Kae and the whale: the evolution of yang

Kae and the whale

In Vainoi there were no men. Only women by themselves lived in that land. Their husbands – they were pandanus roots!

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Pandanus roots. dreamstime.com 

When a woman was to have her child and the time had arrived, certain experts came and cut her open. This caused her death. So it was always in Vainoi. When the women had children they were always cut open by the tuhunga, and they died.

Into that valley of Vainoi came Kae; he was a man of Vevau.

He saw this good valley with only women in it and not a husband between them, therefore he hid himself at their bathing place. The women’s custom , was, they went to that place each day and had their pleasure with the pandanus roots, then they bathed.

Some women came down from the valley when Kae was hidden.

They were calling out to their chiefess, their peiu: ‘E Hina, come down to the sea to our work.’

Their peiu answered, ‘I am coming; you go on’, and they came and lay with their husbands. When they had finished their play with the pandanus roots those women had their bath and dressed themselves again, but their peiu stayed, she remained to bathe alone. Then Kae came out from where he was.

Now when that chiefess saw Kae and what he had she was delighted with this man, she said, ‘A question, man: who are you?’ Said Kae, ‘That is for me to ask. I am the stranger, you the resident.’

‘I here am Hina i Vainoi.’ ‘I here am Kae.’

Said the peiu, ‘You are my husband.’

Said Kae, ‘You are my woman.’ Then he took her.


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Rangi and Papa Wahinetane.

Wikimedia Commons 


Then indeed was that chiefess delighted with her husband, more than with pandanus roots; she took him to her house and kept him there, she did not reveal him to the rest.

Each day the other women went down to their play with the pandanus roots, they called out to their peiu, ‘Hina i Vainoi, come bathing.’ But Hina opened the door of her house and said, ‘You all go without me, I am sick.’ Three days it happened thus – ‘I am sick.’

This made those women think. One said, ‘Perhaps it is a man with our peiu.’ Another said, ‘How would a man come here?’ Then certain women said, ‘There are scratches on our peiu’s cheeks; we have seen them.’ Therefore they went to Hina’s house and asked her, ‘Tell us, O peiu, is there a man here sleeping with you?’

She said that there was not, and so they asked her, ‘Then who has been scratching you?’ ‘1 scratched myself on the pandanus spines.’ But the women said, ‘Pandanus pricks are not like that; those are nail-scratches.’ They did not believe their peiu.

One day a young woman came to the house of the peiu and said, ‘Come up to the old woman’s the day after tomorrow. She is ready to be cut open.’

When this messenger had gone, Kae asked Hina, ‘Why do you cut open a woman’s belly?’ Said Hina, ‘To get the child out.’ ‘And when the child is out what happens to the mother?’ ‘She dies. With us in this land it has been like that always, O my husband.’

Kae said, ‘Well then my woman, you will have to get rid of that.

With us the woman is not cut, she is caused to give birth.’ Then he said to her, ‘Tomorrow when you go up-valley tell the women to break off nono leaves and bind three bunches of them round this woman’s waist. Then two must hold her knees and one must stand behind her. Then tie the rope to the top of the house-post, for her to pull on. After the waters, the child will come. When the child comes, bite the cord. Then push the stomach, make the rest come out. After that, mash up some shrimps with coconut cream; give that to the child, it will empty him. Then mix up some breadfruit paste and heat it, give it to the woman.’

Said Hina, ‘Very well.’

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Tohunga Wharekauri Tahuna. 1938. 

Then those two gods Pohihia and Pohahaa arrived to cut the woman with the shark’s-tooth knives, her relatives were wailing where she lay. But Hina went there also and she told them they must do all those things which had been told to her; and those two gods knew what Hina was doing, and how she knew of it.

So the women gathered nono leaves. ‘What are these for?’ ‘Tomorrow we shall see.’

At dawn those tuhunga were ready with their knives, but Hina said, ‘You-two are not to cut this woman; stand aside. One of you others is to stand behind her and two of you in front. Put the nono leaves in her bottom there, beneath the place. Now tie this rope.’

