(Originally published as a Student of the Month feature in May 2014.)
The damned tīwaiwaka wouldn’t stop chirping. Even worse was the amused glint in the fantail’s eye, like it was laughing. Sure, Māui was trying to win immortality for humankind by crawling into the giant Hine Nui Te Po’s massive birth canal and out of her mouth while she was sleeping. And sure, that might look a little odd, especially because he couldn’t figure out if he should go in head- or feet-first. But if that bird made any more racket, Māui was done for. No more songs would be sung about him, no more stories told of his feats. It was terrifying enough to be near the giant obsidian night goddess while she was sleeping; Māui couldn’t imagine what it would be like if she were awake. As the bird’s tittering increased in volume, Māui braced himself for his entry into the next life.
Hine Nui Te Po’s drowsy red eyes fluttered open, lazily glancing down to see an insignificant lump of a man trying to crawl into her vagina. Yawning unconcernedly, Hine Nui Te Po rolled over and snuggled back to sleep, with a great and resounding snapping shut of her thighs, ending humankind’s quest for immortality, along with the life of its greatest hero.
Word spread quickly through the peoples of Aotearoa, and a great pall blanketed the land, as keening wails could be heard echoing from the snow-capped peaks to the wide swathes of sand at the shore. Even the animals took up the cry, forest birds and great creatures of the deep adding their calls to the rising din. Swarming black clouds of birds fell from the sky in grief and great silver shoals of fish beached themselves in sorrow. So it was that the news was passed from island group to island group, atoll to atoll, the piercing and painful sounds of sadness growing and resounding until finally reaching Hawai‘i, in the furthest northern reaches of the vast ocean of Kāne.
Though Hawaiians were in the midst of the worst drought anyone could remember for generations, they too immediately took up the cries of wailing and lamentation; Māui was, after all, the single greatest Hawaiian hero of all time. The eerie sound of abject sorrow could be heard coming from each house in every single kauhale throughout the entire string of islands. The drought had caused kalo to shrivel and rot in stagnant lo‘i and bananas plants to wither and fall in the uplands. Even fishing was affected as the lack of fresh water running into the sea depleted the populations of ‘ama‘ama and awa. Still, they put aside their own troubles for an entire anahulu to grieve for their greatest son.
Yet once the mourning period was over, they came back to a stark reality. Māui was gone and the rain had yet to fall. Who would save the people? Who would bring back the rain? Who would be the people’s hero? Who could be the people’s hero?
Keaka was the people’s next best hope. But no one else knew it. He didn’t even think so sometimes. And despite the fact that he had gleefully rejoiced in private over Māui’s death, he was a pretty nice guy who only wanted to help his people. He never really got the chance though. Māui hogged all of the really prestigious heroic deeds, such as fishing the islands from the sea and snaring the sun, while Keaka was left with such “heroic” acts as carrying scaly Old Man Kahiolo home after he drank too much ‘awa and saving Old Woman ‘Eleua from the tiny mo‘o that crawled on the walls inside her house and clicked at her. No matter how hard he tried, he could never best that gods-damned Māui.
Keaka hadn’t always cursed Māui’s name though. Quite the opposite, in fact. Anytime word of Māui’s newest exploit reached his family, the entire compound buzzed. The men would gather to mend their fishing nets and discuss Māui’s manly and heroic attributes. The women would beat their kapa and giggle about what other types of heroic attributes Māui might have. The elders would sit around reminiscing about heroes of the past, such as Kana and Kaululā‘au, but they would always agree that, when it really came down to it, no other hero ever even came close to Māui in skill and bravery.
Keaka grew up loving all of these stories as well. His family had even named him Keaka, the shadow, because he quietly followed all the storytellers around, soaking in every aspect of their stories and mele. He had been entranced by accounts of the traveling gods Kāne and Kanaloa getting into scrapes and tussles, all the while shaping the geographic features of the islands. He had thrilled to the tales of the brothers Kana and Nīheu, one of whom could stretch to any height while the other stood brave in the face of any foe. Keaka had even traipsed across the landscape with his best friend Liko, searching for the wahi pana that Hi‘iaka created in her epic travels to fetch her sister Pele’s lover, Lohi‘au.
