In 2018, Hawaiian ocean navigation skills and mastery at reading the stars, skies and weather are recognized.
Early Hawaiians knew stars reappeared annually, and watched their seasonal paths in the sky. They even named the stars. Our kūpuna were confident in their knowledge when they first ventured into the Pacific toward Hawai‘i. Hawaiian wisdom was not universally accepted, however, until Hōkūle‘a’s sailing to, and from, Tahiti in 1976. Before then, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki theory, which had Hawaiians floating from South America to Hawai‘i on balsa rafts, had higher credibility. This changed in 1976. Only then did the mo‘olelo of our elders become truth.
The knowledge of early Hawaiians was substantial, particularly regarding their environment. Our kūpuna studied everything, noting the slightest changes in growing plants, the winds, rains and other surroundings and they named that phenomena, as well. When I moved to Mānoa, my mother pointed out the gentle, misty Wa‘ahila rain that was falling in the valley. The Wa‘ahila rain is characteristic of Mānoa, although it falls in upper Nu‘uanu, as well.
Years ago, a Hawaiian musician was singing while my mother and I were there alone. She had me “listen closely” to the words of his song. He sang the song again, and again, for me. The song began with naming the Kūkalahale wind and Māmala Bay of Honolulu; then, it continued with names of characteristic winds, rains and seas of port cities on other islands. My mother reflected that as a young child, her kahu hanai taught her about her mother’s home island with songs. My mother was taught to play the songs on a ‘ukulele crafted from a cigar box as her kahu hanai played a guitar. When the songs were about Hawai‘i Island, the significance of the words was explained to her. She learned songs about Honolulu and O‘ahu, where she lived, as well as ones about the other islands.
The mo‘olelo of Hi‘iakaikapoliopele is educational. One can learn names of island places, winds and rains; and the names and mo‘olelo of distinctive geographical markers, as well. Hi‘iaka meets many noteworthy people along on their route to Kaua‘i, and back to Pele’s home, Kilauea, on Hawai‘i Island. Hi‘iaka traveled with two female companions. Each woman had magical powers that they used to protect themselves, as their journey was extremely eventful. Hi‘iaka chants and teaches her companions about people, places and the environment along their route. On O‘ahu, on the Waimanalo side of Nu‘u‘anu pali, Hi‘iaka chanted of the Malanai wind of Kailua and ‘uki grass at Kawainui. Turning toward Kāne‘ohe, Hi‘iaka pointed out Mā‘eli‘eli, a cliff above He‘eia, where the gods Kāne and Kanaloa raced up the cliff, digging into the cliff with their fingers and toes to make the climb. Hi‘iaka chanted about rain showers in ‘āhulimanu and the encircling Pō‘aihale rain inland of Kahalu‘u. The three women moved toward He‘eia and the Kālepa rains.
After a stop at He‘eia, the women continued their travels to Pākole, a place at the base of Mā‘eli‘eli. Hi‘iaka turned to her friend, saying that Mā‘eli‘eli was the name of the peak, and that was where their cousin, Hinaiakamalama, left the world to dwell in the moon. One of her legs was broken because her husband held on to it, so Hinaiakamalama flew, in her crippled state, and entered the moon. She became known as Lonomuku, or “Lono the broken.” The women continued on to Ka‘alaea and Waikāne. Hi‘iaka explained that the place was named Waikāne because it was the first place that Kāne channeled fresh water needed for the land of Paliuli. There is a Paliuli on the ridge of cliffs and just below the cliffs, where renown waters – Wai‘ololī, the male, and Wai‘ololā, the female – were found. Hi‘iaka said it is “a fine and fertile land, a place of abundance but the land shall become depleted and withered.”
Today, names of towns and districts are mostly remembered, but details of rain and winds are often forgotten. Knowing mo‘olelo of how and why place names were given is enlightening and reassuring. Hi‘iaka’s story also illustrates many cultural ways and practices of our ancestors. This is a wonderful, colorful, stimulating tale and it is worth reading, and reading again.