The oral history of Molokini Crater is fascinating.
Various Hawaiian chants – called ‘oli – describe the creation of Molokini through oral history. The creation chant ‘O Wakea Kahiko Luamea tells how Papa, the Earth Mother, first gave birth to the island of Hawai’i and then, with the help of the gods Kane and Kanaloa, delivered Mololani (Molokini) into the ‘Alalakeiki (Channel of the Wailing Child).2
Another ‘oli claims Molokini is the ‘iewe (placenta) released after the birth of the island Kaho’olawe. The ‘oli says the cord was cut by Chief Uluhina and tossed into the sea. The chant goes:
Ki’ina aku Uluhina,
Moku ka piko o ke kamaiki
Ka’iewe o ke keiki i lele
I komo i loko o ka’ape nalu;
Ka’ape’ape kai ‘ale’ale,
Loa’a ka malo o ke kama
` O Molokini ka moku
He ‘iewe ia – a -,
He ‘iewe ka moku…
Uluhina then was called upon,
The navel of the little one was cut,
The afterbirth of the child that was thrown
Into the folds of the rolling surf;
The froth of the heaving sea,
Then was found the loin cloth for the child.
Molokini the island
Is the navel string,
The island is a navel string…3
The parents of newborns in ancient Hawai’i used to carefully wash and bury the placenta. Only if they wanted their children to be seafarers, oral history tells us, would they would drop the cord into the ocean. Uluhina’s action is particularly symbolic in that both Molokini and Kaho’olawe are near the Keala-i-Kahiki (Pathway to Tahiti) Channel, which the ancient sea voyagers followed to reach Tahiti.
A Hawaiian mo’olelo (legend) of Molokini describes the firstborn child of Pu’u-o-kali and Pu’u-hele, who was named Pu’u-o-inaina. Because she was believed by her parents to be special, the child was sent to Kaho’olawe, a sacred island. She married two brothers, Ka’akakai and Ka’anahua. Due to the scarcity of food and water available on Kaho’olawe, the brothers left their wife to go to Maui and work the land. The brothers planted crops and harvested, cooked, and delivered the food to Pu’u-o-inaina and her parents, flying across the channel in their supernatural bird forms.
However, Pu’u-o-inaina got lonely on Kaho’olawe, and wandered over to Ma’alaea, where she met handsome Kauai chief Lohi’au. Lohi’au was also the husband of Pele, the fire goddess infamous for her fiery temper and jealousy throughout Hawaiian oral history and legend. Pele caught wind of the scandal and sent a curse to the mountain on Kaho’olawe where Pu’u-o-inaina lived. Pu’u-o-inaina felt so guilty, she jumped off of Kaho’olawe into the oceans of Kanaloa. It is believed she may have done this as a spiritual cleansing, as an aquatic shield against the fires of Pele, and as a means to enter her supernatural water spirit form.4 Pu’u-o-inaina stretched her body from Kaho’olawe to Maui, and Pele, seeing her there at Ma’alaea, cut the mo’o in two. The girl’s body became Pu’u-o-lai at Makena Beach (Big Beach), and her head, Molokini islet.5
2Severns & Fiene, Molokini, 2002 Island Heritage Publishing, p. 20.
3Severns & Fiene, Molokini, 20
4Severns & Fiene, 21
5Kawena Pukui, Mary, Place Names of Hawaii (1974), page 157.