The Punahou Spring

A Tale from Hawaii
from Woody Fern, as retold by Caroline Curtis

There was a dry time in Oahu. No rain fell, streams dried, and many springs ceased to flow. It was a hungry time, for gardens too were dry.

In Manoa Valley at the foot of Rocky Hill lived an old couple. This dry time was very hard for these old folks. Mukaka, the husband, must walk far up the valley to get ti roots and ferns for food. Kealoha, his wife, must walk each day to Kamo ‘ili’ili where a spring still flowed. There she must fill her water gourds and carry them up the long rough trail back to her home.

One day the way seemed longer and harder than ever. Kealoha rested on a rock. “I can’t carry the water all that way.” But then she thought, “I must! We must have water.” She rose and lifted her carrying pole. Wind swept about her, filling her eyes with dust. It almost blew her off her feet, yet she struggled on.

When she reached home she found Mukaka there before her preparing food. But Kealoha was too tired to eat. She lay upon her mats and cried with weariness. At last she slept and dreamed. In her dream a man stood beside her mats. “Why do you cry?” he asked her. “Because I am so weary, ” she replied. “Each day I walk to Kamo ‘ili ‘ili and fill my water gourds. The trail is hot, dusty, and long. I am too tired!”

“You need not go again,” answered the man. “Close to your home, under the hala tree, there is a spring. There fill your gourds.” The man was gone.

When morning came Kealoha told her dream, but her husband hardly listened. “An empty dream,” he said, “that came to you because of thirst.” He started for the upland.

She watched him, thinking, “He is bent and feeble. Why does he not listen to my words, pull up the hala, and open our own spring?” But when she went to look at the tree, she doubted. Under it the ground was dry and hard. Surely was no water there. It was an empty dream!

That night Mukaka dreamed. A man stood by his mats and spoke to him. “There is a spring,” he said, “under the hala tree which grows beside your home. You must pull up that tree. Go catch red fish, wrap it in ti leaves, heat the imu, and cook your fish. Make offering and pray for strength to uproot the tree. Then you will find the spring.”

Mukaka sat up in the early dawn. “The same dream!” he thought, “It came to Kealoha, now to me. The god of the spring has come to help us in our need. I must obey him.”

In the cool of the morning Mukaka and a friend went to Waikiki for fish. The fish came quickly to their hooks, and some of them were red. “The god is with us,” said Mukaka and hurried home to heat the imu. When the food was cooked he made offering and prayed.

After they had eaten he said to his friend, “My wife and I each had a dream. Two nights ago Kealoha dreamed, and last night the same dream came to me. A god stood by my mats and said, ‘A spring is here. Pull up that hala tree which grows beside your home, and water will flow.’ O my friend, I have offered red fish to that god and prayed for strength. We both are strong with food. Now help me pull.”

The two men grasped the hala tree. Their muscles strained, and sweat poured down their bodies. They stopped for breath then pulled again, but still the tree stood firm. The friend looked at the dry earth. “No water here!” he said. “You dreamed of water because of your great thirst.”

“The dream is true!” Mukaka answered. “Twice the god stood by our mats. He spoke to Kealoha and to me. His words were true.” The old man prayed again. “Let us try once more, ” he said. “This time we shall succeed.”

Once more they struggled with the tree. “It moves!” they shouted and pulled again with more strength than before. The tree came from the ground, and they saw water moistening the earth – a little water. Mukaka ran for his digging stick and cleared way earth and stones. A tiny stream gushed out.

For a moment the three stared in wonder. Then Kealoha shouted, “Ka puna hou! The new spring!”

Now there was water for all that neighborhood. No more long walks to the Kamo ‘ili ‘ili spring! Water flowed steadily. Men dug and let the water soak the ground. They built walls and planted taro. Through these taro patches the spring water flowed, and fish were brought to flourish there. Fish and taro grew. and so the spring gave food as well as water. The people thanked the gods that now their life was good.

Long afterward a school was built beside that spring. It bears the name that Kealoha gave in her glad cry, and its seal is the hala tree. “This school shall be a spring of wisdom, ” said its founders. “As the hala tree stands firm through wind or storm, so shall the children of this school stand strong and brave through joy and sorrow. As the hala has many uses, so shall these children be useful to Hawai’i.”


Today the Punahou School is a thriving educational center and the story of “The Punahou Spring” has become woven into its identity. As a graduate of the school, I am occasionally invited to visit the school to retell this legend and to talk about the history behind it.

During the monarchy period, during the time of the Hawaiian Kingdom (1795-1893), there was a very high ranking convert to Christianity. She was Queen Ka’ahumanu, the favorite wife of King Kamehameha I, the warrior chief who conquered and united the Hawaiian Islands. Queen Ka’ahumanu ordered Boki, the governor of Oahu, and his wife, Liliha, to donate lands to the American Missionaries. The purpose here was to establish a school for the missionary children and others, because travel around the Cape was too long to New England for schooling.

Established in 1841 and originally called Oahu College, the curriculum was beyond high school so when the graduates left for colleges in the United States time spent was usually less than 4 years. In 1934 the name was officially changed to Punahou (new spring).

The new spring is still a part of the 68 acre campus and at its center is the Lily Pond. Fresh artesian water still flows, and although there is supplementary water from the city of Honolulu, the school still uses the water from the spring for about 90% of its needs.

Punahou, from Kindergarten to 12th grade, is the largest private, college preparatory day school in the United States. It has graduated 17,000 and carries a student body of 3700 today. The yearly graduation is approximately 400 and they attend college at about a 98% rate each year. Punahou graduates excel in academics and athletics and prestigious colleges and universities gladly accept these students annually. Graduate degrees are many. Leadership in all fields of endeavor is commonplace.

Samuel Chapman Armstrong, an 1859 graduate, was a general in the U. S. Civil War, although he was not sure if he should enter another country’s Civil War. He was a citizen of the Hawaiian Kingdom. He went on to lead an African American battalion and founded Hampton Institute, an African American college in Virginia. Federal Judge Albert Tuttle was prominent in implementing Civil Rights in the South and has had the Federal Court Building in Atlanta named after him. Dr. Charles Judd, MD, was a great humanitarian and has an award named after him by the Alumni Association for those who have been humanitarians in Hawaii. Steve Case, the founder of America On Line, has donated monies for a middle school at Punahou, named in honor of his parents and called the Case Middle School.

Success stories abound about Punahou graduates and the legacy continues. The school seal features the Hala Tree and the surrounding spring. The story of Kealoha and Mukaka continues with this school which has touched many and continues to flow like Ka Punahou, the new spring.


Tales of the Menuhune, compiled by Mary Kawena Puku’i, retold by Caroline Curtis. Honolulu, Kamehameha School Schools Press, 1960. This tale was translated by Mary Kawena Puku’I from a an item in a Hawaiian newspaper.

For historical background of Queen Ka’ahumana, see “The Woman Who Changed a Kingdom” by Sophia Schweitzer

About the Contributor

Born of part Hawaiian ancestry, storyteller Woody Fern (1944-2007) performed in schools, colleges, libraries, hotels and parks throughout Hawaii. His speciality was tales of Ali’i (Hawaiian Royalty), Hawaiian Legends and Family Stories. Woody strove to introduce cultural elements into his tales and believed that storytelling can be a powerful too for promoting self-esteem in children.

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