ʻAʻole hoʻohalahala iā Oʻahu a puni, he momona ma uka, he momona ma kai, he lani i luna, he honua i lalo.
Around all of Oʻahu, there is nothing about which to complain, there is fertility upland, fertility in the lowlands, the sky is above, the earth below.
— Kamakau (23 September 1865)

If you live within the archipelago of Hawai‘i, chances are, you live on O‘ahu. Most of Hawai‘i’s residents do. And if not, you’ve probably visited a few times. What makes O‘ahu so special that nearly one million of us live here? Read on and perhaps you will agree that O‘ahu is “ka ‘ōnohi o nā kai”—the center of the Hawaiian seas.

Who is O‘ahu?

Born of godly descent, O‘ahu is the child of Papa (earth goddess) and Lua. Because of this parentage, O‘ahu is also called O‘ahualua (O‘ahu, child of Lua). Before O‘ahu are born the main islands to the east, and after O‘ahu are born the islands to the west. This is just one version of O‘ahu’s birth.

Mele a Pakui

Ho‘i mai Papa mai loko o TahitiPapa returned from Tahiti
Inaina lili i ka punaluaWith jealous anger toward her rival
Hae, manawa ‘ino i ke kāne, ‘o WākeaEnraged, furious at her husband Wākea
Moe iā Lua he kāne hou iaShe sleeps with Lua, a new husband
Hānau O‘ahualuaO‘ahualua is born
O‘ahualua, ke keiki mokuO‘ahualua, an island child
He keiki makanalau na LuaOne of many offspring of Lua


In another origin story, O‘ahu is the child of Papa and Wākea. In both genealogies, O‘ahu’s sacred status is clear. But what makes O‘ahu unique?

[Map of Oʻahu] Showing the six moku. Artwork by R. Y. Racoma.

O‘ahu’s wahi pana (storied places)

Edible mud, a mo‘o guardian, and a magical fish-attracting branch—these definitely have the makings of uniqueness. And all of these call Kawainui Marsh home. Located in the windward ahupua‘a of Kailua, in the district of Ko‘olaupoko the marsh was once the largest freshwater fishpond on the island. Together with other fresh water sources, Kawainui helped provide O‘ahu with a significant amount of inland fresh water. Where there is wai (water) there is waiwai (wealth).

But in time, Kawainui became overrun with alien weeds and filled with upland soil runoff. It could’ve easily been destroyed, filled, and developed. But a force of people, especially from the community and the government, worked together to restore Kawainui. Four types of endangered marsh birds can still be seen at Kawainui, designated a “wetland of international importance.”

[Kawainui marsh] Photo by Karen Awong.
More mud please!
When Kamehameha and his warriors stayed at Kailua, the great feast that had been prepared for them was already eaten by O‘ahu warriors. All that was left was fish oil on ti leaves! And when Kailua was completely out of poi for them, the people of Kailua secretly gathered the edible mud of Kawainui and put it in calabashes. The mud was eaten by the warriors and chiefs of Kamehameha. In 1872, Kamehameha’s great-granddaughter, Princess Pauahi, and Princess Likelike went to Kailua to taste this mud. It was described as reddish-pink with spots and jello-like, very much like haupia. Sound like something you might try?


Leaving Kailua and the southeastern district of Ko‘olaupoko, we arrive at Kona, better known today as “Honolulu.”

Kona, mai ka pu‘u o Kapūkakī a ka pu‘u o Kawaihoa.
The district of Kona extends from the hill of Kapūkakī (Red Hill) to the hill of Kawaihoa (Koko Head).

[Diamond Head] As viewed from the duck ponds in Honolulu. Photographer unknown.Kona has been and continues to be a happening district. Within its borders are the likes of Waikīkī, a favorite playground of the ali‘i. Some high rulers made their home and the ruling center of the kingdom here, including Kamehameha and Mā‘ilikūkahi. Besides its ocean sports, Waikīkī had lo‘i kalo and loko i‘a and was a thriving center of food production.

The wind of Waikīkī that blows through the coconut fronds is called Wehelauniu. Honolulu, which was formerly a fishing village called Kou, has the Kūkalahale rain that passes quickly but still sends people running under the eaves of their house.

Kona goes way back
The name Kona is not unique to O‘ahu. We most often hear it used for the leeward district on Hawai‘i Island. But it is also the name of districts on Moloka‘i, Kaua‘i, and Ni‘ihau. The name comes from our Polynesian kūpuna. “Kona” is the same as “Tonga” in some other Polynesian languages, and it can refer to the southerly or the leeward side of an island. On the opposite side is Ko‘olau or Tokelau, the windward side.


