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1 May 2018
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Big Island

As we continue the journey, we will leave Puna and continue to Ka’ū. (If you missed the history behind the name Puna, check out Part 1 of Origins of Place Names Around the Big Island.) From there, we will explore the origins of the following place names: Kona, Waimea, Kohala, and Hāmākua.

You will notice that as we travel around the island, we are traveling with our right side towards the mountain and our left towards the sea (clockwise). This direction is consistent with the way the makahiki processions were conducted. `Umi-ā-Līloa (a famous chief of Waipi`o) was advised by his priests to travel in this fashion. Pukui reported being told told that when seeking knowledge of the past to travel with her right (strong) arm on the side of the mountains, where strength lies. Another belief is if one journeys for relaxation or to assuage grief, you travel with the sea on your left (weaker side) so that it may wash away your sorrows and tribulations.


From Puna, we travel to Ka`ū, which is the name of the district and the desert as well as a peak. I have not found a meaning for its name, but Ka`ū is considered an ancient name that cognates with Ta`ū in Samoa and Takuu in the Mortlock Islands. There was a stone named Ka`ū-loa that was formerly in Ka`ū between Na`ā-lehu and Wai-`ōhinu that was believed to have been brought from Tahiti.

Ka`ū is known for its dirt-scattering wind.

  • Makani - wind
  • Kuehu - scattering
  • Lepo - dirt

Anyone who has travelled down to South Point will truly understand the winds. Because Ka`ū is fairly dry and arid, whenever covering vegetation is lost, the underlying dirt is susceptible to being picked up and blown away. If you go to South Point, you will see the ongoing erosion caused by the combination of cars being driven over grass, thus killing the grass and the wind scattering the underlying dirt. You will also see the erosion of cliff faces caused by the wind.


Now we go on to Kona. Kona is the name of the leeward districts of the islands of Hawai`i, Kaua`i, Moloka`i, Ni`ihau and O`ahu. It is also the name of a leeward wind and a star. It is also a possessive in the language meaning his or hers.  Literally, Kona means leeward.

Kona has various phrases referring to the ocean associated with it. 

  • I ke kai hawanawana - whispering sea. 
  • Kai mā`oki`oki - the streaked sea.  
  • Kai `ōpua i ka la`i - refers to clouds over the sea in the calm. 

You will hear these phrases in songs about Kona. One of the better-known songs about Kona is "Kona Kai `Opua," which is translated as “Kona of the mirrored seas.” The "mirrored seas" refers to the fact that the puffy white clouds (`ōpua hīnano) can be seen mirrored on the face of the calm seas of Kona. Winds associated with Kona are the `Eka and Kēhau breezes which are noted in the song to bring relief from the sweltering heat of Kona.


Our travels bring us to Waimea, which known for its Kīpu`upu`u (chilly rain and wind). This was also the name of a company of Kamehameha’s warriors named after the wind and rain of Waimea. Princess Ka`iulani was drenched in this rain while horsebback riding, got ill and perished.

Waimea is both a land division and the name of a town. There are areas and places on Kaua`i and O`ahu also named Waimea.

Wai-mea is a place name means reddish water (water with red earth in it); is a Maui name for olomea, a shrub; is the Kaua`i name for a type of māmaki (used for tea) having leaves with reddish veins and stems resembling those of the olomea.


Now we go to Kohala, which is also known for its wind, `Āpa`apa`aKohala refers to the land district, the mountains, and an extinct volcano all in the northwest part of our island. We have not found an English meaning for its name.


We finish our journey in Hāmākua. So maybe we went through the valleys, or did we double back through Waimea?  Maybe we took a canoe. Hāmākua is the name of the district, the ditch, and forest reserve in northeast Hawai`i. It is known for its cliffs (pali) and for the birds flying off the cliffs. There are references that the place name is a poetic form for kihi loa (or long corner) perhaps referring to where it is located. One corner of Hāmākua touches every district of Hawai`i except Puna.

In an interesting side note, Hāmākua-i-ka-paia-`ala-i-ka-hala is the name of a lua fighting hold. Lua is the Hawaiian art of wrestling/hand-to-hand combat.

If you want to revisit the origins behind Hilo and Puna, read Part 1 of Origins of Place Names Around the Big Island.