Lahaina of the Waters Gushing Amidst the Pili Grass


Read this article in ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi

Lahaina is truly a hot and arid place. However, it is not a land devoid of water. Let us look, oh friends of this column, to some stories of the elders concerning Lahaina and its waters.

In 1738, Alapaʻi attacked Maui to war with Kauhiʻaimokuakama at Lahaina. Kauhi had rebelled against Alapaʻi’s nephew, Kamehamehanuiʻailūʻau, the true heir of Kekaulike.

The kind of battle fought with Kauhi was huli honua. Huli honua was a strategy without the need of conventional weapons except that the streams of Kauaʻula, Kanahā, and Mahoma [Kahoma], the stream running through Lahaina, were used as weapons. That is, the taro fields and streams were dammed and dried up so that the soldiers and common people would have no food.

Mauna Kahālāwai is the watershed source of the streams and springs of Lahaina that were much desired by sugar planters, those who changed the land and water management of Lahaina. That is another, complex story.

Lahaina of “the waters gushing amidst the pili grass” was a phrase that Kamakau wrote in “The History of Kamehameha I” in The Independent (11/1/1865) as a description of the land features of Lele (Lahaina). That is where Mōʻīkeha left his companions, Pāhaʻa and Panaʻewa. The two were attracted to live there due to the “waters gushing from the pili tassocks, the banana bunches of Waiʻanae (at Lahaina), the long-stemmed paper mulberry of Paeʻohi, and the swimming of turtles in the sea.”

Therefore, where are the waters of Kāne at Lahaina? They are below, in the earth, in the waters that well up!

There were many ponds in the ahupuaʻa of Panau at Lahaina (see figure). The largest pond was Mokuhinia, the home of Kīhāwahine, the guardian of the waters of Lele. Within Mokuhinia was an island named Mokuʻula. That is where the royals Keōpūolani, Nāhiʻenaʻena, and Kauikeaouli moved to from Hilo.

Perhaps it was because of the shade of the breadfruit trees and the gushing waters amidst the pili grass that Kamehameha III established his government there. He built his palace, Hale Piula, seaward of Mokuʻula at the coral-block fort. When the court of Kamehameha III moved to Honolulu, and upon the onset of sugar growing around 1860, the water of Mokuhinia subsided. In 1917, Mokuhinia had dried up and was filled with coral dredged for Māla Harbor. It became a public park by executive order of Gov. Lucius Pinkham in 1918. The other ponds likely met the same fate. All of them filled in with debris.

The wealth of water and food supplies is one reason why whaling boats visited Lahaina. Around 1840, an American representative suggested to King Kauikeaouli to dig a canal from Kahoma stream to around the wharf so sailors could buy water. As a result, many stores like bars sprang up around the canal.

The waters of Lahaina are a precious resource. For those that tended the land, water from the streams was the life line of a fertile land. For the nobility, the gushing waters and ponds were a source of comfort. For the foreigner, water was something to sell and buy and a means to make one wealthy. May the waters of Lahaina spring up, well up, and flow again!