In the early days, Kamalo was known as Kamalo‘o, or “The Dry Place,” because the waves breaking on the reef did not hit the shore. The people of Kamalo‘o liked their shallow pools because octopus were found there.
Jack Ka‘ilianu, remarked that the abundance of food from the sea should be harnessed through the creation of fresh water ponds, or loko wai, and sand-dune ponds, or pu‘uone. In the pu‘uone, fishermen kept pua ‘ama‘ama, or young mullet, pua awa, or young milkfish, kūmū, or goatfish, and mao.
Jack raised his fish in his lo‘i kalo, or wetland taro patch. In it he put pua āholehole, pua awa, and pua ‘ama‘ama. Puni, Jack’s 14 year-old hānai son was happy to take care of the lo‘i kalo because he liked watching the fish.
One day, he caught many small ‘iao fish, or silversides, and released them in the pond. ‘Iao fish are used to bait aku, and resemble mo‘o. It was kapu to kill ‘iao fish since the ‘aumakua of Kamalo‘o was the mo‘o. Breaking the kapu, Jack instructed Puni to catch all of the ‘iao and put them in the ocean.
Puni did not obey his father’s command because he had made pets of the fish. When Jack discovered he did not obey, he collected the fish and released them in the ocean.
That night Puni failed to come home for dinner. Jack searched the village and found Puni dead in the loko lo‘i kalo (he was attempting to catch the small ‘iao that Jack did not).
From that time on, every time Jack saw the fishponds, he “recalled the reason for them and muttered under his breath ‘Kamalo‘o kākā ‘āina’ (The land has gone dry. It is no longer verdant).
The people mourned Puni’s death and Jack exchanged his parcel for one up mauka. For many years after, the people could hear the giggling of a child coming up from that same pond (Ne 1992:33–36). (Keala Pono)
Pelekunu is an unusual ahupua‘a for several reasons. Within the Pelekunu ahupua‘a are three lele (disconnected portions of associated land) that belong to ahupua‘a on the other side of the island in the Kona District. Another unusual feature is that the ahupua‘a of Kawela actually extends up and over the mountains at the back of Pelekunu and runs into the valley.
Additionally, the ahupua‘a of Pelekunu includes not only most of the valley itself (less the extension of Kawela at the back and the lele within), but also the land of Honokaʻupu to the west as well as the small valley of Waiahoʻokalo just beyond. (Eminger/McElroy)
The windward valleys developed into areas of intensive irrigated taro cultivation and seasonal migrations took place to stock up on fish and precious salt for the rest of the year. Kalaupapa was well known for its bountiful ʻuala (sweet potato) crops and its fine-grained, white salt which was preferred over that from the salt ponds of Kawela and Kaunakakai. (Strazar)
Emory (1916) describes Pelekunu Valley as the “most densely populated area of the ahupuaʻa … where we found miles and miles of huge stone terraces, witnesses of a once thriving population that must have run into the thousands.” Taro was grown on the flat land and in the steep ravines of the valley. (NPS)
The earliest recorded population figures we have for Molokai are those of visiting missionaries in 1823. A loose estimate of three to four thousand inhabitants in 1823 was published by Claudius S. Stewart in 1830.
The Reverend Harvey Rexford Hitchcock who established the first permanent Mission Station at Kaluaʻaha in 1832, gave a census figure of 6,000 for the island. (Strazar)
These early counts were generally taken in the field by both native school teachers and missionaries. During this period, the Reverends Hitchcock and Smith preached once a week at seven different stations from Kamaloʻo to Hālawa, and in 1833 they estimated the population of the entire island to be about 3,300. (Strazar)
During the years around 1854, taro was raised extensively in the windward valleys and shipped as far away as Maui. Everywhere the inhabitants (of Pelekunu) were busy making baskets of ki (ti) leaves …., which they used to pack and transport … the product of their oasis, taro reduced to paʻiʻai (dry poi.) (Strazar)
In the land of Kamalo, it is said that there is a lava tube going through the island from Kamalo gulch to Pelekunu, The story is that it was used in the very early days by the Chief of the island, who communicated by runners between the leeward and windward sides of the island. (Cooke)
A love story from those early times tells of courage and determination, as well as physical stamina. A Pelekunu maiden fell in love with Akoni, who lived on the other side of the mountain in Kamalō.
In fair weather, Akoni paddled his canoe from Hälawa to Pelekunu. When the weather was bad, he would hike the Kamalö trail to court her. But one day, the weather changed as Akoni paddled to Pelekunu.
The ocean became too rough to return home by canoe and recent rainstorms had washed out parts of the mountain trail. Yet it was urgent that Akoni return to Kamalō to help his aging father repair their fishpond, so he decided to take another route.
He had heard tales of a mysterious mountain tunnel that joined Pelekunu and Kamalō, though its location had been forgotten.
People spoke of the tunnel with fear, and his ku‘uipo begged him not to go, but Akoni was determined. So his ku‘uipo went to every Pelekunu family to ask about the tunnel’s location until finally Kaleiho‘olau, a kama‘äina, agreed to help the couple find it.
They quickly packed food and water and Kaleiho‘olau brought a torch. The three hiked to the northeastern part of the valley until Kaleiho‘olau pointed out the tunnel entrance in a cave on the side of the cliff. The lovers kissed aloha and the young man entered the cave.
Initially, light streamed into the tunnel from the entrance but grew steadily dimmer until there was only darkness. Akoni lit his torch and continued slowly, stumbling and groping his way along the tunnel.
After hours of walking, he began to feel dizzy and nauseated, and was having difficulty breathing. He sat and rested briefly, but knew he needed to get to fresh air. He knew the torch was using up oxygen, but finding his way in complete darkness would be perilous, so he kept it lit until, finally, light glimmered far ahead.
At last, he stumbled through the opening. He leaned, panting, against the rocks, grateful to be alive. In that moment, he realized that the tunnel was there and could be used. He turned toward the cave and said a mahalo prayer, thanking the guiding spirits who brought him through the tunnel safely.
When Akoni moved into the sunlight, he saw that he was on his own property, just south of Ioli Gulch. His parents were astonished to see him. Akoni excitedly told them about the tunnel that exited on their property. He could hike to Pelekunu whenever he wished.
Akoni showed his father the tunnel the next day and shared the discovery with Kamalö residents, including the dizziness and suffocation he felt midway through the mountain. He said no one should use the tunnel when ill or having breathing trouble, and they must always tell Akoni and his family if they were using that route. (Hughes; KWO-OHA)
Another tunnel from Pelekunu was later proposed (early-1900s). The plan was to tunnel for water and transport it from Pelekunu and Wailau to the dry leeward side of Molokai.
“By the utilization of Pelekunu and Wailau 14,000,000 gallons (21.66 cubic feet per second) should be secured, besides the large flow which will almost certainly be met in the tunnels.”
“Ditches and flumes must be correspondingly enlarged, and a tunnel 14,500 feet long driven from Pelekunu to convey the water after it is collected from the different branches. The expense would be at least $800,000.”
“The enterprise would consume several years … In conclusion, I consider it feasible to bring the water from Wailau and Pelekunu to the cane fields, but do not believe that the enterprise would be a paying investment.” (Water Resources on Molokai, USGS, 1903)
Later, in 1960, a 5.5-mile water tunnel was built into the western side of Waikolu Valley to tap the extensive water resources. The water is stored in a large reservoir at Kualapu‘u. (Clark)