Hawaiian Folk Tale: The Eel-King by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

There was a maiden named Liliokani whose father was a fisherman. But the maiden liked not her father’s employment, for she believed it to be an offence against Atua, the all-god, to deprive any animal of that life which Atua had breathed into it. And this was pleasing unto Atua, and he blessed Liliokani with exceeding beauty; no other eyes were so large, dark, and tender as hers; the braids of her long, soft hair fell like silken seagrass upon her shoulders; she was tall and graceful as the palm, and her voice was the voice of the sea when the sea cradles the moonlight and sings it to sleep.

Full many kings’ sons came wooing Liliokani, and chiefs renowned in war; and with others came Tatatao, that was a mighty hunter of hares and had compassed famous hardships. For those men that delight in adventure and battle are most pleasantly minded to gentle women, for thus capriciously hath Atua, the all-god, ordained. But Liliokani had no ear to the wooing of these men, and the fisherman’s daughter was a virgin when Mimi came.

Mimi was king of the eels, and Atua had given him eternal life and the power to change his shape when it pleased him to issue from the water and walk the earth. It befell that this eel-king, Mimi, beheld Liliokani upon a time as he swam the little river near her father’s abode, and he saw that she was exceeding fair and he heard the soft, sad sea-tone in her voice. So for many days Mimi frequented those parts and grew more and more in love with the maiden.

Upon a certain day, while she helped her father to mend his nets, Liliokani saw a young man of goodly stature and handsome face approaching, and to herself she said: “Surely if ever I be tempted to wed it shall be with this young man, whose like I have never before known.” But she had no thought that it was Mimi, the eel-king, who in this changed shape now walked the earth.

Sweetly he made obeisance and pleasant was his discourse with the fisherman and his daughter, and he told them many things of his home, which he said was many kumes distant from that spot. Though he spake mostly to the old man, his eyes were fixed upon Liliokani, and, after the fashion of her sex, that maiden presently knew that he had great love unto her. Many days after that came Mimi to hold discourse with them, and they had joy of his coming, for in sooth he was of fair countenance and sweet address, and the fisherman, being a single-minded and a simple man, had no suspicion of the love between Mimi and Liliokani. But once Mimi said to Liliokani in such a voice as the sea-wind hath to the maiden palm-trees: “Brown maiden mine, let thy door be unlatched this night, and I will come to thee.”

So the door was not latched that night and Mimi went in unto her, and they two were together and alone.

“What meaneth that moaning of the sea?” asked Liliokani.

“The sea chanteth our bridal anthem,” he answered.

“And what sad music cometh from the palms to-night?” she asked.

“They sing soft and low of our wedded love,” he answered.

But Liliokani apprehended evil, and, although she spake no more of it at that time, a fear of trouble was in her heart.

Now Atua, the all-god, was exceeding wroth at this thing, and in grievous anger he beheld how that every night the door was unlatched and Mimi went in unto Liliokani. And Atua set about to do vengeance, and Atua’s wrath is sure and very dreadful.

There was a night when Mimi did not come; the door was unlatched and the breath of Liliokani was as the perfume of flowers and of spices commingled; yet he came not. Then Liliokani wept and unbraided her hair and cried as a widow crieth, and she thought that Mimi had found another pleasanter than she unto him. So, upon the next night, she latched the door. But in the middle of the night, when the fire was kindled in the island moon, there was a gentle tapping at the door, and Mimi called to her. And when she had unlatched the door she began to chide him, but he stopped her chiding, and with great groaning he took her to his breast, and she knew by the beating of his heart that evil had come upon him.

Then Mimi told her who he was and how wroth the all-god was because the eel-king, forgetful of his immortality and neglectful of his domain, loved the daughter of a mortal.

“Forswear me, then,” quoth Liliokani, “forswear me, and come not hither again, and the anger of the all-god shall be appeased.”

“It is not to lie to Atua,” answered Mimi. “The all-god readeth every heart and knoweth every thought. How can I, that love thee only, forswear thee? More just and terrible would be Atua’s wrath for that lie to him and that wrong to thee and to myself. Brown maiden, I go back into the sea and from thee forever, bearing with me a love for thee which even the all-god’s anger cannot chill.”

So he kissed her for the last time and bade her a last farewell, and then he went from that door down to the water’s edge and into his domain. And Liliokani made great moan and her heart was like to break. But the sea was placid as a hearthstone and the palms lay asleep in the sky that night, for it was Atua’s will that the woman should suffer alone.

In the middle of the next night a mighty tempest arose. The clouds reached down and buffeted the earth and sea, and the winds and the waters cried out in anger against each other and smote each other. Above the tumult Atua’s voice was heard. “Arise, Liliokani,” quoth that voice, “and with thy father’s stone hatchet smite off the head of the fish that lieth upon the threshold of the door.”

Then Liliokani arose with fear and trembling and went to the door, and there, on the threshold, lay a monster eel whose body had been floated thither by the flood and the tempest. With her father’s stone hatchet she smote off the eel’s head, and the head fell into the hut, but the long, dead body floated back with the flood into the sea and was seen no more. Then the tempest abated, and with the morning came the sun’s light and its tender warmth. And at the earliest moment Liliokani took the eel’s head secretly and buried it with much sorrow and weeping, for the eyes within that lifeless head were Mimi’s eyes, and Liliokani knew that this thing was come of the all-god’s wrath.

It was her wont to go each day and make moan over the spot where she had hid this vestige of her love, and presently Atua pitied her, for Atua loveth his children upon this earth, even though they sin most grievously. So, by and by, Liliokani saw that two green leaves were sprouting from the earth, and in a season these two leaves became twin stalks and grew into trees, the like of which had never before been seen upon earth. And Liliokani lived to see and to taste the fruit of these twin trees that sprung from Mimi’s brain–the red cocoanut and the white cocoanut, whereof all men have eaten since that time. And all folk hold that fruit in sweet estimation, for it cometh from the love that a god had unto a mortal woman, and mortality is love and love is immortality.

Atua forgot not Liliokani when the skies opened to her; she liveth forever in the star that looketh only upon this island, and it is her tender grace that nourishes the infant cocoas and maketh the elder ones fruitful. Meanwhile no woman that dwelleth upon earth hath satisfaction in tasting the flesh of eels, for a knowledge of Mimi’s love and sacrifice hath been subtly implanted by Atua, the all-god, in every woman’s breast.

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