Haleʻiwa and Waialua: ʻĀina Momona

Ka Wai Ola

Photo: Claire Kuʻuleilani Hughes

In 1860, Christian missionaries built their first seminary in Waialua, Oʻahu. They named it “Hale ʻIwa,” meaning “beautiful home.” The ʻiwa is a large native bird that builds very beautiful nests; hence their translation for Hale ʻIwa. Soon the community surrounding the seminary was called Haleʻiwa. This seminary was abandoned in 1912.

The ʻiwa is primarily black in color, with a few grey and white feathers. ʻIwa eat only fish. In early morning hours they take flight, skimming low over the ocean’s surface to fish. The ʻiwa dive straight down into the ocean to catch fish; then rise straight out of the ocean into flight. Because of its fishing skill, the ʻiwa is known as the chief among fishing birds. ʻIwa are beautiful and graceful in flight, as they soar very, very high; nearly three miles into the sky, where they float aloft on the wind. At night, ʻiwa return to the land.

Historically, Waialua was a travel hub; many ancient trails and pathways crossed there, connecting all areas of Oʻahu. Later, trains and automobiles would trace similar paths. In ancient times, the large native population was supported by abundant water, farming and fishing resources, and densely forested areas. Waialua “ʻāina momona” (fertile land), was endowed with water that generously supported numerous area loʻi kalo (taro terraces). Two large loko iʻa (fishponds) were area resources as well. These freshwater fishponds were prominent features of the coastal landscape in old Waialua. Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau writes that during Chief Kākuhihewa’s early childhood he was fed the kingdom’s choicest of foods. Sweet mullet from Waialua’s Loko ʻUkoʻa and Loko Ea, were among those select foods.

Photo: Queen Liliuokalani Protestant Church
Queen Liliʻuokalani Protestant Church – Photo: Kawena Lei Carvalho-Mattos

“Waialua” has several possible translations. Most agree it refers to the mixing of the two streams that form Waialua river. Others say the name came from a loʻi by that name. Another translation points to Chief Waia, a cruel ancient chief driven away by the people there.

Near Puaʻena Point lays a curative stone that, occasionally, is covered by sand. Oʻahu natives traveled many miles to visit Puaʻena for its curative powers. The smooth, oval-shaped stone represented Puaʻena, a woman who followed Pele from Tahiti. Healing began by placing seaweed on the stone, then a petition for help was addressed to Puaʻena. Finally, the injured body part was touched to the stone. A properly performed ceremony brought certain cure. People also asked Puaʻena about prosperity. Her answers came through their dreams.

Memories of Queen Liliʻuokalani’s visits to Haleʻiwa’s celebrated hotel still stirs warm memories among community residents. One memory was her relaxing of a protocol – one of the strictest – permitting area natives to fish from her personal loko iʻa in Waialua. All appreciated her overwhelming generosity and were very discreet. Today her name continues to grace Haleʻiwa town’s Liliʻuokalani Protestant Church. This Waialua moku (district) church continues to possess vibrant significance today.