Kanaloa and Ao Akua - Cloud Islands
Cloud islands were the homes of gods, drifting in the night skies and sometimes anchoring to land, where gods interacted with mortals
According to ancient tradition, more than two dozen cloud islands inhabited by gods and others of the spirit realm floated high above the world of mortals. These lofty cloud banks moved about in the darkness of night, drifting on the night wind. Invisible in daylight, they could only be seen by chosen individuals in the red-tinted glow of sunrise and sunset, at rest upon a distant horizon.
Cloud islands, called ao akua, were profoundly sacred, for they were the private domains of all-powerful, supernatural beings who controlled the ancient universe. Out of respect, humans who beheld the ao akua kept from pointing at them.
Cloud islands were said to occasionally approach a coastline such as Ha'ena on Kaua'i or Kahuku on O'ahu, where the akua, gods, of these spirit lands would make contact with mortals - appearing to a faithful worshiper in a dream, providing help in times of distress, or ushering a worthy descendant to the ao akua to enjoy a bountiful, carefree and timeless existence in the company of gods.
There were 12 ao akua that belonged to Kane, the primary god of creation. Kanehunamoku was one of the best known of these, for both Kane and a companion deity, Kanaloa, dwelt there. Among their many blessings, Kane and Kanaloa together were responsible for bringing forth water sources to benefit all creatures on Earth. As both gods were avid 'awa drinkers, they made sure to provide an abundance of freshwater springs and streams for the preparation of their favorite beverage, on Earth as well as in their spirit land.
The crystal-fresh water that flowed on Kanehunamoku supported every kind of edible fruit and vegetable plant known to the native people. There was a spring named KawaiolaaKane, whose magical powers restored health and youth, as well as life, to those who properly honored Kane. In this spirit land, all living things flourished with no effort, and everything desirable was there to enjoy. Sadness and trouble were unknown on this island of unending peace and contentment.
Kanehunamoku was protected from trespassers - the unescorted and the uninvited - by an austere guardian who took the form of a helpless old woman. Her appearance was deceptive, for she was merciless and quick in dealing death blows to intruders who tried to swim to the island or beach their canoes there.
Two other ao akua were associated with Kanehunamoku, though they were of lesser status - Kuaihelani and Uluhaimalama. Tradition holds that wives and children of the gods and the diminutive people known as the Menehune and the Mu'aimai'a (Banana-eaters) lived on Kuaihelani, along with humans who had been deified at death. Like the inhabitants of Kanehunamoku, those who dwelt on Kuaihelani were well situated and happy. Less is known about Uluhaimalama, only that there was a profusion of fragrant flowers that grew in the gardens of this ao akua and that these were carefully tended by two overseers named Uhawao and Uhalaoa.
Other cloud islands such as Paliuli have over time become associated with actual earthly locations. To Paliuli, akua keiki, or supernatural offspring, were brought to be raised in privilege and comfort. Paliuli was later believed to be a verdant land situated in the vicinity of '…la'a between Hilo and Puna on the island of Hawai'i. In former times, Kahuku on O'ahu was also a floating island that the demigod Maui eventually anchored to the Ko'olauloa coast. Richly landscaped, 5 to 6 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide, this cloud island floated ashore one night and was permanently fastened to land. Thus Maui granted humans the gift of an extraordinary oasis that was once created by, and solely for, the gods.