Moʻolelo Makahiki: Peg Leg at Nāʻiwa

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By Mikiala Pescaia

A chanter stands at the edge of Kapale Gulch in Nāʻiwa, reciting the moʻokūʻauhau of the most promising young man from his district, chosen for exhibiting leadership, wisdom, athletic prowess, humility and integrity.

As the names of the kūpuna are called, they appear in the form of a makani, building up into a mighty gust till it rushes down the mountain. With skill, flawless timing and complete trust, the young man leaps from the gulch edge, and is caught by the wind and carried down. Gliding, he hopes to sail past the first, second and third springs and eventually land in the soft grass at the far end to the eruption of cheers from the crowds.

One by one, each district’s entrant leaps into the mana of their kūpuna. The one who glides the farthest is declared the winner, and the most eligible bachelor in all the lands.

One Makahiki, the champion from the previous year returned to competition. His ʻohana stood in place patiently waiting their turn, but he was not with them. Instead, he was walking around and was heard boasting about his intended win.

His chanter grew nervous and sent someone to tell him they were up soon. He should have been deep in pule, thanking his kūpuna and asking for their support that he may have the right timing and a safe jump. But the boastful hoʻokano boy was too busy showing off.

Soon people in the crowd grew worried for him because they could hear his moʻokūʻauhau being recited and he wasn’t even in place! When he realized it was already his turn, he rushed to the leaping point, but the chanter was at the end already and, in a panic, the boy jumped. Auē! There was no wind. The boy fell straight down.

He survived the fall but broke both of his legs. He was taken to the infirmary at Mimo, and they could save one leg, but the other needed to be amputated. His ʻohana was glad he lived, but sorely embarrassed and hurt at this young man’s behavior. The boy was disappointed in himself.

As punishment, the boy was made to stand on a flat stone, with his good leg, and a wooden peg leg. From sunrise to sunset, for the two anahulu of competitions, exhibitions, ceremonies, and celebrations, he stood there in silence. No walking around, no talking, just quietly standing at the edge of the gulch, watching deserving young men stand proudly, and listening to name after name of thousands of kūpuna being called, as they all passed him by.

He did this every year for the rest of his life.

As a child, my grandma would take us to Nāʻiwa and share these stories with us. I would stand on this stone, with a worn impression of a foot and peg hole, and my grandma would say, “Don’t you ever forget your kuleana, your place, and to mahalo your kūpuna. You don’t ever want to be the one left standing as the kūpuna pass you by.”

I am glad she shared these stories; these haʻawina have stayed with me all my life. In the late 1980s, a new road was cleared in the area, and the local machine operator accidentally bulldozed the rock over the edge of the gulch. We were heartbroken. If that moʻolelo was more known, perhaps that stone would have been spared. So that is why I share moʻolelo with anyone who cares to listen. Ola nā moʻolelo!