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From BAMBOO RIDGE Issue Number 8: Frederick B. Wichman's KAUAI TALES

Friday, May 04, 2012 8:24 AM



From "Nou O Makana,"
           by Frederick B. Wichman

      When the Menehune still lived on Kauai, a high chief of Hale-le`a and his followers came to visit the sandy plains of Ha'ena. He came to catch a firebrand from the fireworks cliff of Makana to prove his affection for a woman who did not believe he loved her. If he could catch a firebrand before it fell into the sea, his love would be unquestioned. And if he could catch that one brand that flew the farthest out he would prove his feelings beyond all doubt.
      So Kahua-nui, high chiefess of Ha'ena, ordered the firethrowers to wrap dry branches of hau in twine made of the silver-gray hinahina. These they would carry on their backs up the Limahuli valley and climb the steep slopes to the top of Makana. There, standing at the edge of the thousand-foot cliff, they would set the brands on fire and throw them out over the edge. These small logs, c.aught by the wind currents, would swirl out over the land into the sea, leaving a trail of glowing embers as they rose and fell like sea birds soaring in the wind.
      Nou had always wanted to go to the top of the cliff, to Makana, with the firethrowers. His dark eyes had often watched the firebrands sailing across the dark skies of night and in his heart the dream of being a firethrower burned as brightly as the embers themselves.
      "Let me go with you," he begged the busy firethrowers. "Please let me go with you."
      "You are still too young," the leader of the firethrowers said. "Stay here and practice throwing twigs until your arms grow strong and your wrists supple. This is no boy's play we go to do." The leader's thoughts turned to the rich gifts the chief of Hale-le'a had promised to the man whose brand he caught that night. So each firethrower was intent on tying a knot different from any other man's and his thoughts were not upon the hopes of a youngster.
      The men picked up their bundles of wrapped hau and set out to climb the steep trail. Nou watched them go. But this time he was not content to remain and watch from the beach. He began to follow the men up the steep path to the top. Once there, he hoped, perhaps they would let him throw one log, even a little one. At least then part ofhis dream would come true. He wanted to tell his friends, "I threw a log from Makana and it went far out to sea, farther than anyone else's! I did that!" But how could he get to throw anything over the cliff if the firethrowers would not let him go with them? So Nou followed without permission and climbed the steep trail.
      Nou struggled up the path and soon his breath came in painful gasps. He could not step from toehold to toehold as the men did for his boy's legs were too short. He had to climb over and around rocks and boulders, grasping handfuls of the coarse grass to keep from falling over the steep cliffs. At last he was forced to rest.
      As he sat, Nou heard someone calling over the wind that hummed about his ears.
      "Help me!" the voice called. "I am caught and cannot get free!" Nou looked around. He could see no one. "Help me!" the voice groaned.
      Guided by the broken call of the strange voice, Nou found the caller, a tiny man, hardly taller than Nou, with a long, brown beard and friendly eyes. A large rock had rolled across the little man's legs. He was caught on the edge of a steep drop and could not free himself without falling.
      "Help me!" called the little man once again. "Come, I will not hurt you."
      Nou approached, undecided whether to help the man or run away. "What can I do?" he asked doubtfully.
     "Push at this rock," the little man said, "as I hold onto the grass."
     Nou did as he was asked and shoved against the large rock. It tipped and fell
over the cliff and the man was free.
      The little man stood up on his uncertain legs and thanked Nou. "I am a Menehune," he said. "Tell me one thing that you wish for and I will do it in thanks for what you have done for me." The Menehune shuddered and said, "The morn­ing sun would have turned me to stone. Please tell me what I can do for you."
     Nou thought for only a moment. "This is my dream," he said. "I want to throw at least one log from Makana, even a little one, so I can say I threw a fire­ brand and it went far out to sea, farther than anyone else has ever thrown it. This is what I wish."
      "It is a little thing," the Menehune said. "I can help you to throw those logs so that you will always be the best thrower. You shall do this tonight. But you must do as I tell you." The Menehune whispered in Nou's ear so softly that not even the birds that flew low over them could hear what was said. "Follow closely what I have told you," finished the Menehune, "and your dream shall come true."
      Nou continued to climb the rest of the way to the top of Makana. As the Menehune had told him, the firethrowers were very angry with him.
      "Go home," they ordered. "This is no place for you. Even if it were, you brought no firebrands with you. Here one throws only what one brings."
      Nou stepped forward and spoke to the men preparing the fire. "Let me stay," he said quietly but firmly. "I will make a bet with you. I will give my life against anything you care to wager that I can throw a firebrand farther out to sea than any of you."
     "You have nothing I want," one firethrower said.
     "Take care," growled another. "It is a dangerous thing you say."
     "The chief of Hale-le'a has offered a prize to the man whose brand he catches," another man said. "We do not have time for a boy's silly game."
     "I will take only one of the brands and I will win my life back," Nou said. "Will you let me throw?"
     "So be it," said the leader of the firethrowers. "If you are stupid enough to make such a bet, you who have never done this before against we who are experienced, and wish to lose your life, I shall not stop you. I will even give you one of my firebrands."
      The men ignored Nou and silently prepared for the fireworks display of Ma­kana. The hau logs, tightly wrapped in hinahina, were put into the bonfire so that the soft centers would burn. Nou untied the end of the hinahina rope on the brand the leader gave him, and retied it in the special knot the Menehune had taught him.
      Then, on top of Makana, it was time. The first man threw his log. All his skill, all his experience guided the fiery brand. It went far out over the ocean, sparks marking a trail against the night. Another and another man threw. Never had the people below seen such a spectacle as log after log soared, now low, now high, and flew far from shore to drop at last into the sea.
     Then the leader of the firethrowers threw and the log went far, far out to sea. It was against such a throw that Nou must do his best.
     . . .

Bio: Frederick B. Wichman was raised on Kauai and in central Oregon. He had taught upper elementary school but had retired to follow interests in tales and legends of Kauai and in the village life of Sixteenth Century New England.



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