Huaka‘i to Kalaupapa, a land of living legends

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Learning the traditional mo‘olelo of Kalaupapa with Miki‘ala Pescaia

Mikiala Ayau Pescaia is an Interpretive Park Ranger with the National Park Service at Kalaupapa National Historical Park, where she shares moʻolelo of the area with visitors and workers alike. Mikiala’s family has lived in Molokaʻi for generations. Photo: Alice Silbanuz

Moloka‘i native Miki‘ala Pescaia is an amazing story teller. She credits this gift to her grandmother, well-known historian and storyteller, Harriet Ne, who raised her. In Pescaia’s current role as an Interpretive Park Ranger at the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, she has the opportunity to share the rich history of Kalaupapa. Much of the mo‘olelo of Kalaupapa is tied to the remote community’s history as a Hansen’s Disease Settlement dating back to 1866. But during our visit to the peninsula we hear stories that go even further back in time, perpetuated in oral histories.

Crater Lookout

The top of Pu‘u ‘Uao provides a spectacular vantage point overlooking the peninsula. It is here that we learn of Pele’s impact on this ‘āina. Pescaia shares, “As Pele was travelling from Kahiki coming across the pae ‘āina, she stopped here. Digging with her stick, she builds up the fires of Pu‘u ‘Uao and creates Kauhakō Crater. But Namakaokaha‘i extinguishes her fires and she is forced to continue on to Maui. She didn’t linger on Moloka‘i very long, but the evidence of her presence is still here. It is what created Kalaupapa.”

So when we talk about akua or kupua and all these mo‘olelo, they are not detached from us. They are so relevant to us, right here and now.

Ha‘eha‘eku: a giant among us

Ha‘eha‘eku the giant is responsible for teaching the people of Ho‘olehua the lesson of sharing. He grew up in Ho‘olehua but left to live in the lands above Kalaupapa after being mistreated by his peers. In a time of famine, Ha‘eha‘eku scooped the headwaters from Waihānau and hand carried the water to Ho‘olehua to water the ‘uala in hopes of feeding the starving residents.

Pescaia explains, “So today the reservoir at the base of Pu‘u ‘Uala continues to do that (provide water). You have this kupua who had a prominence in ancient times, his kuleana now has contemporary context. He’s still making sure that water is in that pipeline, and making sure that water is getting into the reservoir and is still irrigating all the fields of Ho‘olehua. That is Ha‘eha‘eku still taking care of us today. So when we talk about akua or kupua and all these mo‘olelo, they are not detached from us. They are so relevant to us, right here and now.”

Hi‘iaka fights mo‘o

At Judd Park we look out to two little islets off the coast of Kalawao. Pescaia shares, “the mo‘olelo goes that Hi‘iaka, on the way to Kaua‘i to fetch Lohiau, fights the mo‘o on the Ko‘olau side of Moloka‘i. She chops off their tails and flings them down the coastline. The islets of Huelo and ‘ōkala are far away from where the mo‘o lay. And yet when we look at the composition of the stone, we realize they are a perfect match for that area where the mo‘olelo says they came from, not from the near adjacent pali.”

Flyin’ Hawaiians

Pescaia also tells of how her grandmother who lived in Pelekunu would use loulu palm leaves to be carried by the wind and fly from Mōkapu island to the shore. “Looking at aerodynamics our kūpuna figured out how to glide, with loulu palm leaves. Of course they spent hundreds of years studying birds and after watching them fly over every single day you would learn a thing or two about aerodynamics. That’s not far-fetched to realize that our kūpuna would incorporate that technology to make life easier for them. They did it so many times. We have solar powered clothes dryers because they realized if we arranged stones in a particular way you can actually capture the heat of the sun, reflect it back in and create a convection current. Why is that so hard to understand? Today with technology we’ve taken out all of these abilities that we innately had, whether its using our bodies as thermometers, barometers or compasses. And now we put all that into tools and we take it out of ourselves. I love when I have the chance to share mo‘olelo that starts to pull those abilities back into our kino and into our consciousness. We are our kūpuna. We have those abilities. Let’s get back to using them!”