A Lost Tradition of Nānākuli: The children’s quavering chant

By Christine Hitt


We know much of Wai‘anae’s cultural history through John Papa ‘Ī‘ī’s series of articles in the Hawaiian newspaper Ka Nupepa Ku‘oko‘a. ‘Ī‘ī was born in 1800 and died May 2, 1870. His writing was translated by Mary Kawena Pukui in 1959 in a book titled Fragments of Hawaiian History.

‘Ī‘ī visited Nānākuli often as a child to spend time with his relatives. In order to visit them, he had to travel by foot through one of three trails: one by way of Pōhākea, one through Kolekole and another by a route below Pu‘u o Kapolei.

On one such visit, ‘Ī‘ī observed the children of Nānākuli producing a unique style of chanting that had a “long quavering sound.” Below is how ‘Ī‘ī described this encounter:

“This was performed while the children sat on the branches of the breadfruit trees. They sat apart from each other on branches from the base to the top, chanting. When the boy listened carefully to the long, drawn out sound, he could distinguish the words that they were chanting. He asked his aunt to let him join the children, and he quickly saw how the quavery sound was produced. He noted that one of the boys held up two fingers on his right hand and tapped his throat in order to make the quaver. Ii learned the chant at once. This is the chant that they were using:

Kau koli‘i ka la i luna o Maunaloa,  [The sun sends a streak of light on Maunaloa,]

E ke ao e lele koa,  [The clouds go scurrying by,]

Halulu i ka mauna  [There is a rumble on the mountain top]

Kikaha ke kuahiwi o Kona he la‘i,  [That echoes from the mountain of Kona, the calm.]

Ku papu Hilo i ka ua.  [Hilo stands directly in the rain. ]

Paliloa Hamakua,  [Hamakua’s cliff’s are tall,]

‘Ope‘ope Kohala i ka makani,  [Kohala is buffeted by the wind,]

Huki Kauiki pa i ka lani, etc. [sic]  [Kauiki reaches and touches the sky, etc.]

“This was memorized by all and was chanted in perfect unison, and the boy noticed how pleasing it was. Thus did Ii enjoy himself with the children of Nanakuli, and he continued to spend his spare time with them.” (Ii 1993:29)



I‘i, J.P.
1993 Fragments of Hawaiian History. Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu.


Is Nānākuli the correct name of its city? Some say not.

By Christine Hitt

Nānākuli literally means “look at knee” or “look deaf” (Pukui, et al. 1974). There are several stories that attempt to explain the origin of the name as we know it today. And, while many of the stories are convincing, there are still others by native residents who believe that the name of Nānākuli was either altered or misprinted from its original spelling.

Nānākuli Interpretations

Various interpretations of the meaning of the name Nānākuli can be found scattered among sources. An ancient story explains that Nānākuli is named in honor of the tattooed knee of Kaʻōpulupulu, a priest whose chief, Kahahana, turned a deaf [kuli] ear to his advice (Pukui, et al. 1974):

Kahahana dug up bones from their burial places “to make arrows for rat-shooting and hooks for fishing. The bones of chiefs were bartered for skirts for chiefesses and handles for kāhili. Kaʻōpulupulu pleaded with him in vain to stop this disrespectful deed, but Kahahana turned a deaf ear to Ka-ʻōpulupulu’s pleas. As a sign of protest, Ka-ʻōpulupulu, his followers, relatives and members of his household tattooed their knees to signify Kahahana’s unwillingness to listen to advice. (Kamakau 1992:133)

Sterlings and Summers (1978) shares another story based on the “look deaf” interpretation, as told to noted historian and author Mary Kawena Pukui on March 6, 1945 by Simeona Nawaʻa:

Simeona Nawa‘a came in to the Museum and sat down to talk to me. In the course of the conversation he told me these things:

Nanakuli – It was Kanui, a native woman of Wai‘anae who told him why this place was so named. In the olden days, this place was sparsely inhabited because of the scarcity of water. The fishing was good but planting very poor. When it rained, some sweet potatoes would be put into the ground, but the crops were always poor and miserable.

There were a few brackish pools from which they obtained their drinking water and it is only when they went to the upland of Waianae that they were able to get fresh water. They carried the water home in large calabashes hung on mamaka or carrying sticks and used their water very carefully after they got it home. They spent most of their time fishing and most of the fish they caught were dried as gifts for friends and relatives in the upland. Sometimes they carried dried and fresh fish to these people in the upland and in exchange received poi and other vegetable foods. And as often as not, it was the people of the upland who came with their products and when home with fish.

Because of the great scarcity of water and vegetable food, they were ashamed to greet passing strangers. They remained out of sight as much as possible. Sometimes they met people before they were able to hide, so they just looked at the strangers with expressionless faces and acted as though they were stone deaf and did not hear the greeting. This was so that the strangers would not ask for water which they did not have in that locality.

