A Prophecy came to Life: The Story of Kelea, the Surf-Rider of Maui

“Kelea, the Surf-Rider” by ROOSDY

Kelea was the beautiful sister of Kawao, king of Maui who, at the age of twenty-five, succeeded to the sovereignty of that island. Brought up in the royal court at Lahaina, Kelea was uncommonly beautiful. But she never cared about marriage. She loved the water and became the most graceful and daring surf-swimmer in the kingdom. Frequently, when the waters of Auau Channel surged wildly under the south wind, Kelea would plunge into the sea with her surf-board, and ride the waves that those who watched and applauded her were half-inclined to believe that she was the friend of some water-god, and could not be drowned.

When her brother spoke to her of marriage, Kelea gaily answered that the surf-board was her husband. The brother frowned at the answer, as he had hoped, by uniting his sister to a principal chief of Hana, to more thoroughly incorporate that portion of the island to his kingdom.

“Do not frown, Kawao,” said Kelea, coaxingly; I may marry some day, just to please you; but remember what the voice said in the wave at the last feast of Lono.”

That voice from the wave that Kelea heard was prophetic. It says that while Kelea continued to ride the waves at Lahaina, a husband, of the family of Kalona-iki of Oahu, was looking for her.

At that time at Lihue, on the island of Oahu, lived a chief named Lo-Lale. He was handsome, but he never married. Some years before, a beautiful chiefess whom he loved and was about to marry died by drowning. After that, he hated the sea, and was content to remain at Lihue, beyond the sound of its surges.

As his family wanted him to marry so that the family authority might be strengthened, Lo-Lale finally yielded and started to look for a wife from among the royal families of the other islands. Accordingly, a large koa canoe was fitted out at Waialua, and with trusty messengers despatched to the nearby islands in search of a wife for Lo-Lale. Among the chiefs selected for the delicate mission was Lo-Lale’s cousin, Kalamakua, a noble of high rank, whose lands were on the coast of the Ewa district.

Amid a chorus of alohas! the canoe dashed through the breakers and out into the open sea, holding a course in the direction of Molokai. Reaching that island early the next day, the party landed at Kalaupapa. They were informed that a large number of chiefs had accompanied the moi to that attractive resort, and that Kelea, sister of the king, and the most beautiful woman on the island as well as the most daring and accomplished surf-swimmer, was also there.

The party re-embarked and arrived the next morning off Hamakuapoko, just as Kelea and her attendants had gone down to the beach to surf. Swimming out beyond the breakers, and oblivious of everything but her own enjoyment, Kelea suddenly found herself within a few yards of the canoe of the Oahuan chiefs. Presuming that it was her own people, she swam still closer, when she discovered, to her amazement, that all the faces in the canoe were strangers to her. Kalamakua rose to his feet, and invited her to a seat in the canoe, offering to ride the surf with it to the beach.

The language of the chief was so gentle that the invitation was accepted, and the canoe mounted one of the great waves successively following two of lighter bulk and force, and was safely beached. The achievement was greeted with applause on the shore, and when the proposal was made to repeat the performance Kelea willingly retained her seat. Again the canoe successfully rode the breakers ashore, and then, through her attendants, Kalamakua discovered that the beautiful swimmer was none other than Kelea, the sister of the moi of Maui.

But when the wind ceased and the skies cleared, late in the afternoon, the canoe was far out at sea and beyond the sight of land. It was turned and headed back; but as there was no wind to assist the paddles, and the waters were still rough and restless, slow progress toward land was made; and when the sun went down Kalamakua was undecided which way to proceed.

Kalamakua, taking advantage of a squall which blew the craft out to sea, abducted Kelea to take her to Oahu. During the voyage, Kelea learned that she was to be the wife of Lo-lale, the high chief of Oahu. Needless to say Kalea was surprised and rather angry.

Later Kelea remembered the prophecy she heard and soon became the wife of Lo-lale. However, the marriage was doomed to fail. Lo-lale disliked the sea and preferred to live inland at Lihue. Kelea, confined in Lihue far from the sea, longed to return to the surf and was only happy on her occasional visits to the seashore at Ewa where she surfed in the company of Kalamakua. Finally, she vowed to return to the shores of her native island and left Lo-lale forever. However, on her way to Maui she stopped at Ewa and there accepted a proposal of marriage from Kalamakua, the chief who had abducted her. In the end, the prophecy was still correct: Kelea’s husband, of the family of Kalona-iki of Oahu, was looking for her.

She Survived … and Still Very Much the Queen: Java’s Ratu Kidul and the Tradition of Ocean Goddesses

I am at the moment still pressing on with my side of the research into the goddess culture for the upcoming Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture, and I am at the stage now where we break down and analyse the elements of the Mother Goddess, for example her close association with snakes, fertility, the moon and the sea. Seeing just those four elements alone has already led us to many goddesses all over the world that we can say are “descended” from the Great Goddess herself.

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Ratu Kidul

One of those goddesses is the ancient Javanese Sea Goddess Nyai Loro Kidul, or Ratu Kidul. In 2003 an internet search found more than 2600 sites or pages, in more than six languages, referencing Ratu Kidul. This is more than some popular celebrities have, and the number continues to increase, with more sites being added every month. However, one would usually find very little historical information beyond the oral tradition which has been passed down through generations and gets less informative over time.

