It’s the Legend of Naupaka [nau-‘pa-ka], a beautiful Hawaiian Princess. Naupaka fell in love with a fisherman named Kaui [‘kau-i]. Over the years, the legend has been told in different ways, but the ending has always remained the same.
One version of the story goes like this.
Long ago in Hawaii, the beautiful Princess Naupaka, who lived high in the mountains, came down to walk along the beach. Many say she lived on the island of Kauaʻi [kau-‘a-i].
She had just reached the shore when she saw a handsome fisherman. He was throwing his fish net out into the lagoon when he saw Naupaka. It was love at first sight. Big time aloha [a-‘lo-ha] happened right there.
They ran to each other on the beach and the princess learned the fisherman’s name was Kaui. But they both quickly realized that as she was a princess and he a lowly fisherman, their love could never be.
But like Romeo and Juliet, they tried to find a way. And the princess’ journey to seek permission for her love started a great adventure.
However, the elder told the princess that she could travel to the high priest and ask him for permission, so she went back to her love Kaui and told him what they needed to do.
They both wandered for days through mountains and forests and eventually came to the high priest, known as a kahuna [ka-‘hu-na]. He was a wise and powerful person.
The high priest listened to Naupaka with great care, but the ancient custom was too strong; he had to forbid them to marry. Still wanting to give the young lovers hope, he told them to ask the Hawaiian gods for permission.
The lovers were fearful but prayed nonetheless. But as their pleas reached the Heavens, a fierce rain fell, lightning struck the mountain, and thunder rolled through the skies. They knew then that the gods too had said no.
All hope was gone. The young lovers returned to the beach where they had met and prepared for their farewell. With their eyes filled with tears they hugged. Naupaka told Kaui that because even the gods had refused them, they must part.
She embraced him and said, “My love, I must return to my kingdom on the mountain and you must remain here by the sea, but let this flower remind us and everyone of our love.”
With that, she took a flower from her left ear. She tore the flower in half and gave one half to her lover, and kept the other.
She climbed up into the mountains, never to return, and Kaui remained by the shore, and they both lived out their lives apart.
To this day, the naupaka flower only blooms by half, signifying the lovers’ separation.
The other kind, naupaka kahakai [ka-ha-‘ka-i] grows by the sea (kai means sea and kahakai means beach), and is the flower held by Kaui, the fisherman.
Whenever the naupaka kuahiwi flower of the mountains and the naupaka kahakai flower by the sea are picked and joined together, it is said that the two lovers are once again united.
Illustrations by Mariia Kudrina.
Hawaiian Words and Meanings
Means love, used as a greeting or farewell.
An elder, grand parent or older person; also means ancestors.
A ban or restriction. Today in Hawaii it means forbidden or no trespassing.
A Hawaiian shaman or priest, an important social class in old Hawaii.
A Brief Guide to Hawaiian Pronunciation
Words in square brackets [ ] show the pronunciation of Hawaiian sounds and words. The words are broken in syllables by dashes, and there is an apostrophe in front of the stressed syllable. Disclaimer: our transcription is simplified and doesn’t cover all aspects of Hawaiian pronunciation.
Example: aloha [a-‘lo-ha].
[a] makes a short “ah” sound like in the word “but”
[e] makes a short “eh” sound like in the word “let”
[i] makes an “ee” sound, but short like in the word “tip”
[o] makes a short “oh” sound like in the word “top”
[u] makes an “oo” sound, but short like in the word “put”
To learn more about Hawaiian pronunciation and to listen to recordings of Hawaiian words, check out our Hawaiian Pronunciation Guide.