Hilo Hanakāhi, i ka ua Kanilehua
Hilo of Hanakāhi, where the rain is in the lehua forest
Each island was divided into several moku (districts,) of which there are six in the island of Hawaiʻi. There is a district called Kona on the lee side and one called Koʻolau on the windward side of almost every island. (Alexander) The moku of Hawaiʻi Island are: Kona, Kohala, Hāmākua, Puna, Kaʻū and Hilo.
In old Hawaiʻi, it was the nature of ‘place’ that shaped the practical, cultural and spiritual view of the Hawaiian people. The name chosen might reflect the physical characteristics of the place, it might recall some event which occurred there, or it might refer to the god or gods which invested that spot.
The meaning of a particular Hawaiian place name might have been evident to all, or understandable only to those intimately familiar with the place and its history. Often times a single place name carried more than one meaning. In addition to its easily discernible descriptive meaning, a place name might also possess a kaona, a hidden meaning.
The name ‘Hilo’ carries several meanings.
Hilo is the name of a renowned Polynesian navigator who is believed to have discovered this coast. His chief, to honor the feat, named the area for him.
Hilo means “twisted,” like a thread or rope as in spun, drawn out and twisted into thread.
Hilo is the name of the first day of the month according to Hawaiian calculation (the first night of the new moon – the first thin, twisted sliver of light.) (It was a favorable day, and the potato, melon and banana seeds planted by the farmer on this day would bear well. (Fornander))
While we call the district and broad Bay Hilo, there are three parts of Hilo: Hilo Pali Kū, Hilo One and Hilo Hanakāhi.
Hilo Pali Kū means “Hilo of the standing cliffs” and refers to the northern part of this moku, where the shore is mainly high, rocky cliffs (extending from the cliffs on Wailuku River to Ka‘ula.)
Hilo One or “Sandy Hilo,” is a stretch of black sand beach fronting the downtown area ( extending from Kanukuokamanu (at the mouth of Wailoa Stream) to Wailuku River.)
Hilo Hanakāhi (the area from Waiākea to the Puna boundary,) named after a great chief of Hilo, is the area south of Kanukuokamanu, where the Wailoa pond meets the ocean. Mokuola, also called Coconut Island, sits in the bay. (Kumukahi) Hanakāhi was renowned for the peace and prosperity of his reign.
Hilo has a long history, and already was populated when the first European visitors arrived. It has been the residence of chiefs and the home of legendary heroes.
The song Hilo Hanakāhi names various places on the island of Hawaii and things for which they were noted: rain, pandanus, wind and sea. The listing is more or less in clockwise direction. The annual makahiki processions went in this order. ʻUmi-a-Liloa was strongly advised by his priests to travel in this fashion.
Pukui notes, when seeking knowledge of the past, to travel with your right (strong) arm on the side of the mountains, where strength lies. Journeys for relaxation or to lessen grief, journey with the sea on the left side, to wash away sorrows and tribulations. (Elbert & Mahoe)
The song, Hilo Hanakāhi, takes the listener on a tour around the Big Island of Hawaiʻi; leaving from Hilo you are taken through eight different districts and learn the physical attributes of each: Hilo, rain in the lehua forest …
… Puna fragrant hala blossoms; Kaʻū , wind scattered dust; Kona, land of calm seas; Kawaihae, a sea that whispers; Kohala, a gusty wind; Waimea, a cold pelting rain and Hāmākua, cliffs where the bird soars, returning to the rain in the lehua forest. (Naumu)