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Posts Tagged ‘Hawaiian mythology’

Here’s another teaser from my e-book, Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore. It was especially exciting to learn that Native Hawai’ian tradition included a type of dragon called the mo’o that was connected with their ancestral dead. I hope you’ll enjoy this tidbit from 2014.


Mo’o, Hawai’i’s Ghost Dragons (December 2, 2014)

Did you know Hawai’ian mythology includes dragons? Until a few days ago, I didn’t either!

Native Hawai’ian people are part of an extended cultural family generally known as Polynesians, who explored and colonized all over the South Pacific from New Zealand to Rapa Nui (a.k.a. Easter Island) and of course to Hawai’i. It’s believed that Polynesian culture spread from somewhere in Southeast Asia, possibly around Malaysia, and so the Hawai’ian dragons share some features with other Asian dragons. Yet they also have their own unique origins.

Mo’o are great water spirits who can change form between that of a water dragon and a human woman. There are male mo’o, but the majority are female. They dwelt in pools and ponds as well as in caves. Mo’o had power over weather and dangerous waves (tsunami), and other magical powers as well. They are described as twenty to thirty feet long, jet black, and shining in the water.

Because fresh water is one of the most precious resources in the island environment, the mo’o who guarded these pools were worshiped along with the other nature deities of Hawai’ian lore. Every pond capable of providing fish had its own altar dedicated to the mo’o who defended it. Local people burned fires and made offerings of awa (a drink made from the kava plant) in the belief that a mo’o who was well cared for would provide plenty of clean water and fish to the community. Likewise a neglected mo’o could become vicious and spiteful.


Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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The Rainbow Serpent may be best known for its presence in Aboriginal religion and folk tales, but there are numerous instances where this mighty spirit seems connected to other dragons of world lore.

For instance, several African tribes have legends of a divine serpent called Aidu-Hwedo which has a certain resemblance to the Rainbow Serpent. As I’ve written previously, Aidu-Hwedo is an Ouroboros — a gigantic serpent that circles around and eats its own tail. In the process, it supports the whole world. Click here if you’d like to check out that post.

At the same time, the Rainbow Serpent is very much associated with water. This makes it also akin to dragons of Asian myth, who are nature spirits dwelling in rivers and seas. Even mo’o, the dragons of Hawai’ian lore, were believed to live in fishing ponds.

To me, it’s fascinating how different people all around the world generated stories about dragons in such similar ways. This is yet another reminder that people have much more in common than we sometimes can see.

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My final post in this thread concerns the most important mo’o of all. More revered than Mo’o Inanea, founder of the dragon clan. More famous than the adventuring heroine, Hi’iaka. This is Kihawahine.

Unlike the average mo’o, Kihawahine did not keep watch over just one fishing pond. Her reputed domiciles include sites on Hawai’i, Moloka’i, Kauai’i, and three locations on the island of Mau’i. Although Kihawahine’s influence extended throughout the islands, her principal residence was at Moku’ula, in the Lahaina region. This was the home of Mau’i’s royal family and the spiritual heart of ancient Hawai’i.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this thread, native Hawai’ians believed that a person of great enough wisdom could be elevated into a mo’o by sacred rituals after death. Kihawahine was one of these. Princess Kala’aiheana had been born into the Mau’i royal family during the 1500s. She must have been a remarkable person to be so widely respected that several islands wanted to claim an attachment to her.  As Kihawahine, she watched over the Pi’ilani royal line for generations. Even into the early 1800s, King Kamehameha I conquered all the islands in the name of Kihawahine. He later married another princess of the Pi’ilani line, to complete his connection with this powerful mo’o.

Kamehameha I achieved his victories in part to due alliances with Western traders and colonists, who provided guns and training to use them. Alas, the native Hawai’ian traditions began to erode after Kamehameha I’s death in 1819. As Western influences took over, the past was forgotten. The royal complex at Moku’ula eventually was buried, including Kihawahine’s fishing pond.

This would seem like a sad ending, but Hawai’ian native traditions were never destroyed as thoroughly as those of Native American tribes elsewhere. Through the 20th Century and into the 21st, activists have worked to locate and restore heritage sites across the islands. One of these is Moku’ula, where archaeology shows that the historic structures are intact under the ground. With luck, and a lot of fund-raising, descendants of the native peoples may once again honor Kihawahine in her pond at Moku’ula.

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One of the most famous mo’o is Hi’iaka, a character who appears in several legends. I found the most references to one known as “Hi’iaka and Lohi’au.” Hi’iaka is the younger sister of the volcano goddess, Pele. Pele and her family live in Kilauea Crater, on the island of Hawai’i. The goddess learns that her lover, Lohi’au, is being held captive by three other mo’o women on the island of Kaua’i. She sends her sister to the rescue. Hi’iaka sets off with a human companion, Wahine-oma’o.

Like many of the great sagas, this is a lengthy journey without a strict sequence of events and with many sections told as independent stories. For instance, the mo’o and companion cross O’ahu during the rainy season and shelter with relatives at Ko’olau. Hi’iaka sings a song of complaint about the miserable weather, which has become a standard in hula performance.

In another episode, the mo’o and her attendant travel by to a fishing pond called Kawainui. There they see two lovely women seating by the stream. Hi’iaka warns that these are not women, but mo’o in human guise. Wahine-oma’o is dubious. To prove it, Hi’iaka chants a riddle: “Kailua is like hair tousled by the Malanai wind/ The leaves of the uki are flattened down/ You are startled as though by the voice of a bird/ You think they are human, but they are not.” Upon hearing this, the two women vanish in dismay. They are indeed a mo’o on the banks of her home pond and a neighboring mo’o who had come to visit.

In the final sequence. the wanderers come to a deep canyon on the slopes of Moloka’i. As they try to decide how they can cross, a narrow bridge suddenly appears. Wahine-oma’o steps out confidently, but Hi’iaka leaps ahead to stop her. This “bridge” is the tongue of Mo’o Kikipua — a man-eater! The two mo’o battle until Kikipua’s death.

Ultimately, Hi’iaka does succeed in rescuing Lohi’au, who becomes Pele’s husband. It’s interesting to me that this character uses wit as much as force in accomplishing her task.

Next week, I’ll explore another aspect of Hawai’i’s legendary mo’o dragons.

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