The Hawaiian Legend of Naupaka: The Princess and the Fisherman

There once was a beautiful Hawaiian princess named Naupaka, who one morning walked to the beach and stopped at the edge of the water. All day long she stood there, unmoving except for the tears that streamed down her face. Concerned, the people watched until the princess left at dusk, but they did not disturb her. This pattern repeated for days, and when Princess Naupaka’s tears did not cease, the people went to the King and Queen and begged them to figure out what was wrong. Worried, the rulers hurried to meet their daughter at the beach. The king walked up to the princess’s left, and the Queen to her right. All three stood silently for a few moments before the Queen spoke.

“Daughter,” she said, “tell us what causes your distress, so that we can make it stop!”

Without looking away from the water, Princess Naupaka slowly shook her head and said, “There is nothing you can do.”  Unconvinced, her parents prompted again for an answer.

The princess finally said, “I am in love with a man named Kaui.”

The King and Queen looked at each other in confusion.

“But that is wonderful!” said the King, unsure why Naupaka spoke with such pain in her voice. “No,” whispered Princess Naupaka, “he is a fisherman.”

Understanding sprouted across the King and Queen’s faces and they grew solem. Royalty were forbidden to marry commoners.  

The King and Queen left the princess staring at the tumultuous sea and immediately called together the oldest and wisest in the community to see if anything could be done. No one wanted to see the princess heartbroken, least of all her parents, but tradition and rules were important. After a few hours and much discussion, the King and Queen returned to their daughter. They also sent for the fisherman Kaui, but the princess was so absorbed in her heartache that she did not hear him coming. When the young man arrived, the King made a declaration:

"If you want to be together, you must take a journey to a far away sacred place and ask for the high priest’s blessing. If the priest allows your union, we will not intervene, but if he doesn't, you will not marry. Do you agree to these terms?"

"Yes," the young fisherman replied confidently as he watched the salty wind whip the princess's hair. At the sound of Kaui's voice, Princess Naupaka’s sorrowful trance was broken and she turned her gaze towards Kaui, smiling for the first time in a long while. Filled with hope, the two lovers gathered supplies and left to find the sacred temple.

After many long, difficult days of trekking through mountains, Princess Naupaka and Kaui finally saw what they were looking for through the trees. Offerings in hand, they reverently entered the temple and approached the high priest. The old man listened patiently to the young couple as they described their predicament. However, when Naupaka and Kaui finished, the high priest said, “Although you have traveled far, it is not my blessing you need. You must pray to the gods and wait for their answer.”

The Princess and the fisherman thanked the priest and immediately began to pray, not stopping until they heard a distant rumble of thunder. Tears welled up in Princess Naupaka and Kaui’s eyes and they gripped each other’s hands. A storm only means one thing- disapproval. The gods did not approve of their relationship. The princess and the fisherman would never marry.

“You must go back and care for your family,” the princess said to her forbidden love.

“And what about you?” Kaui asked, wiping Naupaka’s glistening tears from her cheek.

“I will stay here, in the mountains,” she said. When Kaui protested, the princess answered firmly that it would be too painful to live near him but not with him. Naupaka wanted to give him something to remember her by before he left. However, they started on their quest so quickly that all she had to give were the flowers in her hair. Princess Naupaka took one of the white flowers and ripped it. Silently, she put one half in Kaui’s hand, and then tucked the other half behind her ear. They said farewell and both went their separate ways, the fisherman back to the sea and the princess inside the temple. Their sorrow was so strong that it seeped into the land itself as they parted. From that day forward, the flower Naupaka gave to Kaui never bloomed in full again. It is said that now the only way to reunite the lovers is to pick Naupaka's half flower and bring it down to complete Kaui's half of the flower on the coast.


The flowers from this legend really do look like they have been torn in half, and actually grow in separate climates. Kaui’s half of the flower, Naupaka kahakai, can only survive along the coastline, and the princess’s half, naupaka kuahiwi, can only survive in the mountains.  Both plants are shrubs in the "Scaevola" subfamily, but their species are different. The coastal plant’s species that requires less water is "taccada", and the mountainous plant that cannot tolerate a salty environment is of the "gaudichaudiana" species.

Early Hawaiians used both species of the plant. They ate coastal plant’s fruit while traveling or during times of famine, they used the fruit and root bark to make medicines for cuts and skin diseases, and probably used the flowers to make leis. On the other hand, the fruit from the mountainous variety of the plant was used primarily to create a dark dye.

Today, the coastal species is still used frequently in a variety of ways. Not only is Naupaka kahakai one of Hawaii's most common plants for landscaping, but also in fabric dyes and in leis. Some divers even rub the flowers on the inside of their scuba and snorkeling masks to help manage fogging.

 Next time you are in Hawaii, be on the lookout for Naupaka's flowers. Who knows, you may get to play a part in reuniting the Princess and the Fisherman!


Photo By David Eickhoff from Pearl City, Hawaii, USA - Scaevola sericea Uploaded by Tim1357, CC BY 2.0,