Awāwa Nani (Beautiful Valley)

“Welina mai i ko mākou awāwa,” which means welcome to our valley, seems to ring faintly on the wind. The ancients call to me in this place on a cold January day in the Waimea Valley on the island of Oahu. The wind is whipping the drizzle on my face in 20-30 mile an hour bursts, stinging my skin. Even the surfers on the North Shore are not in the water today fearing dangerous riptides that could dash them against the black volcanic boulders poking up on the beach like angry islanders. Mud and deep puddles frame my feet as I walk on an isolated path along the base of the mountains; there are no tourists braving these trails today. Instead, they are huddled like sparrows under the eaves of the gift shop, their dark, wrinkled coats like ruffled feathers.

Isolation is unusual in this place that hosts over 1,200 tourists per day who hike the 1.5 miles to the falls. As the rain cascades down in earnest, I pull up the hood on my cotton coat and huddle under a monkeypod tree, its branches a lacy curtain that offers minimal protection. I am cold and drenched, so I decide to go back out in the open to bask in the wonder around me. As I gaze at the green felted mountains several stories above, the ancients again call to me making me wonder what this place was like before the Haole (white man) came here.

The Waimea Valley is the land of the Ali’I Nui and the Ali’I, the kings and chiefs of the Hawaiian people, who inhabited this valley thousands of years ago. It is also the Valley of the Priests. Ancient Polynesians traveled in their wooden amas (boats) and stayed, attracted by the lushness of this place, and the plethora of food they could obtain from the land and the sea. The valley protected these ancient ones from the elements, and Hawaiian people lived here until the late 1800’s when floods drove them from this valley.

It is also the home of Hale O Lono Heiau, the temple dedicated to the god Lono, a place of significant cultural and spiritual significance. Afterward, the valley was owned by many Haole who used this sacred place to make a profit like Charles Pietsch II. In the 1970s, he created a botanical garden here which has expanded to 300 acres and 45 gardens with plants from all over the world. The city of Honolulu bought the land and now operates it as a non-profit park in order to maintain the place’s cultural heritage.

Although the botanical gardens do include some rare and endangered native species, most of the plants are foreign. They have displaced the original flora and fauna of this place, just like the Haole displaced the gods and priests. This original flora fed, healed and clothed the Hawaiian people. The glossy green and red of the ti plant, its leaves like mini surfboards, reduced fever. The majestic koa tree, found only in these islands with its filigree parasol of leaves, was carved into boats for fishing and transportation. Ahuhu leaves, with their small magenta flowers, were used as bait for fish, while the purple taro plant provided food. ‘Awa, the kava plant, was used in religious ceremonies, its green heart-shaped leaves a metaphor for the heart of the Hawaiian people.

Although I appreciate the beauty that surrounds me today, raindrops dripping off coconut palms and ferns dotting the rainforest, shimmering like diamonds on the hibiscus flowers, I am also sad. For this valley is not what it once was. Why do we as humans feel the need to conquer, take, and change? As the Haole took the land from the Hawaiian people, they also changed the landscape of the Waimea Valley forever. Some may feel these changes were good, but I do not necessarily agree. Why does man destroy what nature creates? I wonder what will remain of Waimea Valley thousands of years from now. Will the footprint of the Haole remain, or will the gods that live in this place reclaim it once more?

by Colleen Halupa

Colleen Halupa is a college professor and multi-modal writer who graduated from the University of Denver creative writing program. She is a nature lover lives in the beautiful piney woods and lakes of East Texas. She and her husband rescue dogs and are at 23 and counting…