A Contest of Watermen

Paka`a Part IX of a continuing series
By Catherine Aki

Kuapaka`a, one of the heroes of our saga, gave fishermen a run for their money in an outrigger that probably looked very similar to this one.

In our last episode, Paka`a’s enemies die, killed at sea. But a more detailed account indicates that they suffer from neglect, cold and exposure when Kuapaka, Paka`s son, refuses them food and protection from the storm. As a result they roll themselves into the ocean one after the other.

When they are dead, the boy guides the canoe and while everyone sleeps, heads back to the Big Island. Although the ali`i’s entourage is glad to be home, the ali`i himself, Keawenuiaumi, is disappointed because he has failed to find his good friend Paka`a.

Kuapaka`a predicts that the ali`i and his men will forget about him in all the excitement of their return home. Sure enough, when they reach Hawaii, the ali`i assumes that the keiki is in the care of his entourage, while the ali`i’s men assume that the chief himself should be responsible for the boy. Instead, the boy is left to fend for himself spending day after day on the beach, next the chief’s canoe eating the trip’s leftover food.

When a group men are about to embark on a fishing trip, Kuapaka`a asks to accompany them to serve as a bailer in their canoe. When they return from fishing, the boy sees another canoe nearby and challenges the fishermen to a race for their catch. He is so bold that he tells the owners of the borrowed canoe to jump into his opponents’ boat if they are scared of loosing. Like his father had years earlier, he convinces the fishermen to put all their catch into his canoe. The race begins and Kuapaka`a is losing. But after opening his wind gourd and chanting, a large wave rises from the sea. With great effort and fierce paddling, Kuapaka`a catches the wave which pushes him to shore for the win.

At the sight of the wave, Kuapaka`a’s opponents back-paddle for fear of crashing or flipping their canoe. They are angered both by the boy’s recklessness and for being beaten. So they demand a rematch.

This time, the only thing the boy has to wager is the ali`i’s canoe. But, the fishermen don’t believe the boy is entitled to offer it. The boy explains that no one else takes care of the canoe and offers it again. But now the men insist that the wager be their bones. The boy reminds them of their families, wives, children and friends who would miss them dearly if they were gone. Clearly the wager is lopsided he explains. However, the men insist and set a date for the contest on the first month of summer.

The event quickly spreads via word-of-mouth creating an amazing amount of hype. Soon everyone including Keawenuiaumi knows about the upcoming race. They make bets and wager a variety of goods and valuables like pigs, dogs, mamaki cloth, layered kapa, feathers and whatever else was treasured in those days. Most expected the boy would loose because he had to paddle a heavy canoe measuring 6 fathoms long by himself.

The imu is dug. The wood put inside. The fires are lit. Whoever lost the race would be thrown into the imu and baked. But the boy is clever. Because the fishermen are anxious for their revenge and eager to start, they agree to his terms on how the race will end. Once the canoe is beached, they must surf four waves before their opponent lands. But in their hurry, the fishermen neglect to define what kind of waves.

The fishmen, determining the starting point, keep going further and further out to sea until the houses on the beach are hidden by the ocean. The fishemen were poor paddlers churning the sea into a froth with each stroke. They also leave a wake behind them which Kuapaka’a catches and rides. So as they tire themselves out paddling, the boy keeps up right behind them. As they head to shore, the crowd cannot see the boy’s canoe as he is so close behind the fishermen, they block him from view. Those who had wagered on the men begin to cheer.

Because the boy had taunted the men along the way, telling them to paddle harder, they are now exhausted and ready to give up. With the shoreline in sight, Kuapaka`a finally begins to paddle, moving his canoe ahead. The crowd roars in dismay, realization they are going to loose all their prize possessions and riches.

After reaching the beach first, Kuapaka`a grabs a surfboard and catches four shore-breakers riding the white water instead of the regular waves further out at sea. The fisherman quickly realize their mistake in not making the rules more clear, but it is too late.

The fishermen are filled with fear of dying; their families lament and sorrow fills the air. A messenger is sent to Keawenuiaumi who amazingly still does not realize that Kuapaka`a is the racer. When Keawenuiumi finally gets the details, he sends for the boy. He is distressed about how much he has forgotten about the boy.

The ali`i asks the boy to spare the fishermen’s lives. First the boy refuses, but as the chief begs the keiki puts the decision back on the chief. The fishermen whose lives are now at stake, had been friends of the two enemies who had replaced all of Paka`a’s fishermen years earlier.

Keawenuiumi was afraid to be without any fishermen but the decision was now his -would the chief rather have his fishermen, or the return of his good friend Paka`a. The boy explains that in order for Paka`a to return, his fishermen must die. Who will Keawenuiaumi choose.

Next issue concludes the story of Paka`a.

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