Hawai‘i Island is called Moku o Keawe (Island of Keawe) in honor of an ancient island chief. This moku is the youngest of Hawai‘i’s eight major islands, and it’s still growing!
Taking its name from the word meaning spewing or much spreading (of lava), Kīlauea volcano continues to actively increase the island’s size as its lava flows down to Hawai‘i’s southeastern coastline, forming new land there. And Hualālai volcano, which created the North-Kona district, last erupted in 1801 and is expected to erupt again within the next century.
Not all Hawai‘i Island’s volcanos are active. Its oldest volcano, Kohala, is more than 1 million years old. Mauna Loa volcano has been quiet since 1950, when it rapidly spread lava across the Kona district’s southeastern coast. Mauna Kea, the highest mountain peak in the state, last erupted thousands of years ago and is considered extinct.
The peaks of all these majestic mauna (mountains) are considered sacred, wao akua, areas inhabited only by the spirits. Thus, access to these tallest of peaks has traditionally been restricted to man and is reserved for the spirits and gods. Over thousands of years, the eight volcanos have given Hawai‘i Island and the Kona-side unique and absolutely breathtaking oceanviews and landscapes.
Numerous, well-known mele (songs, chants) express great pride, honor and adoration for these five volcanic mauna (mountains). Honorific mele often include Haleakalā (house used by the sun), of neighboring Maui, when demonstrating great aloha for these extraordinary mauna even in modern times.
Ancient mo‘olelo – lore and history – are connected to Kona. A heiau (place of worship) dedicated to food is in Kailua-Kona, and its mo‘olelo credits the god Lono with expanding nutrition options for island natives. Mele also tell of beautiful landscapes and ocean views along the Kona coast. Years ago, while driving along Kona highway, my mother pointed out the unique ocean conditions, “Kona kai ‘ōpua,” “ke kai mālino a‘o Kona” and “ke kai mā‘oki‘oki.” My mother learned of these phenomenon in songs about her mother’s home island that her kahu hānai (guardian) taught to her.
Kona district’s environmental contrasts are numerous and in many areas its beauty is primal. Its cultural history is unmatched among our islands, as it was the home and seat of government to many of Hawai‘i’s powerful ancient chiefs.
Today, few structures surround the Kona airport, until you near Kailua Kona, where modern hotels and shopping malls are growing in number. A few modern subdivisions have been introduced in the last few decades. The older homes and towns cling to the mountainside, huddling around the old road, far mauka of (above) the newer coastline hotels and shopping developments. Between both Kona roadways remain acres of undeveloped land.
Lava flows still cover much of the Kona district’s landscape. Lava flows that reached the shoreline decades ago have cooled and hardened, creating cliffs that drop many feet down into the ocean. There are vast areas of lava fields that remain untouched or hardly touched. The modern, multilane highway above the Kona airport was built across vast lava fields. In some areas, time and cooling of lava has been sufficient enough to support growth of scruffy vegetation. In the North Kona and South Kohala districts, grass-covered oceanfront parks and grassy tracks of land surround the highway. Pasture lands formerly dedicated to cattle ranching remain green, and homes and small towns cluster on approach to South Kohala and Kohala.
For years, a close friend has told stories about her home, South Kona, and these tales have always peaked my curiosity and interest. She is involved in restoration projects in Kona that are core to Hawaiian history. Listening to her expressions of love for Kona, I wonder about the places that my ancestors knew, as my forebearers were from Hawai‘i Island. Later, the heiau of Kona.