Then Hina said to the woman with child, ‘Now pull, pull hard.’ That woman did so, she pulled on the rope. Said Hina, ‘After this pain the water will come away, then the child.’

And she said to Pohihia and Pohahaa, ‘You-two are evil men.’ They were ashamed, and ran away from that place for ever. Then the chiefess showed those women how to do this work.

One woman husked a coconut, she brought shrimps, and mashed them up with cream of grated nut. They made it warm, gave it to the child. Then for the mother they mixed up breadfruit paste with certain juices. Said Hina, ‘When the cord drops off, stop giving shrimps.’

Said the women, ‘We will do as you have said.’

Then Hina returned to Kae and said to him, ‘But for you, O my husband, that woman would have died, cut open by Pohihia and Pohahaa.’

Afterwards some of the women saw their peiu’s husband, then they understood; they said to her, ‘There is the man who has been sleeping with you, telling you things. It would be well, O peiu, if you would let us all sleep with your husband.’ Said Hina, ‘I will not.’

‘Only a little?’

‘I absolutely do not wish it.’

Afterwards when the women of Vainoi were giving birth they used the rope. They never again sent for Pohihia and Pohahaa.

One day Hina i Vainoi said to her husband, ‘Do my hair.’ While Kae was picking out the lice he said, ‘Your hair is turning grey.’ She answered, ‘Never mind, when that happens I know how to make myself like a young thing again.’

Then she said to her husband, ‘Let me do yours,’ and on Kae’s head she saw many grey hairs. Said Hina, ‘You are growing old, husband. Tomorrow, we-two will go out surf-riding.’

In the morning they went to the beach. Kae said, ‘You go first.’ Said Hina, ‘No, you go first, my husband; then I can see how you do it.’

After Kae had come in on three waves he looked the same as he was before, he had not changed at all. Then Hina rode. After riding in on three waves she came out looking as fresh as a shrimp that has just been shelled.

‘See, husband! Do I look the same?’

Said Kae amazed, ‘No, no, my wife.’ Then Kae was much ashamed, for it was Hina who had youth. After this Hina became pregnant. Kae longed for his own land of mortals.

When six moons had passed Kae said, ‘It is time now for me to go and prepare for our child.’ It was Kae’s duty in this land to plant one breadfruit tree for the child, and aute trees for its tapa cloth; and to provide pigs, and make a bathing basin near the stream, and other matters. Therefore he said to Hina, ‘I shall go to my land now. If you have a boy, you are to name him Te Hina tu o Kae.’ But Hina said, ‘Not yet, husband. Wait for three days; then my brother Tunua nui will take you on his back.’

So Hina called her brother from the sea and that great whale came up to her. Said Hina, ‘Take your brother-in-law to his land.’

sperm whale underwater. jungian analysis

Sperm Whale.
National Geographic 

‘Yes, yes, I will do so.’ Then Hina said to Kae, ‘When you come to Matafenua give a kick to each of the islets that you pass. Kick Motutapu, Motutomotomo, Mataukaaea and the other islets, kick them all. That will make Tunua nui turn his head towards Vainoi, then he will return here when he has put you ashore.’

Therefore Kae climbed on Tunua’s back and this great fish carried him to Vevau here. But when they were off Matafenua, Kae did not kick the islets Motutapu, Motutomotomo, Motuofio and the rest.

In Vainoi, Hina knew it. She said, ‘You bad one, my husband.

You have failed to kick the islets. Now your brother-in-law will die, because of you.’

Tunua nui went up on the beach at Taaoa, here in Vevau, to let Kae off; bur then he could not turn around again because of what Kae had done. He was stranded there, that great whale, and the people came to cut him up.

His blood touched Hina’s breast; in Vainoi she felt his death.

Then Hina wept, she wept for her brother, crying, ‘You are a bad man, O my husband. You did not listen to the word of Hina.’

