KAPO’I AND THE OWL GOD

There lived a man named Kapo’i, at Kahehuna, Honolulu. He went one day to Kewalo to get some thatching for his house. On his way back he found some owl eggs, which he gathered together and brought home with him. In the evening he wrapped them in ti leaves and was about to roast them in hot ashes, when an owl perched on the fence surrounding his house and called out to him, “E Kapo’i, give me back my eggs!”

Kapo’i asked the owl, “How many eggs did you have?”

“Seven eggs,” replied the owl.

“Well, I plan to roast all seven for my supper.”

The owl asked again for its eggs, and Kapo’i again refused. Then the owl said, “E Kapo’i, you’re heartless! Why don’t you take pity on me? Give me back my eggs.”

Kapo’i felt pity for the owl and told her to take the eggs.

Now that it had the eggs, the owl told Kapo’i to build a heiau (temple) in Manoa and instructed him to make an altar and call the temple Manua. Kapo’i built the heiau as directed, set kapu days for its dedication, and placed the customary sacrifice on the altar.

Kakuhihewa, the king of O’ahu, was living at the time in Waikiki. News came to him that Kapo’i had declared some days kapu for a heiau and had already dedicated it. Earlier Kakuhihewa had declared that he would put to death anyone who erected and dedicated a heiau before he himself had dedicated his own temple. So Kapo’i was seized and led to the heiau of Kupalaha, at Waikiki, to be killed.

That same day, the owl that had told Kapo’i to erect a temple gathered all the owls from Lana’i, Maui, Moloka’i, and Hawai’i at Kalapueo (“Owl proclamation”) at Makapu’u; all the owls from the Ko’olau districts of O’ahu at Kanoniakapueo (“The noni tree of the owl”) in Nu’uanu; and all the owls from Kaua’i and Ni’ihau at Pueohulunui (“Well-feathered owl”), near Moanalua Valley.

Kakuhihewa decided that Kapo’i should be put to death on the day of Kane. When that day came, at daybreak all the owls left their gathering places, darkening the whole sky over Honolulu; and as the King’s servants seized Kapo’i to put him to death, the owls flew at them, pecking and scratching them (a). A battle was fought between Kakuhihewa’s people and the owls. The owls won, and Kapo’i was released. The King acknowledged that Kapo’i’s akua (god) was a powerful one (b), and from that time on, the owl has been recognized as one of the many deities of the Hawaiian people.

NOTES
“Kapo’i,” by Joseph M. Poepoe, is from Thomas Thrum’s Hawaiian Folk Tales (200-202). A similar version of the story is found in Samuel M. Kamakau’s Tales and Traditions of the People of Old (23).

(a) According to Kamakau, the owls also befouled Kakuhihewa’s people with excrement, and hence the place of the battle became known as Kukae-unahi-o-pueo, “Scaly excrement of owls.”

(b) Kamakau gives the name of the owl god as Kukauakahi.***

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