two waters; water pit; spirit of a person (dead or alive)

Wailua is the largest ahupuaʻa in the Puna moku on the island of Kauaʻi. The Makaleha mountain range is at the northern boundary, Kālepa to the south, and Waiʻaleʻale to the west. Waters flow down the slopes of Waiʻaleʻale and Kawaikini to form the Wailua River. This river flows through Keāhua and Kaipuhaʻa, all the way down into the ocean at the southern end of Wailua bay. 

In ancient times, the land in the lower Wailua River area between Mōpua (the southern area of Nounou mountain range just north of the river) and Mauna Kapu (the northern cliff of the Kālepa mountain range just south of the river) and all land makai was known as Wailuanuiahōʻano. It was once one of the most desirable places to live and home to many aliʻi.

Wailuanuiahōʻano had more heiau than any other place on the island. It is considered to be the most sacred place on all of Kauaʻi with significant sites such as heiau, birthing stones, a bell stone, burial sites, fishponds, canoe landings, and petroglyphs.


Kawaikini is the highest point on the island of Kauaʻi, located on the Waiʻaleʻale mountain range, just south of the Waiʻaleʻale peak, at an elevation of 5,243 ft. At an elevation of 5,148 ft, Waiʻaleʻale is the second highest point and the piko, or center, of the island of Kauaʻi. Waiʻaleʻale is one of the wettest spots on earth, averaging over 400 inches of rain per year.

The waters from Waiʻaleʻale flow down to form the four major rivers on Kauaʻi, Waimea, Makaweli, Hanapēpē, and Wailua, which then branch off to form numerous streams and waterfalls. These waterways flow into ahupuaʻa all around the island, providing wai to give and sustain life. It nourishes the island’s communities, then flows into the sea, eventually returning as rain to nourish the next generation. Waiʻaleʻale is the source.

Wai is essential for all living things, and highly valued by ancient Hawaiians. Wai along with ʻāina was seen as a gift from the gods, to be respected and cared for responsibly. It was needed to grow kalo and other crops, for food, medicine, healing practices, and ceremonial or religious practices. Wai was the only resource in an ahupuaʻa that ancient Hawaiians could not use freely. The aliʻi would appoint a konohiki to each ahupuaʻa who was then responsible for overseeing water usage. It's no coincidence that the Hawaiian word, for valuable, wealth, and importance is waiwai. 

The constant and steady flow of rivers and streams from the land to the ocean is vital for freshwater and marine organisms. Native organisms such as ʻoʻopu and ʻōpae spend part of their lives in the sea, then return to freshwater streams when they mature. The flow of nutrients from rivers and streams out to the ocean also nourishes marine algae and fish. This is why so many of these stream-nourished coastal areas were so prized and heavily cultivated by ancient Hawaiians. They took advantage of these special places to harvest crops and build fishponds to provide for their ʻohana.

Today, this vital land-sea connection has been disrupted due to the shift from the traditional Hawaiian way of life to a highly westernized existence as well as the ever growing human population, development, feral animals, and many other reasons combined. Water has since been diverted from many important waterways across the state to satisfy residential and commercial needs.

However, unlike the traditional Hawaiian irrigation system, modern diversion of water doesn't return the water back to the waterways from which it came. This means dried up springs and streams which in turn lead to the loss of native species that require these waters in order to survive. Native stream and marine life ecosystems suffer when streamflow diminishes or is polluted and contaminated by feral animals, humans, toxins, chemicals, waste, etc. This kills the algae and smothers reefs.


According to ancient legend, Keāhua was a chief of Wailua, his wife was Kauhao, and together they had a son named Kauʻilani.

One day, the chief of Kona sent a dragon to destroy Puna. This moʻo was Akuapehulani. Keāhua took his family and retreated far up into the valley near the Wailua river to raise Kauʻilani and keep him safe. When Kauʻilani grew up, he hatched a plan to defeat the moʻo. He ordered a thick row of bamboo to be planted across the lower area of the valley, and lined up carved images behind them. When the bamboo was grown, he prayed to his gods and they entered into the carved images, coming to life. Kauʻilani ordered the bamboo cut down, leaving only sharp, pointed stumps.

He then went down to Akuapehulani and insulted the moʻo until it was so angry that it chased Kauʻilani all the way back up the valley. The moʻo was chasing Kauʻilani so quickly that it didn't see the bamboo and impaled itself. The gods speared and clubbed the moʻo. Kauʻilani threw his spear, piercing Akuapehulani and ending his life and oppression.

Keāhua is the name of the valley far up the Wailua river, below Waiʻaleʻale. Named after the father of Kauʻilani and aliʻi of Wailua, Keāhua is also known today as loop road or the arboretum.


Kaipuhaʻa is an area generally known today as "Wailua Homesteads". It is a vast valley stretching between the bounds of the Waiʻaleʻale, Makaleha, Nounou, and Kālepa mountains. Kaipuhaʻa means the low gourd, as the flat, broad, wide valley of this area resembles the inside of a gourd. In the chant, Kūnihi Ka Mauna, Hiʻiaka refers to Kaipuhaʻa as the area behind or blocked by Nounou (ʻālai ʻia e Nounou nalo Kaipuhaʻa), above Kapaʻa (ka laulā ma uka o Kapaʻa ē).