Yet it was the Māui songs and stories he loved best. The bravery, the daring, the acclaim. He had for a time wanted to be Māui, but as got older he soon began to come into his own. And then he desired nothing more than to be worthy of having stories of his own told about him. Each recounting of Māui’s deeds began to sting, serving only as a reminder of how inadequately heroic he was. To top it all off, Keaka’s own birth mother was the biggest Māui fan of them all. Whenever she heard a new tale of Māui’s amazing feats from Old Lady Wahakale, she’d come rushing home to pass on her gossip to the entire kauhale and would even travel to their other relatives’ compounds in order to tell them. It finally got to be too much and the aspiring hero moved out to live on his own.
As it turned out, however, since his mother loved him so much, she decided to add his house in the dry and desolate Honouliuli to her gossip tour of the district. Her footsteps would awaken him, and she would call out, “E Keaka, Old Lady Wahakale told me that Māui saved a double-hulled canoe that got swamped in that last storm,” or “E Keaka, Old Lady Wahakale told me that Māui slew a giant mo‘o that was attacking travelers.”
Most recently, he had been awakened by her grief-stricken wailing and the thump of her beating her breast in sorrow over Māui’s death. She had knocked out three of her front teeth in mourning, and confided with a somewhat superior air that Hina, Māui’s own mother, had only knocked out two. Slightly aghast, he had pressed his nose to his mother’s as she took her leave of him to take the news to the rest of her gossip circuit.
That night, he had dreamt that he was Māui, and it was he who pushed up the sky, and he who took the secret of fire from that old mud hen, Ka‘alaenuiahina. It was a nice dream and Keaka had felt a sense of contentment while it was going on, but when he was awakened the next morning, the warm, happy feeling went away because he knew he was still Keaka and still had not done any of those things. The drought still raged, and there was still nothing Keaka could think to do about it.
Keaka had initially not tried to help with the drought situation because he too assumed that Māui was going to do something about it. Even after Māui’s death, Keaka still wandered fruitlessly around the vast and dusty expanse of coral plain of his home Honouliuli, seeking something sufficiently heroic to do. What could he do? He wasn’t a real hero, or at least he hadn’t proven himself yet. He had succeeded only in helping a few farmers tend their sweet potato mounds. It was hot and sweaty work that, while helpful, was hardly a deed worthy of a hero. At the end of the day, no throngs of adoring fans fawned over his every move or composed chants that commemorated his deeds. All he ever had to show for his crusade was a few lumpy sweet potatoes, and not very big ones at that.
“Eh, Keaka, you got any food or what?”
It was Liko, as usual. He woke Keaka up with that same question every morning. Keaka and Liko were together so often that people often mistook them for brothers. The pair did look similar. They both had long, ‘ehu hair that they kept tied back, dark brown skin, the same build from surfing and swimming all the time. And although Keaka was about a handspan taller than Liko and had put on a little weight since they were younger, which he did not appreciate anyone mentioning, the two of them could indeed pass for brothers.
Keaka flung one of the scrawny sweet potatoes at Liko and sat up, not yet out of the hazy state in between waking and dreaming.
“Auē, all you ever have is sweet potato! You need to start farming for yourself so you can have something else to eat besides sweet potato every day,” grumbled Liko while examining the shrunken tuber that Keaka had gotten the day before.
“I don’t have time to farm. I’m a hero, and I have to go around performing heroic deeds all day,” came Keaka’s wounded retort.
Liko snickered, “Yeah, like the time you helped Kānekoa by digging an eight-foot-wide ‘auwai to irrigate his lo‘i? Didn’t he and his family almost starve to death that year when all their kalo got washed away?”
Keaka cringed at the memory. “I just assumed that more water would mean more kalo!”
“You know what you need to do?” Liko asked intently, with a certain mischievous light in his eye.
Keaka groaned to himself because he knew one of Liko’s crazy schemes was coming. Another reason that everyone thought they were brothers was that they had been getting in trouble together since before they could even wear malo. Liko’s plans usually ended with Keaka loudly cursing himself for listening to his friend’s foolish plans, and Liko laughing hysterically in exhilaration or fear, while the two of them ran from whatever calamity was on their heels.
“If you really want to do something about this drought, we need to go to the big city where you actually have a chance of doing real hero kind of stuff. There’s no chance of that out here in the kua‘āina, the very back of the land, helping farmers and fishermen.”
