Through the Eyes of Hālawa

Hālawa Valley the pueo rockface
In this 2006 photo taken in Hālawa Valley the pueo rockface is clearly visible. Pueo is the ‘aumakua (guardian) of the valley and pueo can often be seen flying in Hālawa Valley in the afternoons. Due to overgrowth of foliage, today the rockface is difficult to see and hard to get to. - Photo: Jan Becket

For almost a thousand years, Hālawa on Oʻahu was known for its varieties of upland kalo, large ʻawa groves, medicinal herbs, feathers for cloaks, and an ample supply of pili grass used to thatch homes.

The valley is also dotted with ancient temples, house sites, cave burials, and agricultural works. Hālawa had an ancient and rare birthing site similar to that of Kūkaniloko. The presence of a Hale o Papa (women’s temple) and a birthing site suggests the valley played an important role in rituals associated with women, particularly Papahānaumoku and Hina.

The arrival of Westerners brought plagues that decimated the thriving population of the valley within a generation. In the 19th century, ranching and sugar operations tried to supplant the valley only to be resisted by floods from Hālawa Stream which refused to be controlled. The only remnants of their time in the valley are the eucalyptus and ironwood trees.

Today, Hālawa is mostly known for the H-3 freeway that destroyed a number of significant ritual and cultural sites and sparked sit-ins and protests – not just to protect the valley but to uphold the dignity of our ancestors as a whole.

The valley is part of the ahupuaʻa of Hālawa itself, also known by its more formal name of Nāmakaohālawa (the eyes of Hālawa), in the moku (district) of ʻEwa. The ahupuaʻa of Hālawa extends ma kai from the eastern banks of Puʻuloa including Mokuʻumeʻume (Ford Island), the lands between Kamanaiki and Kamananui streams, and ma uka to the uplands of the Koʻolau mountains including Leilono near Kapūkakī (Red Hill).

From this perspective, Hālawa was rich not with only loʻi kalo (both dry and wet land) but also with a dozen large fishponds (now lost due to the military), and a number of sites associated with royalty.

The voyaging Nanaʻulu dynasty of chiefs was associated with Hālawa Valley. Queen Emma, a descendant of the Nanaʻulu chiefs, had a yellow house where Hickam military base is today. Two ancient fishponds called Holokahiki and Kumumaʻu ʻIli were part of Queen Emma’s estate and now lie buried below the runways of the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

It was said that these and other fishponds in the area were built by people with supernatural powers known as the ʻeʻepa. The queen’s fishponds were known for having fat nahawale mussels. Near the fishponds were huge taro fields.

The queen was a kalo connoisseur and was fond of the kāīkoi variety of kalo that grew in the area. Kāīkoi was said to be one of the toughest kalo to pound and only a man or a woman from ʻEwa knew how to achieve the proper texture. With so much history and so many ʻono foods, it is little wonder why the queen so loved Hālawa that she was sometimes called the “Ka Wahine Aliʻi o Hālawa” which English languages newspapers translated as the “Countess of Hālawa.”

Moʻolelo of Hālawa speaks of the presence of a number of female moʻo (lizard) and shark deities. Some of these moʻo remain nameless but among the more well-known was Kānekuaʻana.

Kānekuaʻana was a well-respected and beloved moʻo who guarded the entire moku and who left descendants. When there was a shortage of fish and the people of ʻEwa grew hungry, they prayed to her and built a waihau. Waihau are similar to kūʻula (shrines) but are normally dedicated to female akua and moʻo. At this waihau, her kin dedicated fruits and burned a fire to call her attention. Kānekuaʻana heard their prayers and brought pipi (oysters) and pāpaua (shellfish) from Kahiki.

The pipi in that area was said to be juicy and was the envy of other districts. According to a story recorded by Mary Kawena Pukui, in the 1800s a kapu was placed on the pipi. A woman picked pipi during the kapu season and was told by a konohiki (the land manager for an ahupuaʻa who reported to the aliʻi) to return what she had picked.

The woman dutifully returned her catch but the konohiki then demanded that she pay a fine of one dollar. The woman was poor and paid the fine with her last dollar. It was said that Kānekuaʻana heard of this and grew angry at the treatment of this impoverished woman by the konohiki. She then gathered up all the pipi and since that time the pipi population had diminished and what remained lacked the tastiness of years past. This serves as a reminder that the spiritual guardians of the land are kind to those who are themselves kind.

The recent history of Hālawa has been unkind as the valley has been assaulted by waves of devastation in the name of “progress.” But Hālawa continues to remind us of our kuleana to kūʻē for our heritage.