Just above Homelani Cemetery in Hilo Town sits Puʻu Hālaʻi. Much smaller now because of mining and development, it remains a prominent landmark and is the most intact of the three famous hills in the ahupuaʻa of Punahoa.
Puʻu Honu, going ma uka, is the second puʻu. Also mostly destroyed by mining in the 1970s, it provided material for roads and homes in Hilo. A remnant lies ma uka of Komohana Street. The third hill, ma uka of Puʻu Honu, is now gone. Those who still remember call it Puʻu ʻŌpeʻapeʻa, though it also has other names.
Long ago, there was an akua named Hina. Among her many children were three daughters: Hinakeahi (also known as Hinaikeahi, Hinaʻauʻauwai, or Hinaikawai), Hinakuluʻīua (or Hinaikaua), and Waiānuenue. Each were gifted kuleana. Hinakeahi, the eldest, was gifted Puʻu Hālaʻi and its people, Hinakuluʻīua was gifted Puʻu Honu and its people, and Waiānuenue was gifted the rainbow.
One day, a horrible famine overcame Hilo. For months, people starved and their ribs grew visible. Crops withered but there was no water in the ʻauwai to save them.
Hinakeahi gathered her kāhuna and all of her people at the top of Hālaʻi, and ordered them to dig a large imu. Her people obeyed. Over several days, with difficulty, they gathered cooking stones, dry wood, and whatever greenery they could find to cover the imu. The wisest among them were afraid. They knew this was no imu for a feast, not when there was so little food. This was an imu for a sacrifice – a human sacrifice.
When the imu was ready, Hinakeahi said to them, “I am about to make an offering to the akua. But no offering is enough to save you from this famine… except an offering of an aliʻi. I will sacrifice myself. In three days a woman will come to tell you to open the imu. Do as she says.”
The people wept as she stepped into the smoke and steam of the imu, but they covered it, sealing Hinakeahi within.
Hinakeahi did not die that day, for she had a kuleana to fire as well. She dove deep into the earth, emerging on the north side of Waiānuenue Avenue, just across from the [current] Hilo Jail. Water shot out behind her, creating a new spring named Pūʻou. This spring still exists today.
She returned back into the earth and emerged again just above what is now Komohana Street, above Hilo Jail. Again, water bubbled up where she rose and became the spring called Pōpōʻalaea. This spring still flows, but now it appears below Komohana Street, on land owned by the jail.
Again she dove into the earth, and emerged near the old Hilo Hotel and the East Hawaiʻi Cultural Center. A spring formed there as well, named Moewaʻa. This spring was filled in long ago, its exact location is unknown.
Hinakeahi went into the earth one last time, and emerged with water gushing forth where the waves met the sandy shore at the bottom of what is now Haili Street. Finding a surfboard, she swam out to greet her sister Hinaʻōpūhalakoʻa, who lived in the sea. She surfed back to shore, leaving her surfboard behind, which eventually turned into stone. She then bathed at the spring, which was named Hinaʻauʻauwai because she bathed there. It was destroyed by the earthquakes in 1868, and the spot has since been paved over.
Three days had passed since Hinakeahi was buried at Hālaʻi, and her people dutifully waited for a woman to arrive to give them instructions. To their surprise, their own aliʻi came, still alive and well! She ordered them to open the imu. Within, they found an abundance of food, enough for everyone.
The name Hālaʻi is said to commemorate this event, as a great peace fell over this hill upon her return. The great imu at the top of the hill, Kaimuohina, was left open, though today it has been changed by development several times over.
There is much more to this story, though this is the most famous part of it. For now we will have to end things here. As the old people used to say, “pīpī holo kaʻao” (sprinkled, the tale runs).