Kae said to his people here in Vevau: ‘Make a bathing pool for my child that is to be born.’ To others he said, ‘Feed and breed pigs; plant sugar-cane; plant bananas; cut down the old coconut trees; feed chickens; plant aute for making tapa.’ So the people did these things as Kae had told them.

Then Hina i Vainoi gave birth to her child, she had a son, and she named it as her husband had told her. That child grew and grew.

One day Kae’s son had a quarrel with another boy. This boy teased him, made him angry, then the others said, ‘who are you to talk to us? Your father is just some foreigner.’

Kae’s son wept, he went to Hina, said to her, ‘They are teasing me, they say my father is a foreigner. It is time you told me where he is. What is my father’s name?’


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Maori boy with flax cape, kotikoti, and kaka feathers. 1890’s 

Now Hina i Vainoi was still angry with Kae because of her brother killed, and she replied, ‘You have no father. I am your mother, that is all. In this land there are no fathers.’

He replied, ‘Do not hide it from me, my mother. Those boys say I have a father and that he is some foreigner.’ He kept on crying, he would eat no food. In the end Hina said to him, ‘Enough, now, of that crying. This is your father’s name: Kae. He is at Vevau, that is your father’s land. Now eat your food. Tomorrow you can go to him; Tunua iti will take you.’

In the morning Hina called to her younger brother in the sea, Tunua iti. Said Hina to Small-whale, ‘Take your nephew to Vevau.’ ‘Yes, yes, I will do so.’ Then Hina said to the child this word: ‘Now when you and your uncle go past Matafenua, you are to kick all the islets there. Kick Motutapu, Motutomotomo, Motuofio, Kahena te tupuna and all those islets. You are to do this so that Tunua iti will turn round and come home again. When your father went there on Tunua nui he did not kick those islets and for that reason Tunua nui could not turn round, he was stranded and was killed by the people of your father’s land.’

The boy said, ‘I will kick all those islets, my mother,’ and Hina i Vainoi embraced her son and wept over him. Then he climbed upon Tunua’s back and rode away.

When they-two passed the islets off Matafenua the boy kicked all of them and Hina i Vainoi wept with gladness; the sound of the kicks had come into her ear. Then the head of the fish was turned toward Vainoi and its tail was toward Vevau; and Tunua iti went ashore tail-first and set his new nephew down at Taaoa, in Vevau here. The nephew got off and pressed noses with his uncle, then he walked on the beach.

When the people saw the tail of that fish on the sand they thought of their last great feast of whale, therefore they all rushed down, that tribe, and seized the tail to pull it up. But Tunua iti made off quickly, he dragged them into the sea, they all perished. Thus was the death of the older brother avenged.

Kae’s son went up-valley, saw his bathing basin there; he there-fore bathed in that pool. Then he made the poko with his hand, held his elbow against his side and clapped his palm on the hollow place. This loud noise made the people angry. ‘Who is that making the poko in the sacred basin built for Te Hina tu a Kae?’ So they rushed after that person with sticks and he ran away.

Then he saw some ripe bananas that were planted for him and he tore them down, tearing, tearing, tearing. Again the people came after him, therefore he stopped, went away. Next that boy saw some sugar-cane growing, it was his. He tore it all up, tearing, tearing. Then the people grew very angry with this boy who ruined everything, they caught him and took him to the old tuhunga to strangle. These two old men put him in a hole as prisoner, to keep him there for three nights, then strangle.

After three nights they-two put the cord around his neck, and all the people came to see it. The boy then chanted from the pit: ‘Oe oe oe oe oe oe oe,’

Answered my mother, Hina i Vainoi. ‘That is your father: Kae at Vevau.’

Are you laying hands upon Te Hina tu a Kae?

He chanted this three times. Then those two tuhunga stopped and sent a messenger to Kae. ‘There is a boy in the hole at the tuhunga’s; to be strangled today. He said a chant, it had your name in it.’

‘Let me hear that chant.’

The person said the chant to Kae.

