Welina Mānoa

Mai Uka a i Kai Tour

Mai Uka a i Kai Tour

Mānoa is a valley in the land division of Waikīkī, and is one of the largest on the island of Oʻahu. Famous for its fertile soil and abundance of water, a large part of Mānoa was once covered with irrigated terraces used for the cultivation of kalo, the staple food of Hawaiʻi. The “Mai Uka a i Kai” tour explains the vital connection between the land and people, and how caring for resources is of utmost importance in maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. The tour also highlights three sites in Manoa valley: Lyon Arboretum, Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai and Waikīkī Aquarium, and explains how water plays an important role in connecting the people and providing life for the land from the mountain to the sea.

Lyon Arboretum

The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is a 200 acre arboretum and botanical garden managed by the University of Hawaiʻi. Located at the top of the Mānoa watershed at the foot of the Koʻolau mountains, it is the only university botanical garden located in a tropical rainforest in the U.S. It contains a set of small cottages and greenhouses used to conduct research and educate the community about plants and Hawaiʻi’s natural environments.

Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai

Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai is part of the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai contains a number of loʻi, or irrigated terraces where taro is cultivated, and is home to native trees and shrubs. The water feeding into Kānewai is the same water that begins at the top of the Mānoa watershed, flows through Lyon Arboretum, and works its way through the valley to this area. The staff and students at Kānewai work with this water and pay close attention to climate and weather activity and its relationship to stream activity. Families, students and community organizations are welcome to visit Ka Papa Loʻi o Kānewai; monthly work days are held every first Saturday.

The Waikīkī Aquarium

Founded in 1904, the Waikīkī Aquarium is the third oldest aquarium in the U.S. Its content and research focuses on the tropical Pacific region and the Hawaiian islands. There are over 3,500 marine animals representing 500 species of aquatic plants and animals.


An ahupuaʻa is a type of land division. Not all ahupuaʻa had the same resources; some areas have more water while others have had a more extensive shoreline. The ahupuaʻa is important in the Hawaiian worldview, and reflecting on the ways of the ancestors shows how Hawaiians were resourceful on whatever type of land they dwelled. Regardless of the variation in resources, locals of each ahupuaʻa were well-aquainted with the sources of food, water and materials unique to their land, and made due and prospered with what they were given to support the needs of their family and community.

In Hawaiian there is a saying, “Ko koa uka, ko koa kai,” meaning “Those of the upland, those of the shore.” This saying speaks of the relationship between those living in the upland and those living near the shore. In many instances, the people of the land functioned as an ʻohana, a family who shared resources. The upland dwellers brought taro and other foods to the shore to give to kinsmen there; the shore dwellers would offer fish and other foods from the sea. This is an example of laulima, many hands working together in unity.


Water is vital to the survival of a people. The Hawaiians understanding of this is expressed in their language as the importance of water, or wai, is illustrated in the Hawaiian word for wealthy, waiwai.

The climate in the Waikīkī region is unique in that there is a great variation of rainfall over a short distance. While the shoreline of Waikīkī may receive a yearly rainfall total of only half a meter, the deep uplands of Mānoa Valley often receive close to five meters of rain annually.

Rains and winds specific to a certain land were often given names according to their nature or their action upon the plants or land. Three rains in Mānoa are: the Luahine which is said to be constant and unchanging, the Tuahine, a famous misty rain of the valley, and the Waʻahila, which is said to be the most haphazard of the rains due to its being located where the winds of Mānoa and Waikīkī meet.

One of the reasons why Mānoa was such a favored area for the cultivation of taro was because of its perennial stream flow. Not all valleys on this island have a perennial flow of water. The constant flow of water was a feature that contributed to the ability to have continual wetland taro cultivation on this land.

The Ala Wai Canal

The Ala Wai (lit: water path) Canal was created in 1920 to drain Waikīkī of its swamps for development purposes. It was dredged of wetlands so that a tourist center could be developed. The environment of Waikīkī and its nearshore waters has been highly impacted by two major anthropogenic factors: the dredging of the Ala Wai Canal and periodic massive deposition of sand on Waikīkī beaches to replace sand lost to offshore areas. Prior to the construction of the Ala Wai, approximately 85% of modern Waikīkī was underwater.

The Ala Wai contains water from Makiki, Mānoa, and Pālolo, three valleys in the ahupuaʻa of Waikīkī. The dredging of the Waikīkī wetlands and the development that ensued inevitably had an effect on the locals living in the area. The region no longer contained the same resources and water it once had. Waikīkī, therefore, has a history of continuing and increasing modification to an environment that was natural and agricultural.


Waikīkī’s abundance of water and sun made it ideal for the growing of taro – taro matures faster with sun, and Waikīkī became famed for its taro production. Residents raised fish as well, and Waikīkī’s first fish ponds were loko iʻa kalo. In these ponds, taro was grown and fish such as ‘oʻopu (common goby 5 to 6 inches) and āholehole (silver perch) were raised. Inland freshwater ponds fed by canals were connected to springs or streams.

Although the Waikīkī area was the last place the water would pass though before reaching the ocean, it was still important for the people to take care of it and not contaminate it. Water reaching the ocean supplied nutrients to the fish ponds and created an ideal ocean climate for the many sea creatures and plants.

Kapiʻolani Park and Lēʻahi

King David Kalākaua, the last king of Hawaiʻi, was a supporter of the documentation of traditional knowledge. He also supported public spaces such as Kapiʻolani Park, the famous park across the street from the Waikīkī Aquarium which was named after his wife, Queen Kapiʻolani. Kapiʻolani Park, which opened in 1877, was the first public park to serve Honolulu. With 170 acres of open space, including a race track and polo field, it became a gathering place for the people. Today many public events are held at Kapiʻolani Park.

Hawaiian Place names are rich in meaning. Names were often given because of features of a land or particular events that took place at a given area. Names of a place are important because they are an expression of the worldview of a people. Many names have been lost or changed; for example, Kaimana Hila is a transliteration of Diamond Head. Referring to Diamond Head as Kaimana Hila, although Hawaiian in sound, doesn’t carry on the traditional name, Lēʻahi (lae ʻahi), meaning the forehead of the ʻahi fish. Traditional names offer insight to traditional knowledge.



Mālama ʻĀina

It is everyone’s kuleana, or responsibility, to take care of the land because it is the land that feeds us. One Hawaiian proverbs states, “He aliʻi ka ʻāina, he kauā ke kanaka,” meaning that the land is chief and man is her servant. It was understood that the responsibility of caring for the land included caring for the water. The stream was not only a source of water, but also a source of food. ʻŌpae, or shrimp, and ʻoʻopu, a fish commonly found in Hawaiʻi’s streams were valuable sources of food. When seas were rough or times were not right for ocean fishing, ʻōpae and ʻoʻopu were sought after. Those who dwell upstream must be considerate of those downstream. The stream is a life artery and the waters are our life source. The diversion of water for use in post-contact sugar cane fields had a great effect on the land. Many lands once abundant in water were no longer fed by the same amount of this vital resource.