The strangers would go on to other places and mention the peculiar, deaf people who just stared and they would be told that the people were not deaf but ashamed of their inability to be hospitable. So the place they lived was called Nana, or look, and kuli, deaf—that is, Deaf mutes who just look. (Mary Pukui, as told to her by Simeona Nawa‘a, March 6, 1945, HEN, p 270. (Nawa‘a 1956:2740 in Sterling and Summers 1978:61-62)

It is true that water was scarce in Nānākuli, but there are other sources that suggest Nānākuli was a hospitable town, just like any other. In the 1880 Hawaiian Kingdom Statistical and Commercial Directory and Tourist’s Guide, a writer describes his visit to Nānākuli, and the hospitable nature of its residents:

From the Lualualei Valley to the Nanakuli Valley I had a rather dreary ride of three miles. The intervening country towards the sea is barren, with a little pasturage at the base of the mountains. The track, however, is in very good order, much better than I expected to find it, looking to the mountainous and rocky character of the country through which it passes. At Nanakuli and Hoaeae, close adjoining, the Messrs. Robinson have cattle ranches. The pasture here cannot be compared with that in the valleys I had just left behind, but inland among the mountain ranges it is much better. This, indeed, is a characteristic of the ranges throughout the island.

 During my journey along the western coast of this island, where the road is generally so much more fatiguing to the traveler than that of the windward side, I have often pulled up to give both horse and rider a spell, whilst I entered into a chat with some group of natives whom I have fallen in with, or those whose hamlets I have been passing at the time. More than once, too, I have passed the night at their houses. I have always found them very sociable and thoroughly hospitable….(Bowser 1880/1881:493-494)

Other interpretations include a story from an old time resident of Nānākuli, Wm. Z. H. Olepau in 1933 as follows:

There were two women who went up the hill of “PuuHakila” or PuuHela to dry their Kapas. While the kapas were being dried they left and went down the hill to the pool for some water. They heard dogs barking so they stood, looking around for the barking was deafening. (Sterling and Summers 1978: 62)

Olepau then explains the relationship between Nānākuli and and its relationship to “knee”:

(1) Women used to for to the top of a hill to dry their kapa, and when they got there, they looked at their knees – nana kuli.

(2) Royalists of the valley used to sit with their knees up and watch their knees – nana kuli.

W.Z. Olepau, resident of Nanakuli, Mar. 20, 1933. (Sterling and Summers 1978: 62)

While there are various stories behind the meaning of Nānākuli to choose from, there are still other stories that actually refute that Nānākuli is the correct spelling, and thus the wrong meaning, for the ahupua‘a. Fred Cachola and Lehua Kapaku are two longtime residents who share their beliefs in regards to the spelling of the name.

The theory of Nānāikaule

In an archaeological report interview, Cachola explains how he heard about the meaning when he was a school principal at Nānāikapono from an old-time resident Mrs. Eli. The following describes this encounter in his own words:

So she said that the first principal of that school was Reverend Awai and that he knew that the tradition of that area, Nānākuli, had a Hawaiian hidden meaning which she told me was “Nānā-i-ka-ule.” I was kind of smiling. And she said, “Yeah, because that’s how in the old days this place was known for promiscuity. It got this name from ancient times. And it might have something to do with the mountain range.” Look at your map. Look at your map. The one that you were showing me. Because you can see the ule over there. See? There it is. See the testicles over here, and the penis sticking out there. So it could be [in] reference to that… And, that’s one interpretation of the name. And, it’s very Hawaiian. To me, it’s a very Hawaiian thing, very Hawaiian (McGuire and Hammatt 2000: 9).

Nānāku‘ulei and the Maui legend

Also in an interview from the same report, Lehua Kapaku, a resident of Nānākuli since 1960, shared a different story:

The Māui legend names off the various places this side of O‘ahu. Māui had so many brothers and he had two sisters. One was Lualualei and [the other was] his baby sister whom he treasured. The baby sister’s name was Nānāku‘ulei [which means] look to my pretty lei. To have the name “Lualualei” which is sacred wreath, and, then having a baby sister [whose name means] looking deaf, I just didn’t agree. I wasn’t satisfied with that. So, I accepted the Māui legend part where his baby sister was Nānāku‘ulei… This is the only place in the whole State to have a derogatory name, look deaf. You look at any other place, they have nice names… Only Nānākuli. So, it may have been a misprint… (McGuire and Hammatt 2000: 13).

While it is difficult to determine which of the above proposed origins is the true spelling and meaning, I can agree that I’ve seen examples of the spelling of names in my general research that have changed over time through various documented sources. Which do you believe to be true?



Bowser, G.
1881 Hawaiian kingdom statistical and commercial directory and tourists’ guide 1880/1881. Honolulu.