Then stood up Kae, he took his club and strode. When he reached that place the people saw the tears in his eyes and they were afraid, because they knew that the child in the pit was his first-born child. Said Kae to the tuhunga, ‘Take the child out of the pit.’ Then he asked the boy his name.

‘I here am Te Hina tu a Kae.’

Then Kae took him on his sacred head; to consecrate the boy and make him tapu he placed him on his head. Then the two tuhunga said, ‘Now, sir, we shall perforn’l the naming ceremony for this little child.’ Said Kae, ‘That is good. Let all the proper things be done correctly for the child.”

Then the tuhunga consecrated Te Hina tu a Kae. Many pigs were cooked, the cane was cut; bananas were gathered, coconuts were split, aute was collected and fine tapa made. The tapa makers wove a chiefly girdle for the son of Kae. A great feast was held in the land.

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Still from movie Whale Rider

When all these matters were completed, the child lived here in Vevau with his father.



Unrelated elements?

This tale seems obscure because the images seem unrelated:

women with dildos;
woman with husband;
women giving birth by being cut open;
travelling on whales, respectfully and not;
father and son separation and reunion;
boy’s defiance of convention;
threat of excessive punishment for his defiance.

I’m tempted to dismiss this tale as a chance collage of elements taken from other stories, a collage which has no psychological meaning. But the story was assembled by the unconscious and I must ask what is the pattern which the unconscious expresses by choosing these elements.

A clue to meaning lies in repetition, that is, when unrelated elements represent symbolically the same idea. Repetition can help to confirm an interpretation from the internal evidence.

Unconscious yin

First there are women without men, the principle of yin related to the principle of yang only in its most primitive form. Yin will be unconscious without evolved yang to discriminate and illuminate it. When an archetype is unconscious it tends to be destructive, and this is shown in the story: childbirth kills women in Vainoi.

An example of unconscious yin is overeating. The instinct is to devour food to nourish the body, all of which expresses yin. The devouring instinct needs to be integrated with social interactions, or with awareness – or cultural patterns – of diet and overall health, all of which are discriminating yang powers. When it is not integrated with evolved yang the devouring instinct leads to illness. This theme is explored in the polynesian story “Rona Long Teeth” which I also analyze on this website.

Perhaps the theme of “Kae and the whale” is yin being tamed by a developing relationship with yang?

Kae and his son

Unlike “Rona Long Teeth”, however, in the present story Hina drops out halfway through. It is Kae who appears in the title and throughout the tale. In “Rona Long Teeth” Hina seems more mortal – she loves and is sad – and her lover is more magical, while here the opposite is true: here Hina is immortal and thus closer to an archetype while Kae is mortal, closer to us. We hear more about Kae’s feelings: he is ashamed when he sees that Hina’s youth has been renewed and his has not; he weeps when he realizes that his son has found him. Because Kae is more human and more consistently present, we can better interpret the story as being centered on him (that is, on what he symbolizes).

Kae’s actions have to do with the conception, birth and rearing of his son, and with his son’s behavior. Thus the story seems mainly to be about a father-son relationship which represents, symbolically, the evolution of yang. But the great mother (yin) is the source of all life. Yang has to evolve out of its initial containment within yin which is why the story begins on an island where there are only women and yang is no more than a pandanus root.

Yin tends towards people interacting. A mother and her children are naturally entangled. A mother may be closer to her children while a father, more identified with yang, may be more distant. But relationship is not the same as entanglement: it requires consciousness. A man has as much potential to relate as a woman. A relationship with his father makes a huge difference for a boy, in part because it serves as a model for his own relationship with himself.

A male patient, “Jack”, was alienated from his distant and critical father. Jack internalized aloneness and destructive criticism, both of which undermined him from within. In time he built a more loving, supportive relationship with himself, but this required that his father-son injury first be healed. He had to face his anger, grief, loneliness and sadness.

