Kawaihāpai Ahupua’a is nestled between Keālia and Mokuleʻia ahupuaʻa in the Waialua District on the island of Oʻahu. West of Keālia is Kaʻena Ahupuaʻa.
The oral traditions explain the origin of the name as: “A drought once came there in ancient times and drove out everyone except two aged priests. Instead of going with the others, they remained to plead with their gods for relief.”
“One day they saw a cloud approaching from the ocean. It passed over the house to the cliff behind. They heard a splash and when they ran to look, they found water.”
“Because it was brought there by a cloud in answer to their prayers, the place was named Kawaihāpai (the carried water) and the water supply was named Kawaikumuʻole (water without source).” (Alameida, HJH)
Kawaihāpai was known for its large loʻi (irrigated terraces) and sweet potato fields as well as excellent fishing grounds. The loʻi extended into Keālia, where small terraces at the foot of the pali (cliff) grew varieties of taro.
In addition to shore or reef fishing, ponds were built for the breeding and nurturing of fish. Handy pointed out that, “these enterprises varied from small individual efforts to large-scale cooperative undertakings directed by ruling chiefs, and varied also according to locality and natural advantages.” (Alameida, HJH)
Kamakau wrote that the loko iʻa of various sizes beautified the land, and that “a land with many fishponds was called a ‘fat’ land” (ʻāina momona.) The well-known loko iʻa of Waialua were Lokoea and ʻUkoʻa in the ahupuaʻa of Kawailoa. While Kamehameha I was living on Oʻahu, he worked in the fishponds on the island, including ʻUkoʻa in Waialua.
After the death of Kinaʻu, daughter of Kamehameha I, all of her lands in Waialua were inherited by her infant daughter Victoria Kamaʻmalu. Although only nine years old at the time of the Māhele, Kamāmalu was the third largest land holder in the kingdom.
However, she gave up all of her lands between the ahupua’a of Kamananui and Kaʻena to the government to satisfy the one third commutation requirement set by the Land Commission.
Kauikeaouli (Kamehameha III) then designated these lands at the western end of Waialua district as government lands, distinct from those he reserved for himself; this included Kawaihāpai, Kamananui, Mokuleʻia, Keālia and Kaʻena. (As such, people, residents and foreigners, were able to purchase the land in fee simple.)
Those who bought government lands were issued documents called grants or often referred to as Royal Patent Grants signed by Kamehameha III. These differed from the awards issued by the Land Commission.
By the late-1800s, some of the heirs of the original Kawaihāpai landowners were selling land. By the mid-1920s, the Dillinghams owned land from Mokuleʻia to Kaʻena.
Army use of land just south of the Oahu Railroad & Land Company (OR&L) railway in Mokuleʻia began in 1922 with the establishment of Camp Kawaihāpai as a communications station. In the 1920s and 1930s, the site was also used as a deployment site for mobile coast artillery, which was transported by railroad.
The US government acquired about 105-acres from Walter F. Dillingham, whose father, Benjamin F. Dillingham, had built Oʻahu Railway & Land Co.
The military was looking for a site for an airfield. The area was originally called Kawaihāpai Military Reservation in 1927. By December 7, 1941, a fighter airstrip had been established on additional leased land and Mokuleʻia Airstrip had been established.
P-40 aircraft were deployed at North Shore airstrips at Kahuku, Haleiwa and Mokuleʻia when the Pearl Harbor attack took place. At the outbreak of World War II, the area was re-designated Mokuleʻia Airfield and was expanded to accommodate bombers.
Mokuleʻia Airfield was improved to a 9,000-foot by 75-foot paved runway, a crosswind runway and many aircraft revetments from 1942-1945. By the end of World War II, Mokuleʻia Airfield could handle B-29 bombers.
In 1946, the U.S. Army acquired the additional 583 acres of leased land by condemnation. In late 1946, the US Army Air Force became the US Air Force by order of President Truman, so Mokuleʻia Airfield became an Air Force installation.
In 1948, the airfield was inactivated and the area was renamed Dillingham Air Force Base in memory of Captain Henry Gaylord Dillingham, a B-29 pilot who was killed in action in Kawasaki, Japan, July 25, 1945.
Captain Dillingham was the son of Walter F. Dillingham who was a noted pilot on Oʻahu in the 1930s. Henry was also the grandson of Benjamin F. Dillingham (who founded the OR&L, which evolved into Hawaiian Dredging Company and the Dillingham Corporation.)
In the 1970s the state had examined the airfield’s potential as a reliever airport. The Defense Authorization Act of 1990 provided that the 67 acres of ceded land of old Camp Kawaihapai be transferred to the state after an agreement on future joint-use of the airfield was reached.
The 2001 Legislature passed Act 276 (effective in 2005) that changed the official name of the airfield located at Kawaihāpai, formerly known as Dillingham Airfield, to Kawaihāpai Airfield (although some still refer to it today as Dillingham.)
It serves as a public and military use airport, operated by the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation. The airport is primarily used for gliding and sky diving operations. Military operations consist largely of night operations for night vision device training.
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Steve Yagyagan says
Awesome! I was born in Waialua in 1961. I left home in 1983 to go to college in California. I miss home so much! Mahalo for this story! Steven A. Kane Tauvela Yagyagan
Miles K. Yoshida says
My second generation parents lived at Kawaihapai. I knew nothing about this place until now with your historic descriptions. I would like to visit the area if it is accessible someday. My two brother’s ashes are scattered out at Mokuleia beach. I think that I would like to do the same with my ashes someday.
Peter M K. Kaanapu Jr. says
Mahalo plenty for your writings on Kawaihapai. I understood that there was an ancient Hawaiian burial place in Kawaihapai – do you know the location? I am interested in doing family research.