Hina and Her Lover Eel

Today’s legend comes from the Cook Islands. It is about how the coconut first came to the island of Mangaia, Cook Islands. You will notice how this story is somewhat similar to the Tongan one titled Legend of the Coconut that was posted a couple of weeks ago. Both are Polynesian stories with an eel and a lovely maiden by the name- Hina.

I hope you enjoy the story. It’s romantic in a “legendy” sort of way…

Hina and Her Lover Eel

Hina-Moe-Aitu was the name of a girl who lived on Mangaia. Every day she went to a private pool to bathe in its warm, sweet-smelling water. The pool was the home of many eels, some of them massive in size. They loved the dark, quiet bottom of Hina’s pool.

One day when Hina had slipped into the caressing water of her pool, a giant eel rose up beneath her. It rubbed itself back and forth against her nakedness. Many days passed as Hina continued to bathe and let the eel visit her.  Early one morning the eel changed into a handsome young man. He said to her, “I am Tuna, the god of the eels. You are so lovely that I have left my watery home to come stay with you.”

hina-eel-cook-islands

“Hina and Her Lover Eel,” illustration courtesy of Tara Bonvillain, copyright 2017.

And so they left the pool where they had met. Together they went to Hina’s house. They were devoted to each other. Always, Tuna became an eel once again after visiting Hina. In this way they kept their love a secret. One day in the season of the breadfruit, Tuna told Hina that he must leave her. Already the tears began to flow from her eyes.“Shhh,” said Tuna softly. “Keep your tears, for there will be water everywhere soon. Tomorrow the heavens will split open and the rains will come. The sky will pour rivers onto the land. The waters of the rivers will become like the pool where we met, but it will not be glassy and calm.”

Hina stared at Tuna with round, frightened eyes. He continued, “The water will flood the taro patches. It will lick the floor of your parents’ house. It will rise and rise, washing away mats and sucking things toward the sea. Do not run away! You must wait for me to come. I will lay my head in the doorway. You must grab the adze of your great-grandfather and cut off my head. Then you must push against the rising water until you reach high ground. Bury my head there. Visit that place every day and see what is there. Do not fail me in this, Hina.”

Hina did as Tuna told her she must. Rain began to fall that night. Down, down it fell until she thought it was filling up her throat. By morning the land was covered with the sea. Water slap-slapped against the walls of her parents’ house.

A great eel came to the house. As it crossed the threshold, she took the adze and cut off its head. Then she waded up to the highest cliff and buried the eel’s head. Once the head had been planted, the rain ceased. The floods slid slowly back into the sea.

Each day Hina visited the place where her lover’s head was buried. Finally, a strong green shoot thrust up through the soil. Hina knew that such a shoot had never been seen on Mangaia before. The next day it was joined by another shoot. Slowly the green shoots grew into strong trees. They grew taller and taller until their fronds brushed against the sky. By then, Hina had children. They grew taller and taller too, until they were able to climb the trees and gather their round, heavy fruit.

These were the first coconuts. From these trees and their branches and fruits, the people made their houses, thatched their roofs, filled their stomachs and pressed fragrant oils that made their skin glisten. They ate from bowls made of coconut shells, and even used the tree to make sturdy paddles for their outrigger canoes.

These were the gifts of the Eel God to his lover Hina.

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About islandculturearchivalsupport

Island Culture Archival Support (ICAS) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of records pertaining to the cultural identity of island peoples in Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia whose national and public archives, libraries, cultural centers, and business organizations are underprivileged, underfunded, and understaffed. The specific purpose for which this nonprofit corporation was formed is to support the needs of these South Pacific cultural heritage institutions by helping to preserve and make accessible records created for business, accountability or cultural purposes. The organization will endeavor to add value by providing resources or volunteers to advise, train, and work among island residents to support their efforts in building their future and preserving their collective memory through the use of modern archival techniques.
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