The Ha‘i ‘ōlelo (oral history) of Waimea, according to Hawaiian historian Sam Kamakau (who was from Waialua, O‘ahu), begins with the high chief Kama Pua‘a. Kama Pua‘a, according to traditional history, was given a gift from the Kahuna Nui (high priest) Kahiki‘ula. This took place sometime in the eleventh century. (pupukeawaimea)
The gift was all the lands that begin with the word Wai. The word Waimea means “sacred water.” Prior to the eleventh century, little is known about the Kānaka (people) who lived in the ahupua‘a of Waimea. The valley may have been settled a lot earlier. (pupukeawaimea)
Waimea Valley is a cultural resource of the highest possible order … There is no place quite like Waimea Valley on the island of Oʻahu, and very few places in the entire archipelago can equal it in terms of its religious associations, its preservation or its potential for answering many questions about traditional Hawaiʻi. (Hiʻipaka)
Waimea, “The Valley of the Priests,” gained its title around 1090, when the ruler of Oʻahu, Kamapuaʻa (who would later be elevated in legend to demigod status as the familiar pig deity) awarded the land to the high priest Lono-a-wohi.
From that time until Western contact and the overturn of the indigenous Hawaiian religion, the land belonged to the kahuna nui (high priests) of the Pāʻao line. (Kennedy, OHA)
The valley is surrounded by three Heiau. Pu‘u o Mahuka (“hill of escape”) is located on the north side of the valley; it is the largest heiau on Oʻahu (covering almost 2 acres) and may have been built in the 1600s.
On the opposite side of the valley near the beach is Kūpopolo Heiau. In the valley is Hale O Lono, a heiau dedicated to the god Lono. Religious ceremonies to Lono were held during the annual Makahiki season to promote fertility of the resources.
After Captain Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay in 1779, Captain Charles Clerke took command of his ships, Resolution and Discovery. Searching to restock their water supply, they anchored off Waimea Bay in 1779. This was the first known contact of the white man on the island of Oʻahu.
Cook’s lieutenant, James King, who captained the Resolution, commented that the setting “… was as beautiful as any Island we have seen, and appear’d very well Cultivated and Popular.” (HJH)
King noted that the vista on this side of Oʻahu, “was by far the most beautiful country of any in the Group … the Valleys look’d exceedingly pleasant … charmed with the narrow border full of villages, & the Moderate hills that rose behind them.” (HJH)
Clerke wrote in his journal: “On landing I was reciev’d with every token of respect and friendship by a great number of the Natives who were collected upon the occasion; they every one of them prostrated themselves around me which is the first mark of respect at these Isles.” (Kennedy, OHA)
Clerke further noted, “I stood into a Bay to the W(est)ward of this point the Eastern Shore of which was far the most beautifull Country we have yet seen among these Isles, here was a fine expanse of Low Land bounteously cloath’d with Verdure, on which were situate many large Villages and extensive plantations; at the Water side it terminated in a fine sloping, sand Beach.”
“This Bay, its Geographical situation consider’d is by no means a bad Roadsted, being shelterd from the (winds) with a good depth of Water and a fine firm sandy Bottom, it lays on the NW side of this island of Wouahoo … surrounded by a fine pleasant fertile Country.” (HJH)
Waimea was a large settlement, though the actual number of inhabitants is unknown. With an almost constant water source and abundant fishing grounds, in addition to cultivation of traditional foods, Waimea was a classic example of the Polynesian managing natural resources. (pupukeawaimea)
Kamehameha took the island of O‘ahu in 1795, and he gave Waimea Valley to Hewahewa, his Kahuna Nui. He was the last Kahuna to preside over the heiau (temples) in the valley. Hewahewa died in 1837 and is buried in Waimea Valley. Waimea Valley has a total land area of approximately 1,875-acres and was originally part of the larger moku (district) of Koʻolauloa, but was added to the district of Waialua in the 1800s. (pupukeawaimea)
In 1826, Hiram Bingham, accompanied by Queen Kaʻahumanu, visited Waimea to preach the gospel and noted, “Saturday (we) reached Waimea … the residence of Hewahewa, the old high priest of Hawaiian superstition, by whom we were welcomed ….”
“The inhabitants of the place assembled with representatives of almost every district of this island, to hear of the great salvation, and to bow before Jehovah, the God of heaven.”
“There were now seen the queen of the group and her sister, and teachers, kindly recommending to her people the duties of Christianity, attention to schools, and a quiet submission, as good subjects, to the laws of the land.” (Bingham)
Reportedly, Waimea was a favored sandalwood source during the 1800s; cargo ships would anchor offshore to load sandalwood. However, by the 1830s, sandalwood was disappearing and soon the trade came to a halt.
From 1894 to 1898, a series of floods devastated the valley including homes and crops of approximately 1,000 Native Hawaiians. In 1929, Castle & Cooke acquired the land and leased it to cattle ranchers.
In the 1950s, sand was trucked from Waimea Bay Beach to replenish eroding sand at Waikīkī. Reportedly, over 200,000-tons of sand at Waimea Bay was removed to fill beaches in Waikīkī and elsewhere; there was so much sand that if you would have tried to jump off Pōhaku Lele, Jump Rock, you would have jumped about six feet down into the sand below.
From the 1970s through mid-1990s, Bishop Corporation (no affiliation with Bishop Estate) purchased Waimea and established Waimea Falls Park. For a 25-year period under the ownership of the Pietsch family, the valley was a commercial park with a restaurant and entertainment.
With financially faltering, the property was conveyed to New York investor and theme-park developer Christian Wolffer who envisioned an “adventure park,” which also failed. He later proposed a commercial attractions park and residential subdivision; the City Council gave preliminary approval to the deal. People complained.
The City & County of Honolulu later proceeded with a condemnation process to purchase the property. On June 30, 2006, the valley was purchased by a partnership of OHA, City & County of Honolulu, State Department of Land and Natural Resources, US Army and National Audubon Society.
Title passed to OHA; the remaining entities retained conservation easements over the property. I was happy to have represented the State in the arbitration negotiations on behalf of the State (after first putting $1.5-million of State funds into the pot, at the very last minute, the State made up a shortfall of $100,000, solidifying the closing of the deal.)
OHA formed Hiʻipaka LLC to own and operate Waimea Valley (kamaʻāina rates for admission are offered.) It’s a casual walk on a paved path through our World Class Botanical Gardens and Historical Sites up to our Waterfall area. The walk is ¾-mile one way or 1½-miles round trip. Visit their website: www.waimeavalley.net