A Reflection for the last day of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi Month

Hānau ʻia ka pua o ke kai, ʻo Kanaloa
Ke keiki iʻa a Papa, a Haumea, a Hina

Born is the flower of the ocean - Kanaloa
The fish child of [the female deities] Papa, Haumea, and Hina

From Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanaheleʻs oli "He Mele Pana no Kahoʻolawe" 
Photo: Public Domain

When I was a young girl, my dad, a retired Chief Petty Officer used to tell me about the Hawaiian island that was used for target practice: Kahoʻolawe. My childʻs mind tried to understand the value of killing an island. The absurdity of this was magnified when I finally got to stand on the beach in Kihei, Maui as an adult, and see Kahoʻolawe across the ʻAlalākeiki channel where the humpback whales slap their tails as they swim back and forth with their newborn calves in tow. I can only imagine what it was like for the Maui locals to see their neighbor island used as a training ground for military assaults from WWII and up through the Vietnam war era – up until a group of activists started the process which culminated in the return of the island to the state of Hawaii to be used for cultural and educational purposes.

Overtime I learned about the men and women who led the fight for the return of Kahoʻolawe. The work to heal the land has been constant and for decades – fueled by the love and labor of countless volunteers. But even knowing this – the distance between myself and the sands of my motherʻs birth kept the island over there – the call for sovereignty, over there – the restoration of Hawaiian culture, over there. A place where I was not. So while I could intellectually grasp the importance of Kahoʻolawe, I didnʻt feel it.

I didnʻt have the words.

Until now.

On Pāpā Oli Mondays a group of wahine and kāne in the New York City area gather online to learn Hawaiian chant from Kumu Kris Kato, Kahu Oli and haumana of Dr. Pualani Kanakaʻole Kanahele. Most of us knew each other through Hālāwai, a New York City organization whose mission is “to advance and support an inclusive community with shared interests in the culture and future of the people of Hawaiʻi and other Pacific Islands.” I joined the oli class in October 2021, and through Kumu Kris we have been introduced to a variety of chants and stories, most recently weʻve been learning name chants of the islands. During Makahiki season we have been focusing on Kahoʻolawe.

It was the opening lines that grabbed my heart:

“Hānau ʻia ka pua o ke kai, ʻo Kanaloa.” Born is the flower [progeny] of the ocean – Kanaloa.


“Ke keiki iʻa a Papa, a Haumea, a Hina” The first child of Papa, Haumea, and Hina.

This island, so ill-treated for decades, left with a broken water-table and foliage clinging to life in the rain shadow of Haleakalā was the beloved child of the ocean under the protection of nā mākua wāhine, resting between two sea channels: Kealaikahiki, the road to Tahiti and the ʻAlalākeiki. The crying child, Kahoʻolawe is the host to Peleʻs brother, the shark god Kamohoaliʻi, protector or guardian of the islands and fisherman. Dr. Kanaheleʻs chant takes us on a journey of the island from the uplands of Luamakika, “Aia ka piko ka moku” – the navel of the island, to the valley of Kamohio, “Nolu ʻehu i ka ʻehu kai” – moist with the sea spray and over to Honokanaiʻa, the bay where the dolphins swim.

And hereʻs the thing my dad probably didnʻt know. Kahoʻolawe was, and continues to be the ideal place to train ocean navigators. At the top of Puʻu ʻo Moaʻula Iki sits the restored Navigatorʻs Seat which was used to teach the stars to wayfinders.

“When I step on top that summit, you’re in the cloud shadow of Haleakala … so the stars are really, really brilliant and you’re near the center of the Hawaiian Islands,” Thompson said. “It’s like a planetarium because it’s in the cloud shadow at night so it’s really, really clear.

Nainoa Thompson, Pacific Voyaging Society

Kahoʻolawe – the kinolau or body of Kanaloa, god of the ocean. If I was not exposed to Hawaiian Language I would not know this “pointed-head child” that shows the way to Kahiki. I would have been left with my fatherʻs memory of a barren place used for target practice. Without ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the mystery of Kahoʻolawe would be buried in the craters carved out by the tons of TNT detonated by the US Military. Our language reveals the mystery and once again the child of Papa, Hina and Haumea is being cared for and Moaʻula dances in the breeze.

Photo: Public Domain

Dr. Kanahele’s complete chant and other information and stories about Kahoʻolawe can be found the book Kaho’olawe: Nā Leo o Kanaloa and may be purchased here.

Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana

Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission

2 thoughts on “Kahoʻolawe:

  1. Aloha Puaonaona!
    We are ‘ohana! Your great grandfather Charles is my great great great Grandmother’s brother. Her name is Kaloukalani Kunane.


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