Kanewai is where Manoa Stream emerges from the valley and opens to the broader expanse of the Waikiki floodplain. Manoa Valley’s historically abundant rainfall ensured an endless flow of water capable of supporting irrigated agriculture downstream. For this reason, an auwai was dug at Kanewai, diverting water from the stream to nearby pondfields.
Archaeological surveys and historical documents indicate that the Kanewai area was used primarily for agricultural production since the 15th century. During that time, Chief Kalamakua, well known for his farming, constructed numerous pondfields from the uplands to the sea.
In 1783, Maui chief, Kahekili, took control of O'ahu. Two years later, the Battle of Nu'uanu Pali took place and O'ahu was conquered by Kamehameha I. As conquering leader, he allocated his lands to favored warrior chiefs and counselors.
Much of the ahupua'a of Manoa was awarded to his father-in-law, Ke’eaumoku. He, in turn, assigned the 'ili of Kanewai to a konohiki (lesser chief and land manager) named Kaleiheana. When Ke’eaumoku died in 1804, his land was transferred to his daughter, Ka'ahumanu, who was also the wife of Kamehameha I. In 1832, Ka'ahumanu passed away and her land was inherited by her daughter, Kïna'u, wife of Mataio Kekuanao’a, Governor of O'ahu. Upon Kïna’u’s death in 1839, her land, including the'ili of Kanewai, went to her daughter, Victoria Kamamalu. During this period when the land was transferred from family member to family member, Kaleiheana remained as konohiki.
The Mahele of 1848 transformed the Hawaiian land system from one of use-rights to one based on private ownership and the 'ili of Känewai remained in the royal family. However, native Hawaiian claims called kuleana awards were eventually granted. Seven Land Commission Awards or LCA were granted within the 'ili of Kanewai. Kaleiheana, who had served as konohiki for the lands of Kanewai since the time of Ke’eaumoku, staked his claim for a portion on August 14, 1846 and on October 13, 1848 received the largest award given to a private individual in the ahupua'a of Mänoa. Testimonies given at that time indicate that the lands of Kanewai were primarily used for taro cultivation.
Kaleiheana died intestate (without having made a will) on February 12, 1855 and a dispute over the ownership of his land ensued. In the end, Kamamalu, the owner of the 'ili of Kanewai, received title. Upon her death, in 1866, her father, Mataio Kekuanao’a, took charge of settling her estate and when he died in 1868, Kamamalu’s lands were inherited by his daughter and Kamamalu’s half sister, Ruth Ke’elikolani. In 1883, Ruth Ke’elikolani passed away and her lands went to her cousin and heir, Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Upon Pauahi’s death in 1884, Kanewai became a part of the Bishop Estate.
During the early part of the 20th century, the tradition of irrigated cultivation that the Hawaiians began centuries earlier, continued. Kwong Yik Farms leased the Känewai area from Bishop Estate and employed bachelor farmers from China who created a lush, thriving landscape of terraced vegetable gardens and lotus ponds, which extended all the way down to Old Wai'alae Road. Mustard cabbage, white cabbage, green onions, spinach, Chinese parsley and lotus root among many other vegetables grew abundantly in the rich soil.
An auwai was constructed to divert water from Mänoa Stream to the fields. It originated near the East-West Center, flowed along the base of Waahila, ran down into Känewai and back to the stream. The farmers constructed numerous waterways throughout the fields to bring the life-giving water to their crops. Medaka, catfish, rainbow fish, small shrimp, pipipi, dojo and opae thrived in these ditches and provided endless hours of fun for neighborhood children who enjoyed catching them until the farmers got annoyed.
Former Hokulani Principal Annette Chun-Ming, who grew up in the area, fondly remembers watching the hardworking farmers. They would dip huge sprinkling cans into the waterways that ran alongside the vegetable plots and water the rows and rows of vegetables by hand.
The bachelor farmers lived in a weather-beaten, two story house at what is now the corner of Kamakini and Kaluawa'a Streets. They washed the vegetables in a pond of water on the ground level of their house and did their cooking in a huge wok heated by burning wood in a separate, open air kitchen. One of them was known as cookman and another was known as driverman while the rest worked in the fields.
Long time Hokulani School lunch supervisor, Mary Higa, affectionately known as Grandma Mary to the children, has fond memories of growing up in the Kanewai area. She recalls her enjoyment at watching the farmers going about their daily work in the fields toting the harvested vegetables in two baskets suspended from a long pole balanced across their shoulders. The farmers worked very hard and understandably cherished their lunch break. Former Hökülani Parent and niece of one of the bachelor farmers, Lettie Young, recalls that a cookman would hit a triangular metal gong at noon each day to call the farmers back for lunch. Upon hearing the gong, Grandma Mary’s mother sometimes sent her to buy some vegetables knowing that the farmers would be back at their house. However, nothing could get them to budge during their noon break and Mary would have to patiently wait until they were done.
Water buffaloes were used in the fields to plow and help with other heavy work. At night, they were kept in a pen where the storage facility is now located on Old Wai'alae Road. Back then, the only access into the Kanewai area ran from Old Wai'alae Road, through the parking lot of the storage facility and across an old wooden bridge which has since been replaced by the present footbridge. Oftentimes, a buffalo or two would be grazing in the California grass near the bridge which presented a problem when Mary's mother sent her on an errand to a nearby store. Since neighborhood children sometimes teased the buffaloes, the animals wouldn't let her cross the bridge to get to the store. So she would have to find one of the farmers and ask him to move the buffalo. However, on her way home, to her dismay, she would often see the same buffalo blocking her path again. Poor Mary would find herself at the mercy of the farmer's mood that day. Sometimes, a ten minute errand took one hour!
