A Tradition of Kamapua‘a

S. W. Kahiolo contributed the tradition of Kamapua‘a to the native newspaper Ka Hae Hawaii in 1861.1 This is the earliest detailed account of Kamapua‘a, a multi-formed deity of traditional significance on O‘ahu, and all the major islands of the Hawaiian group. The Hawaiian deity Kamapua‘a is a part of the Lono god-force, and possessed many body forms, or kinolau, representing both human and various facets of nature. He was born in pig form to mother Hina and father Kahiki‘ula, and was raised at Kaluanui in the Ko‘olau loa District of O‘ahu.

Excerpts from “He Moolelo no Kamapuaa” provide details on places of traditional cultural significance in the ‘Ewa District. This mo‘olelo offers traditions associated with traditional importance and uses of named localities in Honouliuli and vicinity.

When the chief Olopana was killed, the island of Oahu became Kamapuaa’s. He then fetched his people (who he had hidden) from above Kaliuwaa and brought them down, and they then returned to their lands. The priest (Lonoawohi) asked Kamapuaa if he could be given some lands for his own as well. He asked, “Perhaps the water lands might be mine.” Kamapuaa agreed. This was something like a riddle that the lands which have the word “water” (wai) in their names would be his, like: Waialua, Waianae, Waimanalo, Waikele, Waipio, Waiawa, Waimano, Waimalu, Waikiki, Waialae, Wailupe, Waimanalo 2, Waihee, Waiahole and etc.

The parents of Kamapuaa, Hina and Kahikiula, thought that this amount of land was too great, and they criticized Kamapuaa for agreeing to it. But his elder siblings and grandmother did not criticize him, agreeing to the priest’s request. The remainder of the lands went to Kamapuaa’s family.2

Following a journey to Hawai‘i, where Kamapuaa fought with Pele, he returned to O‘ahu. Upon arriving at O‘ahu, Kamapuaa learned that the island was under the rule of another chief, that his parents had been chased to Kaua‘i, and that his favorite brother Kekeleiaiku had been killed. The following excerpts include accounts describing sites and activities in ‘Ewa.

Kamapuaa walked to Keanapuaa, on the shore at Halawa, and he slept there. When he woke up from his sleep, he urinated in the sea, and that is why the fish of Puuloa have a strong smell to them, so say the uninformed.

From there, he went to Honouliuli and saw his grandmother, Kamauluaniho, sitting along the side of a taro pond field. She was looking with desire to the lands below, where some of the men of the king were working, and wishing that they would leave even a little bit of taro behind for her to eat. Kamapuaa then went and stood next to her, and greeted her. She replied, greeting him, but did not recognize him as her grandson. He then asked her why she was sitting there. She told him, “I am looking to the lowlands, where the men of the chief are working, and wishing that they would leave a little behind so that I may have some food.” Kamapuaa then said to his grandmother, “How did you live before?”

She answered, “What is it to you? My grandchildren have died, one in a battle with Pele, another buried, and one on Kauai.” This is how she spoke, not understanding that the one before her was her own grandson. Kamapuaa then answered, “I am going to get some food for me.” She asked, “Where will you get your food?”  He told her, “I will go and perhaps ask for some, and maybe they will give me some of their food.”3 Kamapuaa went and said to one of the men who was pulling taro, “Let the two of us pull taro for us.”  The man agreed, and the two of them pulled taro, some for the man and some for Kamapuaa. Kamapuaa pulled a large quantity and then carried it up to his grandmother. Because of the large load that he carried, Kamauluaniho suspected that the man was indeed her own grandson, Kamapuaa. She chanted a name song to Kamapuaa and he chanted to her as well. Together, they carried the taro to the house she shared with another old woman, at Puuokapolei. Setting down their bundles of taro, Kamauluaniho placed Kamapuaa on her lap and wept over him. The two were joined by the other old woman and she was introduced to Kamapuaa, who she thought had been lost. Preparations were made for a meal, and Kamapuaa and the old woman went out to her garden to collect sweet potatoes. They then returned to the house and ate.4

Kamapuaa went to Nuuanu and performed a ceremony, bringing his brother, Kekeleiaiku, back to life. He then traveled to Kou where he killed the chiefs and people who had killed his brother, and forced his family into their lives of despair . . . Returning from Kou, Kamapuaa met his friend Kuolohele and the two of them walked from Moanalua. They reached Waiawa and continued on to Waipahu. Standing on the edge of the stream there, Kuolohele went to bath[e] in the stream. Kamapuaa noticed that Kuolohele had a large lump (puu) on his back. Picking up a stone, Kamapuaa struck the lump on Kuolohele’s back.

Kuolohele cried out, thinking that he was about to be killed. Kamapuaa reassured him that he was not going to die, but that instead, he would be healed. He then instructed Kuolohele to touch his back. In doing so, Kuolohele found that the lump was gone.

Kamapuaa then picked up the stone and set it on the cliff-side. That stone remains there at this time, and it is a stone which many travelers visit5… Kuolohele and Kamapuaa continued traveling together for a short distance, until Kuolohele reached his destination. Kamapuaa continued to Puuokapolei, where he met with his grandmother and brother. He told them what had transpired, and he then set off for Kauai, to bring his parents back to Oahu.6

1The original Hawaiian texts may be viewed in the Hawaiian digital library at http://www.ulukau.org/.
2G. W. Kahiolo, “He Moolelo no Kamapuaa,” Ka Hae Hawaii, July 10, 1861.
3Ibid., August 7, 1861.
4Ibid., August 14, 1861
5The stone is named Kuolohele.
6Ibid., August 21–28, 1861.

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.