Female Laka, Male Laka

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There are two famous persons that were named Laka in traditional Hawaiian history. One was a female and a goddess of the hula. Another was a male and is an ancestor of many Hawaiians and the people of the Pacific such as the Tahitians, Māori, Sāmoan, Tongan and others.

The female Laka is the goddess of the hula. On top of the altar was a block of lama that was not carved and was wrapped in tumeric yellow tapa cloth which was the body of Laka. Maile was one of her body forms and her altar was decorated with fragrant foliage of the forest like the palai and palaʻā fern, lehua flowers, and so forth. According to Moses Manu, Laka was instructed in the hula at Maunaloa, Molokaʻi by her eldest sister, Kapoʻulakīnaʻu (Kapo). Nāwahineliʻiliʻi and Kewelani were Laka’s former names. As a means to differentiate Laka’s roles and responsibilities, Kapo renamed her Laea, Ululani, and Laka. Laka, however, became the most frequently heard name in song and story. Laka was the one who spread the hula throughout the island chain.

The male Laka was an honorable ancestor known throughout the Pacific. He was the son of Wahieloa, the son of Kahaʻi-a-Hema. He was born at Kīpahulu, Maui. After the birth of Laka, Wahieloa left to search for a gift for his son. The father was captured in Kaʻū and sacrificed upon a temple.

When Laka got older he desired to search for his father. He entered the forest and felled a tree for a canoe and left it overnight. When Laka returned in the morning to carve the canoe the tree had returned to its standing position. That happened over and over again. Therefore Laka thought of a plan to apprehend the leaders of the band of rascals. According to the story version by Jonah Kawaiaeʻa of Kīpahulu, Mōkūhāliʻi and Kūpāʻaikeʻe were eventually caught and they promised to build a canoe for Laka within a night. When the canoe was completed, Laka went with some helpers to Puna to retrieve the bones of Wahieloa. Another version of this story occurs in Hilo and perhaps other versions for the other islands.

Therefore, who is the Laka remembered in the storied place name of Ahu o Laka? Some say that this Laka is the goddess of the forest and the hula. Others say it is the shrine of Laka the son of Wahieloa for dedicating his canoe. It remains to be seen. In any case, the name of Laka lives on.