Wahi Pana: Waiʻanae

#87 in the Moʻolelo series

My grandparents moved from Lāhaina to Honolulu in 1941, then to Mākaha in 1950, where they lived the rest of their lives – until 2005 in my grandfather’s case. Growing up visiting them, I grew to have an intuitive understanding of ahupuaʻa because they are so distinct on that coast, each mountain reaching down to the sea like moʻo, marking the boundaries where the ahu would have been. Later, I started my teaching career on the coast at Waiʻanae High School.

My grandmother, Margaret Kaʻaʻa Apo was on the Hawaiʻi Board of Education for 17 years and was inducted into the Waianae Coast Hall of Fame

Today, Waiʻanae is primarily a residential area, where people commute to Honolulu or Pearl Harbor, as my grandparents did for decades. But Waiʻanae used to be a plantation town like many other towns its size. Today, it is the home of more Native Hawaiians than any other place in the world. (Kamehameha Schools recognized this, constructing a community resource center in Maʻili on the Waiʻanae coast, which connects, houses and leverages multiple community educational services such as Leeward Community College Waiʻanae Annex). According to the US Census, the population of Waiʻanae is 13,177, but this may not be the entire coast, perhaps just the town itself. 38% of these are “Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander alone” and 40% are “two or more races” – many of these are part-Hawaiian. Per capita income in Waianae as of the 2010 census was only $18,900, less than half the national average and the poverty rate is 27%, nearly double the national average (census.gov).

Waiʻanae coast ahpuaʻa (hidot.gov). Maʻili on the Waiʻanae coast in named for the chief Maʻilikūkahi

These statistics, if not known precisely, are well-known both on and off the coast. The book Detours: A Decolonial Guide to Hawaiʻi describes a bus tour (huakaʻi) of the Waiʻanae coast used to show environmental racism (Waiʻanae is the site of a large landfill, a wastewater treatment plant, and possibly worse – stay with me) as well as positive developments:

the bus tour ended with a story of regeneration at MAʻO Organic Farms MAʻO is an acronym for Māla ʻAi ʻŌpio which has a double meaning: the “youth food garden” and “the place that grows young people.”

Candace Fujikane in Aikau and Gonzalez, Detours: A Decolonial guide to Hawaiʻi, Duke University Press, 2019

In contrast to this reputation, McGrath, Brewer and Krauss call historic Waiʻanae “a place of Kings.”

The term “Waiʻanae” is used in two senses: to describe the entire Leeward coast or to describe the town of Waianae itself. But Waiʻanae is also a moku, or district, that comprises what we think of as the Leeward coast, but has a strange, thin segment that reaches over the mountains encompassing Kukaniloko birthing stones in Wahiawa.* The Waiʻanae coast is comprised of several ahupuaʻa. Nānākuli is the first small valley one passes entering the coast, where Nānākuli High and Intermediate School is located. This valley is almost entirely Hawaiian Home Lands (as are the elementary schools and the park). Lualualei is a huge ahupuaʻa comprising what we call Maʻili and most of Waiʻanae valley. A large portion of this ahpuaʻa, which was formerly Hawaiian Homes, is used by the military (a trade was made for these now-unuseable lands), including its large communication towers. In her book All our Relations, Winnona LaDuke (former Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate with Ralph Nader) states that there is nuclear storage in Lualualei. Eric Enos notes that Kaʻala Farms, the drug treatment farm that he manages is in an ahupuaʻa called Waiʻanae Kai. Other ahupuaʻa along the coast include Mākaha, which was owned by Abner Pākī after the Māhele, Ohikilolo and Mākua.

Paul Manini, the son of Don Francisco de Paula Marin, began ranching in Waiʻanae in 1851 on a 17,000 acre lease from Kamehameha III. The wealthy Holt family established a ʻcountry seat” in Mākaha “where they entertained the cream of Oʻahu’s social set” (McGrath, Brewer and Krauss, 1975, 32).Hermann Widemann established Waianae Plantation, a sugar plantation, in 1878. This was the origin of the railroad – the tracks still exist, mainly in Nānākuli – on the Waiʻanae coast.

*I had the opportunity to ask Tom Lenchanko, of the Wahiawā Hawaiian Civic Club, which cares for Kukaniloko, why this strange extension of the Waiʻanae moku exists. He said that it was essentially a trail that led to the path to Kualoa, a source of whale bone!


Filed under Education

2 responses to “Wahi Pana: Waiʻanae

  1. Kim Apo

    This is great information Umi! I will share with the family. Thank you!! I love these articles.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. umi

    Kim – give all my best to the OAʻs: the Oregon Apoʻs!


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