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The Ko'a at Lower Kanaio , South Maui 

Robin Ridington


In the fall of 2001 I hiked into Kanaiio beach, two miles from the nearest road, across a jumbled flow of A'a lava that the Goddess Pele laid across the flanks of Haleakela around 1790 in a fit of anger at the mermaid, Pimoe. Composer Nina Maxwell wrote a song about the place. The story goes:

On their first visit to lower Kanaio, the composer, Nina Maxwell and her husband, Charles Maxwell, Sr., passed the hill Pimoe.  Pele was envious of Pimoe, a beautiful mermaid known to entice men with her beauty.  Pele, in one of her jealous rages, immortalized Pimoe by turning the mermaid to stone in the eruption of 1790.  Sonny Kuaana, born and raised in a grass hale on the beach, related the story of this hill to them.  Sonny took them down to the ocean where he was born and showed them how his mother would dry her lauhala leaves in lava mounds built for the purpose.  He also showed them the fresh water cave they used for drinking water and the brackish water cave used by the cattle.  Sonny showed the composer and her husband his Aumakua, a huge shark that lives in the ocean.  When they went onto the papa (reef), he called to his Amakua, who immediately swam into the shallow water.  The composer, a prominent kumu hula in Maui, was so impressed with Kanaio, she wrote this song and dedicated it to Sonny Kuaana. 

I aloha ia No O Kanaio                 Beloved is Kanaio
Aloha ku'uone hanau                    Love for my birthplace
Olu'olu i ke ahe a ka makani         Cool and fresh in the breeze
Aloha wau ia'oe                           I love you

Lei Pimoe i ka'ehukai                  Pimoe wears a wreath of sea spray
E Kanaio puna i ke kai                Springs of Kanaio by the sea
Omaona no kou'ala                      Sweet your fragrance
Aloha wau ia'oe                           I love you

U'imaolikeia aina                         Freshly beautiful this land
He aloha noue Kanaio                   Is love for you, Kanaio
I ku'u mana o' ie'oe                      In my thoughts of you
Aloha wau ia'oe                           I love you

Ha'ina'iamai ana ka puana             The story is told
Aloha ku'u one hanau                   Love for my birthplace
'Olu'oul i ke ahe a ka makani        Cool and fresh in the breeze
aloha wau ia'oe                            I love you 

I was at Kanaio near the beginning of Makahiki, the winter season once ruled by the fertility God Lono.  Makahiki  begins when the Pleiades first appear on the horizon at sunset, usually identified by spiritual observers around November 19.  It ends sometime after the winter solstice, the precise time to be determined by the phase of the moon.  The name means maka (eye) and hiki (a sign of movement).  More generally, Makahiki marks "the time of the sun's turn northward, bringing warmth again to earth, the growth of plants, and the spaning of fish" (Lono of the Makahiki website). 

Access to lower Kanaio is through the "King's Highway," Ke Ali'i Alanui, a cleared path built by governor Ho'opili in the 1840s.   Past Kanaio, the shore is covered with a jumble of white coral and rounded volcanic rock.  A series of small curved beach fronts are separated by jutting lava points.  The whole coast in this region of South Maui is called Kahiki Nui, "Big Tahiti." Hawai'ian tradition has it that Makahiki begins when Lono returns from Kahiki (Tahiti) and ends when he sails away to his distant home.  Just across from Kahiki Nui is the tip of Kaho'o'lawe, the island that traditional Hawaiian navigators used as their point of arrival and departure when sailing between Tahiti and Hawaii.  Master  navigators took their students to Kaho'o'lawe for a month or more to study the night sky. 

Kahiki Nui contains some of the richest archaeological sites on Maui.  Unlike other parts of the coast where Hawaiian hale ( houses), heiau (temple platforms), garden sites and Ko'a (fishing shrines) have been destroyed by development or overgrown by jungle, the ancient settlements in this area are still in plain view.  House walls and floors remain intact.  The King's Highway passes just mauka (away from the sea) of a silted-in pond, terraces for yams and dry taro, and the springs Sonny Kuaana referred to.
Ko'a at Lower Kanaio page 2 >