Keaka knew he didn’t have any responsibilities that would keep him in Honouliuli, but he wasn’t too sure about Liko. “Eh, how can you leave? Don’t you have crops to take care of?” ventured Keaka.
“If I had crops of my own, do you think I’d be here every day eating your scrawny little sweet potatoes? Come on, go get your stuff together and I’ll have the canoe ready to set sail on tomorrow’s morning high tide.”
So it was that the two kōko‘olua went their separate ways, each packing what they thought they would need in the “big city” of Kou. Liko packed a couple of fresh malo and some food, which consisted of the rest of Keaka’s sweet potatoes. Along with his own fresh malo, Keaka made sure to pack his war club Ku‘ipē, just in case. Keaka mainly used it for mashing up his sweet potatoes, but a hero never knew when he might be called on to fight off a marauding mo‘o or rescue a kidnapped beauty.
The first rays of the sun coming up over Lē‘ahi the next morning found the two of them on
Keone‘ula’s rust-colored sand, where they loaded up the canoe.
When they were almost ready to shove off Keaka noticed something. “Uh, Liko, aren’t we sailing on the morning high tide?”
“Yup,” replied Liko briskly, as he continued to work.
“But this canoe has no mast or sail,” persisted Keaka.
Liko brought out the canoe’s one paddle, tossed it to Keaka and said, “Well, you’re a hero, right? Here’s your sail.”
So they set off for Kou, with Keaka manning the canoe’s one paddle and grumbling the entire way.
Keaka did not have the amazing paddling ability of the legendary Kaweloleimākua, so it took him more than just a single stroke to get to Kou from Kalaeloa, but he did post a respectably heroic time of one hour and forty-three minutes. “And that was into the wind,” Keaka reminded Liko when they pulled into the harbor of
What greeted Keaka’s eyes the first time he saw Kou from the sea were the great throngs of people. He had never seen so many in his life. And the riotous noise of it all! There were traders hawking their wares on the ocean and sailors yelling at each other to get out of the way on shore. And two silent country bumpkins in a canoe wondering what they had gotten themselves into.
When they tried to barter for some lumpy poi and dried fish, the trader barked out a rough laugh. “Where have you fools been? You haven’t been able to get poi for what you’re offering since before the drought.” He looked at their crestfallen faces, and relented a bit, not giving them the food, but softening his tone, saying, “Look, boys, there’s not much we can do; if Kūlanihāko‘i doesn’t tip some water out of his ‘umeke and let it rain soon, we won’t even have this.” The trader was talking about the giant calabash in the sky that held all of the world’s rainwater.
Iron surged through Keaka’s spine as he straightened with a cry. The trader’s eyes showed white at what seemed like proof that Keaka was indeed some sort of fool, but Keaka merely declared in his deepest and most heroic voice: “People of Kou! Fear not! I am Keaka, and I have come to save you!”
The few people in the market who had turned at Keaka’s speech went back to what they were doing.
“What exactly are we going to do?” Liko asked in a low voice.
Keaka drew a great breath and replied, “Fear thee not, my doubting and inquisiturient compatriot. I shall ruminate henceforth on this present dilemma and return forthwith with a fitting stratagem to resolve the conundrum and—”
“Why are you talking like that?” interrupted Liko loudly. He’dhad to shout to be heard over the rising volume of Keaka’s ranting. Everyone in the market turned to look at them.
“Don’t heroes talk like that?” Keaka asked somewhat sheepishly.
“Nobody talks like that. Can we just figure out a plan?” came Liko’s tired reply.
“Well, if Kūlanihāko‘i refuses to let any water flow out of his giant ‘umeke, I say we just make him.”
“What do you mean? Fight him? You can’t fight a god.”
“No, not fight him. Just make the water flow out of the ‘umeke. And I’ve got the perfect plan. Not some hump-or-thump Kamapua‘a-style plan like you’re suggesting; I’m talking about a Māui-level intelligent and well-thought-out kind of plan.”
Before Liko could remind Keaka that he always railed at how dim-witted Māui was, Keaka grasped his war-club Ku‘ipē, set his sights on the sky, drew his arm back, and with a mighty grunt flung his club straight into the air. Everyone craned their necks in wonder to watch the dark speck of the club disappear in the distance before a faint but resonant “tok!” was heard. The amazed murmurs of the crowd slowly turned into panicked shouts as everyone, including Keaka, came to the realization that Ku‘ipē was now plummeting right back at them and gaining velocity as it fell thousands of feet through the sky. The gathered crowd all dove out of the way and the red-hot war club slammed into the ground, just missing Liko’s head.
