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Makapu Bystander



by Rodney E.J. Chang


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                Hawaiian legend is that Pele, the goddess of volcanic eruptions, centuries ago resided on Oahu, spending time close to the waters off Makapu.  Here rose black lava cliffs that towered over the sea, raging and deep blue in the vicinity.  Lore is that Pele used to sit on a lava formation that fronted a magnificent view of the tumultuous ocean, which mirrored her personality.  Makapu, storytellers claim, was the last spot that Pele lived before moving permanently to the Big Island.  As the islands' deity of volcanoes, the action was no longer on Oahu.  All it's craters were now extinct.  Oahu got old.  It was time for Pele to move on to the youngest island, still growing on its borders from lava flow pouring into the sea and solidifying, thereby expanding its coastline. 


                 But before hopping landmasses, legend recounts of how Pele climbed one last time to occupy “her” lava mound that was shaped into her chair.  To the goddess it was more than just a seat with the best view (and facing eastward, towards the younger, erupting island); it was her temporary throne.  (By the way, the chair-like mound of lava rock is still visible from Kalanianole Highway, on the ocean side of the Makupu hiking trail that leads upward to a view of the coastal lighthouse.)


               As a farewell to Oahu, the goddess by night made her way by foot to the formation one last time, only to find a fisherman sitting in it!  There on the rocky flat surface it was convenient, with the help of his coconut oil-lit torch, to prepare his fishing gear before hiking further as well as closer to the cliff's edge to fish.


                 The dark complexion, white-haired Hawaiian man felt a chill engulf his body.  He shivered, thinking the sensation to be so strange since it was a windless and balmy summer evening.  Then his goose pimples due to the frigidness instantly disappeared, the result of the warmth of a soothing sensation induced by the sweet aroma of plumeria blossoms. 


                 Where, he wondered, was the fragrance coming from?  There were no such trees growing on this barren area of lava cliff, composed of solid rock that was devoid of any soil.


                Keliho, still occupying the lava seat, did not have to look up and around.  He momentarily shuddered and the hair on his neck stood on end when, at this place of isolated cliffs and in night’s darkness, he felt a human hand touch his shoulder.


                Panic dissipated as quickly as it had materialized when he turned and saw the face of the beautiful maiden.  Now he knew where the flowery aroma was coming from.  The shapely lass had a wreath of fresh white blossoms gracing her forehead.  The band of petals seemed to glow and faintly pulsate.  Maybe, thought the fisherman, the visual effect was because of the harsh light of his torch, or his failing old eyes.  The intruder was the first to speak.


               “About to go fishing, are you?” she said, in a kindly, alluring voice.

               “Yes, I'm almost ready to head out.  As you can see, I'm just completed tying aku fish belly to my fishhook.” 




               The entrails stunk.  For a moment the visitor held her breath.  Then she advised,


               “You have the wrong bait for this particular night.” 

               “How can you say that?  I've been coming here for decades; I know the area well....  And you're so young...and a woman.”



               Hearing this remark, the interloper's voice became gruffer, sounding older and more assertive.


               “Suit yourself.  And where do you plan to try and catch fish on this moon-lit night?” Passing clouds interloped with the visibility of the moon, alternating lunar illumination with nocturnal blackness.


               Extending an arm and pointing, the native said, “To the right, about a quarter hour's walk along the ledges.”


                “There's nothing swimming there tonight.”

               “How would you know?”

               “Because I am a woman and so young?” said the stranger, ridiculing the old man's past discriminatory comment.




               “Well, no,” answered the veteran fisherman of the area.  “But because you don't look like a fisherman and I've never seen you around this area, let alone at night when the fish do bite.”


               “OK, have it your way.  It's a long night.  When you realize you have been wasting your time, go the other way, or left from this spot in which you are sitting.”


               Keliho, the life-long angler, didn't know how to respond to what seemed like ridiculous advice from the unfamiliar intruder.  As a regular he had never seen the woman at cliff’s edge, scouting below during daylight for the location of fish, as a seasoned angler would.  Besides he had tried the recommended area and usually found it void of fish.


               “But be assured you still won't catch anything by following my directions, unless you change your bait to a big piece of octopus.”  She could smell the strong odor of the mollusk from within his sack.  So she knew he had some and that it was fresh.  In fact he had just speared it that afternoon along the shoreline and a few of its arms were still moving in his woven knapsack.   For a squirming mass with eight outstretching tentacles that has avoided evolution for million upon millions of years, the slimy stuff is hard to still.