As we run through Kona and enter the next moku, or district, we find ourselves in ‘Ewa. Most tourists in ‘Ewa will visit Pearl Harbor. Do you know how Pearl Harbor got its English name? It used to have oysters, some of which had pearls in them! Our kūpuna called the oysters “i‘a hāmau leo”—fish that are gathered in silence. These i‘a were famous at Pu‘uloa, the traditional name for the Pearl Harbor area.

Pu‘uloa’s most famous inhabitant also lived in the ocean. Ka‘ahupāhau was the shark guardian of Pu‘uloa. She protected humans from man-eating sharks and other dangers. That’s why she is still sung about in songs today.

[Map of Pearl Harbor] Showing locations of fishponds and other old landmarks. Artist unknown.

Alahula Pu‘uloa, he alahele no Ka‘ahupāhau
Pu‘uloa is a well-traveled path, a route for Ka‘ahupāhau

The shores of Pu‘uloa were incorporated into fishponds, producing an abundance of protein. Fish, porpoises, and even sharks were caught by hand, for which O‘ahu was famous. The first ‘ulu tree was said to have been planted here at Pu‘uloa.

Unfortunately, the story of Pu‘uloa, like so many other places across the pae ‘āina, is one of loss and destruction. Cattle introduced to Hawai‘i ate much of the plants upland, causing the earth to be washed into the sea. Being the only large natural harbor in the North Pacific, Pu‘uloa attracted America’s Navy. Here, they could base their ships in case of war with an Asian country.

And so, the home of Ka‘ahupāhau, the i‘a hāmau leo, and numerous fishponds experienced further destruction, this time to fit American battleships. The skeleton of a 14-foot shark was found in dredging Pu‘uloa. The i‘a hāmau leo have not been seen for generations. And Pu‘uloa is not able to feed our people the way it once had.

Pu‘uloa, known as Pearl Harbor in English, has long been contested terrain. The perceived military and commercial value of Pu‘uloa contributed to the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A whole nation of people lost their independence and continued to lose their way of life. And today Hawai‘i is the most militarized “state” in the United States.

Waiʻanae? Why not!


[Māui snaring the sun] Artwork by R. Y. Racoma.[Puʻu Heleakalā in Waiʻanae] Photo by Stephen Warner.Remember the story of the demigod Māui snaring the sun to slow it down? One version of that story says he did it at Pu‘uheleakalā in Wai‘anae, the next moku on our tour.

Famed in old mele, the plains of Līhu‘e in Wai‘anae Uka were known as a cold place where kupukupu ferns and fragrant nēnē grass grow. Here the battle of Kalena took place, in which Chief Kūali‘i and two others took on 12,000, and won. It is said that the Līhu‘e on Kaua‘i was named after this Līhu‘e.

All this touring making you ‘ono for i‘a? You’re in the right place. Wai‘anae is known for its deep-sea fishing grounds.

Prior to Chief Mā‘ilikūkahi, the ruling center of O‘ahu was on the central plateau near Kūkaniloko, which takes us to the district of Waialua. Kūkaniloko is also called the birthing stones. It is the famous birth place of O‘ahu’s high ali‘i (chiefs). There are large boulders that women used to sit or lay on to give birth.

An important king of O‘ahu born at Kūkaniloko is Kākuhihewa. Within his government building, geography, astronomy, divination, poetry, history, warfare, and physical fitness were studied and practiced. He treated the weakest and most vulnerable as his favorites. His reign is remembered as one of peace and prosperity, such that the island is sometimes referred to as O‘ahu o Kākuhihewa (O‘ahu of Kākuhihewa). It is no coincidence that Kākuhihewa is the great-great-great-great-grandchild of Mā‘ilikūkahi, who also was a very good ruler and also born at Kūkaniloko. He developed the ahupua‘a system on this island.

The following mele shares the mo‘olelo of the first ali‘i born at Kūkaniloko—Chief Kapawa of Waialua.

