Category Archives: Hawaiian Civilization

Lahaina Noon Update:  Kau ka la i ka lolo


Our earlier post on Lahaiana Noon , been visited by many. This post is about Kau ka la ia ka lolo, the traditional term for the passage kau of the sun at the zenith over one’s head.

At the Windward Community College in Kaneohe, Hawaii, is a Polynesian voyaging display on permanent view. It is highly recommended for those interested in how the Polynesian people journeyed over vast distances with great navigational skill. You can view a scale model of the  Hōkūleʻa voyaging canoe and an introduction to Hawaiian astronomy. We thank Professor Joseph Ciotti for preparation of the exhibit and explaining it to us. Dr. Ciotti remarked that it was the eminent Hawaiian historian, Rubellite Kawena Johnson who provided him with the proper term for this celestial event. 

We show a photo we took of the Kau ka la ia ka lolo exhibit. The text reads as follows:

Twice a year the noontime sun passes directly overhead. Kau ka la ia ka lolo was believed to be a time of great mana. At this moment a person’s shadow (aka) disappeared and was thought to enter his sacred head. The two dates for these solar zenith passages are marked on the map for different places on O’ahu.



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I am always amazed by the size of the Pacific Ocean. And I am impressed by Papahanaumokuakea.

Papahanaumokuakea (Papa-hanau-moku-akea, Earth Mother-birth-islands-Sky Father) is the name of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands National Monument. Extending the archipelago of Hawaii to the northwest, these islands make the state of Hawaii one of the longest in the nation. Hawaii extends from about 155 to180 degrees of west longitude, i.e., to the International Date Line, thus covering five hours of time zones.

Please note the location of Necker Island which bears the magnificent Hawaiian name, Mokumanamana (Moku-mana-mana, island of strong mana energy). Mokumanamana lies right on the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees North latitude. This island is so sacred that no Hawaiians ever lived there, yet they built 33 shrines on the rocky small island.

Lying on the Tropic of Cancer means that this island has the sun at zenith on one day of the year, the summer solstice. The sun does not venture further north than this. For this reason, this latitude marked a solemn boundary between Po and ‘Ao, Darkness and Light, Other World and This World.



I’ao Valley

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The name I’ao is very sacred. The first part, I, means cosmic spirit. The second part, ao, means primordial light. According to Leinani Melville (Children of the Rainbow, 1969, p. 20, 116), I’ao is the name for the Eternal Creator, the Primordial Lord of the Sun, the Primary Cosmic Force, the Supreme Being. It means Infinite World, Infinite Light, the Supreme Light of the World. I’ao Valley was named after this supreme deity.

The people of Maui paid respects to the Creator at the peak in the valley which we call the I’ao Valley. This valley lies in the watershed area of West Maui, Mauna Kahalawai.

The Hawaiian name for the West Maui Mountains is ‘Kahalawai’ meaning House of Water. They are also known as “Hale Mahina” meaning House of the Moon, after Hina, a lunar goddess. West Maui is home to many important historical and sacred sites in Hawaiian culture.

The morning we went to I’ao it was bright and sunny in Wailuku, and it grew progressively darker and more solemn as we drove deeper into the valley. It was sprinkling by the time we parked and started walking the paved trail through the park. Warned to stay on the trail, we cros2014-07-15 08.45.52sed over rapid streams as we wound our way up to the little pavilion. From there we had a clear view of the Needle, at least as clearas the weather permitted. We sat for a long while in the pavilion as visitors came and went. It was a powerful spot for meditation.2014-07-15 08.42.522014-07-15 08.46.37                                                      2014-07-15 08.53.25

We started downhill and walked slowly through the shower. The path took us along another stream, and as we sheltered under the trees we watched the eddies over and around the rocks. So fascinating that time stood still.

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Labyrinth at Dragon’s Teeth

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We start our walking meditation. The path curves this way and that, sometimes taking us near the center then moving us away. The sun shines on, the clouds come and go, strong winds blow. It feels like there is only Here and Now, and at the same time this must be what Eternity is like.

We go on and on. Winds blow harder and it begins to rain – and rain, and rain. We can hardly stand upright, much less walk. So we hasten back to the golf course and the parking lot. By the time we reach our car, the storm has passed. We can look out and see the neighbor islands. They seem so close. We are back from Eternity to Maui.

