This is a novel in verse based on the true story of Piilani, who fled to the Kalalau Valley of Kauai with her husband Koolau, who suffered from leprosy and was threatened with exile to Molokai. Rather than be separated from his wife and son, Koolau took his family into the valley and armed himself with a rifle. Koolau gained notoriety when he killed a deputy sheriff and soldiers sent to arrest him.
I have read several accounts of Koolau and Piilani's story, including Jack London's story, "Koolau the Leper" and Piilani's story as told told a newspaperman. It seems that Merwin has thoroughly researched the events and that even though this is work of fiction, he has skillfully woven the facts of the case into his epic poem .