The Wind Gourd of La 'amaomao. Reviewed by Niklaus R. Schweizer, Professor of German, University of Hawai'i. The Hawaiian Journal of History. Vol. 25, 1991. 212-215.
Esther Mookini and Sarah Nakoa are to be congratulated for having rescued from oblivion the delightful tale of Moolelo Hawaii o Pakaa a me Ku-a-Pakaa, na Kahu Iwikuamoo o Keawenuiaumi, ke Alii o Hawaii, a o na Moopuna hoi a Laamaomao (c. 1900), concisely rendered into English as The Wind Gourd of La 'amaomao. This saga of the 16th century heroes Ku-a-Nu'uanu, his son Paka'a, and Paka'a's son Ku-a-Paka'a, is a refreshing story offering rare insights into pre-contact Hawai'i. Paka'a inherits from his mother, the beautiful La'amaomao of Kaua'i, the wind gourd, a family heirloom, handed down by her maternal grandmother of the same name, the wind goddess La'amaomao. The gourd contains all the winds of the Big Island of Hawai'i, and these winds arw at the service of the owner of the gourd, provided he or she knows the respective chants.
The gourd comes into its own when Paka'a, having faithfully served Keawenui-a-'Umi, the premier ali'i of the Big Island, as close personal attendant and confidant (kahu iwikuomo 'o), is betrayed by the two evil navigators, Ho'okele-i-Hilo and Ho'oke1e-i-Puna, and their followers. Paka'a escapes to Moloka'i, marries, and has a son whom he calls Ku-aPaka'a. Keawenui-a-'Umi in due time develops a longing for his former kahu iwikuamo'o and sets out in a magnificent parade of canoes ro find Paka'a and restore him to his former high position at his court in Waipi'o Valley. Paka'a is quite willing to return, but in order to restore his injured honor, he feels obliged to create some difficulties. He is also determined to wreak revenge upon his opponents who wheedled themselves into the favor of Keawenui-a-'Umi. In order to retard the reconciliation with his master and to rid himself of his enemies, he employs his son Ku-a-Paka'a in a complicated process of intellectual and spiritual warfare, which involves chanting, jesting, and the presenting of riddles. During critical moments, Ku-a-Paka'a opens the wind gourd, with disastrous results for the evil-doers, who at length are defeated and dispatched. In the end, Paka'a is reunited with Keawenui-a-'Umi, and his rank and his lands are returned to him.
The Wind Gourd of La 'amaomao enables the reader to understand important values of pre-contact Hawai'i, such as the role played by the ideal attendant of an ali'i, which was characterized by a caring attitude both towards the lord as well as towards the maka'ainana, the common. ers, and which included expertise in a variety of useful skills, such as canoe carving, canoe sailing, fishing, bird catching, and a host of others. Generosity, kindness, loyalty, honesty, justice, filial piety, patience, are values of old Hawai'i emphasized in this saga which was considered sig.nificant enough to be published in several versions in Hawaiian and English, beginning with Samuel M. Kamakau's serial, Moolelo no Pakaa (1869-1871), in the newspapers Ke Au Okoa and Ka Nupepa Kuokoa. The present version by Moses K. Nakuina is based on Kamakau but draws from a number of other sources as well.
Of chief importance in the story arc the chants, and here one would wish to compare the translation with the original. If it was impractical to affix the entire Hawaiian text to the English translation, then, perhaps, the major chants should have been attached. In any case, these chants are a lively testimony to the keen observation of natural phenomena by ka po'e kahiko, the Hawaiians of old. Thus the reader is systematically introduced to all the winds of the major islands, and he learns, for example, that on O'ahu there are no fewer than 45 winds, each with a name and peculiarities of its own. The wealth of natural phenomena on land is paralleled by the riches of the sea, and it is here that one becomes aware of the multitude of fishes and other marine life known to the ancient Hawaiians.
The prominent role of riddles and-the love for intellectual challenges triumph in the crafty exchange of rejoinder and repartee on the part of the chanters. Parallels can be found to similar passages in the epics of Homer and in Greek and Latin mythology. The wind gourd can be easily compared with the bag of winds entrusted by Aeolus to Odysseus, and the parade of Keawenui-a-'Umi's canoes evokes the famous catalogue of ships in the Iliad. This is not to suggest a spurious link between islands in the central Pacific and the Troy of old, but serves merely as a reminder that traditions of this kind are universal to what could be called the epic stage of a culture and civilization. The translators, both highly accomplished scholars, were faced with a difficult task since the original text is complex, subtle, and filled with obscure allusions. The chants in particular present obstacles on account of a multitude of archaic expressions. Occasionally a touch of the overly modern and colloquial can be found in the English version, but on the whole it represents a brilliant achievement.Nakuina's The Wind Gourd of La 'amaomao belongs to the books and newspaper articles published by Hawaiian intelligentsia, who was astonishingly productive in the latter part of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Several works of those scholars have been translated into English in recent years or are in the process of being translated. These books provide us with a much needed balance to the fairly one-dimensional way in which Hawaiian history, culture, and traditions have been rendered until now by authors with a predominantly Western orientation and little knowledge of the indigenous language. Much remains to be done, including a study of the fate of the Hawaiian intelligentsia and the Hawaiian language in the wake of the overthrow of the Monarchy and annexation. Mookini and Nakoa's The Wind Gourd of La 'amaomao is yet another important contribution to the growing canon of precious Hawaiian works rendered into English. It should grace the libraries of all intellectually curious Hawaiians and Hawaiians at heart, and so should Nakuina's original in the 'olelo makuahine, the mother tongue.