Helumoa (meaning “chicken scratch”) was the name bestowed on that niu (coconut) planting that would multiply into a grove of reportedly 10,000 coconut trees.
This is the same coconut grove that would later be called the King’s Grove, or the Royal Grove, and would be cited in numerous historical accounts for its pleasantness and lush surroundings.
Kamehameha the Great and his warriors camped near here, when they began their conquest of O‘ahu in 1795. Later, he would return and build a Western style stone house for himself, as well as residences for his wives and retainers in an area known as Pua‘ali‘ili‘i (little pig.)
Kamehameha’s kauhale (residence) was called Kuihelani and was situated at the area between the mouth of the ʻApuakehau (Moana Hotel) and Helumoa (Royal Hawaiian Hotel), a favorite dwelling site of Waikīkī’s chiefs.
It was probably adjacent to the old foot-trail that ran from Pūowaina (Punchbowl) to Waikīkī. John Papa ʻĪʻī described this main road into Waikīkī as follows:
“The trail from Kawaiahao which led to lower Waikiki went along Kaananiau, into the coconut grove at Pawaa, the coconut grove of Kuakuaka, then down to Piinaio; along the upper side of Kahanaumaikai’s coconut grove, along the border of Kaihikapu pond, into Kawehewehe …”
“… then through the center of Helumoa of Puaaliilii, down to the mouth of the Apuakehau stream; along the sandy beach of Ulukou to Kapuni, where the surfs roll in; thence to the stream of Kuekaunahi; to Waiaula and to Pali’iki, Kamanawa’s house site.”
Before the battle of Nuʻuanu, Kamehameha had promised the moʻo goddess Kihawahine a special kind of dwelling. According to Kamakau, Kamehameha had spoken to the goddess, saying, …
“If you take Oʻahu, I will build a house for your akua in the calm of Waikiki-a puaniu house …” The hale puaniu was a small structure in which offerings of bananas, coconuts, ‘awa (kava) and capes were kept to use in order to deify a deceased person and make him or her into a mo’o god or goddess. (Kanahele)
Triumphant upon his return, instead of the typical hale pili (grass hut,) Kamehameha built a stone house, enclosed by a fence. Nearby were the dwellings of Kaʻahumanu and Keōpuōlani and their retainers.
He may have built or commandeered additional houses to accommodate some of his other wives and children, along with their attendants, probably numbering several hundred. It was typical of Kamehameha to surround himself with a large entourage for whom he provided generously.
George W. Bates described Kuihelani and Waikīkī in 1854: “The old stone house in which the great warrior (Kamehameha I) once lived still stands, but it is falling into a rapid decay. I could not help lingering there for a time to notice the objects scattered around.”
“There were no busy artisans wielding their implements of labor; no civilized vehicles bearing their loads of commerce, or any living occupant. But beneath the cool shade of some evergreens, or in some thatched houses, reposed several canoes.”
“Every thing was quiet as though it were the only village on earth, and its tenants the only denizens. A few natives were enjoying a promiscuous bath in a crystal stream that came directly from the mountains (ʻApuakehau) and rolled, like another Pactolus, to meet the embrace of the ocean.”
“Some were steering their frail canoes seaward. Others, clad simply in Nature’s robes, were wading out on the reefs in search of fish. Here in this quiet hamlet, once unknown to all the world, Kamehameha I, surrounded by his chieftains, held his councils for the safety and consolidation of his kingdom.”
Waikīkī was well-suited for Kamehameha’s shallow-draft canoes that did not require deep water and could be easily beached. Its waters also provided the best anchorage for foreign ships, which were now calling on the islands in increasing numbers.
Captain Vancouver, a friend and counselor to Kamehameha, said of Waikīkī: “although open above half the compass in the southern quarters, it is unquestionably the most eligible anchoring place in the island.”
Its advantages were sandy bottom, soft coral, irregular reef and mild surf. Nonetheless, while foreign ships did anchor at Waikīkī, it was not the perfect harbor.
In contrast, Honolulu was a noisy, dusty port town of 14,000 inhabitants, including hundreds of foreign residents and visitors.
Waikīkī was quiet compared to the bustle of Honolulu’s yelping dogs, rattling carts, saluting cannon and carousing drunks. Over 600 ships a year called on its harbor discharging tons of cargo from all corners of the earth, along with sailors and whalers who rioted and brawled for sport.
Since the capital moved with Kamehameha, Waikīkī’s reign as capital of the kingdom was ended, at least until his next visit. For the next dozen years or so, Waikīkī, Kona and Lāhaina alternated as the capitals as Kamehameha spent long periods of time in each place.