Ka Wai Ola

“Unfolded by the water are the faces of the flowers.” ʻŌlelo # 2178

Photo: Claire Kuʻuleilani Hughes

Kāne and Kanaloa created freshwater springs and streams throughout our islands. Moʻolelo (stories) tell of Kāne and Kanaloa and their travels together, opening freshwater sources to aid the people and farmers living in arid areas of the islands. Generation after generation, küpuna have told moʻolelo about these gods who opened springs, streams and rivers, always relating the charitable aspects of their acts. Today, moʻolelo are no longer shared, so moʻopuna no longer learn about behaving in ways that evoke kindnesses from the gods and all others.

Kāne and Kanaloa came to Oʻahu on a pointed cloud from the land of Kuaihelani, one of Kāne’s 12 islands in the heavens. As the sun began its descent, they set out for Mānoa Valley, resting along the way at Keʻapapa. Kanaloa asked Kāne for water. Kāne, a kindly god, courteous in all his ways, smiled because he could hear the sound of water. Kāne thrust his staff into the ground and water gushed forth in abundance. This water of Kāne was named “the new spring,” or Kapunahou. This freshwater spring was welcomed by the residents of Makiki, parts of Pauoa and lower Mānoa, who previously had to walk to the springs in Mōʻiliʻili for drinking water.

Photo: Fresh Water Stream
Photo: Kai Markell

Kāne and Kanaloa journeyed around the island of Oʻahu until they came to Kalihi where they hunted on the hillside for ʻawa. They found fine ʻawa roots growing there and pulled up some to prepare them for chewing. When the ʻawa was ready Kanaloa looked for fresh water but could not find any. He said to Kāne, “Our ʻawa is good, but there is no water in this place. Where can we find water for this ʻawa?” Kāne picked up his staff, stepped out onto a bed of lava rock and began to strike the earth. The point of his staff dug deep into the rock, smashing and splintering it. A hole broke open…and out bubbled fresh water. With this, they prepared their ʻawa. This pool of fresh water is known as Kapukawaiokalihi.

Early Hawaiians knew the importance of fresh water to all life. And they protected all sources of fresh water with great care. The penalty for “spoiling” a source of freshwater was severe. Early Hawaiians understood the interwoven relationship between life and water, and they acknowledged water as the source of health and wealth. Western science explains that the human body is more than half water…about 55-60%. Thus, human beings can live for many weeks without food, but will survive only a few days without water.

The ʻōlelo Noʻeau that serves as our title underscores the importance of fresh water for the survival of all living things. Early Hawaiians understood that without water, life is not possible. And they knew that all vegetation, and people, require water to flourish. They knew that an abundance of food plants and water symbolized wealth. In fact, our ancestors’ word for wealth, waiwai, is water repeated.