‘O Kapawa, ‘o ke ali‘i o Waialua        Kapawa, the chief of Waialua
I hānau i Kūkaniloko                        Was born at Kūkaniloko
‘O Wahiawā ke kahua                      Wahiawā the site
‘O Līhu‘e ke ēwe                              At Līhu‘e the placenta
‘O Ka‘ala ka piko                              At Ka‘ala the navel cord
‘O Kapukapuākea ke a‘a                   At Kapukapuākea (Heiau) the caul
‘O Kaiaka i Māeaea                          (Heiau) of Kaiaka at Māeaea
Hā‘ule i Nūkea i Wainakia                 He died at Nūkea at Wainakia
I ‘A‘aka i Hāleu                                 Through (the surf of) ‘A‘aka at Hāleu
I ka la‘i malino o Hauola                   Through the calm stillness of Hauola
Ke li‘i ‘o Kapawa ho‘i nō                   The chief Kapawa was taken
Ho‘i nō i uka ka waihona                  Taken upland (in ‘Īao) for laying away
Ho‘i nō i ka pali kapu o nā li‘i           Taken to the sacred pali of the chiefs
He kia‘i Kalāhiki no Kaka‘e                Kalāhiki is the “watchman” of Kaka‘e
‘O Heleipawa ke keiki a Kapawa        Heleipawa was the son of Kapawa
He keiki ali‘i no Waialua i O‘ahu        A chiefly child of Waialua, O‘ahu

                                                       Translation (from Kamakau, 1991, 136–37)

[Kūkaniloko] Photo by Karen Awong.Kūkaniloko remains a sacred place for Native Hawaiians. However, it is an especially significant place for the ali‘i. Its location near the center of the island and its sanctity as the birth site of the highest ali‘i make Kūkaniloko a physical and spiritual piko of O‘ahu.

Standing above Wai‘anae and Waialua is Ka‘ala, the tallest peak on O‘ahu. There resides the benevolent goddess Kaiona who sends her ‘iwa bird to guide the lost out of the forest.


As we are guided on, we find ourselves in the next moku, Ko‘olauloa. The world-renowned surf breaks of O‘ahu’s North Shore are mostly found here in Ko‘olauloa, including Waimea Bay, Pipeline, and Sunset. The beautiful twin sisters Lā‘ieikawai and Lā‘ielohelohe were born at Lā‘ie. Their mother is Mālaekahana, also the name of the ahupua‘a abutting the ahupua‘a of Lā‘ie.

[Looking toward Lāʻie Point] Photo by Kaleo Lancaster.

It is in this moku that the loving but mischievous pig god Kamapua‘a is born, at Kaliuwa‘a. But he didn’t appear as a pig at first. He was born as a cord! He eventually grew into a pig, and he would help his grandmother and brother plant their huli (kalo shoots). Kamapua‘a loved to eat chickens and to cause trouble to the ali‘i nui. He could steal all of Chief ‘Olopana’s chickens from the ahupua‘a of Kapaka, Punalu‘u, and Kahana in one night.

The chief sent men from parts of Ko‘olauloa to capture Kamapua‘a. His grandmother, Kamaunuaniho, would chant his mele inoa (name chant), and Kamapua‘a would free himself and eat all of the men, except for his relative, whom he would always spare. Eventually ‘Olopana sent all the men from the entire island to make war on Kamapua‘a. Upon hearing this, Kamapua‘a needed to get his family to safety. The destination: Waialua, on the other side of the Ko‘olau Mountains, but that would require scaling the impossibly high cliff of Kaliuwa‘a. So Kamapua‘a leaned against the cliff and his family climbed over his back. His grandmother refused to step on his back, so he turned and she climbed up his front. And they all, including Kamapua‘a, escaped . . . for the time being. But not to fret, Kamapua‘a is eventually victorious and lives to see many more adventures across the pae ‘āina.

O‘ahu lives

He lepo ka ‘ai a O‘ahu, a mā‘ona nō i ka lepo.
Earth is the food of O‘ahu, and it is satisfied with its earth.
Puku‘i (1983, 83)

Beauty, tradition, and uniqueness are still very much a part of our O‘ahu, but they can be harder to find. O‘ahu has experienced a lot of change and destruction. Yet within its mo‘olelo are ongoing efforts of aloha ‘āina (love for the land) and restoration. Being the capital of the state of Hawai‘i and the urban center, there are continued threats of overdevelopment. It is important that pono (balance) be restored to O‘ahu.

To restore pono, we need to take care of the ‘āina. This will return the balance of the relationship between kānaka (people) and ‘āina. When this balance is restored, it will increase the mana (spiritual power) of both kānaka and the ‘āina.

[Kīpuka] Kīpuka formed during Puʻu ʻOʻo-Kupaianaha eruption. Photo by J. D. Griggs.One way kānaka are working to restore pono on O‘ahu is by building kīpuka. Literally, kīpuka is a small patch of land with greenery in the middle of a lava-destroyed area. This small patch sends seeds out into the surrounding area. And from this small kīpuka a native forest can be replenished again. This restores pono.

Figuratively, there are many kīpuka on O‘ahu. Several kīpuka are Waikalua Loko, Paepae o He‘eia, Papahana Kuaola, Māhuahua ‘Ai o Hoi, and Kōkua Kalihi Valley. Each of these represent a community-based development project built on varied models of aloha ‘āina. These kīpuka will continue to grow and expand aloha ‘āina on O‘ahu. In the picture you can see a natural kīpuka at work.