The club lay steaming in a small impact crater as a light rain began to wet the dusty earth. Everyone stood in mute wonder as they felt the cool water falling from the heavens.
The trader leapt to his feet and crowed, “He did it! He did it! The big fool did it!”
A huge smile split Keaka’s face as the crowd began to cheer and people ran off to tell their friends what they had witnessed. Liko lifted Keaka in his arms and the two friends roared with laughter and delight, runnels of clean fresh water streaking down their faces.
Keaka had basked in his new-found fame after that, as people from all over the islands came by sea or by land to thank him for returning the rain, for bringing life back to the land. They brought gifts from their meager remaining food supplies and raised their voices to chant mele of praise for him. Some even sang songs and brought offerings for his war club, renaming it Laweua, the Rainbringer, in honor of the occasion. Keaka passed his days bedecked in lei of tī-leaf or the odd maile that had survived the drought deep in the upland forests, suffused in their clean, green fragrance. Though they took only what they needed of the food offerings and were able to return the rest, Liko spent most of his time eating and chatting animatedly with the people who came by. It was like a celebration out of the stories Keaka loved so much.
But as time passed and the tribute continued, Keaka began to get a little uncomfortable with all of the attention. Liko told him to just enjoy it while he could, because something would probably come up that would change things.
“After all,” said Liko, “sending a flood to help people suffering from a drought might not be so heroic for much longer.”
Liko was right. The steady patter of rain that had seemed like such a blessing at first had now begun to overflow the streams and rivers, washing away crops and homes. Even when the rivers began to flow normally again, the rain fell. Even when the slopes of Lē‘ahi became verdant with green again, the rain fell. Even when the water began to overflow the banks of the lo‘i, the rain fell. And even when farmers who had desperately called out to the gods for water now cried out for the water to stop, the rain still fell.
The tribute slowed to a trickle and then ended altogether, and the people who had once been so happy with him glared and muttered whenever he passed. The trader would still call out, “He did it! He did it! The big fool did it!” when he saw Keaka, but it had changed from a cry of celebration to one of accusation and denunciation.
Standing ankle-deep in floodwater, staring mutely up toward the hole he had made in Kūlanihāko‘i’s ‘umeke, Keaka did not know what to do. How could he fix Kūlanihāko‘i’s
‘umeke in the sky if he couldn’t even get there? He had tried throwing large handfuls of mud and clay into the sky to plug the hole, but they just got sodden from the rushing water and fell back to earth, splattering everyone’s houses with dirt. People jeered his every failure, and Keaka could not help but agree with them. There was nothing he could do from down here.
As the rainfall continued to plaster his long hair to his face, Keaka regretted his glee over Māui’s death. As much as he hated to admit it, Māui would have saved everyone from the drought. Māui wouldn’t have flooded the whole damn island chain. Keaka shook his head to himself. He’d failed at his one opportunity to be the new number-one hero.
He had to fix this, but how?
Liko’s companionship was the only thing that kept Keaka from giving into despair. He smiled, thinking about his friend’s rough jests and pragmatic nature. He thought fondly of them sitting at the shore in Pu‘uloa, listening to stories with all the adults. He remembered Liko’s dad pointing to Waolani in Nu‘uanu, telling his favorite story about Keaomelemele. He chuckled as he remembered the lumpy ducks he and Liko had unsuccessfully tried to craft from driftwood after hearing the story. Why had they tried to make ducks? He couldn’t quite remember all of the story, but suddenly the recollection flashed into his mind: The god Kāne had given the boy Kahānai-
akeakua a giant duck named Kamanuwai to take him wherever he desired. And the duck was said to live at Kunawai Spring, below Waolani. Less than a day’s walk from where he was in Kou!
Keaka rushed back to tell Liko, who immediately dashed cold water all over his enthusiasm. “But that story happened hundreds of years ago! That means Kamanuwai would be hundreds of years old! And ducks don’t live that long.” He added the last part just in case Keaka missed what would have been perfectly obvious to anyone else.
Keaka was not swayed in the least. “If the story lives on, Kamanuwai must live on,” he said resolutely.
