The little red messengers of death

On Wednesday night, Oct. 7, 1899, huge schools of young aweoweo, called alalauwa, were seen off shore of Hanamaulu, Kauai.

The appearance of great numbers of this little red fish was considered by Native Hawaiians of that time to be a harbinger of death to an alii.

Hawaiians on Kauai therefore concluded that the arrival of alalauwa at Hanamaulu on that date was a portent of the imminent death among their alii of their ex-Queen Liliuokalani.

Their prophesies of death had been confirmed a number of times previously.

For instance, alalauwa abounded enormously at Hanamaulu just seven months before, when Princess Kaiulani died on March 6, 1899.

Likewise, on June 24, 1899, the night of the death of Queen Kapiolani, schools of alalauwa were again present at Hanamaulu.

And, elsewhere, 12 years earlier, on Feb. 2, 1887, a vast quantity of aweoweo had been spotted off the Big Island immediately prior to Princess Likelike’s death.

Coincidentally, the steamer Keauhou, which was anchored off Hanamaulu on Wednesday night, Oct. 7, 1899, had also been at Hanamaulu on the night of the death of the Queen Kapiolani, as well as at the time of Princess Kaiulani’s passing.

Its native crew caught alalauwa by the hundreds on Oct. 7, 1899, which they strung out on lines from one end of the steamer to the other to dry.

Meanwhile, two Hawaiian women sat on deck and wailed, mourning in advance for whatever misfortune might prove to be, while on shore, Hawaiians gathered together in little groups, wailing and lamenting the sad event they considered sure to come.

Purser A. J. Clapham of the Keauhou reported that the wailing of the Hawaiian crew at Hanamaulu had been taken up by Hawaiians ashore, and that their lamentations seemed to be general wherever the presence of the red fish was known.

Alas, the red fish did not presage Queen Liliuokalani’s demise, for she lived many years more, meeting her end on Nov. 11, 1917.

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