It was not easy to become a man in the time of kings. After the pain and confinement of tattooing, young boys had to slide the big break. Once a year the ocean sent mighty waves from its heart to the island’s shores.
That spring Miru carried his reed mat to the harbor, where he trained in gentle surf. Soon he was riding large swells on the open sea. When priests declared the first day of the ritual, he was ready to attempt the great rollers.
Miru’s father rejoiced that his son would undertake the second rite of manhood. He and the boy’s mother gave him their blessing: they touched his forehead with their palms. Miru placed his wave-sliding mat in a sling of tapa cloth, strapped his knife to one arm, stepped across the earthen floor and over the threshold. In the square a few dogs sniffed at his heels.
Feeling anxious and lonely, he walked to the coast. Trade winds had skimmed the sky clean. Before him stretched the altar of the world: the ocean sparkled in the morning sun. Miru still ached with longing for Kenetéa, the girl with skin like mother-of-pearl, dark hair and eyes blacker than obsidian.
As the bay came into sight, he spotted combers cresting offshore. Dolphins swam in a circle beyond the swells, spouting from their blowholes, keeping the world in harmony. As he watched his totem brothers, Miru smiled.
He sighted two boys on their mats, dwarfed against the rollers and the deep bluewater, far-flung sea. Breakers pounded the beach, blowing their spray ashore. On a ledge girded by blocks of carved stone, elders, priests and nobles stood to oversee the ritual. A crowd mingled on the sand.
As Miru approached, the elect turned their bearded faces toward him. He saw a priest of his tribe who stood head and shoulders above the rest. Miru stepped in front of the stone platform. He glanced up and saluted the elders.
Holding his staff of sandalwood in one hand, the tall priest pointed to the sea with the other: “Miru, we shall judge if you show the skill and bravery to pass the next rite of manhood.”
“Who are the other wave-sliders?” the boy asked.
“Only one member of the other tribe, Prince Kaimokoi. Another rider is also here today—his older brother, Nuku.” As he heard that name, the down on Miru’s arms bristled. “Nuku passed the rite two years ago,” the priest said above the surf-roar. “He’s here only to help his brother.” The man paused. “Leaping dolphin, I expect you to be worthy of your tribe and to perform like a man.”
“Nuku has a wave!” someone shouted in the crowd.
Miru spun to watch: the older prince had caught a swell and was sliding it, poised on his cone-shaped mat, knees flexed, arms extended for balance like a gull’s wings. Nuku glided through the narrow channel formed by dark, jagged rocks, where many young men had been dashed to their deaths. He held his balance so long that Miru thought the sun had stopped in the sky. Never had he seen anyone ride so serenely, so far.
Nuku pulled out of the roller just before it crashed on the rocks and showered the onlookers. He waited until the backwash sucked offshore, lay down on the plaited reeds, stroked smoothly toward the beach, entered the shallow water and slipped from his mat, his body glistening in the sun.
The prince walked to the platform. Held in his mighty arms, his mat looked small as a stick. He saluted the priests and nobles. By an obeisance of their heads, they acknowledged him.
That mountain among men faced Miru; the two had not seen one another since they had played as children, before the wars between their tribes. Big-armed Nuku stood a hand’s breadth taller than the younger boy. Miru’s fingers curled into fists and his nostrils quivered.
As he stared at the king’s son, his face blushed, making the freckles look darker on his brown skin. Miru had been content with his tattoos, but now they seemed small and pale compared to the prince’s. Nuku’s broad trunk had offered a full field for the artist’s craft: a volcano spouted red lava up his chest and throat, over his neck and shoulders. Like a cock strutting his feathers, he turned for Miru to admire a second mountain on his back, bigger than the first, the largest tattoo the younger boy had seen. That volcano spewed fire and molten rock, soaring to a sky filled with black smoke and clouds. And Nuku’s face! Only his mouth, nostrils and eyes were bare of the tattooer’s lines, whorls and curves, woven tighter than the finest fishing net.
Facing Miru again, the king’s son said, “Watch for the great-sharks!” The corners of his lips curved upward in the dawn of a smile.
Miru said nothing. Feeling ashamed of his tattoos, exposed to the prince and the crowd, he stepped into the surf. When a roller broke and reached shore, he dove onto his mat. He let the backwash carry him through the channel and by the crags. Miru stroked toward the other wave-slider, who was prone on his mat beyond the line of swells. As he moved offshore, he felt the wind blowing over the sea, spraying his face.
He recognized Kaimokoi, Nuku’s brother. The younger prince was trembling, struggling to stay afloat on his reed mat. His body had turned the violet color of the ocean at death-light.
“Ho,” the king’s son answered in a feeble voice. He looked up with wide-set brown eyes, the color of a tree’s bark.
Miru noticed water running down the boy’s cheeks; he could not tell if it came from his eyes or the sea. “What happened, Kaimokoi?”
“Nuku caught a wave and left me here–I’ve been in the water all day.” The prince’s teeth chattered. “The rocks in the channel shredded my mat and cut my chest, arms and legs.” He paused, breathing hard, straining to keep his head above water. “Do you know how awful it is to be Nuku’s brother?”
“I can guess,” Miru responded. For the second time that day he smiled. “Let’s go inside,” he said, “where we can ride a small roller to shore. Here, leave your mat and use mine.”
Shivering, Kaimokoi nodded. As the king’s younger son slipped into the sea and left his mat behind, Miru helped him onto his own; then he climbed on top, reaching around the other boy to grab the sides of the thick, plaited reeds. He paddled toward the beach.
They felt a surge behind them. It was far out at sea but so strong that it seemed to rise from the ocean bottom. When Miru turned and saw a swell far offshore, darkening the horizon, his nostrils quivered. He stroked to put their mat in place for the wave.