Haleakala and the ‘Ahinahina

Haleakala is the sacred mountain of Maui. Rising to 10,000 feet above the clouds, it is aptly named the House of the Sun.

The people of Ha6 Habitat zoneswaii held mountains in high respect, and they did not live on mountains. See this sketch. Summits belonged to the mountain spirits. There was an altitude lower down from the summit which was suitable for shrines, but still not for people to dwell. People lived down on the plains, close to the sea.

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The ‘ahinahina silversword is unique to the summit of Haleakala. Although this name is translated as very gray, do I not see Hina the goddess of the moon? Wikipedia gives us the following information.

The Haleakalā silversword, Argyroxiphium sandwicense subsp. macrocephalum, has numerous sword-like succulent leaves covered with silver hairs. Silversword plants in general grow on volcanic cinder, a dry, rocky substrate that is subject to freezing temperatures and high winds. The skin and hairs are strong enough to resist the wind and freezing temperature of this altitude and protect the plant from dehydration and the sun.

The plant’s base of leaves, arranged in a spherical formation at ground level o2014-07-17 09.54.07f the plant, dominates for the majority of the plant’s life—which may be greater than 50 years. The leaves are arranged so that they and the hairs of the leaves can raise the temperature of the shoot-tip leaves up to 20 °C (36 °F), thereby having adapted to the extreme high-altitude temperatures by focusing the sunlight to converge at this point and warm the plant.

Here are some photos of ‘ahinahina that I took at the National Park Visitor’s Center. The sun had just emerged after a rain shower, and the ‘ahinahina were sparkling with raindrops.

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We drove through layers of clouds and rain and finally reached the Haleakala Visitor’s Center at the summit. Here are some of the ever-changing views of the crater.

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Truly, Haleakala is sacred, and so is the ‘ahinahina. Let us give them our malama, our protection. It is our kuleana, our responsibility.



Wisdom of the Canoe and Fishpond

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend three days on the beautiful island of Maui. Early one morning, we parked out rental car at NOAA’s Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary in north Kihei. Here are some photos I took from the sanctuary looking toward the old Hawaiian Ko’ie’ie Fishpond. You can see twin-hulled canoes with twelve paddlers, like the canoes we used, only ours were painted red.

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Fish farms were important as they supplied thousands of people the fish that were raised in natural sea water. The ring of stones encompasses an area of several acres, but this one has been neglected. Kupuna Kimokea is leading the project to restore the three-foot wide wall. It is not merely an engineering project. It is cultural, it builds community, it is sacred. Rumors are that it was built by the little people of Mu, the Menehune, in one night.

We met Kimokea who was to lead our tour of the fishpond. He asked us to drive up the coast a ways to the Kihei Canoe Club. When we got there, we left all our belongings with one of the club members who would meet us later, so I have no more photos of that morning. It’s a good thing we wore our swimsuits. Our tour group consisted of about thirty high school students from France, and we assembled near the shrine next to the canoes. Kimokea instructed the students in the Hawaiian way of learning. Observe, listen, and do not talk when the teacher is speaking! (It seems it is as hard for French teenagers as it is for Americans.)

As Kimokea led us we chanted, repeating what he said, prayers to the spirits of the sea, land, and the mountain Haleakala. We asked for permission to ride our canoes in the waters and for their blessings. It is amazing that even though we did not know the Hawaiian words, the words still came out of our mouths.

Then, we pushed off, climbing into the canoes which were rapidly moving out to sea. We took up our paddles and followed the beat of the lead paddlers. We changed from outside paddling to inside paddling when commanded. The ride was swift and smooth. It was surprisingly easy to paddle with twelve of us doing it. With sun on our backs, the wind in our hair, it was a deep pleasure to skim over the green water.

All too soon, the fishpond came into view and we pulled up onto the adjacent beach. Somehow it was harder climing out of the canoe than going in.

Next, after another chant followed by instructions, we set about restoring the stone wall. There are father stones and there are mother stones. They are set alternately in the wall. Our job was to insert children stones, ‘ili, in between. The ‘ili hold the stones together. This we did as we reached into the sand and pulled up handfulls of ‘ili while the surf crashed over us.

We did not complete the wall that day. Nor will it be completed for quite some time. It will take the combined efforts of many, many pairs of hands. But slowly and surely it will be done.

What have I learned? That a community prospers when its members join together, whether to paddle a canoe or to build a fishpond. I would like to return to the time when people were more closely connected together, where they were held together in the loving arms of relationships.