Kamehameha had granted Kawaihae Komohana ahupua‘a (present Kawaihae 1) to Kalanimōku, his “prime minister;” Kawaihae Hikina (present Kawaihae 2) was one of several ahupuaʻa on Hawai‘i and other islands allocated to John Young by Kamehameha.
Kamehameha had a house here. Following his death and the succession of Liholiho to rule as Kamehameha II, Kawaihae served as the initial Royal Center for Liholiho, who sought consolidation of his forces and consecration of his leadership role, there. (Kelly)
Then, as now, the area was relatively barren and people typically lived near the shore, not up the hill. As noted in 1832, by missionary Lorenzo Lyons in his journal, “about as desolate a place as I have ever seen, nothing but barrenness, with here and there a native hut”.
The area is also generally referenced as Pelekane, which means ‘British,’ possibly named after the Young and Isaac Davis families that lived there (when Davis died in 1810, his friend and co-advisor to Kamehameha, John Young, looked after Davis’ children.)
These were not the only high-ranking people associated with Kawaihae during the first decades of the 19th century. Kamāmalu, daughter of Kamehameha and Kaheiheimālie was born at Pelekane (ca 1802.)
She would later become the wife of her half-brother Liholiho (Kamehameha II,) the son of Kamehameha and the high chiefess Keōpūolani (Kamāmalu died of measles in London with Liholiho in 1825.) Some suggest Queen Emma (granddaughter of John Young) was also born here.
Over time, Kawaihae and Waimea (up the hill) developed a synergistic relationship. The area was a canoe landing area, whether for commerce or combat. (This is where Maui’s chief Kamalālāwalu landed in his assault against Lonoikamakahiki’s Hawaiʻi forces (Lono won.) But Kawaihae’s presence was really focused on commerce as a landing site.
Archibald Menzies, reporting on Vancouver’s third layover at Kawaihae Bay in March 1793 after leaving Kealakekua Bay, recorded that Young and Davis had accompanied “us thither (i.e. to Kawaihae) on purpose to make presents of hogs and vegetables…from their plantations, which lay near this part of the island…” (Menzies, Cultural Surveys)
Young built a storehouse in his family compound. During the sandalwood trade, Young supervised royal warehouses that were the central depository for the wood brought in from the surrounding district.
William Ellis, in 1831 wrote, “Before daylight on the 22d, we were roused by vast multitudes of people passing through the district from Waimea with sandalwood, which had been cut in the adjacent mountains for Karaimoku (Kalanimōku,) by the people of Waimea, and which the people of Kohala, as far as the north point, had been ordered to bring down to his storehouse on the beach, for the purpose of its being shipped to Oahu. There were between two and three thousand men, carrying each from one to six pieces of sandalwood, according to their size and weight.”
Another early foreign visitor to Kawaihae was Frenchman, Louis Claude Desaulses de Freycinet, in 1819; he met Liholiho here. Following closely in the wake of Freycinet’s visit of 1819 were the American missionaries, who stopped first at Kawaihae on April 1, 1820 (before heading down to Kailua-Kona.) They were met by Kalanimōku and his wives and two of Kamehameha’s widows (Kalākua and Namahana.)
During subsequent decades, other missionaries visiting Hawai‘i Island would record their impressions of the life and landscape of the 19th-century Kawaihae region. According to Rev. William Ellis, who, along with other missionaries, stopped at Kawaihae in 1823, the village in the early 1820s contained one hundred houses.
Ellis noted the same salt pans mentioned by Archibald Menzies in 1793 and described the salt-making operations he witnessed: “The natives of this district manufacture large quantities of salt, by evaporating the sea water. We saw a number of their pans, in the disposition of which they display great ingenuity.”
“(T)he Sandwich Islanders eat (salt) very freely with their food, and use much in preserving their fish. … The surplus … they dispose of to vessels touching at the islands, or export to the Russian settlements on the north-west coast of America, where it is in great demand for curing fish, &c.” (Ellis)
The salt also came in handy with the region’s supplying whalers with fresh and salt beef that called to the Islands, as well as the later Gold Rushers of America. Here is where Samuel Parker (of the later Parker Ranch fame) started out as a cattle hunter to fill those needs.
Increasing demand for meat, hides and tallow prompted Kuakini, governor of Hawai‘i Island, to establish a residence (and corrals) at Waimea in 1830. After having difficulty traversing the rocky trail from Waimea to Kawaihae, he “wisely sentenced forty persons guilty of violating the seventh commandment (committing adultery”) to construct a road connecting the two.
About this time, 2-wheeled Mexican ox carts started to appear; they were used to transport the meat and other goods between Waimea and Kawaihae (lots of white and sweet potatoes were grown in Waimea for export to California during the Gold Rush.)
As the area continued to grow and develop, most of the residential and commercial buildings that comprised Kawaihae Town continued to be located close to the shoreline of the bay; the uplands of the Kawaihae region remained undeveloped pasture land. (Cultural Surveys)
The WWII years brought dramatic change. The vast isolated plains of Waimea were viewed as an ideal location for a troop training center and in the spring of 1942 an army recruit camp was built there. The recruits were followed by the Second and Fifth Marine Divisions that recuperated and trained at Waimea. At its height, the Waimea camp (later dubbed Camp Tarawa,) consisting of tents and Quonset huts set on thousands of acres, housed up to 40,000 men.
Troops were shipped in and out through Kawaihae. At the southern end of the bay, in Kawaihae 2, amphibious landing exercises were conducted and military emplacements were set up in the area of Puʻukohola Heiau.
The war in the Pacific had been over less than a year when on April 1, 1946, an earthquake off the Aleutian Islands caused a tsunami that devastated the Hawaiian Islands. Although no lives were lost at Kawaihae, its effects wiped out commercial fishing activity there and it was reported that the tsunami “…was the beginning of the end for the Kawaihae Fishing Village. People left.” (Cultural Surveys)
By the 1950s, the need for improved harbor facilities at Kawaihae was apparent. The old landing had been destroyed in the 1946 tsunami and the one built in 1937 had proven unsafe in high seas. The Kawaihae Deep-Draft Harbor project was authorized by the US Congress in 1950 and finally dedicated on October 5, 1959.
The harbor’s construction was hailed as an “economic shot in the arm,” for sugar planters in the Kohala region of the island would no longer have to ship their crops overland to Hilo or to Kailua-Kona. The harbor would serve military needs as well. The Army was about to acquire a 100,000-acre training site nearby and could unload supplies at Kawaihae Harbor. (Cultural Surveys)
On August 17, 1972, the US Congress authorized the designation of Puʻukohola Heiau as a National Historic Site. This site also encompasses Mailekini Heiau; Hale O Kapuni Heiau (a submerged “shark” heiau;) Pōhaku o Alapaʻi ku palupalu mano (a stone on the beach where chief Alapaʻi leaned against while watching sharks circling around offerings placed at the submerged heiau;) Pelekane (Kamehameha’s Kawaihae residence) and the site of John Young’s house.
The image shows Kawaihae Bay, as drawn in 1822. In addition, I have added other images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.