Kūnihi Ka Mauna is a well-known oli kāhea that comes from a moʻolelo of Hiʻiakaikapoliopele. This oli references important place names in Wailua and is used to seek permission or request entrance to a place. Doing so in circumstances when one is an outsider is the traditional Hawaiian attitude of showing respect for a people, place, and culture. It's important to be aware and recognize when one does not have to right or privilege to automatically enter a place.

Kūnihi Ka Mauna is often used by hula hālaus asking permission to step on stage, cultural practitioners seeking acceptance into forests or heiau, students looking to come into a classroom, etc. After an oli kāhea is chanted, it is proper protocol to give a response in the form of an oli komo. The lines in this specific oli identify and locate specific places in Wailua and their connection to each other. There are several versions of this chant and different translations, but this is the version I was taught:


Nounou, looking mauka.

Nounou, also know as "Sleeping Giant", is a mountain range to the north of the Wailua river, between Kaipuhaʻa and the ocean. There are several legends of the sleeping giant of Wailua, but according to this ancient legend, there was a giant named Puni. One evening, while the giant was sleeping, war canoes from Oʻahu were approaching Kauaʻi shores. Puni's friends, the menehune, did their best to wake him but nothing seemed to work.

Getting desperate, they began throwing huge rocks at Puni's belly in an attempt to wake him. These rocks bounced off and landed near the Oʻahu fleet. Startled, the war fleet turned and sailed back home to Oʻahu. The next morning the mehehune went to try and wake Puni again, but still he wouldn't budge. Puni was dead. Several rocks the menehune had thrown the night before had fallen into his mouth as he was snoring, unfortunately choking him to death.


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Ahupuaʻa: land division usually extending from the uplands to the sea, so called because the boundary was marked by a heap (ahu) of stones surmounted by an image of a pig (puaʻa), or because a pig or other tribute was laid on the altar as tax to the chief
Aliʻi: chief, chiefess
Heiau: pre-Christian place of worship, shrine
Hula hālau: hula dance group/school

Kaʻawakō: the kava drawn along, a small heiau located just northeast of the summit of Waiʻaleʻale
Kaipuhaʻa: the low gourd
Kalehuawehe: surf known today as Black Rock; the open lehua blossom
Kālepa: trade, the flag, hem, notched

Kawaikini: the multitudinous water, the numerous waters
Keāhua: large area below Kawaikini known today as loop road and the arboretum, hillock, the mound  (Hoʻomanawanui, 2012, p. 215)

Kemamo: the beach at Wailua, a favorite landing for Kauaʻi in ancient times, the descendant
Kona: district on the island of Kauaʻi
Konohiki: headman of an ahupuaʻa land division under the chief
Kūnihi Ka Mauna: learn more about this oli kāhea here

Makai: toward the ocean
Mauna Kapu: sacred mountain
Menehune: legendary race of small people who worked at night, building fish ponds, roads, temples

Moku: district, island, islet, section (in this case, moku means district)
Moʻo: lizard, reptile of any kind, dragon
Mo'olelo: story, myth, history, legend

Mōpua: melodious, pleasant, of a voice
Nounou: to throw, pelt, cast, pitch, hurl
ʻOhana: family
Oli kāhea: a chant to call, greet, summon
Oli komo: a chant to welcome, grant entry
ʻOʻopu: indigenous species of gobies
ʻŌpae: indigenous species of brackish water shrimp

Puna: spring (of water); district on the island of Kauaʻi
Wai: water

Waialeʻale: rippling water, overflowing water
Wailua: two waters, water pit, spirit of a person (dead or alive)
Wailuanuiahoʻāno: the great sacred Wailua of Chief Hoʻāno

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"Hanohano Wailuanuiahōʻano: Remembering, Recovering, and Writing Place" by Kuʻualoha Hoʻomanawanui

Kauaʻi: Ancient Place-Names and Their Stories by Frederick B. Wichman

Kauai: the Separate Kingdom by Edward Joesting

Kawaikini. Digital Image. https://i.pinimg.com/564x/b8/6c/e9/b86ce9a29a1517b25055cbfa988bb93a.jpg

Kawaikini & Waiʻaleʻale. Digital Image. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60616-d2474880-Reviews-Kuilau_Ridge_Trail-Kapaa_Kauai_Hawaii.html#photos;aggregationId=101&albumid=101&filter=7&ff=298505196

“MT WAIALEALE 1047, HAWAII.” - 2008 Climate Summary

Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi by Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel H. Elbert

'Olelo No'eau: Hawaiian proverbs & poetical sayings by Mary Kawena Pukui

Stories of Wailua, Kauaʻi (1916 Hawaiian Historical Society Annual Report) by L. Dickey


Wailua River From Above. Digital Image. https://thebest5years.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/img6-8929.jpg?w=683