               Before the old man could refute her suggestion, the woman suddenly vanished.  He heard her last words, like from a distant voice up in the sky:


               “And you dare to have sat on this sacred throne of rock.  Such an act is disrespectful and won't be taken lightly unless an offering is made.”  Confused, he thought nothing about the nebulous message.  He had other more important things on his mind – like hauling in some big fish.  Plus he was a bit tipsy.



                Maybe, Keliho thought, he shouldn't have drunk so much kava before heading out.  Perhaps the appearance of this woman, he reasoned, was a hypnotic narcotic effect from the intoxicating native drink.  He had imbibed more than the usual before heading out this night, to dull the argument he just had with his wife.  He dismissed the thought of the maiden and went about the business for which he had come.  The fisher, a man of habit, walked in the direction that he had planned and customarily took, and used the aku belly bait that he had already spent the time to attach to his white, bony hook.  Long ago, sharp hooks were carved out of fish bones.  Keliho simply followed his usual routine.


                 After an hour at different spots in the area, the fisherman did not feel a single nimble.  Only then did he decide to venture to the other location where the woman had recommended. 


               I was going to try there next anyway, he convinced himself. I am deciding where to fish next, not that pestering woman.


               After a half hour in the new spot, still nothing took the bait.  In the intermittent, bright moonlight he could see the surface of the sea with rolls of waves splashing at the base of the cliff below.   Such ocean conditions with sporadic moonlight always suggested the presence of roving fish within its depths.


                 I might as well switch to some long legs of the octopus, he next thought.  That's why I brought along something else; in case the aku smelly belly failed to interest fish during this particular night.  ...I'm changing bait because I decided to.


               On the first dunk with the newly baited hook, squirming with impaled slimy tentacles, the pole bent mightily. 


               It worked!  And whatever that is on the hook is huge!  In fact, so big that he heard his long wooden pole start to crack.  That meant the fish had to be over a couple hundred pounds.  Keliho was old but still a big and strong, muscular Hawaiian.  Without thinking, he wrapped the line made of twine around one forearm and squatted in order to rein in with both hands.  He went closer to the edge to get ready to haul up the prize and to also catch a glimpse of his strapping opponent.


                The silvery streak of the side of the fish, as it powered forward, slicing through the water leaning sideways in its attempt to escape, was dazzling in the moonlight.


               Wow!  That's the largest ulua (jackfish) I've ever seen in my life!  I just have to catch it! It could feed the whole village for a week!  He then considered the conciliatory thought, That would also make my wife proud.


               The mighty monster was pulling hard but strong-willed Keliho was determined to be victorious.  The combative fisherman got more daring, moving precariously close to the ledge to get into the best position to force the fish up to the surface.  All the muscles of his body bulged as he resisted the fighting behemoth.  Keliho momentarily loss his concentration as he batted an eye to get dust out of it – it was windy on that ledge, just as the powerful fish dived forcefully, exerting such strength that it caused the already distracted fisherman to slip.  Keliho lost his balance, and fell over the ledge – right into the dark and turbulent sea that waited below.


               The 500 lb. fish kept plunging downward, taking the 250 lb. fisherman with it, unfortunate to still have a forearm entangled with the line twine.  Keliho, needing to breathe, gasped for air, only to gulp and swallow seawater.  He began choking uncontrollably with water now invading his lungs.


                 His eyes widened when he saw that further down, the fish had stopped next to the woman that he had met earlier in the evening.  It was her alright, but now her eyes were as bright as glowing balls of hot coal.  In the water, her long hair appeared like flames of fire, wavering like strands of burning seaweed in the undercurrent.  Drowning next to her, he looked up at her angelic face.  Moonlight from the surface backlit her head, producing a glowing halo of prismatic colors.  It made the plumeria blossoms on top glow for the dying man.  The woman is a goddess! was his last thought.


                 Before Keliho lost consciousness, the old Hawaiian telepathically heard the woman say to the fish,


                 “Hmm, this octopus is fresh.  Thank you for delivering this treat to me.  I didn't particularly care for that stinky aku belly.  Now if this man had only offered some to me when we were above…”



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