Ka‘uluakāha‘i (The Breadfruit Tree of Kāha‘i) at Kuālaka‘i

As cited in the tradition of Nāmakaokapāo‘o, Ka‘uluakāha‘i was the true father of Nāmakaokapāo‘o. In Fornander’s account, following his victory over the king of O‘ahu, Nāmakaokapāo‘o traveled to Kuālaka‘i where a supernatural breadfruit tree grew in a sinkhole-cave, and where royal gifts left to him were hidden by his father. Retrieving the items from Kuālaka‘i, Nāmakaokapāo‘o then traveled to Hawai‘i:

After the complete possession of Oahu by Namakaokapaoo, he was desirous of visiting Hawaii for observation. He then went and got a small gourd wherein to place his garments which his father had left him. This gourd was deposited at Kualakai, where a breadfruit tree is standing to this day. This is the breadfruit impersonation of his father, Kahaiulu. When the real person went home the breadfruit tree remained, being in the supernatural state.

Inside of the gourd was a garment, a girdle and a royal cloak (feather cloak). After he had obtained the gourd he journeyed on till he reached Hanauma, in Maunalua. There he found a canoe which was preparing to sail for Hawaii. [11:278]

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Related Documents

Moolelo contain expressions of native beliefs, customs, practices, and history. The Hawaiian landscape itself is storied, and each place name is associated with a tradition—ranging from the presence and interactions of the gods with people, to documenting an event, or the characteristics of a given place. Unfortunately, today, many of those moolelo have been lost. Through the moolelo that have survived the passing of time, we are able to glimpse the history of the land and people of Honouliuli Ahupuaa.

Included here are a collection of narratives written by native Hawaiian authors and historians, as well as non-Hawaiian visitors and residents of the land during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The narratives document traditional lore and knowledge, customary practices and beliefs, and the importance of place names which have survived the passing of time. A number of the accounts come from Hawaiian-language resources which have not been previously available in English. Other citations revisit some of the better known historical accounts, while attempting to shed new light on them, with efforts made to place them in a Hawaiian cultural context based on a wide range of resource materials.

Transcripts and/or translations of the Hawaiian-language accounts are given either verbatim, or in summary for longer narratives, with emphasis on the key events—their association with akuaaina, and kanaka of Honouliuli Ahupuaa. The citations span the period from antiquity to the 1920s. We have elected to include the Hawaiian-language transcripts in an effort to provide present and future generations with easy access to these important narratives as a means of fostering ongoing cultural attachment to place, and for educational and interpretive purposes. In this way the kupuna speak for themselves, and pass their voices on to inspire continued knowledge of place, practice, and use of the native place names.

It will be noted that in a number of instances, place names originated as the names of notable figures—either gods, demigods, chiefly personages or deified ancestors—while other names describe events or particular characteristics of named locations.

From the earliest of human times, the Hawaiian landscape has been alive with spiritual beliefs, traditions, customs, and practices. Unfortunately, with the passing of time, irretrievable traditional knowledge has been lost. This is in part a result of the rapid decline of the native population, and enforcement of restrictions placed upon Hawaiians in education and all facets of life which culminated in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom Government in 1893. By 1900, English became the official language of the schools and government, and native Hawaiian children were punished at school for speaking their olelo makuahine (mother tongue/language). Thus, slowly but steadily, children and grandchildren were distanced from their elders, and the passing on of moolelo (traditions) of place, family, and practice—traditional knowledge—was largely cut off.1

The loss of language, practice, and land were accompanied by changing demographics and the development of large plantations, sprawling communities, military complexes, and resorts. These changes led to the destruction of noted traditional places, or loss of access to sites where traditional and customary practices occurred. Thus, it became difficult, if not impossible, to pass on the experience of practice and familiarity with wahi pana—those sites which would qualify in their native culture and communities as “traditional cultural properties.”

Even with all that has been lost, research in Hawaiian-language materials, historical literature, and in the knowledge of families descended from traditional residents of the land reveals a wealth of history through place names, and in some instances through ongoing practices. Through place names, many wahi pana (storied and sacred places) are found to exist, and for Hawaiians today, those wahi pana remain important. In this modern age, and often in the context of historic preservation, it is the biggest sites and features—such as heiau and mass ilina—that are determined to be the most significant. But Hawaiians have observed that “The land is not sacred because the heiau is there. The heiau is there because the land is sacred.” This sacredness is conveyed in the cultural attachment shared between Hawaiians and the aina (land/natural environment) that nurtured and sustained them and their relationship with the ilina of their ancestors who rose from and returned to the embrace of the aina. This living and ongoing sacredness also implies that there need not be physical remnants of “traditional properties and features” on the ground. When all else is lost, it is enough to speak the names and pass on the knowledge of place.