Kamakau, Samuel Manaiakalani
1992 Ruling Chiefs of Hawaii, Revised Edition, The Kamehameha Schools Press, Honolulu, HI.

McGuire, Ka‘ohulani and Hallett H. Hammatt
2000 A Traditional Practices Assessment for the Proposed Nanakuli IV Elementary School Site, Nanakuli, Wai‘anae District, Island of O’ahu (TMK 8-9-02: 65, 23, por. 1). Cultural Surveys Hawaii, Inc. Kailua.

Pukui, M. K., Elbert , S. H., & Mookini, E. K.
1974 Place Names of Hawaii. University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu.

Sterling, Elspeth P. and Catherine C. Summers
1978 Sites of O‘ahu. Dept. of Anthropology, B.P. Bishop Museum, Honolulu.



Ka’u, Hawai’i Mo’olelo


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Kahuku ahupua’a of the Ka’u district was once flourishing with agriculture and had also good fishing grounds.

It is said that Pele, in a fury, covered the lands with lava after two chiefs refused to race holua sleds with her when they found out who she was.

The full mo’olelo is written by Westervelt in Hawaiian Legends of Volcanoes and can be read on Google Books:

The Hawaii volcano eruption of 1868


Photo from 1984 Mauna Loa eruption

While researching Mauna Loa and the Kahuku ahupua’a of Ka’u, I came across this Ka Nupepa Kuokoa newspaper article about a volcanic eruption that occurred in 1868. The writer pulls you in to what must have been a horrific scene that also included a large tsunami.

Latest News!

Through the kindness of our loving friend, the Honorable W. T. Martin of Kau, the one who came from where the Fiery lava is wreaking havoc, we have obtained the information below, and we put before our readers the things he witnessed with his eyes, and heard with his ears:

According to the native son of Naihe of Kau, a river of lava is flowing from Maunaloa until the sea at Kahioipakini [Ka Hioipakini], and so the people of Kona cannot set foot in Kau and so too for Kau’s people to Kona.

Five craters of lava opened up at Puuolokuana, right in the middle of the land between the sea and the Mountain.

The height that the fire is shooting up from those craters of lava is five hundred feet or more. From the plumes headed upland and down; and from the rivers of lava from Puuolokuana to the shore and entering the sea; flashes were seen like lightning in the dark, reddish-gray, green, and white clouds. Also heard booming louder than cannon.

When the lava exited to the sea, a large heap of sand appeared in the water, creeping along, being pushed forward to the side going to Kona. The lava is creating new hills, and perhaps there will be many hereafter.

A frightening rumbling was heard beneath Waiohinu and the neighboring areas when the lava was flowing. This rumbling was still going on at the time the Kona Packet [Kona Pakeke] recently left Kau.

Before the lava appeared in Puuolokuana on the evening of the 7th of April, volcanic ash had already covered the houses from Kahuku all the way to Ninole, on the night of the 6th. The kamaaina and the haole were alarmed then, thinking that this was the end, because of the explanation of a knowledgeable haole.

The great stone church standing in Waiohinu was driven to the ground, and there was not one stone left upon another; so too of all the stone buildings around that area. The wooden structures were all smashed and were pushed to the Kona side from where they first stood. From Puaao until the sea of Waikapuna, the land was cracked open on the 2nd of April, by a powerful earthquake that was seen by all of us around the area, and the quake did not subside to the moment when the ship left. A few days prior to the eruption, the fissure closed up, but where it came together did not match up as before; it is uneven.

The settlements at Kaalualu, Paiahaa, Honuapo, Hokukano, Kaalaiki, the two Hilea, Ninole, Wailau, Punaluu, all the way to the sea of Keauhou: all of those houses were lost to the sea, “by the onslaught of the great seas of the woman of the pit.”

The kind of sea that struck the settlements above, it was ocean water joined with water coming up from the ground. The height that the ocean reached was like the height of the coconut trees near the homes. These waters were not like the ocean seen on our other islands; it was terribly unusual. If it was a tsunami [kai hooee], then there would be no human toll, but what came ashore was a swirling sea [kai owili].

There is volcanic ash in the wind, which was seen at Keaiwa during the time spoken of above (Apr. 2). The area covered by ash is nearly three-forth mile in length. And under the area covered over by ash is a river of water. As the wind stretches out, the sea cliffs of Kamehame and Mahuka were swept. Soon after, is when the water appeared, devastating those spoken of in the settlements above.

It is estimated that the number of cows covered over by the eruption [luai pele] at Kapaliuka was no less than five hundred, and the goats were no less than two thousand.

The number of animals killed by the lava in Kahuku and the two Pakini, all the way to Kamaoa, is thought to be no less than one thousand cows and horses. As for the goats and sheep, their number is unknown.

