Kukali and the Magic Banana

Adapted, edited and revised by the staff of 101Bananas.com from Hawaiian Illustrated Legends, Volume Two

       Long, long ago a boy named Kukali lived in Kalapana, near the southernmost point of Hawai‘i, the largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Kukali’s father was a kahuna1 who taught his son about kahuna magic and how to make sharp tools like knives and an adze from hard lava rock. He also taught him how to make a strong, seaworthy wa‘a.2
       Kukali grew to be tall and strong, and though he was no longer a boy, he was still young. One day his father took him aside, away from his family and friends. Having raised Kukali, he knew that he had an adventurous spirit and longed to travel and see other islands and lands far away.
       “I have given you all my wisdom, my son,” said Kukali’s father. “You are almost a man. Now you must go alone to the mountains. There you must find a tall koa3 tree to build a strong wa‘a to sail afar. One last gift I will give to you.” Kukali’s father took from a fold of his malo4 a banana, yellow and ripe. “Keep this, my son,” he said. “Eat when you are hungry, but save the skin. Never lose it nor let it be taken from you. May the gods care for you in your travels and someday bring you safe back to Kalapana. Mai maka‘u.”5
       “A‘ole au maka‘u,”6 Kukali replied to his father. Tucking the banana into the back of his malo, Kukali left at once. He had to chop down a large tree, then drag the log to the beach and build a strong wa‘a—all alone. It was a big job. He reached the forest and looked at many koa trees. At last he found one he liked.
       By this time he was very hungry. He sat down and ate the banana his father had given him. When he had finished eating the fruit he carefully folded the skin and put it back into his malo.
       Then he worked for hours. He made tools from stones and, with the tools, chopped down a tall tree, making the log ready to drag to the beach. After working so hard Kukali became terribly hungry. Thinking of the ripe banana he had eaten hours ago, he felt back in his malo, touching the banana skin. He was amazed to find the skin full of fruit again. He knew it must be magic. Gladly he peeled and ate the banana again, and again carefully saved the skin.
       At last, when he had dragged the huge koa log to the beach, he began to carve and build the wa‘a. When it was finished Kukali said “Aloha!”7 to his family and friends, and slowly he sailed away to the south. Kukali’s father, the kahuna, stood apart on the shore with his arm raised in blessing. “Hele,8 my son! Mai maka‘u. My magic will be with you,” he whispered.
       For long weeks Kukali sailed across the ocean. Although he sometimes ate fish, the magic banana always gave him fruit when he wanted it. And, of course, he always saved the skin.
       One day, weeks later, when he was feeling very tired he saw land ahead. It was Kahiki!9 As soon as his wa‘a touched the beach Kukali jumped out and threw himself down on the sand to rest. He quickly fell fast asleep. He slept on and on, not seeing a big, dark shadow that swept over him again and again. He didn’t even wake up when he was caught by strange hooks and carried away.
       Poor Kukali! After all those weeks alone in his wa‘a on the ocean, he had landed in a place where a strange monster, a big cruel bird-god, lived. This bird-god’s name was Halulu, and he lived on human flesh. He ate people! The feathers on this monster’s huge wings had talons, like big hooks, on the tips of them. And when he swooped down he was able to pick people up with these talons. Then he would take them to a deep valley. This valley was like a prison. The people could not climb out because there was a steep, smooth, rocky pali10 on each side.
       When Halulu was hungry, he would fly to the top of the pali and sweep his wing down and down to the valley floor. Then he would catch a human with his huge, hooked talons, and carry him away for dinner.
       When Kukali finally awoke after Halulu had dropped him in the valley amongst the other prisoners, the Hawaiian boy saw at once how ill the people were. They were starving and weak. Quickly pulling the magic banana from his malo he fed them all until they could not eat another bite. And, of course, he always carefully saved the skin.
       Soon the people were strong again. Then Kukali taught them how to make knives and adzes from lava rock. Then, when the monster bird-god came back and swept his wing down they all caught it and cut off the talons. The cruel Halulu shrieked and put down his huge legs to try and tear the people with his claws. But the people caught the legs and hacked one off! Then they pulled the monster down into the valley and killed him.