Inoa Aina: Place Names

By learning place names and their traditions, even if only fragmented accounts remain, one begins to see a rich cultural landscape unfold on the lands of Honouliuli Ahupua‘a. There are a number of place names that have survived the passing of time. The occurrence of place names demonstrates the broad relationship of the natural landscape to the culture and practices of the Hawaiian people. In A Gazetteer of the Territory of Hawaii, Coulter [7] observed that Hawaiians had place names for all manner of feature, ranging from “outstanding cliffs” to what he described as “trivial land marks” [7:10]. In 1902, W. D. Alexander, former Surveyor General of the Kingdom—and later government—of Hawai‘i, wrote an account of “Hawaiian Geographic Names” [2]. Under the heading “Meaning of Hawaiian Geographic Names” he observed,

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to translate most of these names, on account of their great antiquity and the changes of which many of them have evidently undergone. It often happens that a word may be translated in different ways by dividing it differently. Many names of places in these islands are common to other groups of islands in the South Pacific, and were probably brought here with the earliest colonists. They have been used for centuries without any thought of their original meaning. [2]

History further tells us that named locations were significant in past times, and it has been observed that “Names would not have been given to [or remembered if they were] mere worthless pieces of topography” [14:412].

In ancient times, named localities served a variety of functions, telling people about (i) places where the gods walked the earth and changed the lives of people for good or worse; (ii) heiau or other features of ceremonial importance; (iii) triangulation points such as koa (ceremonial markers) for fishing grounds and fishing sites; (iv) residences and burial sites; (v) areas of planting; (vi) water sources; (vii) trails and trailside resting places (oioina), such as a rock shelter or tree-shaded spot; (viii) the sources of particular natural resources/resource collection areas, or any number of other features; or (ix) notable events which occurred at a given area. Through place names, knowledge of the past and places of significance were handed down across countless generations.


1J. W. H. I. Kihe, “Na Hoomanao o ka Manawa,” Ka Hoku o Hawaii, June 5th and 12th, 1924.

There are several traditions pertaining to a youth by the name of Namakaokapaoo that have been published in the Hawaiian-language newspapers, with lengthy accounts in print between 1894 and 1917. The earliest reference identified while preparing this study was published in a short rebuttal by a native of Honouliuli to another writer in the Hawaiian newspaper Ka Lahui Hawaii. While the February 17, 1877 account is a short one, it references the sweet potato fields of Namakaokapaoo, observing that Namakaokapaoo is the skilled fighter of the cliffs of Lihue. The narrative references the severing of a chief’s head with a weapon made of koaie (Acacia koaia) from the heights of Puukuua.

Later accounts of the tradition provide detailed narratives of events on Maui and Kauai, with passing poetic references to Oahu, Hawaii, Niihau, and other locations. It is in Abraham Fornander’s Collection of Hawaiian Antiquities [11:274–283] that we find events in the life and deeds of Namakaokapaoo taking place on Oahu. A summary of the Oahu version of the tradition of Namakaokapaoo follows below, and cites several names and features of the Ewa District.

Namakaokapaoo’s father was named Kauluakahai (descended from gods of Kahiki). His mother was named Pokai. They lived near the shore at Lihue in Honouliuli.  After Pokai became pregnant, Kauluakahai traveled to Kahiki. Thus, when Pokai gave birth to Namakaokapaoo, the two of them lived in with little to sustain them. One day, Pualii, a man who lived in the uplands at Keahumoa, situated just below Kipapa, went to the shore of Lihue to fish. While on his way, he passed the place where Pokai and Namakaokapaoo lived. Seeing Pokai, Pualii fell in love with her, and asked her to be his wife. Agreeing, Pokai and Namakaokapaoo went to live at Keahumoa. There, Pualii tended two large mala uala (fields of sweet potatoes).

In his work, Pualii had made an oath that none of the potatoes would be eaten until he had made an offering of an ulua fish, and then eaten of the produce first, himself. When the mala were ready to harvest, Pualii went down to Lihue to catch his ulua. While Pualii was on the shore fishing, Namakaokapaoo and a group of his friends went to the mala uala and pulled up all the potatoes and began to cook them. Pualii returned, saw what had been done, and went with a large koilipi (stone adze) to kill the boy. As the koilipi fell, Namakaokapaoo offered a prayer to his deified ancestors, and the adze turned and cut off Pualii’s head.

“Namakaokapaoo picked up Pualii’s head and threw it towards Waipouli, a cave situated on the beach at Honouliuli (a distance of about five miles).” [11:278]

The mala uala where this occurred have been called “Namakaokapaoo” since that time, and are found on the plains of Keahumoa.

Word of this event reached Amau, king of Oahu, who was dwelling at Waikiki. The king wanted to challenge the youth, and proceeded to Keahumoa for the contest. Learning of this, Namakaokapaoo went to his mother and took her down to a cave situated at Waipouli, where he hid her for a while. He then returned to Keahumoa and met with Amau and his warriors and killed them all. Namakaokapaoo then established his mother Pokai as ruler over Oahu.