The lands which turned into pahoehoe, partially engulfed by lava, was the lands of Robert Brown [Rabati Baraunu], W. T. Martin, Kamamalu, W. C. Lunalilo, government land, and lands of other kamaaina people, lying outstretched from Kahuku to Puueo. These were all fertile lands.

It is guessed that the damages of all lands destroyed by lava included with property, is no less than seventy-thousand dollars ($70,000) should it be properly tallied. The earthquake began in Kau from the last days of March until the 10th of April; it is believed that there were three thousand quakes that shook. Some were powerful while others were weak, but there was one that was the biggest, that being the quake of the 2nd of April, from which the many below perished.

We put forward the list of those who died as spoken of above.
Perished in the Eruption at Kapaliuka, Kau, Hawaii.
Kanakaole (m.), Kailo (m.), Puoina (m.), Kalamahiai (m.), Kahuhu (m.), Kuaehu (m.), Kaawa (m.), Kuaki (m.), Pupule (m.), Kaili (m.), Kaaihue (m.), Kuikahi (m.), Kahuhu (m.), Kamaliiwahine (f.), Kalakala (f.), Mireta (f.), Mere (f.), Kekahuna (f.), Kauinui (f.), Haolelo (f.), Kumaiea (f.), Aulani (f.), Kaaiwaiwai (f.), Kahikina (f.), Kikalaole (f.), Keliinohola (f.), Honuakaha (f.), Keahiwela (f.), Waimaka (f.), Luukia (f.), Kamaka (f.).

Died at sea at Makaka & Moaula.
Kliinui [Keliinui] (m.), Awihi (m.), Ahia (m.), Kamalii (m.), Kahamo (m.), Nakamaa (m.), Kalua (m.), Keliimakawela (m.), Halelaau (f.), Kahaipo (f.), Kapuni (f.), Kapela (f.).
From Punaluu was Kalawaialiiliii (f.)
From Ninole was Kapuuhonua (m.), Hanoa (m.), Kamoka (f.).
From Kawa was Nailieha (m.), Keahialoa (m.).
From Honuapo was Keaweaheulu (m.), Haole (f.), Moeawa (m.), Moehuliole (f.), Kaumuahana (f.), Piimoku (f.), Kukona (m.), Kaina (m.), Kaumu (f.), Kiniakua (f.), Kalaiku (m.), Palapala (f.), Kailipeleuli (f.), Kauha (f.), Puhiea (m.), Moku (m.), Mahoe (m.), Keliikipi (f.), Naholoaa (f.), Kamaliikane (m.), Pupuka (f.), Apua (m.).

Died at sea at Kaalualu & Paiahaa.
Kapela (f.), Kahinakea (f.).

Surrounded by the Eruption of Kahuku.
Pau (m.), Mauae (m.), Hueu (m.), Pauwahine (m.).

People who barely survived the tsunami from Punaluu to Paiahaa in Kau, Hawaii, numbered twenty three (23), other than those who died met with disaster in Keauhou, who are not counted here. Here are those that are living atop the hills:—Puu o Haao, Kahilipaliuka, about 400 or so; in the lands of Hilea & Kaala, 80 or more; and the majority fled to Hilo & Kona. The people of Waiohinu and the devastated areas, are gathered on the hill of Haao; it is there that they sleep, but perhaps a fraction has returned back to their own place. They will probably be facing difficulty from lack of food. The farms from Pakini until the sea of Kamaoa are covered over.

Hamakua Times’ series on Brother Low, 1895-1920

Hamakua Times just wrapped up its oral history series in August called “Brother Low Recalls: 1895-1920.” Brother Low was a part-Hawaiian born in 1892 and his father, Eben Low, managed a ranch at Pu’uwa’awa’a on the island of Hawaii. The series is made up of oral history excerpts from recordings made in the 1980s by Judy Graham.


Visit the links below to read the series in order of its publish date:

Feb 22, 2012  Introduction to the series

June 27, 2012  The Wild West Show

July 27, 2012  Driving Wild Sheep on Kahoolawe… No More Water… The Story of Maikai

August 27, 2012  The Story of Maikai… Wiles of Maikai… The Fence Gang

September 24, 2012  Geography of Kahoolawe… Reef Life of Kahoolawe

November 1, 2012  Images of Kohala

November 29, 2012  Japanese Workers in Kohala… Kohala Seminary

January 2, 2013  Baseball, Japanese School… The Puako Plantation

February 1, 2013  The Parker Ranch Heirs… Talking Genealogy

February 25, 2013  A Confrontation… Ranch Manager Alfred Carter

April 1, 2013  The Parker Ranch Heirs… Samuel Parker… At Pu’uwa’awa’a

April 25, 2013  Introduction… Elizabeth Napoleon Low

June 6, 2013  Elizabeth Napoleon and Court Life

July 2, 2013  Shipping Cattle… One Armed Roper

August 6, 2013  Hawaiians at Kiholo… Pigeon Lore

August 26, 2013  Old Photos… Spreading the Ashes



Case Study: Hanai Relationships (Part 3)

Christine Hitt

I just recently helped a family learn more about their great-grandmother who had been hanai. The family was uncertain of her maiden name or who her real birth parents were. At the end of the study, I was able to find information on the great-grandmother’s two marriages, her maiden name and even a document that listed names of her biological parents.

