Hena Naku

Hena Naku, the god of feathers, loved Te Pito o te Henua, the Navel of the World, the ancient name for Easter Island. The sea birds, which were under his protection, preferred to nest on the rocky cliffs that surround the Island. Hena Naku was covered with feathers from his neck to his feet. A soft breeze would make them flutter.

One day, an Islander named Tuhi Ira visited his plantations at the base of Hanga O’ Teo (an extinct volcano). There he noticed an enormous bird which flew around him and, to his surprise, came near and landed in front of him. Tuhi Ira saw that the bird had a human face which seemed to study him tranquilly. Recovering from his fright, Tuhi Ira went closer and asked, “Who are you?” The bird responded, “Don’t be afraid. I am Hena Naku, the god of the sea birds”. Showing off his lovely covering of feathers, he promised his protection to all those who would dress in feathers.

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Since those days, men adorn themselves with the feathers of the sea birds. They believed that Hena Naku would protect them from death and injury. They would place beautiful feathers in the graves or the funerary monuments of their ancestors, seeking their favor. They would bury sticks decorated with feathers in their farm plots to assure a good harvest. They also would place them alongside their houses to keep away the demons.

One day Hena Naku arrived at Te Pito o te Henua with his wife, Hina Haumara. She came as a fish which would transform into a beautiful woman when she went ashore. She would always come to the clan of Tuhi Ira and teach the women to make clothes and crowns of feathers. She taught them to prepare the Mahute (paper mulberry) bark to make capes and Hami (loincloths). She also showed them how to twist her beautiful hair into ribbons and cords and how to prepare fibers from the Hau-hau (triumfetta or burbark) bush to make strong ropes.

One day, she was swimming as a fish near the shore and a young man caught her on his hook. When he saw what a beautiful fish it was, he gave it to the King Tu’u Maheke, the son of Hotu Matua, who immediately had it cooked and served. From the moment when the King was told of the origin of the fish, Tu’u Maheke could never again go near the sea, even less go swimming or fishing, and Hena Naku was never again seen on the Island.

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