Unconscious yang

The story begins with the women using pandanus roots as “their husbands.” Here yang is no more than a fantasy and a dildo; it is not developed psychologically and functions at its most elemental level. In a recent op-ed (NYT: 3/10/11) Anna Breslaw said:

My extended family consists almost entirely of fatherless, brotherless and husbandless women. We’re skinny and bright, with a capacity for imagination that lends itself to paranoia and social anxiety. We all possess an encyclopedic knowledge of cinema from the classic to the terrible. Acquiring this knowledge is easier than it sounds. All you have to do is possess a terror of actual male interaction…Most of them [her aunt’s movie collection] are rated “R” for violence, drugs, sex and other mistakes grown-ups make … half are pulpy psychosexual dramas with the kind of morally questionable guys that fascinate and scare the elder generation of women in my family…

Romantically, the guys in our lives are tertiary characters at best, antagonists at worst … My mother was … swept off her feet by my father at 18 and eventually deposited in New Jersey alone with three daughters.

Breslaw is describing a state in which yang has not been born into human form but functions only as an undeveloped idea, a “spook” like a vampire or a zombie. As long has yang has not been cultivated, as long as it is not related to consciously, it will tend to function blindly in the unconscious. It will be destructive, for example, to relationships with men.

The tuhunga who cut women open so that they die during childbirth represent yang that is functioning destructively. When a child seeks love from his or her father but instead is rejected or cut with logic, then the human connection between father and child is killed. When Kae brings the skills of natural childbirth to Vainoi, then yang begins to function more consciously.


Hina and Kae desire each other and marry. Yin also supports erotic entanglement which can lead, in time, to more conscious relating. A woman’s beauty symbolizes the potential for relationship: erotic energy may, when integrated, enliven consciousness.

Kae is also beautiful to Hina. Does this mean that Kai also manifests some yin, some entangling potential, or does it mean that Hina is fascinated and attracted by yang? Probably both are true. How much of a man’s beauty is based on his looks and how much on his power, skill and assertiveness? Both kinds of beauty also operate in women. Yin and yang are potentials in both sexes.

Yin and yang attract because each completes the other. Obviously this attraction is a major source of psychological energy. The attraction brings a manifestation of yang into relationship where it can develop and become more conscious. To sustain an intimate relationship a man must work constantly to become more aware.

Hina and Kae’s attraction leads to the birth of Kae’s son, that is, to the birth of a new level of consciousness.


Why do the whales appear at this point? They are part of nature but also phallic forms and brothers. Here this story parallels that of Rona long-teeth: Rona and her daughter first live alone as feminine, bloody and destructive unconscious beings; then they meet a phallic man who lives inside a stone (earth, the unconscious). In both stories the one-sidedness of the feminine evokes compensatory phallic potential from the unconscious.

A boy is fascinated by cars, trucks, trains, and planes, phallic forms which evoke unconscious yang for him when he is living mainly in his mother’s yin world. If his father drives a car this reinforces his identification; if his father teaches him to drive so much the better.

Yang culitvated

The image of Kae and his son, which is repeated in the image of the older and younger whale brothers, shows that yang is becoming more conscious. Kae relates brutally to Tunua nui, causing him to be slaughtered – this is yang functioning unconsciously, while Kae’s son relates more mindfully to Tunua iti.

When Kae’s son first reaches Vevau he behaves like an unbridled brat, an immature form of yang. The tuhungas prepare to strangle him, an expression of unconscious (they don’t know who he is) destructive yang. But then Kae’s son uses a chant, a cultural, conscious form of yang, to explain who he is. Kae cries – yang is being cultivated with feeling – and informs the tuhunga that they must treat his son with ceremonial honors – again culturally evolved yang. In their developing father-son relationship yang is consciously transmitted and cultivated.

So it is with a son: if he is abandoned by his father his yang potential is more likely to be expressed destructively – one reason why so many african-american men are incarcerated in the US. If a son is nurtured by his father or by other carriers of cultural yang, then it is easier for him to develop his yang potential constructively.

Learned and transmitted culture, like teaching a child to play a musical instrument, cultivates yang. Kae and his son symbolize that transmission.