Early in time, when the newly hatched children of the Mother lived happily on the islands she had created, all these birds were without color. Though they sang, ate grubs and fruits, and flew across barren lava plains and lush forests, their plumage was dull and insignificant. One day, news spread across the islands: the Mother was to bless each of her bird children. Each rushed to Kona, where she met them one by one and gave them their blessing.
To the I’iwi and Apapane she gave their favorite color of red, which matched them to the ohia blossoms from which they sipped nectar.
To the Amakihi, she gave the color green and thus the ability to blend in with the foliage as he gleaned insects.
To the Oma’o she gave the color grey so he could hide in the shadowy forests and startle others with his sudden, loud croaks.
She blessed the Palila with a head of yellow, to recall the appearance of the rising sun, which this little bird loves to greet every morning with his sunny, cheerful song.
To the Akepa she gave orange, to illustrate his sweet nature as he bubbles at the very top of the forest canopy.
The Mother blessed each of her bird children with colors and patterns, giving them all unique plumages. Each was very pleased with their new appearances and left singing praises for their wonderful Mother.
Alas, far to the west, Kolohe the Alala was foraging around for fruits in the Ka’u forest, oblivious to the celebration in Kona, having forgotten what day it was. He heard happy singing and looked up to see his brothers and sisters sporting newly colored plumages.
“Aiya!” he exclaimed. “Are these my brothers and sisters? How beautiful you all look! Where did you all get such wondrous colors?!”
“The Mother has blessed each of us,” they replied proudly, preening and strutting and vying for the beams of sunlight, which made their feathers sparkle. The newly colored birds looked pityingly down at Kolohe, who still wore his plain, colorless plumage.
An I’iwi flew in closer. “Oh, dear, Kolohe, did the Mother not bless you as she did us?” he said mockingly. “Do I see some red feathers that she blessed…? Oh, no, excuse me, I am mistaken; that’s just red Pilo berry juice you smeared on your face.” I’iwi smirked and flew off. The other birds shrugged and drifted away, chattering about their new looks. Kolohe was left alone in the Pilo grove, wiping his messy bill and fighting back sadness.
In Kona, the Mother had finished blessing the long line of her children and she looked around. “But where is Kolohe, my favorite Alala? she asked.
The lingering Kona Grosbeaks and an Akiapola’au confessed they had not seen their crow brother that day.
The Mother shook her head. “Auwe, that naughty crow, he must have forgotten what day it is. But he must receive his blessing!” She took to the air, cruising over Hualalai to Kamuela, then flying back over Mauna Loa to Ka’u, where she spotted Kolohe moping in his Pilo grove, absently plucking and eating berries in his sadness. The Mother landed beside him.
“Kolohe, there you are! Are you ready to receive your blessing?” she asked.
Kolohe nearly choked on a berry in his surprise and delight. “Oh great Mother! Yes! I am your humble child and I would be so happy to receive a blessing from you!”
The Mother folded her wings. “What color would you like to be, ku’u ipo, my darling?”
“Oh, let me see,” Kolohe’s eyes were shining with all the possibilities. He looked around and noticed the red of the Pilo berries, his favorite fruit. “Red!” he exclaimed. “I wish to be red!”
No sooner had he declared his wish, than the Mother waved her wings, and Kolohe, the Alala, became a gorgeous red: red like the blazing setting sun over Waikiki, red as the cinder cones on Hualalai, red as molten lava.
Kolohe looked down wonderingly at his magnificent new plumage. He knew he looked gorgeous, but, somehow, it just didn’t feel right. That bully, I’iwi, would think Kolohe had copied him. Kolohe looked up. The Mother was smiling expectantly.
“Ummm,” said Kolohe hopefully, “I wonder if I could add another color?”
“Of course! What would you like?”
“Yellow! Yellow, like the flowers of the mamane tree, like the fresh morning sun, like the darting yellow tang fish in the tidepools!”
The Mother waved her wings and mixed yellow with the red of Kolohe’s plumage, resulting in a stunning orange.
Kolohe gasped at the fiery beauty of his feathers now; he was very pleased. But as he gazed down at his feathers, he felt that, still, something wasn’t quite right.
“Oh great Mother, I am your humble child. I have no right to ask for another blessing, but…”
The Mother chuckled. Kolohe was her favorite, though she’d never admit that out loud, and she loved to indulge her rascally child. “What is it, ku’u aloha, my love? Another color, perhaps?”
“Oh, yes please!”
“Which this time?” The Mother was, in fact, having a lot of fun with the mixing of her magical colors.
Kolohe clacked his bill happily. “Purple! Purple like the deepest soft shadows of an ancient forest, as purple as the depths of Father the Sea, purple like the juiciest of Kolea berries!”
“Purple it is!” The color, added to the blessings already bestowed on Kolohe mixed to create a wondrous profound brown color, which was dark, earthy and warm.
“How do you like your plumage?” asked the Mother.
“I love the colors you have blessed me with…and I wonder if I could ask for…just one more…?” Kolohe said tentatively.
The Mother folded her wings and said, “Just one more, Kolohe. Choose wisely.”
Kolohe bowed his head to think. “Blue,” he said solemnly. “Blue: dark and generous at the ending of the day, the deepest of blues that precedes the stars in the night sky.”
“So be it.” And the Mother waved her wings, added the most beautiful, deepest, darkest blue to Kolohe’s feathers, and he became black.
Kolohe was in awe of his complex cloak of black feathers. “Thank you, great Mother,” he whispered, “how can I ever return such a blessing?”
“Oh my Kolohe. You repay me with joy every day. You are not as wise as Moa, as fierce as Io, or as cute as O’u, but you are clever and curious. These are your strengths. You may not make the right choice at first, but you keep trying until you do. Just promise me you will always sample widely from all the choices that life offers you, and seek out the best one in the end.”
“I will,” promised Kolohe.
And so it was that, while all the other birds knew exactly what color blessing they wanted, Kolohe the Alala sampled all the colors until he had the best choice of all: black, which, in truth, is all the colors combined. If you look closely at an Alala feather, you will see reds, oranges, purples, yellows, blues, browns and all the colors of the earth sparkling in the sun.
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