One of the most well known moʻolelo (legend of Hawaiʻi) about Waianuenue or Rainbow Falls on the Big Island is the story of Hina, mother of demi-god Maui, and moʻo Kuna. Literally, mo’o means lizard, however, in ancient Hawaiian legends and stories, these were not the small lizards that we know of. These mo’o were powerful large lizard like creatures.
Read the moʻolelo about Hina and moʻo Kuna below.
Hina, Goddess- mother of Maui resided in a cave below rainbow falls. As a skilled kapa maker, Hina would spend her days making and drying kapa while singing many of her favorite songs. But not only was Hina a skilled kapa maker, she was also very attractive and possessed a beautiful voice.
Up above Rainbow Falls, the lizard god, moʻo Kuna, would secretly come down the mountain to admire Hina’s beauty from the shadows as she sang song after song with her wonderfully, melodious voice. Eventually, Kuna could no longer resist his great admiration for Hina and he pushed boulders down the falls with his giant tail in order to get Hina’s attention.
The boulders splashed into the water ruining Hina’s beautiful kapa and this made Hina shun Mo’o Kuna and his efforts. Filled with anger, Kuna decided that he was going to kill Hina. The problem was that her son Maui was always with her. And as Kuna was aware, Maui was very powerful.
He had raised the sky above the mountains, pulled the Hawaiian Islands up from the ocean and captured and slowed the sun in the sky.
moʻo Kuna patiently waited for his opportunity and when Maui finally left the cave to go out fishing, Kuna struck out to kill Hina. Little did he know, Maui enlisted the help of a cloud goddess to watch over his mother. If Hina were to run into trouble, the cloud goddess would be sure to sing her song to alert Maui.
While Kuna moved through the shadows under the falls, Hina worked on her kapa and sang with joy. She didn’t even notice Kuna in the darkness. As Kuna lunged at her, Hina saw him in the corner of her eye and jumped out of the way. Kuna’s powerful tail knocked huge boulders down to the foot of the falls causing the water to rise and enter Hina’s cave.
Hina was trapped.
Kuna made another attempt to snap at her with his ferocious teeth and nearly grabbed her as Hina jumped out of the way again. Kuna lost his footing and slid to the back of the cave where the water was rising.
Hina quickly twisted her kapa and tied them together to make a long rope. As Kuna was readying for another attack, Hina threw the kapa rope around a tree across the river. Kuna, realizing that she was trying to escape, moved quickly to stop her. But just as he leapt towards her, she swung across the river to safety.
The cloud goddess, seeing her swing across the river, realized what was happening and began to sing as loudly as she could.
In hearing her voice, Maui stopped fishing and made his way back to Hina. In just a few strokes, Maui made his way back to the falls and saw the vicious moʻo Kuna near the cave and Hina in the tree across the river.
Infuriated, Maui quickly makes his way towards Kuna. When Kuna realizes that Maui had returned he scampered down the stream through the rocks and cracks to escape the angered demi god. Maui flung his spear towards the Kuna and just missed him as he climbed over a large pile of rocks. Kuna ran further downstream and found deeper hiding holes.
Maui soon lost the trail of Kuna but did not want the murderous beast to get away so he turned towards Mauna Kea and called upon the volcano goddess, Pele, for help.
Maui offered his canoe and the many fish that he caught as a hoʻokupu (offering) to Pele and asked her, “Punish moʻo Kuna. Send your lava into the river to drive him out so that your sister, Hina, may live in peace.”
Pleased with his offering, Mauna Kea erupted sending lava into all of the rivers down below. When lava reached Wailuku river, the water boiled violently and steam rose from every crack and crevice in the river bed.
moʻo Kuna was flushed from his hiding place and Maui saw the lizard god scramble out of the rocks. Maui chased Kuna down and with one mighty swing of his club, slayed the giant lizard.
Maui then picked up the body and threw it down the waterfall. As lava continued to flow, it covered Kuna’s body while water from the falls dumped down on to it as well.
Until today, you can still see the rock covered Kuna at the bottom of the falls. Today it is known as Kuna island.