Naupaka and Kaui

by Mike Neubauer

In Hawaiian culture, legends surround nearly every aspect of island life. These legends are often used to describe how things came to be, or why things are the way they are. These bits of folklore have been past down from one generation to another through an oral tradition that dates back over a thousand years.

This story about the famous Naupaka shrub of Hawai’i is a timeless classic that epitomizes the beauty of our culture and how true love never dies. The legend goes like this:

Many years ago, a beautiful Hawaiian princess sat peering out into the vast Pacific Ocean. Her long dark hair flowing softly as the gentle Kona winds kissed the sides of her tear-stained cheeks.

As villagers passed by they noticed the princess Naupaka and her saddened demeanor and went off to tell her parents. When they arrived to where Naupaka was sitting, they asked what it was that was troubling the young princess.

“I have fallen in love with a wonderful man,” she told them, not taking her eyes off the turquoise waters. “But he is not of noble birth, he is a commoner from the village.”

In Hawaiian culture it was strictly kapu (forbidden) for anyone of royal lineage to marry outside of their ranks. Her parents could feel the true sadness that welled within her heart, and tried to tell her that in time it would pass and a noble suitor would soon come for her.

But Naupaka wouldn’t listen. She loved the fisherman, Kaui with her whole heart, her whole soul and her whole being. Nothing would ever change that.

Inconsolable, the young princess and her lover journeyed through the island looking for a solution to their problem. They climbed to the top of the mountain where they met with a respected kahuna. “I’m sorry,” he said. “There is nothing I can do. But you should stay and pray. Pray here at this heiau.”

And so they did. And as they did, rain began to fall and the sorrows of the two lovers brought them closer together and they embraced for what would be the final time. When the two separated, the princess took the flower from her hair and tore it in half. She gave one half to Kaui and kept the other for herself.

“As it is our fate to never be together, go and live by the sea,” said Naupaka. “I will stay here in the mountains, for I cannot stand to see you and not to be with you.”

All around the heiau sadness filled the air, rain fell like tears from the heavens and the wind sang a melancholic tune. Even the shrubs and trees surrounding the young lovers took notice.


The next day when they had each gone their separate ways, the naupaka plants that surrounded the heiau began to bloom in only half flowers for the two lovers.

To this day, the naupaka shrub grows in two areas in Hawai’i. They are found commonly around the coastlines, and others are found high up in the mountains. Both plants flower in half blooms and even though they appear to be perfectly half of a circular flower, putting two flowers from the mountain next to each other will never make a perfect circle. Likewise, the same is true for two flowers by the naupaka by the sea.

And though the beautiful princess Naupaka never saw her lover Kaui again, it is said that when a half bloom from the mountain is brought down and meets a half bloom grown by the sea, the two lovers reunite and the two blossoms together form one perfectly circular flower.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone can see.”