Caren Loebel-Fried: Artist. Illustrator. Author.
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Ku

This is the story of the great god Kü and his coming to the island of Hawai'i. There was much commotion in the skies with the celebration of Kü's arrival. Sharp flashes of lightning and loud cracks and rumblings of thunder filled the air. The people knew that something unusual was happening, but when he walked into their village, they did not recognize Kü as a god.

Kü lived among the people as a planter. With powerful hands, he moved huge piles of soil effortlessly, and with his 'ö'ö, his long digging stick, he alone did the work of twenty. Alongside the other men who worked this plot of land, Kü planted, weeded, and moved the earth, and his cheerful nature was pleasing to everyone around him.

His strength compared with the other men was enormous. "E, Kü! Come now and take a rest!" the men shouted to him when they grew tired. Kü would answer, "'Ë, I will in a moment!" The men teased Kü, trying to get him to stop working so they wouldn't seem lazy, but he just kept working. They knew there was something extraordinary about Kü, but the men never imagined he was a god.

His muscular body was a deep, rich brown, attracting the attention of many young women in his ahupua'a, the land division where he lived. Sometimes a woman caught sight of him from the hale kuku, the house where cloth, called kapa, was made by beating the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. Using her mallet against a wooden anvil, she signaled to the others of Kü's presence with a special, secret rhythm: "Thump, tap-tap, thump, tap-tap… He comes, he comes!" They stole discreet glances at him and sighed, "Kü is so strong and handsome!" But they did not know he was a god.

One day, while walking through the forest valley, Kü happened upon a young woman who was collecting kukui nuts from a candlenut tree. The soot from the burnt nuts would be used to print patterns on the beaten kapa. She was so busy planning her designs that she did not notice Kü. She sang a little mele, a song her tütü had taught her as a child. With graceful motions, she gathered the nuts, and her sweet voice rose and mingled with the leaves and fragrant flowers around her. Kü was enraptured.

He noticed a dried branch lying across the path and stepped on it to attract her attention. Startled, the young woman looked up, and recognizing Kü she smiled warmly. "Aloha, Kü", she said. They talked of the beautiful day, the puffy white clouds in the sky, and the cooling breezes. But as their mouths spoke these words, their eyes and hearts sang of love. Honeycreepers chirped in the surrounding trees and a rainbow spread over them.

Some jealousy greeted the news that Kü and the young woman were going to live as man and wife. "If only I had been the one to pick the kukui nuts!" said one. But, after seeing the couple together, the other women in the village couldn't help but share their happiness. "The heavens must be pleased with this union!" they remarked with pleasure. The couple vowed to build a life together and love one another no matter what might come between them. One day, this promise would be tested.

Over the first few years, Kü's wife admired her husband more and more, marveling at his robust and unceasing energy. Shaking her head and smiling, she told him, "Kü, you have the strength of many men, perhaps even that of a god!" Kü just nodded and said, "And you, my dear wife, you are a goddess to me." Their love for one another grew and grew.

Kü and his wife had two children, a girl and a boy. The children loved and respected their parents and küpuna, their grandparents. Learning by observation and imitation, the children's days were filled with lessons about living a good life. "They are such happy children," said one neighbor, "and seem to always enjoy helping their parents and grandparents!"

After many years of peace, there came a day when the rains stopped falling. People looked to the dry, cloudless sky with confusion and anxiety. In spite of all their hard work in the fields, the plants started to wither and die. "There must have been some neglect of the gods, some prayers forgotten with the business of digging and planting, some terrible insult unknowingly made!" Their plaintive cries rose up into the sunny sky, but no rain came.

The priest from the neighboring village, a powerful kahuna, was called upon to try to appease the anger of the gods. He chanted special prayers and made the proper offerings. But still no rain came. He shook his head and muttered, "It must have been some terrible insult. Maybe things will be better when the rainy season comes…." But they couldn't wait until then. The people would starve!

Kü and his wife watched their own children becoming weak and listless, but what could be done? As all the people looked up at the sky, Kü was gazing down, deep in thought. His face showed the enormous conflict within him. He knew of a way that he could help, but was filled with a profound sadness at what would be lost.

Kü pulled his wife away from the rest of the people. He said, "My wife, I love you and our children with all my heart. There is something that I can do to remedy this situation, but I must go far away."

She looked into his loving eyes, so full of kindness, with a heart heavier than she had ever known before. She turned to look at their children, so tired and listless, and the other people in their extended family, whose shoulders slumped with hopelessness. She saw the barren fields all around them. With sorrow, she finally spoke. "Kü, I have vowed to love you no matter what happens. I will always love you, and now I must let you go."

She collected the children and they followed Kü through the forest to an open field. The air grew heavy, and the surrounding trees were motionless; not the slightest wind blew. Even the birds looked on with silent expectation.

Kü stopped and his family watched him standing there, tall and erect, his feet planted firmly on the land. Gradually he began to sink down into the ground as though the earth were swallowing him up. Soon, all that remained was the top of Kü's head, and his wife wet the soil around him with her tears. The family kept a vigil by the spot where he had buried himself, sitting through the long, sad night, watching and waiting.

With the growing light of early morning, they noticed a slight shifting of the soil where Kü was buried in the earth. A tiny green shoot suddenly sprouted from the spot where Kü's head had been. The family watched with wonder as the plant grew swiftly up and up, branching out as though reaching for every star. Thousands of shining green leaves unfurled, and soon this magnificent tree was covered with hundreds of 'ulu, the nutritious breadfruit, swinging gracefully from strong branches.

A farmer was walking mournfully through a nearby field, when he suddenly noticed the breadfruit tree in the distance. He let out a cry and ran shouting, "Everyone! Look! Look to the field! Come and see the giant tree where none was before!" The people jumped up with excitement and ran to the tree.

As the people arrived, Kü's wife was sitting under the 'ulu tree with her children standing over her. They formed a great circle around the family. Kü's wife then heard her husband's voice inside her head, and she closed her eyes, listening. He told her, "Wife…my body is the trunk of this tree, and my arms are the branches. My hands are the leaves and my head is the fruit. The heart inside each fruit holds the memory of my words. Roast the fruit well, remove the skin, and then you and our children shall eat…."

And so she did.

With excitement, people from the village reached for the 'ulu. But suddenly, the entire tree was sucked swiftly back into the ground with a "swoosh". Only when their outstretched hands were lowered did the tree grow back to its full size. A murmur was heard among the crowd, but all became quiet when they saw that Kü spoke to his wife once again.

She heard him say, "Carefully dig up the new shoots around my trunk and share them with our 'ohana and our extended family and friends."

And so she did.

The people planted the sprouts all around their district. These grew just as fast as the first tree had grown, up and up, filling the sky with glistening leaves and plump, ripe fruit. Offshoots from these trees were shared with other friends and family, as well as those in the neighboring ahupua'a, or land division. The breadfruit trees flourished and soon spread across the land, and everyone had 'ulu to eat.

The people thought with awe of the strong, generous man who had lived among them. They now knew that Kü was a god and they would always give thanks to him. They would never again forget to chant the proper prayers, or make the appropriate offerings to all the gods and ancestors. They would remember to show how grateful they were to share in the riches of the earth.

And so this was the gift of Kü.


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