In this case study, I will list the resources that were researched in order to make these findings. Hopefully, this will help you in your own search.

  1. Unversity of Hawaii at Manoa, microform newspaper index. At Hamilton library, on the first floor, there are microform slides indexed by last names. This is a great resource to begin doing basic searches for families. It is here that I found the first mention of the great-grandmother’s actual maiden name in a 1985 Honolulu Advertiser obituary.
  2. With knowledge of this new name, I headed to ancestry.com. [While Ancestry’s searchable index of census records is unmatched, it is important to realize that Hawaiian names are spelled incorrectly all the time in its database.] It was in Ancestry.com that I found a 1910 census of the great-grandmother listed as aged 8 and an “adopted child” with adopted parents aged 60 and 45. [If you don’t have a subscription to ancestry.com, the Mormon Family History Centers allow you to search their subscription for free.]


Now that I had her maiden name and her adopted parents’ names, I visited the Kalihi Mormon Family History center to check through its large collection of Certificate of Hawaiian birth records. If you are researching birth records, I recommend you visit them. The staff has worked hard to make these records easily searchable. Call ahead to check hours of operation.


  1. Kalihi Mormon Family History Center. It is here and within the Certificates of Hawaiian Birth that I was hoping to find testimony about the great-grandmother’s biological parents. However, there was no mention of the great-grandmother’s maiden or married name. I did find a listing for her husband, and it gave great testimony about his life, but it was taken prior to his meeting and marriage to the great-grandmother.
  2. Having no luck with birth records, I moved on to marriage records. I did a search through Ulukau.org which has searchable marriage indexes online and found the great-grandmother’s name referenced in two marriage records. She had married twice, which was unknown to me before.
  3. Hawaii State Archives. With the marriage license reference numbers I gathered from Ulukau.org, I then visited the Hawaii State Archives to pull the marriage licenses. My experience has shown me that not all marriage licenses list the parents’ names. But, luckily, in this case, both marriage licenses had parents listed, as well as witnesses.


The first marriage license listed the name of her adopted father and the name of a mother (who was unknown before).

The second marriage license listed two Hawaiian parents, who were neither of the adopted parents listed in the 1910 census. On this license, the mother was the same woman listed as the mother in the earlier marriage license, but this time with her own maiden name. The father listed on this license is believed to be the biological father. Though the adopted parents were not listed as mother or father on this license at all, the adopted mother was present at this marriage and listed as a witness.

With more research, it could probably become clear as to whom these listed parents are, and why there may have been a hanai relationship. But, it is clear that the great-grandmother knew who her biological parents were and who her adopted parents were, as is usually the case in hanai relationships.

Hanai Relationships (Part 2): In the matter of the Estate of Nakuopu, deceased, widow of Puhalahua, deceased.

Christine Hitt

As I was researching hanai relationships at the Hawaii State Archives, I ran across this newspaper article published in the Hawaiian Gazette 1869, July 21, p3 c2. It’s a supreme court case involving rights of a hanai child, whose adopted parents were deceased. It is interesting to see the explanations of the culture during the time. And, also, shows the importance of researching Probate/Bureau of Conveyances records when researching hanai ancestors.


Supreme Court
In the matter of the Estate of Nakuopu, deceased, widow of Puhalahua, deceased.

This was a case that came up on appeal from the decision of the Hon. Elisha H. Allen, sitting as the Court of Probate.

Keahi filed a petition in the Probate Court, praying for letters of administration on the estate of Nakuopu, who he alleges, died intestate [without a will]. The property is large, consisting mostly of valuable real estate, lying in Honolulu, and the several islands. Nakuopu died without issue, and left only a few remote collateral heirs. There were several claimants who were all represented by counsel, in the Probate Court. Among these was Kaauaupa, who claimed to be the adopted daughter of Nakuopu and Puhalahua, her husband, according to the ancient usage and custom of Hawaii, before the enactment of any written laws on the subject of adoption.

The testimony of some seven witnesses was taken on part of the claimant, and several on part of respondents. On the final hearing of the case, the Chief Justice decided adversely to the claimant, whereupon, she appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming a jury, under the Act of 1864. After the appeal was taken, W.C. Jones was engaged to take charge of the case, and the issue was made on a motion under that act, and a rule of the Supreme Court, as to whether the claimant and appellant, Kaauaupa, was the adopted daughter of Nakuopu, deceased, and her husband, Puhalahua, deceased, according to the custom and usage of this kingdom, prior to the existence of any written law on the subject. The jury was empannelled and sworn to try that issue. The testimony was voluminous, and was listened with great attention by the jury.

