The Legend of Queen's Bath
(On the North Shore of Kauai, below the cliffs of Princeville, there is a large, deep, tidal pool. People call it the "Queen's Bath," so named for Queen Emma, who did visit Princeville in the 1800s. However, there is no evidence that she ever visited this tidepool. On one spectacular day in 2006 when I went there for a swim it occured to me that there were no existing legends about this magical place, and it surely deserved at least one. So I tuned into the and the area around it, and asked the 'aina to tell me a story about itself. While standing on the rocks above the west side of the pool I saw a gorgeous rainbow mist in the mountains behind Hanalei, and suddenly my mind was filled with both a vision and a story. Here, then, is what the land had to say to me)
Once upon a time, perhaps, there lived on this island a beautiful queen well-loved by all her subjects. Her face was round like the moon, her back was straight as a cliff, her hair flowed like pahoehoe lava, and her eyes sparkled like olivines in the sunlight. People said her laughter was as joyful as the sound of Waioli Stream, and a few lucky men said that her kiss was like the chilly northern wind that made your skin shiver.
The queen - her name was Pualani, perhaps - was very good to her people. She had the power to make the crops abundant, to make the fish fill the nets, and to make the rain just enough and the sun just enough so that everyone was happy.
Pualani spent many of her days surfing at Hanalei Bay, her favorite place on the island. She went into the forests with her kalai la'au (wood cutters) and picked out the best trees for her surfboards: wiliwili for the 18-foot boards called olo and kiko'o; breadfruit for the short boards called alaia and kioe; and koa for the 'onini board that only experts could use.
Once the trees were cut with large, basalt ko'i lipi - adzes that were used as an axe - they were dragged down to the shore at Anini Lagoon where they were shaped into surfboards with ko'i pahoa - chisels - and then smoothed and finished with kikoni - small adzes used for that purpose. After they were polished with porous lava rock and finally coral, they were coated with kukui oil and taken to the queen for her inspection. Today you can still see large stones along the shores of Anini where the adzes were sharpened.
Queen Pualani received the surfboards at Hanalei Bay, in the area now called "Black Pot." Although kind and generous and tolerant where most things were concerned, she was very picky about her surfboards. She examined each one minutely for size, shape, smoothness and spirit. The best ones she kept for herself and shared with her sister, Princess Noenani, and the rest she gave to her chiefs in charge of the various moku o loko - districts - of the island. Unlike some chiefs, however, she never placed a kapu on the whole bay and allowed chiefs and commoners alike to use it as they pleased, as long as it was done with respect.
According to her mood and whim and the surf conditions, Pualani would choose a long board or a short board or a difficult board and surf the outer reefs, the middle reefs, or the inner reefs of Hanalei Bay. Stormy or sunny, windy or calm, it didn't matter to her. And at the end of the surfing day she would host a big luau on the beach for everyone to attend. The only times she didn't surf were when she had urgent queenly business to attend to, when she was engaged in an adventure that took her elsewhere, or when her people needed to use the bay for a hukilau, a community fishing event.
She was a perfect queen, except for her secret that was known only to her sister. For at night, when everyone was asleep, she would turn into a mo'o nui loa, a dragon, her true form, and slip into Hanalei Bay for a deep swim that would take her all the way around the island, heading Kilauea way one night and Ha'ena way another, making sure that her people were safe from all harm. Her sister, Noenani, was also a mo'o, but she took a quite different form. During the day Noenani would go for a walk in the forests, and there she would turn into ko'i'ula, a rainbow colored mist, and in that form she would visit all the parts of the island that her sister could not reach in her dragon form.
When Pualani took a human form she had to compress her spirit very tightly, and when she took her dragon form all that energy was released and she became as hot as molten lava. That was one reason she went into the ocean every night, because otherwise the mana of her aura would become dangerous to the people she loved and cared for. The other reason, of course, was that she simply loved to swim. Her sister did not have this problem because when she took on her misty body the energy turned into color, rather than heat.
Pualani lived for a very long time, perhaps 400, perhaps 4000, perhaps 400,000 years. But finally, she knew that it was time to die and try out a different kind of life. So she surfed one last time as a human, feasted one last time as a human, made love one last time as a human, and that night she slipped into the ocean at the place where the Hanalei pier now stands. Perhaps there was someone awake to watch the trail of bubbling, steaming water as she swam out to sea, and perhaps not. At any rate, she was feeling so old and tired that she swam out only a little ways past Pu'upo'a Point and Kenomene Beach to a place where a low lava shelf stuck out into the water, just west of Little Hanalei Bay with its waterfall coming down from what is now called Princeville. Anyway, that was where Pualani crawled out of the sea and onto the lava shelf and curled up to sleep.
As she slept, her body was so hot that it melted the lava in the shape of her body. Her skin and flesh was eaten by sea creatures, naturally, after it had cooled down, but today you can see where she crawled out of the water, curled around, and lay her head to rest in the spot we call Queen's Bath, named not after Queen Emma, who never went there, but after Queen Pualani, who loved Kauai and took good care of her people much, much, earlier. Some people even say that the big, round rocks at the bottom of the pool and the rest of the depression are really the bones of Puanani.
We do not know if Pualani had any children by any of her human lovers, for no one has swum deep enough around the island in the middle of the night to see. However, her sister, Noenani, must have had daughters, because on special occasions you can still see a very unusual, rainbow-colored mist slowly crawling along the coast of the North Shore or easing its way through the ridges above Hanalei Bay. So maybe, if you stay up late enough, and if you are looking at the right spot at the right time, you might just see the waters of Hanalei Bay bubbling and steaming in a trail leading out to the deep. And then you will know that a daughter, or grand-daughter, or great-great-grand-daughter of Pualani is still taking care of the island. Perhaps.
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