Hawaii’s Mo’o – Tiny Gecko, Seductive Woman, or Water Dragon?

HawaiiDragonKahunaMooAnother water monster rears its ugly head – this time in Hawaii! Cryptozoology unveils another member of its monstrous clan, this time a mysterious, slithering, water-bound variety. Is it really a monster or could there be a real-life explanation for this creature? CryptoVille investigates!

Hawaii’s cryptozoological creature called the Mo’o is generally pictured as a very large lizard. In fact Mo’o means “lizard god” in the local vernacular. In ancient times the people thought it was a guardian-spirit god, protecting people, places, and geographic areas especially where freshwater springs flowed. The creatures, mostly female, are known to be fickle. They can be protective at certain times and very troublesome at others.

HawaaiMooAmakuaAccording to Fate magazine, “The mo’o resembles a huge, shiny black dragonesque lizard measuring anything between 12 and 30 feet in its true form.”  (Artwork left of mo’o Amakua, artist unknown.)

In another article by Shannon Wianecki for Maui Magazine, she quotes historian Samuel Kamakau’s report, “[W]hen fires were lit on altars near their homes, the mo’o would appear: twelve- to thirty-foot long reptiles, black as night, glistening in the water.” He wrote, “If given a drink of awa they would turn from side to side like the keel of a canoe.”

Shape Shifters

The problem with mo’os comes as a result of their ability to shape-shift. Sometimes people claim a mo’o is the size of a normal little gecko while other times they claim it appears as seductive woman or beautiful maiden, and still other times, it can look like a fierce dragon . The only way people can communicate with it is in their dreams.

The legend says the mo’o live in fishponds and that if you eat the fish from these ponds they will taste very bitter – a clue to the mo’o’s presence. Another clue to the mo’o’s presence is foam on the water.

HawaiiAwaRootThe mo’o are believed to spend most of their time benignly consuming the awa root (pictured right with gecko drinking a liquid made from this root) whose side effects cause them to writhe from side to side. Legend also says these creatures can be seen by the light of the flames coming from altars erected in their honor, close to their fishponds.

Other Characteristics                                                           

In an article for the Honoluluadvertiser.com, Bill Krauss shares these other interesting facts with us:

  • Today’s Hawaiian elders, called kupuna, confirm that these creatures can grow up to 30 feet long.
  • King Kamehameha (pictured at the bottom of this list) honored a mo’o who helped him win the Battle of Nu’uanu by building it a heiau (altar) in Waikiki.
  • On Maui, locals believe one of these sacred lizards lived in Ko’ie’ie fishpond which is located in Kaleolepo, near Kihei.
  • HawaiiMooWahineCarvingAnother mo’o lived in Lahaina in its own fishpond. (Carving of mo’o Wahine, right.)
  • An eyewitness report comes from Wailua on Maui told by resident Maggie Alu. She told Raybem Freitas and he reported it to Krauss saying, “Maggie Alu told my mother that her grandma took her to a pond way up inside Wailua Valley, toward Haleakala. She was 8 years old at the time. Her grandmother showed her a mo’o, a giant lizard, swimming in the pond.”
  • Krauss reports that Freitas remembers hearing about a mo’o that ate humans in a place called La’ie. Eventually the locals killed it and they say to this day you can see the bones of the evil mo’o in the rocks at La’ie point.
  • Finally, Freitas told Krauss that he’d asked a senior lady, a family friend, living on Maui if she had ever heard about mo’o living in her area. He said, “Right away she mentioned the spring on Maui at Lipoa Street and Kihei Road that wouldn’t dry up because a mo’o lived there.”


Though the article is short and informal, I like the fact that Krauss could actually speak to long time residents of Hawaii about these creatures. It gives us modern day reports to consider and places that someone could actually find, which is a rarity when researching these obscure creatures online.

Troublesome Mo’o

Other tales come to us of three well-known mo’o’s named Kilioe, Koe, and Milolii. Each one lived on a precipice of their own in Kauai’s northern coastal region. Two more lived near the city of Hilo in the Wailuku River. They were said to push humans passing by into the river and drown them.

HawaiiHiiakaInterestingly these bad mo’o were eventually destroyed by the goddess of lightning, Hi’iaka (pictured right), sister of the great goddess, Pele. Hi’iaka was known to slay monsters of this kind.

Petrified Head

People claim (to this day) that you can see a guardian mo’o’s petrified head and tail at the bottom of a pool of water in the Puna district. Another is visible nearby in Kalapana.

Are they really petrified mo’o body parts? Or natural geographic formations? I guess the truth is in the eye of the beholder because from what I’ve read, no one has tried to get any DNA samples from it – probably because it’s a rock.

Hawaiintiki-mo-oLegend’s Origin

Tahiti and New Zealand are rife with legends of giant lizard-like creatures, so many believe it was the ancient Polynesians who brought these legends with them throughout Polynesia (Tiki carving of a mo’o on Hawaii, left; artist unknown). Scientists say there is no fossil record of giant or even large lizards living on Hawaii (the supposed petrified remains aside).

The native people believed that the mo’o were omniscient and could manipulate the weather. Nasty mo’os summoned huge waves to wash people from trails to their deaths, or they would drown others in poisonous phlegm. Even their disembodied tongues and tails could be lethal.

HawaiiHauwahineAkuaMany other mo’os were benevolent (like the akua mo’o, Wahine, right; artist unknown), guarding and protecting those who were devoted to them. The key seems to lie in keeping the mo’o happy and feeling honored. In return she would keep the freshwater streams flowing abundantly and the harvest on land bountiful. Wianecki reports, “At one time, fishponds and pools throughout Hawaii had stone markers signifying their resident mo’o.”

Mystical Hawaii

So are the mo’o real? It certainly seems their legend comes to us from time immemorial and from an anthropological viewpoint, it does appear to be a legend that traveled with the ancient Polynesians.

So what are people seeing in recent times? Reptiles that are unknown to science? As with all these things, it’s going to take some real evidence from which someone can get some DNA for analysis.

HawaiiLongfinEelJWRiver Monsters host Jeremy Wade ran into this problem when he was in New Zealand (Season 3, Episode 16). Explorer Captain Cook reported the presence of a very large man-eating snake in his diary. The problem was, there are no snakes in New Zealand.  Wade eventually theorized that what they had been seeing were some very large long-fin eels which are still abundant in New Zealand’s waters today.

Maybe there is something like that in Hawaii that fuels the legend of the mo’o.

You know what? There aren’t enough people exploring these kinds of things. We need more scientists in this world!!  🙂

So what do you think about all this?






  1. There maybe old memories from crocodilians or large monitor lizards which inhabit islands closer to Asia that have been subjected to many changes afterwards. And given the love of kava by the priests, they might see and imagine more things from just a shadow or movement.

    • I like your ideas, Bolko! Very intriguing. I had forgotten all about the people chewing kava, too!!

      Thank you for visiting CryptoVille! … Susan (CryptoVille)

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