S.M. Kamakau, the historian, was sworn, and testified to the ancient usage and custom of Hawaii, as to the adoption of children. He specified two classes, but stated that their rights of inheritance were the same. The parents, in their life time, usually made a verbal will; but when this was not the case, the property was equally divided among the children, whether natural or adopted. That the right of the common people to inherit, extended to the personal property and to the taro patches, or interest in land, subject to the feudal chief.

Hewabewa, a very old witness, was sworn: He gave an intelligent detail of the ancient usage and custom relative to adoption, and fully concurred in the statement of the first witness. He also stated that he knew the parents of Kaauaupa; her father was Kaahumanu, and her mother Ailini; that Kaauaupa was born in 1827, and that he heard from her mother, Ailini, in 1839, that she had been given to Puhalahua and Nakuopu, and adopted by them; that he was absent on Hawaii some years, but that on his return in 1845, he found Kaauaupa living with her adopted parents, and that she lived with them up to the time of the death of Puhalahua, and then with Nakuopu, till her death; that he had frequently understood from Puhalahua and his wife, that she was adopted.

Humea was a witness, who testified as to the birth and parentage of Kaauaupa; that she had been raised by Puhalahua and Nakuopu, his wife, and lived with them till they died; that he had heard the parents of Kaauaupa declare that they had given her to Puhalahua and Nakuopu for adoption.

Kekukahiko was sworn, and testified as to the birth and parentage of Kaauaupa. Her father was Kaahumanu and her mother was Ailini; Kaauaupa was born in 1827; during the sandal-wood expedition in 1827 or 1828, was present when Kaahumanu and Ailini, the parents of Kaauaupa gave her to Puhalahua and Nakuopu, and witness informed the King of the fact; that Kaauaupa lived with her adopted parents until their death; had frequently heard her recognized by them as their adopted child.

Kapuu testified that he knew the birth and parentage of Kaauaupa, and was present when she was given by her parents to Puhalahua and Nakuopu, that he was a hired man and lived in the house for many years; that Kaauaupa lived with them as their child, and that she was given in marriage by theirs; that he had heard the adoption frequently recognized by both the natural and adopted parents. She lived with Puhalahua and Nakuopu till they died.

Kuaana, sure that she knows the claimant Kaauaupa, that she was married to Kekahili her son; that Puhalahua and Nakuopu came to her and said that they wanted her son to marry their daughter Kaauaupa; she said we have come to get your son to marry our daughter Kaauaupa; she gave her consent and they were married. Kaauaupa and husband lived with Puhalahua and Nakuopu till they died. Claimant was treated and cared for as a child.

J. Moanauli testified that he lived in the next yard to decedents Puhalalua and Nakuopu three years beginning in 1846; that he saw claimant living with them heard that Puhalahua and Nakuopu was her adopted parents (makua hanai) ; heard this both from Puhalahua and Kaahumanu. Kaauaupa lived with them till their death.

Kohihi testified that she knew the claimant; that she the witness, lived with Puhalahu and Nakuopu from the year 1866 till their death; that claimant, Kaauaupa, also lived with them, fed Puhalahua and administered medicine to him; after his death she lived with Nakuopu; administered medicine to her and was present at her death; Nakuopu told the witness that the claimant, Kaauaupa, was her daughter–”he kaikamahine:” she would not send her daughter on errands, “That was my business–I was a servant.”

The claimant here concluded her testimony, and defendant read the testimony of P. Kanoa. Which was to the effect that he knew the parents of Kaauaupa: Kaahumanu was her father, Ailini her mother; knew nothings of the adoption–frequently visited the house of Puhalahua and Nakuopu, some times saw claimant there.

He also stated the law of adoption to be that when chiefs took the children of chiefs, they adopted them for good; but that when they took the children of common people, they only took them temporarily to raise them. That Kaahumanu, the father of Kaauaupa, was a chief, so was Puhalahua, but Kaahumanu was a chief of higher grade than Puhalahua. He also stated that when persons died possessing property and heirs, in the absence of a verbal will, they all inherited alike, both natural and adopted children.

Kaaihue lived with Puhalahua since 1850, was his secretary; claimant lived at her own house in 1853. This witness generally swears contrary to all the testimony of the preceding witnesses. He stated that Kaauaupa was a relation and that she tended Puhalahua in 1863 when sick; visited them at times on account of the relationship; after the death of Puhalahua, lived with Nakuopu altogether till her death.

Wailea knew the claimant since the California excitement, lived with Puhalahua and Nakuopu as one of their people; that the claimant came there occasionally; was there a week before Nakuopu’s death. This witness, like the last, generally swore directly to the contrary of the claimant’s interests.