In with the old!

Original Hawaiian place names are always in style. Keep it real with this list of contemporary O‘ahu place names and their older, cooler counterpart.

‘Uku li‘i ka pua, onaona i ka mau‘u.
Tiny is the flower, yet it scents the grasses around it.
Said of a small person who gives happiness to others. (#2863, page 313)

No matter how young or old, how big or small, you can make a difference. Starting off small, like using the traditional name of a place, helps to reinforce our special connection with the ‘āina. Volunteering at beach and stream clean-ups, growing your own fruits and vegetables, and testifying for legislation that protects our ‘āina are more ways to show aloha ‘āina. O‘ahu needs us, but not more than we need O‘ahu.

Some ‘ōlelo no‘eau related to O‘ahu


Hāhā pō‘ele ka pāpa‘i o Kou.
The crabs of Kou are groped for in the dark.
Applied to one who goes groping in the dark. The chiefs held kōnane and other games at the shore of Kou (now central Honolulu), and people came from everywhere to watch. Very often they remained until it was too dark to see and had to grope for their companions. (#407, page 50–51)

Hō‘ā ke ahi, kō‘ala ke ola. ‘O nā hale wale nō kai Honolulu; ‘o ka ‘ai a me ka i‘a i Nu‘uanu.
Light the fire for there is life-giving substance. Only the houses stand in Honolulu; the vegetable food and meat are in Nu‘uanu.
An expression of affection for Nu‘uanu. In olden days, much of the taro lands were found in Nu‘uanu, which supplied Honolulu with poi, taro greens, ‘o‘opu, and freshwater shrimp. So it is said that only houses stand in Honolulu. Food comes from Nu‘uanu. (#1016, page 109)

Hui aku nā maka i Kou.
The faces will meet in Kou.
We will all meet there. Kou (now central Honolulu) was the place where the chiefs played games, and people came from everywhere to watch. (#1128, page 120)

Ke awa la‘i lulu o Kou.
The peaceful harbor of Kou.
Honolulu Harbor. (#1685, page 182)


‘Āina koi ‘ula i ka lepo.
Land reddened by the rising dust.
Said of ‘Ewa, O‘ahu. (#80, page 11)

Anu ‘o ‘Ewa i ka i‘a hāmau leo. E hāmau!
‘Ewa is made cold by the fish that silences the voice. Hush!
A warning to keep still. First uttered by Hi‘iaka to her friend Wahine‘ōma‘o to warn her not to speak to Lohi‘au while they were in a canoe near ‘Ewa. (#123, page 16)

‘Ewa nui a La‘akona.
Great ‘Ewa of La‘akona.
La‘akona was a chief of ‘Ewa, which was prosperous in his day. (#386, page 47)

Haunāele ‘Ewa i ka Moa‘e.
‘Ewa is disturbed by the Moa‘e wind.
Used about something disturbing, like a violent argument. When the people of ‘Ewa went to gather the pipi (pearl oyster), they did so in silence, for if they spoke, a Moa‘e breeze would suddenly blow across the water, rippling it, and the oysters would disappear. (#493, page 59)

He kai puhi nehu, puhi lala ke kai o ‘Ewa.
A sea that blows up nehu fish, blows up a quantity of them, is the sea of ‘Ewa. (#661, page 74)

Ke awa lau o Pu‘uloa.
The many-harbored sea of Pu‘uloa.
Pu‘uloa is an early name for Pearl Harbor. (#1686, page 182)


Ka malu niu o Pōka‘ī.
The coco-palm shade of Pōka‘ī.
Refers to Wai‘anae, O‘ahu. At Pōka‘ī was the largest and best-known coconut grove on O‘ahu, famed in chants and songs. (#1476, page 160)

Ola Wai‘anae i ka makani Kaiāulu.
Wai‘anae is made comfortable by the Kaiāulu breeze.
Chanted by Hi‘iaka at Ka‘ena, O‘ahu, after her return from Kaua‘i. (# 2495, page 273)


Waialua, ‘āina kū pālua i ka la‘i.
Waialua, land that stands doubly becalmed.
Said in admiration for Waialua, O‘ahu, where the weather was usually pleasant and the life of the people tranquil. (#2902, page 318)

I Waialua ka po‘ina a ke kai, ‘o ka leo kā ‘Ewa e ho‘olono nei.
The dashing of the waves is at Waialua but the sound is being heard at ‘Ewa.
Sounds of fighting in one locality are quickly heard in another. (#1263, page 137)