Wai-nani: High Chiefess of Hawai’i Her Epic Journey
Reviewed by: Anne Holmes for the NABBW
This story of a Hawaiian woman of the 18th century, Wai-nani, is based upon the life of Hawaiian chiefess Kaahumanu. It is filled with vivid imagery and rife with details that make this time period come to life. I especially enjoyed the way the voice of the book reflects Hawaiian thinking and values.
Hawai’i was a very different place in the late 1700s. Wai-nani is young, impetuous and rebellious. She is, as at home in the water as she is on land and often escapes to the sea where she swims with Eku, her dolphin friend, for solace.
As you read, you discover that Hawaiian traditions and customs were very rigid, respect for elders was demanded, and failure to follow the rules was punishable by death. Unfortunately, Wai-nani, who comes from a royal family, had a problem with rules.
Wai-nani leaves her home in Hana after an unhappy encounter with her male relatives. Long story short, her father has ordered her to marry with the groom to be determined by a surfing contest. She refuses. In order to elude punishment, which would have been death, she escapes to the surf and the comfort of Eku.
After days at sea, she is exhausted from her swimming and washes up on an island which turns out to be the “thinking place” of Makaha, a young and fearless warrior. Wai-nani and Makaha soon become lovers.
Some time later, their island idyll is ended when a man named Ka’eo arrives to tell Makaha he must leave the island to fight in battle. Makaha leaves without saying goodbye to Wai-nani, but orders Ka’eo to stay behind to keep her company as she continues her recovery.
Eventually Wai-nani leaves the island to seek Makaha. She arrives in the court of Lako, where she quickly befriends his daughter, Huali. Makaha, Lako’s favorite nephew, is still away at war. The next question becomes, will Makaha claim her as his wife on his return? If he does not, will she be allowed to live or will Lako exact the death she escaped when she left Hana?
These are only the beginning of Wai-nani’s challenges.
Makaha returns and recognizes her as his wife. Eventually they marry and some time later, Makaha takes over for Lako as ruler. In the process, he makes a strong enemy of Lako’s weak son, his cousin ‘Ele ‘ele, who would have preferred to become ruler himself.
‘Ele ‘ele fights dirty, and tries to have Wai-nani poisoned. She survives the poisoning, but it leaves her barren. As Makaha must have children to carry on the line, he is forced to take another wife. The complex rules of the culture require that this new wife be Huali, Wai-nani’s best friend, which of course, is a crushing blow for Wai-nani.
Unfortunately, Huali is not a strong woman, and it looks like her successful pregnancy might actually kill her. Will she survive? And what will happen to the friendship between Huali and Wai-nani?
You’ll want to read the rest of the book to find out how this love triangle resolves.
No to mention learning answers to the following:
- Will Wai-nani somehow find a way to continue as Makaha’s “never fading flower of his heart?”
- How does Wai-nani rise in the ranks to become one of the most powerful women of the time?
- Just what roles do England’s King George, Captain Cook (Kapena Kuke) and the adventurer, George Vancouver (Kapena Vancouver) play in this story?
- Is Wai-nani really the first woman surfer ever?
- And is she also the forerunner to the modern woman?
Linda Ballou’s authoring talent shines in this novel and her depth of research is amazing. The Hawaiian culture is filled with mores and customs and Ballou does her best to include most of them, making the book quite educational. Solid writing, excellent research and a compelling story line also make it highly recommended.