One new witness was introduced by the respondents, and the testimony generally concurred with that of the last witness, and was negative in its character.

The Court charged the jury very impartially, who retired, and returned a verdict in favor of Kaauaupa, declaring that she was the adopted daughter of Puhalahua and Nakuopu.

Mr. Judd, for respondents, gave notice that he would file a motion for a new trial.


Hanai Relationships (Part 1): Adoption in Ancient Hawaii

Christine Hitt

Many emails that I receive are in regards to a hanai or adopted relative. Depending on whether it is a hanai adoption or a legal adoption with an agency, genealogy tactics will differ. Soon, I will follow-up this post with a case study of a hanai adoption I worked on. And, I have an 1869 Hawaiian Gazette documentation of a court case among a hanai child and hanai family that I will post soon, with interesting notes on ancient hanai customs, including a quote from historian S.M. Kamakau.

This particular post concentrates on adoption customs in ancient Hawaii. It is important to understand the culture of the time, in order to research in the present.

There are three forms of adoption in ancient Hawaii.

Ho’okama, which is when adopting parents took in another person’s child as their own.

Handy and Pukui describe it:
The adopting parent becomes to the child makua ho’okama (literally ‘parent making child his own’), while the child is known as kaikamahine ho’okama if it is a girl and kaiki ho’okama if a boy. The relationship comes about as a result of mutual affection and agreement, at first tacit, then unobtrusively discussed, between the child and the older person; the part of the child’s true parents, if living, is normally negative; although if there is a strong dislike for the would-be adopting parent the true parent is capable of interfering. This is a relationship involving love, respect and courtesy, but not necessary responsibility of any sort, and rarely a change of residence. (1958: 71)

Ho’okama also refers to adoptions by older persons of younger adults: kaikua’ana ho’okama (kaikua’ana ‘older sibling of the same sex as speaker’), kaikaina ho’okama (kaikaina ‘younger sibling of the same sex as speaker’), kaikuahine ho’okama (kaikuahine ‘sister’ when male is speaking) or kaikunane ho’okama (kaikunane ‘brother’ when female is speaking). (Pukui and Elbert 1957:115)

The second form of adoption in ancient Hawaii include Ho’okane, or Ho’owahine, which Handy and Pukui describe as “an adoptive platonic marital relationship between persons of opposite sex.”

An example:
Hoeawa of Puna became the kane ho’okane of a prominent Hilo-pali-ku woman named Hela.  Both were married. Hoeawa and Hela were a as good to each other as brother and sister. Hoeawa’s niece used to go to Hela’s with her cousin, Hoeawa’s daughter, and both were treated like own nieces. Hela died many years before Hoeawa. She used to give him gifts to take home, and his wife used to make fine mats for him to take to his wahine ho’owahine. Such wahine ho’owahine and kane ho’okane never made love to each other (1958:55).

The most familiar form of adoption is hanai, in which the child is taken into another household and brought up as their own child. “The evidence available to us from elderly informants and documentary sources suggest that four principles were of particular importance in the traditional patterning of hanai relations. These were kinship and seniority between the natural parents and the adopting parents, and the age and sex of the child. (Carroll 1970; 24)”


Hawaiian Mother and Child. Photo: Hawaii State Archives

Things to know in regards to hanai adoptions:

  • Hanai children were almost always taken from within one’s own family.
  • Seniority was very relevant. If a senior relative asked for a junior’s relative child, it was impossible to refuse the request. Grandparents often asked for grandchildren, who helped to take care of them in their old age. It is also the case if an elder sibling is unable to have children to let her hanai one of your many children.
  • Sex of the child was significant. First-born males were considered to belong to the father’s side, and the first female child was said to belong to the mother’s side.
  • Hawaiians were very careful as to the parentage of a hanai child and did not adopt indiscriminately as is often believed. (Kenn 1939:47).


Various reasons for adoption:

  • The desire to create a bond between one’s family and that of the adopting parents. This was especially important for chiefs who were thus assured alliances with other alii (Horn 1948:24; Goo 1958:17).
  • The belief that twins must be reared apart lest one or both of them die (Hormann n.d.).
  • The belief in ‘uhu kapu ‘taboo lap’. According to this belief some women were so kapu that they could not raise their own children. Uhu kapu was believed to result from the fondness of an aumakua ‘a personal or family god’ for a woman. The aumakua did not want the woman who was dear to it to be soiled by the urine and feces of an infant; if such a woman attempted to raise her own children, it was thought that the children would die or become crippled (Handy and Pukui 1958:48-49). The children of such a woman had to be raised by others.
  • Alii siblings of opposite sex might be raised apart in order that they might marry later in life without regarding each other as brother and sister. Such unions would produce offspring who were alii niau pio ‘chiefs who were higher in rank than either of their parents’ (Green and Beckwith 1924:246).
  • The belief that to refuse a request to hanai a child was to risk death or sickness of the child from the sorcery of the jealous would-be adopter (Yamamura 1941:137-138; Forster 1960:98).
  • A desire to have a child learn skills not possessed by his parents. In such case, the child might be apprenticed to an expert, into whose home he was taken, becoming for all practical purposes an adoptive member of the family (Handy and Pukui 1958:258).

