The Story Behind Road’s Recent Name Change
By Shad Kane
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The mo’olelo associated with Kualaka’i is the story of Ka-ulu-o-kaha’i.
It is the story of travel and a new life. It is the story of our past and our connection to it. It is the story of the standing breadfruit tree of Kaha’i.
This name makes reference to the first breadfruit tree that was planted by the Tahitian chief Kaha’i in Ewa. Kaha’i was the grandson of Moikeha, who was the grandson of Maweke. These are our early Polynesian navigators.
Kaha’i's true name is Kaha’i-a-Ho’okamali’i. He may have been among the last to voyage to the southern latitudes and back. He marked the end of our voyaging past.
Kaha’i, as were his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, was among the great navigators of the past. He made many trips to and from Kahiki and Samoa. He is credited in our cultural history for having traveled to Samoa and finding a bread-fruit tree and returning by way of Tahiti and ultimately planting the tree in Ewa.
There are many stories throughout all of Polynesia of the retrieving of a bread-fruit tree from the land of our ancestors’ origin or their homeland and planting this tree at their new home. The motif of the leaf of the breadfruit tree symbolically represents a “new beginning” or “rebirth” or “life renewal.” This act of Kaha’i, the planting of a breadfruit tree, serves both as a physical connection to his home-land and the start of a new life.
But its meaning goes beyond this.
In another mo’olelo, Kaha’i had a son named Namakakapao’o. Kaha’i and his son became separated when his son was a young child. Kaha’i told his wife he was going to bury his mahiole (feather helmet) and his ‘ahu’ula (feather cape) beneath the Ka Ulu O Kaha’i
(the breadfruit tree of Kaha’i). He told his wife he was leaving; however, when his son grows up and if he wanted to find his father, he could find him beneath the ulu tree of Kaha’i, or Kauluokaha’i.
Archaeologist H. David Tuggle and educator Dr. Rubillite Johnson identify Kualaka’i as a corruption of Ka-ulu-o-kaha’i in its pronunciation. Lt. Charles Robert Malden, a cartographer on Capt. George Vancouver’s ship, identifies Kualaka’i on his map of 1825 in the exact location of Nimitz Beach as it is known today. The first breadfruit tree was planted at Nimitz Beach - anciently known as Kualaka’i, according to the oral traditions.
In Hawaiian traditions, relationships are held in high esteem. Life is a multitude of relationships. The story of Kualaka’i is the story of the relationship of one’s origins and a new beginning. It is the story of a culture that could trace its genealogy back to Wakea, the sky father, and Papa, earth mother. If the time came when Namakaokapao’o wanted to learn who he was, he could seek his father at Kualaka’i beneath the standing breadfruit tree of Kaha’i.
Every island throughout all of Polynesia has a place one can go to feel a physical connection with one’s origins. It is also important to understand in the story that Kaha’i sought the breadfruit tree in Samoa. There is a message there.
For us today as contemporary people of the new city of Kapolei, it gives all of us a common past. We are all from somewhere else. We bring with us our unique cultures, we bring with us different stories and perhaps a different sense of history. Perhaps we even bring a different set of human values from faraway places.
We are all united, however, in one aspect: We are all new here in this new city of Kapolei.
That is the significance of Kualaka’i. It is a story of travel and the finding of one’s way. It is a true story of our voyaging past. It is as true today as it was 1,000 years ago.
A new beginning, a new life, in our new city of Kapolei.
“Uncle” Shad Kane is a cultural practitioner with the Oahu Council of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and member of the Native Hawaiian Native American Advisory Group.
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