Thus, no one is to say that one story is “right” and the other is “wrong.” Different `ohana (families) may have been taught different versions due to geographic location and persona interpretation. Hawaiian legends and myths occupy an important place in both the history of the islands and in the understanding of Hawaiian culture today.
A mo`olelo is generally defined as a legend or a story that is historical in nature; one that is used for documentation purpose. Mo`olelo is used to inform us of events that happened. A ka`ao is simply an embellished mo`olelo or a myth, meaning that it is a story that is quite fanciful in nature and contains many exaggerations. Ka`ao as myth does not mean that it is a false story, rather it speaks to the basis for understanding the kanaka maoli Ka`ao are used to tickle our fancy or to explain certain phenomena and beliefs They are poetic stories that express a world view and embodies the ideals, beliefs, and dreams of a society Through studying ka`ao and mo`olelo, we can learn how the kanaka maoli lived, thought, and expressed themselves. History can tell us facts about people, but ka`ao and mo`olelo show us their beliefs, fears, hopes and cultural practices.
Ka`ao or myths, are filled with symbolism to explain universal truths and values Ka`ao are meant to resonate something within each individual To truly understand ka`ao, you must look beyond the literal translation and study the symbols and ideas instead. The different symbols within a myth may mean different things to different people. In fact, they may even mean different things to the SAME person at different points in their lives because of knowledge gained, experiences, etc. The Hua, or catalyst, is the main character’s call to adventure, generally to the unknown The Ha`alele, or separation, is when the main character separates from the community and embarks on his/her journey or adventure The Huaka`i, or journey, refers to the tests, tasks, ordeals or challenges that the main character must accomplish as part of the adventure. It encompasses all of their experiences and lessons learned The Ho`ina, or return, is when the main character returns to tell his/her story of the journey and shares insights gained as a result of the journey
For example, in the case of Pele, she and her sister Namakaokaha`I fights, and she flees for her life. In the case of Disney’s Mulan, her father cannot go to war, so she does. The hero usually starts off in a mundane situation of normality from which some information is received that acts as a call to head off into the unknown Some people refuse the call to adventure and thus, are destined to mediocre lives of survival and convention Those who accept the call to adventure may do so alone or with assistance Often receives supernatural aid in the form of a protective figure that provide special tools and advice for the adventure ahead
This begins the separation of what was and what will become. It is the death of one understanding and the birth of another. Note that this ha`alele doesnʻt always have to be a physical one.
The huakaʻI is the longest part of the story. Here is where the story unfolds. It is here where strengths are honed to ward off the deepest and cruelest fears that whisper against oneʻs efforts and reasons to continue the journey Typified by a trail or path If the path is steep, it often alludes to difficulties The main character may meet up with a mentor Mentor: people you meet along the way who assist you such as an old lady/man, talking animals, fairy godmother, relatives, etc. Everything and everyone in a journey are necessary for growth The journey is often times violent and graphic in image. It is here in the huaka`i that the mo`o (water spirits) are killed while journeying through the forest or the manō (sharks) are slaughtered before treading through the ocean, from one shore to the next. It is here that the main character is introduced to their internal demons and monsters that are transposed on the landscape of his/her journey.
SYMBOLS Ānuenue – rainbows are believed to be signs of an ali`i In fact, the birth of an ali`i were typically accompanied by a double-arched rainbow NAMES For example, Wailuku is the name of the river in Hilo. It literally means “destructive water,” so it gives you an idea of the kind of river it is Also, the `iwa (frigate bird) figuratively refers to a thief because it steals the food of other birds. In the Legend of `Iwa, the main character (named `Iwa) was a thief.
There are many different facets to consider when learning about mo`olelo and ka`ao. Some of the things you can learn from reading them are historical information, such as the documentation of place names. Many of the place names today are no longer used as they have been replaced by modern names like “4 Miles” or “Richardson’s.” Therefore, the documentation of the original place names in these mo`olelo and ka`ao are very important so they are not lost forever. Mo`olelo and ka`ao also document important events that have occurred throughout history such as the first hula that was performed, the destruction of `ai kapu, etc. Mo`olelo & ka`ao also contain a lot of biographical information. Traditional stories usually start with some form of genealogy, such as “____ was the father; ___ was the mother” and also includes where they were from. Genealogy, or mo`okū`auhau, is very important to the kanaka maoli as it tells us who we are and where we come from. A form of this tradition is carried on to this day. Often times, when we meet someone new, our first question/topic after names are “Where are you from?” or “Where did you graduate from?” (as in which high school). This helps us to establish where they are from, what we can expect, etc. Of course, there is a lot of different cultural elements we can learn from mo`olelo and ka`ao as well – the culture of family, social protocol, oli (chants), medicine, arts and crafts, and much, much more.
Please note that there is a course offered here at HawCC – HWST 104: Hawai`i Myth Culture – that delves deeper into the topics of mo`olelo & ka`ao
Interpretations of the Past
• Derived from the words
moʻo ʻōlelo, succession of
talk; all stories were oral,
• Because Hawai`i
language was an oral
versions of the same
legend may exist today
MO`OLELO VS. KA`AO
– Historical in nature
– Fanciful story or tale; usually fiction
– An embellished moʻolelo
KA`AO: The 4 H’s of myth
• Each ka`ao has 4 H’s
– Hua (Catalyst)
– Ha`alele (Separation)
– Huaka`i (Journey)
– Ho`ina (Return)
• Hua: egg, seed or
• The call to adventure.
The person, thing or
event that launches
the entire myth. It is
the thing that causes
the journey to
• Haʻalele: to leave, abandon, or evacuate
• The point at which the main character
separates from the community and embarks on
• It means leaving the familiar landscape or the
environment in which one is comfortable into
an unknown realm where the rules and limits
• Huaka`i: a journey, a
mission, to travel
• The main character often
undergoes a series of tests,
tasks, ordeals or challenges
that he/she is required to
accomplish as part of the
• Experiences and lessons are
learned that leads us to our
• It is at this point that the
main character confronts
the final leg of the
Do I return to society?
Do I leave society?
This leads us to……..
• Hoʻi: a return, to go back, to come back, to
leave with the intention of returning back to
where you first came
• After answering the call to adventure and
meeting its trials, the main character must
return and integrate back into the community
– The main character returns to the ordinary world
with an item or awareness that will benefit the
society left earlier
– The main character returns to tell his/her story and
to serve as inspiration for others who have not yet
answered their call
KA`AO – HŌ`AILONA
– Symbols or
omens/predictions within a
– A prophecy of what is to
– Names of characters or place
names often provide insight
into the characters’ attributes,
personality, and/or the plot of
MO`OLELO & KA`AO
• Cultural Elements
• The images of myth speak directly to a person
with a unique message.
• What the myth and its symbols mean to one
person, may be different from another person.
It may even mean something different to the
same person at a different time in their life.
• Myths can always be revisited and something
new can always be learned from them!
If you have any
ask them on the
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