4 Fascinating Legends of Hawaiian Culture

Hawaii Visitor Info

Everyone loves a good story, right? Tales and legends are told through generations and passed down to the young in hopes of keeping their intended spirit alive.

But what if those stories still hold true today and haven’t been forgotten through years of elaboration and fanciful edits. What if the same tales of legend and mystery shape the way people act and are still cause for fervent conversation.

Hawaii’s fascinating legends do exactly that.

From stories of lost love and revenge to tales of a Goddess’s mean deeds, there’s a lot to know about the forefathers and mothers of these beautiful islands and the stories that they leave behind.

Let’s explore a few that are particularly thought-provoking.

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A mountain and a skyline to represent the Hawaiian legend of Hiku and Kawelu in Hawaii

A Tale of Lost Love

The tale of Hiku and Kawelu is one of love, loss and regret, that has always struck a chord with those with a soft spot for recovered destiny, and happy endings.

It tells of Hiku and Kawelu, two young lovers who marry and are happy but like all people had disagreements. One day Hiku took their latest argument to heart and left Kawelu. She was heartbroken and unfortunately made the decision that she could no longer go on living.

When Hiku found out about Kawelu’s death he was devastated, took some advice and guidance from an elder, and decided to travel to Poe – the land of the dead.

He desperately wanted to bring his wife back to life, so armed with a rope made from vines, Hiku traveled to Waimea Canyon, the place where the spirits of recently departed people dwell.

He walked through the valley and eventually found Kawaelu’s spirit, did some fast explaining about his recent behavior, and begged her to take hold of the makeshift rope and be transported back to him in the living world. She did so. They went home and lived happily after.

Told you it was a story for the lovers of a happy ending.

Pass the tissues, please.

Some land, rocks, and water to represent the Hawaiian legend of Pele's curse in Hawaii

The Legend of Pele’s Curse

No Hawaiian legend list is complete without the fascinating tale of Pele.

Full of fire and angst, this is one that lives on.

Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of fire, wind, and lightning who lives in the crater of Kilauea Volcano. This goddess has had a bad temper, and in fact, was known to show it by causing immense destruction and fierce lava flows. Her reputation grew.

She saw the land, rocks, shells, and sand as her own, almost treating them as her own children. Highly protective of them.

So strong was her vengeance, that Pele is thought to have put a curse on anyone who dared remove even the smallest piece of surroundings.

Today, this legend is one that still holds significance, with the removal of rocks for souvenirs frowned upon.

The sun and a mountain to represent the Haleakala Legend of Hawaii

The Haleakala Legend

The Haleakala (House of the Sun) tale begins with demi-God Maui. He lived with his mother on the Big Island of Hawaii. Every day they were dependent on fellow God La, who was the Sun God. This God oversaw daylight and night-time, and the amount of warmth needed for life on the island.

La, being a particularly ineffectual God, decided he could not be bothered bringing the sun to the island, so the islands were left without. After putting up with this for some time, Maui decided through his mother’s complaints, to get La back on the job.

He fashioned a rope and climbed up to the Haleakala crater where he found La and lassoed him to a tree. La’s freedom was negotiated with Maui but only through his promise, that there would be consistent and long hours of sunlight for the islands.

La is keeping up his end of the bargain, today.

This tale just goes to show you that even in ancient times, people had to resort to extreme measures to get the lazy back to work!

A man standing in a power pose to represent he Hawaiian legend of a Father's Wrath in Hawaii

A Father’s Wrath

The story of the Iao Needle is one of a father’s best wishes for his daughter, and the cost of her happiness.

Maui’s beautiful daughter Iao fell in love with the equally enamored Puuokamoa, half fish- half man.

Deeming him unsuitable as a partner for his daughter, Maui sought to have Puuokamoa caught and burned. Instead, Goddess Pele with some thoughts of her own, determined that Maui must turn Puuokamoa into stone instead.

And so, it was to be.

Today tourists can see the monument, a pointed basalt creation where Puuokamoa last stood when visiting the Iao Valley in Wailuku.

A hand hovering over a fire to represent the ways that Hawaiian legends are integrated into Hawaii's present day culture

Legend in Hawaiian Culture Today

Almost every place in Hawaii, whether it be beaches, caves, mountains, and rock formations all have a past, and a story behind the reality.

Are the past lessons and traditions that were born from these stories still relevant today? It would seem so, with many past customs still respected and a part of daily life.

It makes complete sense that the past will have a definite imprint on the present, after all, indigenous Hawaiians explained their very existence through folklore.

The legend of Pele is believed to be in the minds of many who return lava rocks by mail to Hawaii authorities after learning of the stories and experiencing their own misfortune.

Many attractions have some historical and ancient significance, many with a back story that explains their meaning and importance of the time. That is why many visitors come to such attractions.

There is a spirit here, breathing and living within these islands through the telling of folktales, and legends. They will always remain while we keep them relevant and worthy of our attention.

So, there you have it. Interesting stuff, huh. It is very likely your mind will still be ticking over for a few hours after learning of these past stories, but this, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the legends and myths associated with the beginnings of Hawaii as we have come to love it today.

It is worth knowing a bit more about everywhere we travel, but there is something intrinsically important about the past that develops from the legends.

Knowing the history of these Hawaiian stories is likely to be the best thing you take home with you.


Ready to see Hawaii for yourself? We can help you find the places of interest to you on your journey to discover more about these beautiful islands. Visit us, then plan, book, pack….and go!

Updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides

If you're visiting Hawaii soon, be sure to download a copy of one of our updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides. We've updated the packets with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and for those who've been a time or two as well).

Select a 2023 Travel Guide
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