       After the death of the monster bird-god the people cut steps in the side of the pali using the tools Kukali had shown them how to make. Then they all climbed up and up. Quickly Kukali made a fire with dry sticks and kahuna magic. Then all the people threw the flaming sticks down into the valley. They wanted to burn Halulu’s body to make sure he was quite dead.
       Halulu’s body burned to ashes. But two breast feathers escaped the flames. The two feathers flew up out of the valley. They went across the land, hunting for a deep, dark hole that seemed to have no bottom at all. It was down this deep dark hole that Namaka‘eha, a ghost-goddess, who was Halulu’s sister, lived. When the feathers found the deep dark hole, they flew down into it at once.
       When Namaka‘eha smelled the smoke from the feathers she rose up in ghost-goddess fury, like mist. It was not only her brother’s death that angered her. You see, besides being the bird-god’s sister, she was also a cousin of Madame Pele, the fire goddess. And because Madame Pele had left Kahiki and gone to live in the volcano in Hawai‘i, Namaka‘eha was very jealous of her. She too would like to live in Hawai‘i. So she hated to be reminded of Madame Pele by the smell of smoke. “Who is this young man who has killed my brother and made flames to burn his body? He must die!” exclaimed Namaka‘eha.
       While Namaka‘eha was fussing about down in the deep dark hole Kukali was up at the top. He had followed the smell from the burning feathers, and now he was busy making a strong rope from hau11 tree bark. Tying the rope to a tree, Kukali slowly lowered himself down.
       Although Kukali could not see where the deep dark hole ended, it ended in Namaka‘eha’s land. Knowing Kukali was coming she gave orders to her own kahunas to make ghost-goddess magic which would kill him. Kukali, in the hole, felt the rope break. And he was falling... falling... falling... “Oh, wai12 of life! Save me!” yelled Kukali. But Kukali did not break his neck and die as Namaka‘eha wanted. His father‘s magic had made a deep pool of wai, and he splashed down into it.
       Because the wai saved Kukali’s life, Namaka‘eha’s wisest kahuna knew that the Hawaiian boy was very akamai13 and so became his friend. He helped Kukali from the pool and gave him some good advice about Namaka‘eha’s plans for him.
       “Do not eat anything here. It will be poisoned!” warned the kahuna.
       “Mahalo!”14 replied Kukali. “I’ll be careful.”
       As Kukali walked around in this land of the ghost-goddess, he met many beautiful girls. They all offered ripe fruit to him.
       “Taste it. It is good,” they would say to him.
       “Mahalo, but I’m not hungry,” Kukali would always reply.
       Seeing this, Namaka‘eha was very angry. “I must kill him myself!” she uttered to herself. Using ghost-goddess magic she turned at once into a beautiful girl with very beautiful hands. Going to the Hawaiian she offered him the poisoned fruit again.
       Kukali knew it was Namaka‘eha. Still he took the fruit, but did not eat a single bite; he threw it all away. Of course, when Kukali was alone, he peeled and ate his magic banana. And always saved the skin to hide in his malo.
       Because Kukali did not starve or even look thin, Namaka‘eha was sure he must have eaten her fruit. But when he did not die from the poison she was very puzzled. She began to wonder about Kukali. It was very strange, but as soon as Namaka‘eha began to talk to Kukali she began to change. Slowly she became kind and good, just as nice inside as she was nice to look at—outside.
       Several years passed by and Namaka‘eha, who was pau15 with being an evil ghost-goddess, no longer wished to poison Kukali. She made him delicious lau lau16 to eat and wove kapa17 for his malos. She was so kind and beautiful that when Kukali was a man he fell in love with her and they married.
       Namaka‘eha longed to visit her relative Madame Pele, so Kukali, who missed his home in Kalapana, was happy to take his bride with him and return to Hawai‘i.
       “Aloha, Kahiki!” Namaka‘eha murmured softly as they sailed away.


1. kahuna - priest
2. wa‘a - canoe
3. koa - a tree native to Hawai‘i; many items are carved from its wood
4. malo - loincloth
5. mai maka‘u - don’t be afraid
6. a‘ole au maka‘u - I’m not afraid
7. aloha - goodbye; also used as a “hello” greeting; also used as a term for love or affection
8. hele - go
9. Kahiki - old Hawaiian name for what is today known as Tahiti
10. pali - cliff
11. hau - a tree in Hawai‘i whose fibrous inner bark was used to make rope, mats, and cloth
12. wai - water
13. akamai - smart
14. mahalo - thank you
15. pau - finished
16. lau lau - meat or fish and vegetables wrapped and steamed in taro leaves
17. kapa - a cloth made by beating the inner bark of certain trees