Contributed by Grian A. Cutanda, we see in this Hawaiian legend another strong connection between spirituality and trees.
The Gift of Kü
LOEBEL-FRIED, Caren (2002). Hawaiian Legends of the Guardian Spirits. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 3-10.
When the great god Kü came to the island of Hawai’i, there was much commotion in the skies to celebrate his arrival. Sharp flashes of lightning and loud cracks and rumblings of thunder filled the air. The people knew that something unusual was happening, but when he walked into their village, they did not recognize Kü as a god.
Kü lived among the people as a planter. With powerful hands, he moved huge piles of soil effortlessly, and with his long digging stick, he alone did the work of twenty. His muscular body was a deep, rich brown, attracting the attention of many women in his village. Kü met a young woman and the two fell in love. They decided to become man and wife and start a family.
Many years passed and the day came when there was a terrible famine. All of the people in the village became wretched, weak and hopeless. Kü and his wife saw that their own children were starving, but what could be done?
Kü told his wife that he could help, but he must go somewhere far away. She looked into his eyes, so full of compassion, with a heart heavier than she had ever known before. She turned to look at their children, tired and listless, and the other people in their extended family, whose shoulders slumped with hopelessness. She saw the barren fields all around them. With sorrow, she finally spoke. “Kü, I have vowed to love you no matter what happens. I will always love you, and now I must let you go.”
The family watched as Kü stood tall and erect, his feet planted firmly on the land. Gradually, he began to sink down into the ground as though the earth was swallowing him up. Soon, all that remained was the top of Kü’s head and his wife wet the soil around him with her tears. The family kept a vigil by the spot where he had buried himself, sitting through the long night, watching and waiting.
With the growing light of early morning, they noticed a slight shifting of the soil where Kü was buried in the earth. A tiny green shoot suddenly sprouted from the spot where Kü’s head had been. The family watched with wonder as the plant grew swiftly up and up, branching out as though reaching for every star. Thousands of shining green leaves unfurled, and soon this magnificent tree was covered with hundreds of ‘ulu, the nutritious breadfruit, swinging gracefully from strong branches.
A farmer was walking mournfully through a nearby field, when he suddenly noticed the breadfruit tree in the distance. He let out a cry and ran shouting, “Everyone! Look! Look to the field! Come and see the giant tree where none was before!” The people ran with excitement to the tree.
They found Kü’s wife sitting under the ‘ulu tree with her children standing over her and they formed a great circle around the family. Kü’s wife then heard her husband’s voice inside her head and she closed her eyes, listening. He told her, “Wife…my body is the trunk of this tree, and my arms are the branches. My hands are the leaves and my head is the fruit. The heart inside each fruit holds the memory of my words. Roast the fruit well, remove the skin, and then you and our children shall eat….”
And so she did.
But when people from the village began grabbing for ‘ulu, suddenly the entire tree was sucked swiftly back into the ground with a “swoosh”. Only when their outstretched hands were lowered did the tree grow back to its full size. A murmur was heard among the crowd, but all became quiet when it was seen that Kü spoke to his wife once again.
She heard him say, “Carefully dig up the new shoots around my trunk and share them with our ‘ohana and our extended family and friends.”
And so she did.
The people planted the sprouts all around their district. These grew just as fast as the first tree had grown, up and up, filling the sky with glistening leaves and plump, ripe fruit. Offshoots from these trees were shared with other friends and family, as well as those in the neighboring villages. The breadfruit trees flourished and soon spread across the land, and everyone had ‘ulu to eat.
The people now knew that Kü was a god and they would always give thanks to him. They would never again forget to chant the proper prayers, or make the appropriate offerings to all the gods and ancestors.
They would remember to show how grateful they were to share in the riches of the earth.
And so this was the gift of Kü.