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Folktales

Ullikana

by Ilil Arbel, Ph.d.

The tale of Ullikana was discovered by Mr. Alpheus Hardy, a gentleman from Boston who spent many years as a China trader during the nineteenth century. His ships sailed the Pacific, and being an intelligent, curious person, he learned much that was forbidden knowledge to Westerners at that time. Notes regarding this Hawaiian tale, along with some other information written in one of Mr. Hardy's diaries, was sent to me some years ago by Mr. Hardy's great grandson, with permission to tell it when I see fit. I think I may tell it now.

Ullikana
Image drawn exclusively for the
Encyclopedia Mythica by Patricia J. Wynne

When the world was young and some islands were still emerging from the turbulent water of the Pacific Ocean, every animal had a guardian spirit. The animals patiently endured hard labor and unkind masters; they knew that some day a loving guardian spirit would lead them to the next world, to receive their just reward. When necessary, the guardian spirits also intervened between the gods and the animals, because only humans were permitted to pray directly to the gods. For animals such behavior was taboo, but they did not resent that. The noble pigs, the chickens, the goats and all the other animals were content.

But when the visitors from the mysterious lands of Europe came, the great change followed. For the foreigners brought a new animal to Hawaii, an animal that had never lived there and therefore could not acquire a guardian spirit -- the horse. As the Europeans did not believe in guardian sprits, they neglected to pray to the gods to send one to the new animals, and none came. The horses suffered. They worked faithfully, as horses always do, but some of their masters treated them harshly, the heat oppressed them, and they missed their homeland. Worst of all, they saw that all the other animals looked forward to the great forests and meadows of the next world, while the horses could hope for no such reward. Without a guardian spirit, how could you possibly pass the gates to the next world?

Despair settled on the community of horses like a great cloud of ashes. They worked, suffered and died without hope. But one day, a small mare named Ullikana could bear it no longer. Her dearest friend was dying, and Ullikana felt she could not let her go. Not without the certainty of a guardian spirit conducting her safely to the next world. She assembled the other horses of her stable, and spoke.

"Horses, as none of our masters is willing to pray to the gods to give us a guardian spirit, we must do it ourselves. Even if we chance offending the gods, can our fate be any worse? Let us have courage, and if the gods are enraged by out breaking the taboo, and kill us, what are we going to lose but a few years of sorrow?" The horses stood in awe; no animal had ever broken the terrible taboo. But they had to agree this was their only choice. They went outside into the warm, silent night, lit by a red moon surrounded by a halo that promised a storm. The dying horse could see them from inside, but her strength drained swiftly, and they knew that only speed would save her soul. The horses formed a circle, facing outside, tails entwined, so as not to offend the gods by turning their backs on them. Ullikana led, and they followed, whispering their prayer to the gods, trembling with terror.

Suddenly, a soft blue light glowed in the dark sky. Slowly it floated down, finally to hover, shimmering, above the cowering animals. The light strengthened, became denser, and finally shaped itself into a magnificent blue horse with silver wings.

"I am your guardian spirit," said the apparition. "The gods granted your wish. They sent you a message, which you must tell all the other animals as well. Never be afraid to pray directly to the gods -- they love and respect the animals as much as they do the humans."

The spirit went into the stable, and covered the dying animal gently with his glowing wings. The horses looked away, as was the custom, so as not to interfere with the sacred moment. When they looked back, the ghost of Ullikana's dear friend emerged, ready to follow the guardian spirit to the next world. She looked at Ullikana, who stood modestly aside, her eyes filled with joy. "Thank you, my friend," said the ghost. "We will meet again in the great meadows of the next world, thanks to your kindness and wisdom. You will always be remembered as the savior of all Hawaiian horses."


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