i lohe ia aku ai na leo o na manu a me na kanaka eepa a pau e ikuwa mai ana i luna o Waolani, a ua hiki ole ke hoomaopopo ia. O keia ka manawa i oi loa aku ai ka haalulu ana o keia aina a me ka ikaika o ka naueue ana o ke kuahiwi o Konahuanui, a kanikani pihe ae la na mea a pau, a ua hiki ole ke hoomaopopo ia ka manao o na kanaka.
E like me ka leo o ka hekili e papaaina ana i loko o ka lewa, a e nakolo ana i ka honua, pela no i uneune ia ae ai ke kuahiwi a na-ha ae la ia he elua kuahiwi, a kakou hoi e ike aku nei, a ike ia aku la o Keaomelemele e kikaha mai ana i luna o kona kahua hula ma Kahuwailanawai, me kona mau hoa hula, a ke hookeke aku nei hoi na kanaka a pau i o a i anei” (2021, p. 55).
Illustration entitled “Waolani” by artist Maile Kāʻai (2001).
" Three days passed and the chanting voices still arose night and day. There was no rest for Keaomelemele, her fellow dancers and musicians. This long period of dancing day and night was for the closure, the cessation of their time of training. Keaomelemele was the first to institute the last finishing of the dances and a whole day was given to the judging of the skill in dancing and the perfection in committing the chants to memory until all that had been taught was well learned. The whole of another day was devoted to the graduation and that was the time when the public saw the dancing.
On the fifth day of the dancing, Oahu began to tremble as if with an earthquake and the sea offshore began to roar. The sky was overcast with clouds and mist covered the mountains and valleys. Fine drops of rain fell on Konahuanui. After the fifth day, the quaking of the island grew more severe and sounds of chanting at Kahuwailanawai were silenced. Keaomelemele had called a short recess for herself and her fellow dancers.
On the seventh day, Kane and the others released all kinds of beautiful things. Keaomelemele chanted in her sweet voice at the beginning of her graduation ceremony. Her voice reached Kaumailiula and their parents in Kuaihelani and all about Kealohilani. The voices of the birds were heard then and the shouts of the eepa folk of Waolani. There was such a din that the voices were indistinguishable. This was the time when the land shook more severely and Konahuanui trembled violently. Everyone cried out and the feeling of the people could not be comprehended.
Like the sound of thunder crackling in the air and reverberating to the earth, so was the violent wrenching of the mountain as it was torn in two as we see it today. Keaomelemele was seen swaying on her hula site of Kahuwailanawai with her dancing companions. The people crowded in every direction." (pp. 142-143)
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