The view of the Kanewai landscape with its vegetable gardens, waterways and lotus ponds was enjoyed by early residents of St. Louis Heights. Grandma Mary recalled once hiking partway up the hill and looking down at the Känewai area. What she saw was a spectacular patchwork pattern in various shades of green which has been captured in the student mural on the stage of our Multi-Purpose Building.
The ancient people of the ahupua'a of Manoa had great affection for the gods Kane and Kanaloa who they believed created an abundance of water for this fertile land through their many adventures. Here is one of them.
One day, after spending a day at the beach in Kahala, the two gods hunted for fresh water to drink and to wash the sand off of their bodies. When they realized there was no fresh water source in the area, they wandered about until they found themselves near Moiliili. Kanaloa was hot, tired and a bit impatient and demanded that Kane find water for them. Kane asked him to be patient.
A little way up from there, Kane stuck his magic cane into the ground and a cold, bubbling spring rushed out. After they drank the cool water, they washed the sand from their bodies. To this day, white sand can be found there, a long way from the ocean. The spring is called Kanewai, or the waters of Kane and the stretch of sand nearby is called Kanaloa.
Another legend tells of fish who swam up from the ocean to the large underground pool named Kanewai which was located on the mauka side of King Street near the quarry. The fish would quietly eavesdrop on the plans made by native fishermen who often spent time in the area. They would then go back to the ocean to warn their friends!
The waters of Kanewai, also known as the healing waters of Kane, were much sought after by the Hawaiians. Queen Lili'uokalani was also reported to be interested in the Kanewai pool.
Prior to 1923, the high land between the Manoa and Palolo Valleys was known as Kalaepohaku. This area with its meandering stream, rock-strewn slopes, kiawe trees and cacti was part of the vast estate of Bernice Pauahi Bishop. But the absence of roads and land bridges over the stream made the place highly inaccessible.
The dreams and vision of the Brothers of St. Louis College to expand it from its original downtown location led to the purchase of 204.7 acres of Kalaepohaku for $62,500 in 1923. The proposed entrance to the school was the area of the present intersection of Dole Street and St. Louis Drive. City plans at that time called for the extension of Wilder Avenue to that location, but when those plans were scrapped, the Brothers decided to relocate the entrance to Wai’alae Avenue.
An additional three lots were acquired and a bridge was erected over Pälolo Stream in 1925 at a cost of $14,000 providing an entrance and making the land accessible. Soon thereafter, cesspools, curbing and roads were constructed to allow further development of the area.
Construction of school buildings commenced in 1927. A year later, St. Louis College finally had a new school overlooking majestic Diamond Head Crater and the blue waters of the Pacific.
The same year, eighty acres of Kalaepohaku was sold for $100,000 to finance further school construction projects. This tract was subdivided into 400 lots and was named St. Louis Heights.
Around 1960, St. Louis College developed Chaminade Terrace to produce additional income for the school. The area was subdivided into lots and leased. Subsequently, the Maryland Land Law was enacted which provided leaseholders the opportunity to purchase their lots. Over the years, the school sold all but one.
The influence of the past Brothers and Priests of St. Louis College are evident in the St. Louis Heights’ streets named after them, such as: Alencastre, Bertram, Libert, Alphonse, Robert, Maigret and Peter.
Until the 1950’s, children living in the present Hokulani School district attended Kuhio, Ali’iolani or Palolo Elementary Schools. However, their parents longed to have a local school built, so residents and community leaders congregated to initiate the process. Long time St. Louis Heights resident, former Hokulani parent and grandparent, John Silva, played a key role in Hokulani School’s construction.
On January 24, 1957, at a public hearing, it was proposed that 31,000 square feet of land that was allocated for the expansion of Kanewai Park be given to the Department of Education for a new school site. The Tom family, who still resides in the area, also gave a pie-shaped piece of land which made it possible to create an entrance to the school from Kamakini Street.
In 1958, Hokulani opened with five grade levels, eight teachers and the principal, Mr. Arthur Wong. The office and health room was located in A-1 and A-3 was the library. There were only two buildings (A and B) when the school opened. Students ate their 25 cent lunches in their classrooms from metal plates that resembled pie tins!
The enthusiastic parents of the brand new school wasted no time in thinking of ways to raise money. Numerous projects were undertaken and this practice has continued to this day.
In 1960, C Building was completed. This was followed by the Multi-Purpose Building which was finally built in 1964 after several delays. The present Administration Building was completed in 1967, and in 1970 the school experimented with a new method of teaching. Walls between classrooms were removed, enabling the combination of two classes. These combined classes were taught by three teachers. In 1971, The Music Building that is now used for the computer lab was constructed, thus completing the physical layout of the school.
Today, there are close to 400 students enrolled at Hokulani. Although our diverse student body is comprised primarily of our local children, we also serve a small percentage of students who are recent immigrants. For the most part, these are students whose parents are scholars from other countries and who live in nearby UH Manoa faculty housing. The remainder are students from the Orient, whose parents are currently working in the United States.