Wahi Pana: Waipiʻo

#87 in the Moʻolelo series

Līloa, the King of Hawaiʻi Island circa 1600, made his residence at Waipiʻo Valley in Hāmākua. Malo (2020) notes: “Waipiʻo is where Līloa lived for a long time and where he died.”

It was said that the entire island could be fed from that one valley alone – thatʻs how fertile it was. When his son ʻUmi-a-līloa became king, he also made his residence there, though he later moved it to Kona (ʻUmihale is in Keauhou, Kona.)

One can make out the traces of their residence there, Pakaʻalana heiau remains, which is the heiau of Līloa. Even the location of ʻUmi’s personal kōʻele (garden/farm) is known. As I mentioned before, the remains of Līloa and ʻUmi’s grandson Lonoikamakahiki were taken from Bishop Museum and, it is commonly thought, repatriated to Waipiʻo.

Waipiʻo Valley

My Great-great-grandfather lived in the small village at the edge of Waipiʻo called Kukuihaele. (He moved to Lāhaina, probably in his teens, probably to go to Lahainaluna, but weʻre not sure – this was the beginning of our familyʻs association with Lāhaina).

Archaeologist Patrick Kirch relates, from an archaeo-historical perspective, the story of ʻUmi’s family, set in Waipiʻo, relating to “a pattern of repeated usurpations by junior relatives of ruling chiefs:”

The traditions concerning ʻUmi are paradigmatic. ʻUmi, keeper of the war god Kūkailimoku (the ʻkingdom snatching god’), deposed his half-brother Hakau, offering the latter’s body on the leaking heiau at Waipiʻo Valley … events [that were] repeated several generations later, almost exactly, by Kamehameha when he usurped the chieftainship from Kīwalaʻo.

Kirch, 1985, 307

So while Waipiʻo was something like a “capital” (or at least royal residence) of Hawaiʻi Island in traditional times, it became quite the opposite in modern times. This lack of development has allowed its archaeo-history to be studied. Kirch notes that because of its relative seclusion (the road into the valley is one of the steepest in Hawaiʻi), Waipiʻo has been a place where kuaʻāina can continue to practice relatively traditional ways of living:

small areas of irrigated taro have continued to be cultivated until the present, as at Keʻanae on Maui and in Waipiʻo on Hawaiʻi.

Kirch, 1985, 218.

Bishop Museum owns most of the valley today. The museum had plans to sell, but abandoned those in 2019.

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