Born at Punahou, O‘ahu, the son of missionary parents William Harrison and Mary Sophia Hyde Rice, William Hyde Rice (1846-1924) was a rancher, the last governor of Kaua‘i under Queen Lili‘uokalani, and the author of “Hawaiian Legends,” published in 1923 by the Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
Rice compiled his Hawaiian legends in the Hawaiian language over the course of his lifetime and translated them into English within a few years prior to publication.
He’d first heard the legends of “Kamapua‘a” and “The small, wise boy and the little fool” when he was child.
Later in life, Rice would seek out old Hawaiians who knew legends, and in this way, he acquired the legends of “Makuakaumana” and “Manuwahi.”
A man named Naialau told him the legend of “The rain he‘iau,” and another Hawaiian named Wiu gave him “Pa‘aka‘a and his son Ku-a-pa‘aka‘a.”
The Rev. S.K. Kaulili of Koloa provided him with a complete version of “Uluka‘a, the rolling island.”
From Gay &Robinson co-founder Francis Gay he obtained “The bird man,” “Holua-manu,” “The destruction of the akua on Ni‘ihau,” “The girl and the mo-o,” and “The rainbow princess.”
William Hyde Rice believed that Hawaiian storytellers attached to the courts of chiefs in old Hawai‘i handed down legends through the generations through memorization.
As Edith Rice Plews explained in the preface to “Hawaiian Legends:” “This class of men were skillful in the art of the ‘apo, that is, ‘catching,’ literally, or memorizing instantly at the first hearing.
“One man would recite or chant for two or three hours at a stretch, and when he had finished, his auditor would start at the beginning of the chant and go through the whole of the mele or story without missing or changing a word.
“These trained men received through their ears as we receive through our eyes, and in that way the ancient Hawaiians had a spoken literature, much as we have a written one.
“Mr. Rice has several times seen performances similar to the one described, where the two men were complete strangers to each other.”