Liko and Keaka did not know how long it would take to find Kamanuwai—if he still lived, as Liko made sure to point out—so they packed their extra malo and enough food and water to last them a few days. They also packed offerings of food for the duck—which probably didn’t exist, Liko pointed out again. Before setting out, they asked around for the landmarks to use in finding their way to the fabled spring, and while no one knew exactly where it was, everyone’s stories overlapped enough that Keaka and Liko felt they would still be able to find their way.
The way was relatively easy and the two made good time. The sun was only a few hours past its zenith when they began to feel the coolness of the spring on the Moa‘e breeze. They emerged into a wide clearing with Kunawai in the middle. Keaka and Liko approached the edge of the spring to drink from the cool waters, when from out of the dark green neke and uki surrounding the pond arose a giant and fearsome creature.
The biggest duck they had ever seen.
He was nearly three arm spans in height, and though the wild and tangled feathers on his face and neck were nearly white, the speculum on his wings remained the vibrant blue of the ocean. He preened his mottled wings in the afternoon sun, casting a giant shadow over the two cowering men. Upon closer inspection of his face—though they didn’t dare stare too long—they noticed that he only had one good eye, and the other socket was stuffed with leaves. Jagged scars crisscrossed his body where it looked like chunks of his flesh had been torn away, giving him the look of a mountain after a rock slide.
“Kwek! ‘Tis altogether meet when your meat comes to you,” thundered the ancient duck, his voice like the crash of boulders falling from a cliff. The gray-feathered mountain peered at them with his one good eye. “Draw closer, my delectable little fish, kwek, kwek. I have not supped on tasty land-fish like you in many ages,” he rumbled, drawing out the last s.
Keaka and Liko stood there trembling, their mouths gaping open, as Kamanuwai closed the gap between them with his waddling steps. The duck stood there peering at them again, his head cocked slightly.
“Duck! Duck exists! Duck exists!” stammered Liko.
Keaka knew his friend was on the verge of breaking into fits of hysterical giggling, which happened when he was scared, so he began to speak quickly, “Uhhh . . . my name is Keaka and this is my friend Liko. We have come seeking your aid and beg of you not to indulge your appetite for land-fish upon us, O great duck of
Kamanuwai continued his one-eyed stare at them for another second before he began to clack his beak together in a loud quacking sound that they soon recognized as laughter. “Kwek, kwek, kwek! The pair of you actually fell under the impression that I was going to eat you!” he cried gleefully. “‘Great duck of legend’ indeed, kwek, kwek! I am nothing more than a duck, kwek, and I eat nothing more than a duck eats. Kwek, kwek, I have never tasted the flesh of a man, good sirs. I apologize for the fun I had at your expense. But to see the look upon your faces!” Kamanuwai continued to quack to himself contentedly under his breath, as he waddled to a more comfortable position on the banks of the spring. Keaka and Liko heard the creak of his joints as he resettled his wings.
“Now, what current has brought you two shards of gourd floating my way, kwek, kwek?” Kamanuwai asked companionably, ducking his beak into the large ‘umeke of pa‘i ‘ai and cooked lū‘au leaves that they had brought with them as offerings. As Keaka and Liko explained their situation, Kamanuwai kwekked and quacked sympathetically, but made no commitment.
“I have a surefire idea to fix everything though,” Keaka hastily reassured the duck.
“I don’t know,” cut in Liko, his misgivings about Keaka’s plan resurfacing. “Your ideas don’t always work out that well. Remember that ‘auwai fiasco? Or the time that you thought it’d be faster to just make one giant kapa beater out of a log of koa and beat everyone’s kapa all at once? We all ended up having to walk around naked for a week! Maybe we should just ask ourselves what Māui would do in this situation.” Liko’s statement was greeted with an offended silence. He had mentioned the “M” word. Liko braced for the inevitable verbal tirade that he knew was coming.
“Māui? Māui?! You know that guy took all his ideas from me! It was my idea to snare the sun, but he stole it from me and did it first!” bellowed the irate Keaka.
Kamanuwai cocked his head appraisingly at Keaka.
Keaka continued in a rush, “His mom was visiting with my mom one day, and she was complaining about how the sun set too quickly, before her kapa could even dry. So I sat and thought a little bit, then I realized that if I could tie up the sun and make it slow down, then everyone’s problems would be solved.