“Only as a last resort do Hawaiians rely upon adoption agencies” (Carroll 1970; 32). If the parents were to die, siblings were expected to hanai the children. If there were no senior relatives, then the oldest child was responsible for the younger brothers and sisters.


Carroll, Vern
1970, Adoption in Easter Oceania. University of Hawaii Press.
[Note: All citations in this post were found through this book. It's a great reference to find more documents about adoption in Hawaii.]

Forster, John
1960, “The Hawaiian family system of Hana, Maui, 1957.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 69:92-103.

Green, Laura C., and Martha Warren Beckwith
1924, “Hawaiian customs and beliefs relating to birth and infancy.” American Anthropologist 26:230-246.

Goo, Sau Moi Wong, R.Y. Masuda, G.O. Moriguchi, M. Yamaguchi, and E.S. Young
1958, “A Study of the socio-cultural characteristics of patients known to the Mental Health Clinic, Bureau of Clinical Service, Division of Mental Health, Honolulu County.” Master’s thesis, University of Hawaii.

Handy, E.S. Craighill, and Mary Kawena Pukui
1958, The Polynesian Family System in Ka’u Hawaii. Polynesian Society Reprints, Series no. 6. Wellington, N.Z.: The Polynesian Society.

Hormann, Bernhard L. (collector)
1960, Unpublished papers from the confidential files of the Romanzo Adams Social Research Laboratory. Written for sociology classes, University of Hawaii. Author’s names not given.

Horn, Josephine
1948, “Adoption customs in old Hawaii.” Paradise of the Pacific 60:23-25.

Kenn, Charles W.
1939, “Some Hawaiian relationship terms re-examined,” Social Process in Hawaii 5:46-50. Honolulu: Sociology Club of the University of Hawaii.

Yamamura, Douglas Shigeharu
1941, “A study of some of the factors in the education of the child of Hawaiian ancestry in Hana, Maui.” Master’s thesis, University of Hawaii.

An Update: Kalihi Family History Center, Hanai Family Members and the 1878/1895 Hawaii Census

Christine Hitt

I have been researching a few families and reacquainted myself to the Kalihi Family History Center. For anyone researching their family, I recommend beginning at the the Mormon Family History Centers in your area. Here are the Hawaii locations. And, they are manned by people who have been involved in genealogy research for years, so they are very helpful and knowledgeable.

I’ve received quite a few emails for assistance with finding more information about hanai family members. There is some information here. But, one resource often times overlooked are Land Records. Usually when individuals sold property, they explained how they were entitled to be owners of the property.  Sometimes they also explained their relationship to the person receiving the property when it was a family member.

Another thing I’m working on is creating pdf documents for download of the 1878/1985 Hawaii census. I’ve had these digitized from microfilm, and will be putting them online, as time permits, over the next few months. I believe it’s a resource that needs to be online, and I hope it will help some of you in your research.

Northwest Coast Hawaiians and the Hudson’s Bay Company


By Christine Hitt

I’ve received requests over the years asking for information about Hawaiians who joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and settled in the Pacific Northwest. Many people are still not aware that there is a large community of Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest, who descended from ancestors who traveled there in the early to mid-19th century during the fur trade. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible for them to make a family connection back to Hawaii, unless the information was passed down orally from generation to generation.

Many Hawaiians in the region were referred by the same singular Hawaiian name: “kanaka,” or a variance of it, ie. kanak, canack, etc.  If the person’s actual  Hawaiian name was documented, it was usually spelled differently on different documents, and sometimes names changed completely for various reasons. This makes it very difficult to track people from document to document.

Another difficulty in tracing family origins back to Hawaii: Hawaii’s passenger manifests dating back to 1843 only make references to Hawaiians traveling to the Columbia River as numbers, without names. “Eight Kanakas” is what I read on one manifest, today. On another document dated February 11, 1840, Hawaii Governor Kekuanaoa agreed to let George Pelly (of the Hudson’s Bay Company) take “60 Hawaiians for 3 years.” There are no names. As you can see now, it is also difficult to find useful genealogical records in the mid-19th century in Hawaii.

While it is difficult for Hawaiians in the Pacific Northwest to trace their origins back to Hawaii, they hold a proud history and many continued to  uphold the culture as they could. It is a story to be shared.

For more on this topic, I recommend reading New Land, New Lives: Hawaiian Settlement in British Columbia, (which will also have info on the photos in this blog post). For more on the Hudson’s Bay Company, visit the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. You may also visit my other page: NW Coast Hawaiians.