The Legend of Po'olenalena

A few years after Wally and Audrey came to Maui, a local came to their door. She told them that they were living right at the site of a local legend on Maui: Po'olenalena. That story has become very special to all of the Gilroy's, and below is a family rendition of the story she told:


Long ago, when only native Hawaiians lived on Maui, there was a small village near the shoreline now known as Po’olenalena. These beautiful people harvested many fruits and vegetables from the land, but also depended heavily upon the ocean for food. They went out in their outrigger canoes and used nets to gather fish; or they might stand on the rocks at the shore and cast their nets. And, sometimes, they would dig out small lagoons at the sea shore. As fish would swim into the lagoon at high tide the villagers would seal off the entrance and then scoop out the fish trapped inside.

Even though fishing provided the village with an abundant food supply, it wasn’t without its perils. Many a fisherman lost life or limb to the sea. Many villagers believed that often these were not accidents: that there lived in the sea, creatures who exacted revenge on the villagers for taking their fish. Not only did these monsters attack those who came to the sea, they also emerged from the sea at night to wage their assaults on land, including stealing livestock, implements, canoes, and capturing villagers themselves. Under cover of night, while the people slept, and always with stealth the violence would occur. By daylight villagers would find things missing, or at the seashore stolen property would lay awash in the breakers.

The villagers knew that if these nocturnal demons were ever caught on land when the sun rose they would die and turn to stone. Many grotesque rock formations give evidence to this, as did the testimony from survivors. Most of the survivors had been missing from their families all night, only to stagger home by dawn’s early light to tell of being captured and nearly losing their lives in the clutches of such a monster. Sometimes they were able to lead the village to the site of the struggle and, if the monster had failed to reach the sea before sunrise, they could see its hideous figure frozen in stone.

The chief in this village was much beloved by all of the people. He was a good man with a lovely wife and many brave and honorable children. Among his children was a beautiful young maiden who was betrothed to the finest young fisherman and warrior in the village. After weeks of anticipation and preparation, the wedding was at hand, with a great feast to highlight the celebration. But, on the night before the wedding, with preparations continuing by light of the campfires, terror struck.


It was well past midnight, the lovely bride-to-be was excited and restless and so before retiring she decided to take a soothing walk in the moonlight alone. The air was still and only random sounds about the peaceful village could be heard. Then, shattering that peace and bringing horror to the minds of every villager, came the screams that can only mean death is at hand.

A demonic sea monster had crept ashore, unheard, unseen, unknown and unanticipated by the villagers at this joyous time. The innocent young maiden was caught in the scaly, malodorous claw of the attacker. And now this slimy beast began to slither back to the sea with his prize. This would mean certain death for the young woman if she could not escape.

Although she was small in stature, she was not small in spirit or determination to survive. Perhaps, with the greatest day of her life at hand, she had the greatest will to live, and to fight. Not only did she scream at the top of her lungs; she kicked, she clawed, she bit, and she raged at her tormentor. She was not going to be the victim of this fiend, not this night, not ever. She would not be alone in this struggle for survival.

It took one heartbeat for her brave young warrior to be racing toward the horrifying screams of his sweetheart. And on his heels came every other able bodied villager determined to stop an impending disaster if it were at all possible. It would not be easy. The rocks that the monster chose to conceal his attack were sharp and uneven. Many of the village warriors were bruised and cut in their pursuit of the attacker; but they did not stop nor even hesitate; nothing would stop them. But they were not the only ones enduring pain.

Lava Rock

The demon had not expected this small female to be capable of inflicting the kinds of wounds he now felt. Her struggle was causing him to sustain further injuries on the rocks he had counted on for concealment. He could hear the counter attackers descending on him with screams of rage and hatred that meant that soon he might well become the victim. So now it was he who focused his strength to make his getaway and claim victory. There was, in the sky, the slightest hint of dawn.

The collision of the monster and the warriors occurred only a short distance from the sanctuary of the sea. The desperate creature held onto his prize as he fought the warriors; slashing at them with his tentacle like arms. The warriors fought with more courage than in any battle of their lives. They threw spears and rocks, some attacked with clubs, and knives; and when nothing was at hand as weapons they bit and clawed even as their precious princess was doing. Although the battleground was still in shadows, the great volcano, Haleakala, was crowned in radiant sunlight.

The monster continued his advance to freedom despite the onslaught of the defenders. The intensity of the battle, with many injuries inflicted from both sides, seemed to go on for hours but in reality it was only minutes. But while the monster was confronted by the village warriors, now joined by elders and women, a single warrior clawed his way up the back of the seemingly undefeatable demon. He carried an ironwood spear, made by his own hand and hardened by fire. The demon, realizing this assault could be fatal, made a tremendous lunge for the sea, scattering his enemies before him. But, this effort was indeed to be his last, for the warrior on his back was the groom-to-be and nothing was going to stop him from conquering the monster. He raised his spear high over his head and plunged it down on the scull of the hideous creature. The creature roared; the spear was deep, a serious injury, but not fatal. He shook violently, throwing the warrior from his back, and attempted to crawl forward. He was only a few feet from escape, mere seconds, when he realized his greatest fear. Although he still lay in the shadows, his home and sanctuary, the sea, was now bathed in bright sunlight. Despair enveloped him, he ceased to fight, released his prize and with outstretched arms and anguish torn across his grief-stricken face he slowly turned to stone.


The villagers, bruised and sore, went forward with the wedding celebration that day: a day none of them would ever forget. The bride and groom began a long line of beautiful, honorable children. And often they would visit the shore and play in the waves and remember.

A strange thing happened to that monster of stone. Eventually, birds came and built a nest on the head of the demon, a nest that served several generations of birds. As it is with birds, there was much nesting material, many shells, spilled food, and lots of other debris. After many years, seeds carried by the wind settled, sprouted, and grew into a great bush with an abundance of lovely yellow flowers. That's why the Hawaiians call that place, Po'olenalena, "very yellow head."

Even today you can see that horrible, agonizing face, with outstretched arms, laying at waters edge; sometimes with yellow flowers growing on top.