“So I got my rope ready and I was heading for the top of Kā‘ala when I passed Māui, who was busy stealing sweet pīlali candy from little kids. ‘Eh, Keaka, where you going?’ he asked me in that slow, dim-witted voice of his. So I told him my plan.”
Keaka looked somewhat embarrassed at this point, but continued on, “Then he told me that my aunty was looking for me and wanted to meet at her house near Mākua, which was about a day’s walk away. So I figured I’d see my aunty first, then get down to business, but when I got there she had not given any message to Māui about wanting to see me. She had, however, just heard that he snared the sun yesterday and made the days longer so his mother could dry her kapa.” Keaka stopped to draw a calming breath, before continuing.
“‘What a good boy he is,’ she beamed, and then asked sweetly, ‘and what have you been up to lately, Keaka?’ And everybody thinks he’s a hero because of that. But you know what? He’s a thief! That’s what he is, a thief!”
Keaka’s story was interrupted by Liko’s disbelieving roar of laughter, and even Kamanuwai’s eye glinted with humor as he chuckled and shook his head to himself, though he was polite enough not to guffaw in quite the same manner as Liko. “I promise! That story is true. It’s not funny!” Keaka cried out as he punched Liko in the arm. Kamanuwai smiled graciously as he finished eating; Keaka and Liko helped him wipe the last of the pa‘i ‘ai and lū‘au from his beak, and looked at him hopefully.
“Kwek, as the small stick kindles the flame on the larger, so you have convinced me to assist you. I have been acquainted with Māui since he was no more than a blood clot floating in the sea. And even before he choked the secret of fire from my cousin, the mudhen Ka‘alaenuiahina, he was as insufferable a little kwek as you have made him out to be in your story. So even though I lack the strength of my beardless youth and have not flown any great distance for many turnings of the moon, I shall carry you forth into the lofty heights to the great water-bearing vessel of my divine brother Kūlanihāko‘i.”
“As the koa bug shimmers in the sun only because of the height of the tree it perches upon, you do us great honor, O Kamanuwai,” Keaka pronounced formally, stringing together an awkward metaphor that still earned him a pleased grin from the aged duck.
“Kwek, kwek, let us leave this very instant then, as we have no time left to fritter away. Make sure you settle yourselves securely upon my back though, my little friends, for I will suffer no harness and my feathers are quite slick from all of this rain.”
And with a triumphant kwek, Kamanuwai flapped his creaking wings and carried them off, slowly rising into the sky. Though Kamanuwai was not as strong a flier as he used to be, he was expert at finding the warm currents that would lift him higher into the air with less effort on his part. Just as the sun began sinking towards the horizon, they crested the edge of the ‘umeke. Liko and Keaka were awestruck by the beauty of what lay before them. Even Kamanuwai, who was witness to many wondrous things in his life, could not tear his one-eyed gaze away from what he flew over.
The reddening sun glittered on an expanse of fresh, clear water that seemed to be as vast as the ocean that lay far below it. The ‘umeke itself was made of some sort of unearthly wood that was the deep brown of fecund soil but grained with pearlescent whorls that sent thousands of rainbows playing across their sight. The mirrored surface of the water was undisturbed by the winds swirling in the atmosphere, but a definite current slowly spiraled through it.
Kamanuwai glided over the water, obviously fatigued, tracking the center of the watery gyre below, with Keaka and Liko leaning out as far as they could to act as spotters for the one-eyed bird.
Liko cried out, “There’s the center! That must be where the hole is!” Keaka leaned farther out to see where Liko pointed, and Kamanuwai banked jerkily to take them closer to the water’s surface.
The unexpected movement made Keaka lose his grip and he was swept from his seat on Kamanuwai’s back, tumbling through the air.
Keaka’s cry of dismay was cut off by his impact with the water, to be replaced with the burble of his panicked gulping of water. He surfaced frantically, trying to cough and breathe at the same time, waving his arms wildly before he remembered that he actually knew how to swim and did not need to panic. What did worry him as he took a deep breath, however, was that the whirlpool of water draining out of the ‘umeke was pulling him inexorably down, down, down. Keaka shuddered at the thought of being sucked through the gaping crack in the bottom of the ‘umeke and possibly drowning, and then plummeting to the earth thousands of feet below where his bones and guts would burst upon impact like an overripe breadfruit.
