OHA’s Papakilo Database: A User’s Experience

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By Cody Pueo Pata, guest author

Photo: Cody Pueo Pata

I have used the Papakilo Database for years, and have always been grateful for this resource. With that said, in November of 2019, I was contracted to compile a book on place names for the three moku of “West Maui.” My usual work found me abroad for much of any given month. One of the only reasons I agreed to this challenge was because I knew I could use my away-time efficiently because I would still have access to online resources, including the Papakilo Database.

As 2020 started, I began to compile my own lists of “West Maui” place names, first, by poring over my personal maps, documents, and texts while home here on Maui – each name being logged accordingly. When I traveled, I would enter these names into the Papakilo Database as a means of triangulating more accurate forms and finding other contextual information.

Lo-and-behold, COVID-19 hit, and my travels – even locally – came to a near complete halt by the end of March. In our home are people considered high-risk, so we made the decision early on to avoid unnecessary exposure. This meant that any physical visits I was planning to various off-island archives were going to be impossible into the foreseeable future.

It took a few months to adjust to life in what would later be called our pālama. But by August, as a kumu hula who is active in the Lāhui Kānaka pandemic response, I was not willing to even travel from here in Pukalani to “West Maui” for in-person site visits and studies.

Regardless, I still had a contract to fulfill. So the opportunity was presented for me to nestle more snuggly into Papakilo.

For “West Maui,” I have currently amassed 1,491 entries of place names. The individual entries depict not only the more standard versions of place names, but variations of those place names as found in different sources. I will say that, regardless of where I originally found the name, I have now entered 100% of the place names I’ve compiled into the Papakilo Database search engine for its expanded capabilities.

Of perhaps the most value was the “Māhele ʻĀina Index.” Being able to view scans of the actual documents for free helped in discerning actual spellings of place names – some of which were misrepresented in transcribed versions. Because these scanned documents also provide detailed depictions of lot outlines and configurations, along with information on neighboring lands and people, investigations on obscured names or indiscernible script became key to successfully locating plots of land amongst seas of properties on LCA and TMK maps.

Next of value was the “Newspapers” database, and closely behind that, the “Place Names (ULUK)” database. And, as far as my inability to execute in-person site visits, the Kīpuka database was a great help in providing satellite views which I was then further able to cross-reference with Google Earth and with other maps.

Although I have been using the Papakilo Database for years, it was through this project that I came to more fully understand and deeply appreciate the cross-referencing capabilities in what is basically a one-stop shop.

Since I originally began using it years ago, OHA’s Papakilo Database has always been valuable to me. And, for this current project, I can safely say that the Papakilo Database has been, without exaggeration, truly invaluable. My deepest mahalo to OHA for this exceptional resource, and to all of the staff who are responsible for its formatting, data, maintenance, and success!


Cody Kapueolaʻākeanui Pata is kumu hula of Hālau Hula ÿo Ka Malama Mahilani, based in Kahului, Maui. In addition to teaching hula, Kumu Pueo is a private Hawaiian language and culture consultant and has taught Hawaiian language and culture across the island of Maui since 1993. A recording artist, Kumu Pueo has released three solo albums, and is featured on 17 other recording projects. In 2008, he won the Hōkū Hanohano Award for Haku Mele with his composition “Miliʻōpua.”