Who are The Four Waters of Maui? Within the song that Alice Nāmakelua wrote, “The Famous Waters,” are Waikapū, Wailuku, Waiehu, and Waiheʻe. They are streams and, due to the great volume of water flowing from mountain to sea, the lands surrounding them were fertile and rich for cultivation.
Life was comfortable for the common people of Nā Wai ʻEhā until the land was bought up for sugar production by Claus Spreckles in 1882. Sugar is a “thirsty” plant because to produce a ton of sugar, 4,000 tons of water is needed. It was for this reason that water was greedily siphoned from streams through the closing of the plantations. Even after plantations closed, the diversion of water continued until the courts rectified the problem by returning water to the streams.
Therefore, because the government returned water to the four streams, farmers could restore their loʻi kalo such as Nohoana Farms at Waikapū, the kuleana lands of native farmer, Hōkūao Pelegrino, passed down to him from his ancestors since 1848. At that time of the Kuleana Act, there were more than 1,300 loʻi kalo along Waikapū. It was possibly the primary location on Maui, or perhaps all of Hawaiʻi, for taro production. Another interesting fact about Waikapū is that it is the only stream of Nā Wai ʻEhā that issues forth on the south side of Maui – at Maʻalaea. This stream feeds Keālia pond, a habitat for the Hawaiian stilt, coot, and duck.
Next to Waikapū is Wailuku. This land was bought up by Spreckles and it became his own ʻili kūpono (a land division), a separate land section from the ahupuaʻa (major land division). Due to the sugar company, the name, Wailuku River, was changed to ʻIao. However, Hui o Nā Wai ʻEhā persistently fought to restore the name of Wailuku and the State of Hawaiʻi Board of Geographic Names voted in 2015 to do so.
This Wailuku River passes Pihana and Hale Kiʻi, royal residence of King Kekaulike. At the time that Kamehameha invaded Maui, Keōpūolani was living there with her mother, Kekuʻiapōiwa Liliha, and her grandmother, Kalola. Now, water once again flows past this sacred place and life, like the ʻoʻopu fish, has returned the river.
Kaʻehu Bay is the boundary between Wailuku and Waiehu. There, one finds a habitat for various native birds like the stilt, wandering tattler, ruddy turnstone, and others. The wind of Waiehu is called Hōʻeha ʻIli and the rain is named Līlīlehua. This stream was extremely dry during the plantation era as the water was completely diverted and taken to grow “water greedy” sugar cane.
Waiheʻe is the longest-flowing and greatest water-carrying stream of Maui. The flow emanates from Mount Kahālāwai. Upland of the ahupuaʻa of Waiheʻe is the famous waterfall of song, ʻEleile. It is said by the natives of Waiheʻe, “The tī leaf returning waters of ʻEleile,” because if a person threw a tī leaf stalk into the spring, it would sink, rise, and return to its source. There in that spring, families of Waiheʻe would take the piko (navel) of their newborn to be hidden. Now all has been made known.