“Ke one ‘anapa o Waiolama – The sparkling sand of Waiolama” This is an expression much used in chants of Hilo, Hawai’i. Waiolama is a place between Waiakea and the town of Hilo. It was said to have sand that sparkled in the sunlight. (Pukui, #1773) The Waiolama marsh was just inland from the Hilo shoreline. This river/marsh area was also developed into a fishpond and was used for a unique type of kalo cultivation (kipikipi). Princess Ruth Ke‘elikolani had a house near the bay at Waiolama, and spent time there during her well-known 1880-81 visit to Pele, at which it was said she successfully stopped an advancing lava flow just over a mile above Hilo Bay.
In 1889, a small canal was dredged to divert some of the water from the Waiolama Marsh into the Wailoa River. The drainage canal was enlarged and paved between 1915 and 1917. Then, in the early 1900s, the Territory of Hawai‘i saw the opportunity to drain and fill the land that “was valueless” to be “available for the growth of the business district of the city” and attain “a valuation greatly in excess of the cost of the filling and draining.” Today, what was once a river and marshland … and unique kalo cultivation area is now open space and soccer fields at Hilo’s Bayfront area.