The gathering swell drew closer. Holding a wary eye on it, Miru saw that it was too big to ride together with the other boy, so he turned the mat seawards. The hissing comber towered and blocked the sun. Miru paddled hard away from shore, straight into the roller, racing to reach it before it could crush them. He and Kaimokoi rose onto its steep face and sliced through the curl as it crested and whitened, then they flew over the top into the light, feeling their stomachs flip. When the wave broke behind them, they heard a sound that was like a huge tree cracking, and the comber sent foam into the sky as it crashed against the rocks and hurtled to shore.
Kaimokoi gasped, choked and spit water. Miru saw blood trickling from a wound in his side, where he must have scraped the crags earlier. He knew the great-sharks would smell it. He also knew that Kaimokoi was too weak to slide a large breaker to the beach.
He dropped into the sea, allowing the king’s son to lie alone on the cone-shaped mat; it might soak up the blood dripping from his cuts. Miru held the reeds at arm’s length and kicked toward the cove that lay downwind. There he and Kaimokoi could try to land beyond the combers that pounded against the rocks. In the meantime they would have to risk the sharks, who were never far away.
Miru shoved against the current steadily, driving the mat and Kaimokoi ahead of him. In their wake the prince’s blood left a scarlet trail. Miru recalled legends he had learned as a child, tales about shipwrecked mariners who swam ashore. He also remembered stories about sailors who were impaled on crags or devoured by great-sharks.
As they neared the mouth of the cove, Miru ceased paddling along the coast and pointed his mat toward land. He looked behind him and saw two curved, white fins cutting the surface. He lowered his head and shoulders, extended his arms in front of him, pushed the mat toward the beach and kicked fast until they crossed the line of breakers. When the surge grew and a running wave approached, he hoisted himself on top of Kaimokoi again, telling the boy to grasp the plaited reeds as firmly as he could. Just before the swell capped, Miru saw the tattoos on the prince’s shoulders–two spreading trees. Never had he yearned so strongly for the shore.
“Now!” he cried as the curl broke, slammed down and swallowed them until their mat shot upwards, whirled then plunged again. They held onto it, turned somersaults as the roiling spume carried them, the king’s son clutching the reeds, Miru gripping Kaimokoi’s hands, both hitting the sandy bottom with their heads and feet as they rolled over and over, upright now, floating to the beach.
Soon a pair of royal litters carried the two wave-sliders to their houses. The young prince nearly died of cold, from loss of blood and gulping saltwater. Welts covered Miru’s body.
But he would not stay home: he was too impatient to slide the big break. At dawn-light Miru returned to the beach. The priests and nobles allowed him a second chance to pass the ritual. As they observed from the stone platform, he took many falls in the surf. He broke his plaited reeds on the crags and swallowed enough water to fill a tuna’s belly.
The elders offered him a new mat. He took it, staggered to the beach and dove into the surf again. Keeping his eyes on the rocks, Miru paddled through the channel. After a few sets he caught a steep swell, rose to his feet, saw a valley of water below him, cried “Kenetéa!” and rode: he spread both arms like a gull’s wings and slid down the comber’s trough, sweeping by the dark crags. The sun seemed to stop in the sky. His mat skimmed, glided, slowed until it came to rest in shallow water. As his feet touched the sand, Miru breathed in the salt-spray. I’m in the sea and on land at the same time, he thought.
He went out again and again that day, throughout the afternoon, each time recalling the girl with mother-of-pearl skin. He rode his last comber at death-light, when the ocean turned the color of clotted blood. In the east a round moon rose above the world.
The elders conferred on the stone platform as Miru sat before them on the sand. Soon they announced that he had completed the second rite of manhood. When he heard their words, Miru wriggled his toes as he always did when he felt happy. For the thrill, the joy of it, he rose to his feet, walked into the surf and slid more waves in the moonlight. He was cheerful in the knowledge that he was closer to being a man now, one who might win Kenetéa’s love. Yet he, the nobles and priests knew that he had not achieved the grace and power of Nuku, that mountain of a man.
When Kaimokoi’s wounds healed, the king granted his sons safe passage to the coast. The two princes arrived at the great-house of Miru’s family. They bore gifts: on the threshold they placed bundles of yams, the food of warriors, with precious stalks of sugarcane, all wrapped in tapa cloth. Miru received the royal visitors at the door.
“Leaping dolphin,” Nuku said between clenched teeth, “it’s hard for me to say these words to a son of the enemy tribe.” His jaw tightened. “I’ll not forget what you did for my brother.” Miru looked closely at the the king’s older son, knowing he would face him in battle someday.
Kaimokoi raised his hands to Miru’s shoulders: “Thank you, Haumoana.” As he spoke, a gust of wind blew from the shore.
Legends say that Miru smiled when he heard his true name. Kaimokoi had called him by a word that describes the trades blowing on the sea where its color changes to the deepest blue. It was the wind and the hue of the ocean on that day when Miru saved the younger prince: Haumoana. Windblown.
There are names that pass through generations. Some wound the people who take them, sticking in their throats. Others heal and sing on their tongues, woven into the rope of knowledge. Still others have such power that they must remain unspoken. Haumoana’s was one of those names.
You’ve just learned how Miru earned his secret name—so secret that it’s not mentioned in , the novel in which he’s the main character. If you’ve already read the book, you realize now why Miru and Prince Kaimokoi, although they belong to enemy tribes, have such a close rapport. But if you haven’t read the novel, this free chapter will help you to understand it better. Whether or not you’re new to Wide as the Wind, do you think Miru’s secret name, “Haumoana,” should be cited in the book? Why or why not? You can let the author know your opinion by writing him at [+ [email protected]+].