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Guardian Dogs of Nu‘uanu


Kapena Falls

The pool at Kapena Falls, as seen from atop the falls. Nestled down behind the Memorial Park on the Diamond Head side of Nu‘uanu Valley, this is one of the largest pools of Nu‘uanu stream. On the rock escarpment on the Ewa side are found the many petroglyphs.


There are many stories of dogs associated with Nu‘uanu. The story of Kaupe was related back in the Native Place chapter. Another story of dogs is set in the area of Kapena Falls, a large pool and waterfall in the lower portion of the Valley. Here is a version of that story, from Taylor (1953):



"Once upon a time a couple of strangers came to O‘ahu and settled above Kapena Falls in Nu‘uanu Valley. The couple said they came from another island, but the folks who lived in Nu‘uanu began to suspect that they really came from Kahiki....

"The couple had five pet dogs. The larger of the five was called Poki. Each of the other dogs had names which have been forgotten.

"These dogs were much attached to the couple. They never left the environs of the couple's home and they never allowed strangers to set foot within the grounds until either the man or the woman welcomed the visitors."


Dog Petroglyph

Petroglyphs showing a dog, near Kapena Falls.


More Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs in a crevass near Kapena Falls. Many of the petroglyphs have been damaged by vandalism and are now inaccessible.


"In time all friends of the couple became friends of the dogs and that was when people began to notice that these dogs were not ordinary dogs -- they seemed to be kupuas in dog form, super-natural beings.

"The path to the Pali went by their home. Ordinarily the dogs did not stir when a stranger went by on the path minding his business. If the stranger tried to enter the home, the dogs set up a great howl, but they did not attack the stranger.

"Then there came a day when friends of the couple went by, journeying to the Pali. The dogs rushed out, set up a terrific howl and laid themselves across the Nu‘uanu path in front of the couple.

"One friend turned and returned to Waikiki, but the other friend patted the dogs and insisted upon going to the Pali. There he was set upon by robbers and killed."



"The friend who had returned to Waikiki rejoiced that he had heeded the warning given by the kupua dogs.

"In time, the King of O‘ahu heard about the dogs and sent a company of men to the Pali to clean out the robber band which infested the place.

"After that, the people of O‘ahu realized that the dogs at Kapena Falls were really kupua dogs. When they journey by Kapena Falls, they got into the habit of leaving flowers, leis, ferns and food for the dogs.

"It was their way of saying 'thank you'."


Kapena Falls and pool, from the leaping place. Click here to see a historical photograph compared to a recent one.



Ka-hau-komo is the place where robbers are said to have dwelt in upper Nu‘uanu. This was a grove of hau trees above Luakaha. As Raphaelson ( 1925:11) tells it, "Robbers were plenty in those foot-trail days. Back towards the hills, the old men still point to a hidden cave. There, two ruthless bandits kept watch on the trail. One climbed a tree, while the other stood ready with his trusted pikoi [a tripping club of wood or stone, with a rope attached, that was hurled at the foe to encircle his arms or legs and render him helpless].

"'Malolo kai' ["low tide"], the lookout would call--that was their signal for 'one man on the trail.

"Then his companion let swing the pikoi. It twisted around the legs of the man. He fell. He was robbed. Sometimes he was killed."



Waterfall on Konahuanui

A waterfall off the flank of Konahuanui. In some versions of this story, the mo‘o lives at the top of the mountain; in others, she lives at a pool such as would be found at the bottom of this waterfall.


Konahuanui is the large mountain to the right side of the Pali when seen from Nu‘uanu valley. In one story, the mountain got its name when a man, probably a giant, was chasing a women and as she was escaping, he tore off his testicles and threw them at her. The two peaks of the mountain are said to be his testicles.

On this mountain lived a mo‘o woman. As Puakea related in his telling of the legend of Ke-ao-melemele, mo‘o are associated with wet areas, or pools of water. Here is the story of the mo‘o of Konahuanui and her dog, as told in the Saturday Press (1884):



"One of the beliefs of the olden times was that a race of hairless dogs were related to the mo‘os that formerly existed in our streams, ponds and inaccessible mountain peaks. One of these hairless dogs had been fattened, killed and cooked in ki (ti) leaves by people living in Ko‘olau, who intended it as a part of heir annual tribute to the king. The latter was living on the kona side of the island of O‘ahu, and the people had to pass Nu‘uanu pali to get to him.

"There were quite a crowd of people going to pay tribute besides those who had the laulau of cooked dog meat. These laulau had been put into a large calabash that was secured with knotted netting as befitted the fastenings of meat or poi containers for the king's table, and was suspended from a pole borne by two men on their shoulders, and going single file, the calabash being suspended between the two."



Men with calabashes at the Pali, as depicted in the Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1845.

The misty flanks of Konahuanui, near the Pali lookout.


"When the party was almost through the hala groves of Kekele at the foot of the Pali, the mo‘o of Konahuanui called from the Pali, "ke hele a‘e nei" (you are travelling). The cooked dog immediately answered from the calabash, 'Yes, I am going to be offered in tribute for these people.'

"On hearing these words issuing from the calabash, the men carrying it were so frightened that they threw it away and fled precipitantly. Those of the crowd who remained saw a live dog come out of the calabash and from the wrappings of ki and banana leaves that had contained the cooked dog meat, which looked at his disappearing masters and then turned and went up the Konahuanui peak, where no doubt it was welcomed by his relative the mo‘o.

"Ever since no native could be prevailed on to eat a hairless dog."


Calabash Man

Man wearing a cape of ti leaves, called ‘ahu la‘i, for keeping dry in wet weather. Two large calabashes are suspended from his carrying pole. Plaintype by H.W. Henshaw, ca. 1895. Couresty of the Bishop Museum.


Another version comes from Green's Folk-tales from Hawaii (1926). Here the dog is named Pae, who was caught and roasted and put in a calabash. As the men with the calabash reached the top of a cliff, they saw a pretty ‘ehu (red-haired) woman sitting beside a pool of water. She called to the dog, "Pae, Pae."

"Here I am," answered the dog from the calabash. "Where are you going?" "I am going with these men to visit the land of the chief." The men were so frightened that they stood rooted to the spot.

"Come here to me, Pae. Let us go home together" said the woman.

"Pae immediately jumped out of the calabash. He showed no trace of the roasting; he was once more the sleek, fat brindled dog from the mountains. He ran with delight to his mistress, who, throwing her arms about him, dived with him into the depths of the pool."



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