The Lovers: Lehua and Ohia

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.

The legend of Ohi’a and Lehua is one of poignant beauty and one I hope you enjoy just as much as I do. If you’re reading this from Hawai’i, you may have heard the legend before, but tell me, isn’t this one always worth hearing again?

A long time ago, in the early days of Hawai’i, in a small village a dance was taking place. All the villagers had gathered and were enjoying the celebration. Sitting around a bonfire was Ohi’a, a stunningly handsome young man known throughout the island for his athletic prowess. He was engaged in conversation with a distinguished gentleman at the fire when Lehua caught his eye.

Across the fire, Lehua stood with her friends. Her beauty was unparalleled in the islands and her sweet, gentle persona was the talk of the land. When her eyes met those of Ohi’a they both froze, unable to take their gazes off each other. Then when she saw that Ohi’a was speaking with her father, she blushed.

Lehua’s father was quite protective of his only child and nudged Ohi’a to remind him of the converstation they were having, but Ohi’a could hardly take his eyes off the young maiden. He apologized profusely, stuttering and stammering when he understood that he was speaking to the young woman’s father. Lehua’s father was amused by the apology and had come to be quite fond of the young man, so when he saw how infatuated Ohi’a had become with his daughter he offered to introduce the two.

Ohi’a nearly stumbled in his haste to meet Lehua on the other side of the fire. From the moment they met the two had eyes only for each other. Ohi’a courted Lehua with a passion that quickly won her heart.

Soon after, Ohi’a built a home for his young bride where they lived for several months. One day, Ohi’a was hard at work when the goddess Pele was walking nearby in a forest. Wnen Pele spied the handsome Ohi’a, she was determined to have him for her own.

Pele disguised herself as a beautiful young woman, with long dark hair and a lovely face. Ohi’a greeted her as she approached but ignored her advances, pledging his undying love to his wife Lehua. Pele, who was known for her short temper, revealed herself to Ohi’a as the goddess and tried again to have him for herself. But Ohi’a again confessed he had already given his heart to his young bride.

With this Pele became furious and immediately struck down Ohi’a, transforming him into a twisted ugly tree in revenge for ignoring her advances.

When Lehua witnessed her husband being transformed into a tree, she ran over and begged the goddess to change him back, but Pele ignored her. Satisfied with her revenge, Pele ascended to the high hills, while Lehua remained weeping at the base of the withered tree.

The other gods were witness to what Pele had done and became angry with her. They tried to change Ohi’a back to a man, but to no avail. Pele’s curse was just too strong. So instead, they changed Lehua into a beautiful red flower, and placed her on top of the twisted tree, so that she and her lover would never be apart.

Ever since that time, the Ohi’a tree has blossomed with the beautiful red Lehua flowers. And while these flowers remain on the tree, the sun continues to shine and the day stays fair. However, if the flowers are picked, rain falls upon the land like tears. For Lehua still cannot bear to be apart from her beloved Ohi’a.

“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”

–Dalai Lama