Ratu Kidul’s qualities and personality fits nicely into the Mother Goddess paradigm – she is both beautiful and terrifying, she represents the three phases of the moon, as well as her close association to the sea (wild and untamable) and the snake (immortal and fertile). Another important aspect of the Ratu Kidul mythology is that it so closely parallels the mythology of the Great Mother Goddesses of ancient times. Via the Indian goddesses Durga and Sri Devi, to the Buddhist goddess Tara, and the Indonesian fertility spirit Dewi Sri, plus other associations with China, Cambodia and Vietnam, Ratu Kidul acquired all of the characteristics of the Mother Goddess, albeit in reduced form.

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Parang Tritis – Yogyakarta

The island of Java has a population of about 120 million people, and over 90% of them are Muslims. Although Arab and Iranian traders reached Java in the seventh century, Islam only became dominant at the end of the fifteenth century, shortly before Vasco da Gama reached India. Before that the religious culture was a mixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. There were trade links between India and Indonesia around 1400BCE but Hinduism only became dominant in the main islands of Indonesia (Java, Bali, Sumatra and Borneo/Kalimantan) in 78CE, with the introduction of the Saka calendar from India. The earliest forms of Ratu Kidul come from that preHindu period, and over the last two thousand years they have been overlayed and augmented with Hindu and Islamic elements.

The kingdom of Ratu Kidul, the Queen of the South Seas (‘ratu’ = queen, and ‘kidul’ = south), is called Karaton Bale Sokodhomas, and the center of the kingdom is in the Java Trench, which runs parallel to the south coast of Java and is the deepest part of the Indian Ocean (seven kilometers deep). Her palace is there, below the ocean, directly south from Merapi Mountain and the city of Yogyakarta in Central Java, but her influence covers all of Bali, Java and the southern part of Sumatra. In particular the volcano, Krakatoa, lies within her domain.

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Tara

The beach at Parang Tritis, south of Yogyakarta, is said to face directly towards the queen’s palace, and many people have reported seeing the queen there, usually emerging from the sea. It is forbidden to wear the color green on the beach, since that is the queen’s favorite color – and there are many stories of people who have worn that color being washed away by unexpectedly large waves. Green, by the way, was also the color of the goddess Tara.

The queen rules a kingdom, and a kingdom needs government officials. Nyi Blorong, who is the queen’s daughter, is the minister of foreign affairs and commander of the armed forces. The queen’s armed forces are all spiritual entities such as djins, ghouls, elves, and others, and most of them are female (matriarchy). Nyi Blorong is strongly linked with snakes, and can be considered as a snake goddess. Most of the stories about her show only her terrifying aspect. Indonesian film makers have produced several horror movies with Nyi Blorong as the main character.

In a tradition that goes back at least five hundred years, the Javanese kings are spiritually “married” to Ratu Kidul, and through this marriage link the queen becomes also the protector of the Mataram kingdom and dynasty. (The kingdom is part of the Republic of Indonesia, but it still retains some special privileges.) The kingdom now has two main rulers and two minor rulers, two each in Yogyakarta and Solo. Both of the major rulers are considered to be married to Ratu Kidul.

This tradition of spiritual marriage is not unique. A precisely parallel tradition existed in which the Doges of Venice married a sea goddess to ensure the protection of the city-state. In Java it began with the early kings in Solo, but with the king Paku Buwana X, it changed into something stranger. The story is that Paku Buwana had been with the queen on the top floor of Panggung Sangga Buwana and started to slip on the steep stairs as they were descending. The queen reached out and saved him, crying out in shock, “Oh, … My child!”. Since it was the word of the queen, it had the force of law, so in Solo the ruler is considered as the son and husband of the queen. This is an interesting reversion to one of the most ancient traditions of the Mother Goddess – that of the holy family as represented by Isis, her husband Osiris and her son Horus, who will become Osiris.

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Gate of Ankor Thom

Javanese Animism, Islam and Hinduism are not the only sources of elements of the Ratu Kidul mythology. In China, one can still find temples or shrines dedicated to Kuan-Yin, who was once a deity of fishermen, who would call on her to  protect them at sea and give them good catches. One of her ancient titles was “Queen of the Southern Ocean”. The meetings of the rulers of Solo and Yogyakarta with the Queen were also paralleled by the meetings of the Khmer kings in the Angkor Thom complex, in Cambodia, with a being described as a snake goddess, who could appear as a beautiful woman.

Hinduism and Buddhism declined after Islam achieved political dominance and the goddesses were forgotten, but Ratu Kidul remained – a descendant of the Great Mother Goddess, still alive and well in a strictly monotheistic Islamic culture. She survived and  still very much the queen.

I am developing a little collection of goddess images on Instagram that I update regularly to help me think. Please do come and say hello sometime.

“Time Maps: Matriarchy and the Goddess Culture” is coming soon. Meanwhile, other volumes of “Time Maps” can be found through this link.

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