By Bobby Camara
“O ka manu ai aku laahia
Keiki ehu, kama ehu a Kanaloa
Loa ka imina a ke aloha”
“The elemental acrid aroma [of the volcano]
Is the predictor for an ehu child of Kanaloa
The wait to greet this new island is long.”
– Excerpt from a Pele chant translated by Pua Kanahele and Kuʻulei Kanahele
About 19 miles off the southeast coast of Moku o Keawe, and approximately 3,200 feet below sea level, an active underwater volcano is slowly making its way to the surface. Back in 1955, scientists named the volcano “Lōʻihi” (long) based solely on its physical characteristics.
This past July, the Hawaiʻi Board on Geographic Names (HBGN) voted unanimously to rename the volcano “Kamaʻehuakanaloa,” which Kuʻulei Kanahele of the Edith Kanakaʻole Foundation explains, “is a powerful name that invokes the name of Pelehonuamea and her birth out of Kanaloa.”
HBGN includes representatives from the Board of Land and Natural Resources, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, the Office of Planning, the University of Hawaiʻi, the Bishop Museum and the State Land Surveyor, and has kuleana for designating the official names and spellings of geographic features in Hawaiʻi.
Hanalei Marzan, Bishop Museum cultural advisor and HBGN chair said, “Members of the Board are excited to revitalize the use of traditional place names such as Kamaʻehuakanaloa. This is part of our kuleana to ensure uniformity in the use and spelling of names of geographic features within our cherished pae ʻāina.”
The move to change the name of the volcano to Kamaʻehuakanaloa was initiated by cultural practioners, like Kanahele, who noted the name “Kamaʻehu a Kanaloa” while researching and translating mele recorded in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi newspapers from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
One example is Hulihia ke Au, a mele Kanahele found in Ka Moʻolelo Kaʻao o Hiʻiakaikapoliopele, and printed by Poepoe in Kuokoa Home Rula on May 22, 1908. This is an excerpt from the mele that Kanahele translated:
Keiki ehu, kama ehu a Kanaloa
Loa ka ʻimina a ke aloha
Ua mokuhia ka makamaka, ka lino
Ua kaʻa ʻia e ka Ua lena a Lono ē
Na Lono, na ka Manō Niuhi kiaʻi moku
E moku ka pō e wehe ka pawa o ke ao
E ao hoʻi
Ruddy progeny, glowing child of Kanaloa (an undersea volcano)
The search for salutation is far (the volcano’s growth to the ocean surface is long; when it finally surfaces it can be greeted)
The umbilical cord is severed (it has broken the surface)
Run over by the yellow rains of Lono
Lono, the great niuhi shark who guards the islands
Darkness has broken, dawn has unfurled (the volcano, surfacing, receives light)
It is light
Another mention of Kamaʻehuakanaloa is found in Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, in a similar mele submitted by S. W. K. Kekalohe of Kipahulu Maui, on Oct. 1, 1862. The mele is attributed to Namakaeha, an aliʻi at the time of Kamehameha I.
According to Kanahele, “Kamaʻehu a Kanaloa” is a reference to any undersea volcano, a child born in Kanaloa, the ocean. There are several Pele genealogies in which different male entities are listed as her father – depending on the site of the eruption or the type of eruption – indicating where or how Pele was born. Because an undersea volcano is the birth of Pele from the ocean, the undersea volcano is a kama ʻehu a Kanaloa, a reddish child of Kanaloa.
One may wonder why it has taken nearly 70 years to give this undersea volcano a culturally relevant and appropriate name. Part of our kuleana today is to supplement earlier research with current knowledge. Researchers in the 1950s did not have easy access to newspapers or other resources written in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.
Such is the case with the naming of Lōʻihi in 1955.
Marine geologist Dr. Kenneth O. Emery (not to be confused with Dr. Kenneth P. Emory, the noted Bishop Museum archaeologist/anthropologist) sought to confirm the presence of seamounts (underwater volcanoes) in 1955.
From June 29 to July 2, aboard the USS Patapsco, Emery conducted echo-soundings of the ocean floor south east of the Island of Hawaiʻi to confirm the presence of seamounts. His work was published in great detail in Pacific Science in July 1955.
He identified five seamounts. One was long, one conical, one irregular (with peaks), one was deep, and the last was shallow. Emery reached out to renowned cultural experts Mary Kawena Pukui and Martha Hohu from the Bishop Museum, and Dr. Gordon A. Macdonald, then director of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Pukui, Hohu, and Macdonald conferred five names, based solely on the physical characteristics of each, a practice that follows the naming convention of many cherished places for features that make each unique. For the long seamount, “Lōʻihi” was selected.
Today we have access to ʻike Hawaiʻi from primary sources to help in our naming processes.
Accounts of the journey of Pelehonuamea and her clan from Kahiki to Papahānaumokuākea, to her current home in Halemaʻumaʻu, have been told and retold. We know that she used Pāoa, her divining rod, as she looked for suitable dwellings along our paeʻāina. So it seems completely reasonable that Pele continues her explorations offshore of Kīlauea, seeking to bring new land to the surface. And that new land, still submerged, is the reddish child of Kanaloa. E ola Kama- ʻehuakanaloa!
Bobby Camara was born and raised in Honokaʻa on the Island of Hawaiʻi, and has dwelt in Volcano for 40 years. Retired from Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, his passion has been learning and sharing about the natural and cultural resources of his ʻāina aloha, with emphases on botany, ethnobotany, geography and place names, geology, archeology, and ethnography. He studied with many different kumu, and remains insatiably curious about his island home.