As he was drawn underwater and closer to the bottom, he braced himself mentally and physically for the sudden acceleration that would signal the beginning of his fall through the large hole he had made in the ‘umeke. Keaka almost gasped out all of the air in his lungs in surprise when he came to an abrupt halt, a sharp pain on his rear end. He reached down to feel the source of the pain on his buttocks. It took him a moment to realize what had happened.
His butt had plugged the hole.
He thought he had made a huge crack in the ‘umeke with his mighty throw, but it turned out that the opening was just the size of his war club Ku‘ipē. The weight of the water and the awkward angle of his body kept Keaka from being able to extricate himself from the hole, however. Keaka laughed bitterly to himself. All his notions about being a hero seemed so silly now. He would die saving his people in perhaps the most ignominious way possible. Drowned, with his butt stuck in a hole he himself had made. Mooning the entire world. He could imagine the elders of his family, gasping with laughter, telling and retelling his story to explain the presence of the bright full moon that hung above them.
As Keaka began to run out of air and he resigned himself to his fate, he felt Liko’s arms wrap around him roughly. Together, they levered Keaka out of the hole. The two of them pushed off from the bottom and back to the surface, where Kamanuwai flipped them up on his back. They lay with their chests heaving, gulping down air. The duck kwekked concernedly over them, but save for a huge painful, dark-red bruise on Keaka’s butt, they were uninjured.
When Keaka unwrapped his malo to examine the bruise as best he could, an idea struck him. He stood there holding the sodden barkcloth. He balled up the malo and looked at it closely. “E Liko ē, take off your malo!” Keaka yelled
Liko gaped uncomprehendingly at Keaka, but began to unwrap his malo slowly.
“Quick! Quick!” shouted Keaka, and grabbed the end of Liko’s malo, spinning him around in his haste to take it off his confused friend. Once he balled up the two malo together, he dove back into the water before Liko or Kamanuwai could stop him. He swam down with powerful strokes, aided by the downward spiral of the water.
This time he smiled for real, as he shoved the wadded-up malo into the hole, the absorbent barkcloth slowing the draining water to a trickle.
He swam back up to the surface and collapsed on Kamanuwai’s broad back.
Liko looked down appraisingly at the now-plugged hole. “Well, that’s not how Māui would have done it, but I think you saved the day.”
Keaka regarded Liko silently for a moment, before the two naked, sopping wet friends hugged each other and chuckled in disbelief at all that had taken place.
The exhausted Kamanuwai flew them to Kou. The giant duck did not have enough strength to carry the two of them all the way back, so he set them down several miles out of town. They made their farewells and Keaka and Liko trudged through the mud back to Kou as the sun was slipping below the horizon.
When they walked into the market, no one believed that they had plugged the leak, because the rain still fell. It didn’t help anyone take them seriously that they were both naked and muddy, and Keaka had a giant bruise on his ass.
Liko took offense at their indifference, bellowing, “You should be celebrating Keaka! What he did was genius! Better than just plugging the hole like you ungrateful idiots would have done!” He shouted at them about how the wadded-up malo allowed the water to flow through sporadically, meaning it would rain every so often without them having to wait on Kūlanihāko‘i anymore. But no one paid attention to his explanations.
Keaka said nothing, merely throwing his arm around Liko and leading him towards their canoe to go back to Honouliuli.
Even when several weeks had passed and Keaka’s mother came on her gossip tour of the district, smiling her gap-toothed smile, to tell him that Old Lady Wahakale told her that Māui had come back from the dead, built wings from banana leaves and coconut fronds, and flapped up into the sky to defeat Kūlanihāko‘i in single combat, ensuring the cycle of rain for the good of all humankind, he just smiled and warmly pressed his nose to his mother’s.
Keaka knew no one would ever tell his story.
Wadding up barkcloth to plug a hole the size of his fist wasn’t a heroic way to solve a problem, and in the end it didn’t even make that good of a story, but it was done. Keaka walked over to the next compound to help them with their sweet potato mounds, softly singing one of his favorite songs about Māui.
Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada enjoys living in Pālolo in a house of talented people, including an amazing woman he loves and a slovenly dog he loves significantly less. He has the most fierce, most loving, and most dedicated friends, and his family and faculty have put up with his obsessive school-going for the last two decades.