The area of North Kona between Kailua Bay and Keauhou Bay to the south is generally recognized as containing the population core and the most fertile agricultural area of North Kona (Kona Kai ʻOpua “Kona of the distant horizon clouds above the ocean”.) (Maly)
To the north of Kailua Bay, beginning at Honokōhau, is the relatively dry Kekaha district of North Kona, with its barren lava inlands and coastal fishponds (Kekaha-wai-ʻole-nā-Kona (the waterless place of Kona, it’s described as “a dry, sun-baked land.”)
Keahuolū is situated in the transition zone between these two contrasting environmental districts, and is immediately north of Kailua Bay, a center of both political and economic activities since before Western contact.
Keahuolū has been translated in a couple ways, “Ke-ahu-o-Lū” (the ahu (or alter) of Lū) and “Keʻohuʻolu” (the refreshing mists) – similar to the neighboring (to the south) Lanihau ahupuaʻa (cool heaven.)
A hill at Keahuolū and adjoining Kealakehe (to the north) is associated with mists. “The settling of mists upon Puʻu O Kaloa was a sign of pending rains; thus the traditional farmers of this area would prepare their fields.” (This notes the importance of rain in this relatively dry area.) (Cultural Surveys)
Several general settlement pattern models have been generated by researchers that generally divide up the region into five basic environmental zones: the Shoreline, Kula, Kaluʻulu, ʻApaʻa and ʻAmaʻu.
Habitation was concentrated along the shoreline and lowland slopes, and informal fields were probably situated in the Kula and higher elevations, areas with higher rainfall.
The Shoreline zone extends, typically, from the high-tide line inland a few hundred feet. In Kailua this is the area from the shore to approximately Aliʻi Drive. In this zone, permanent settlement began in Kona c. AD 1000-1200.
Several large and densely populated royal centers were situated at several locations along the shoreline between Kailua and Honaunau.
Several heiau were noted along the coast. Stokes described three coastal heiau sites in Keahuolū: Halepuʻa, Kawaluna and Palihiolo. Halepuʻa was described by Stokes as a koʻa, or fishing shrine, near the shore in a coconut grove.
Kawaluna Heiau was described by Stokes as a rebuilt enclosure located on the beach at Pāwai Bay. Heiau of Palihiolo was at or near the Keahuolū/Lanihau boundary, King Kalākaua had it rebuilt prior to his departure from Hawaiʻi. (Rosendahl)
The Kula zone (the plain or open country) consisted primarily of dry and open land with few trees and considerable grass cover.
With limited soil, and lots of rock, this land was planted primarily in scattered sweet potato patches. (This area was around the 500-foot elevation mark, and may extend further, to approximately the 600-800-foot elevation.)
The Kaluʻulu is zone is referred to as the breadfruit zone. Early explorers described this zone as breadfruit with sweet potatoes and wauke (paper mulberry) underneath; it may have been perhaps one-half mile wide. Here walled fields occur at the 600-800-foot elevation, which may be start of this breadfruit zone in this area.
The ʻApaʻa zone is described as a dryland taro and sweet potato zone (1,000-foot elevation and extended to the 2,500-foot elevation.) In historic accounts it is described as an area divided by low stone and earth walls into cleared rectangular fields in which sweet potato and dryland taro were planted. On the edges of the walls, sugarcane and ti were planted.
The ʻAmaʻu zone is the banana zone, which may extend from the 2,000-foot elevation to 3,000-feet, and is characterized by bananas and plantains being grown in cleared forest areas. (Rosendahl)
William Ellis (1822) noted, “The houses which are neat, are generally erected on the sea-shore, shaded with cocoanut and kou trees, which greatly enliven the scene.”
“The environs were cultivated to a considerable extent; small gardens were seen among the barren rocks on which the houses are built, wherever soil could be found sufficient to nourish the sweet potato, the watermelon, or even a few plants of tobacco, and in many places these seemed to be growing literally in the fragments of lava, collected in small heaps around their roots.”
King Kalākaua later (1869) noted, “Keahuolu runs clear up to the mountains and includes a portion of nearly half of Hualalai mountains. On the mountains the koa, kukui and ohia abounds in vast quantities. The upper land or inland is arable, and suitable for growing coffee, oranges, taro, potatoes, bananas &c.”
” Breadfruit trees grow wild as well as Koli (castor-oil) oil seed. The lower land is adopted for grazing cattle, sheep, goats &c. The fishery is very extensive and a fine grove of cocoanut trees of about 200 to 300 grows on the beach.”
A sisal plantation was planted in Keahuolu in the late-1890s, a mill was constructed nearby; sisal was used to make rope and other fibers. Operating until 1924, the McWayne sisal tract included about 1,000-acres of sisal fields in Keahuolu and adjoining Kealakehe. (You can still see sisal plants, remnants of the sisal plantation, as you drive up Palani Road.)
A fishing village with a canoe landing was at Pāwai Bay. Makaʻeo (later (July 10, 1949) developed into the Kailua Airport (commercial aviation ended there July 1, 1970)) had a large cocoanut grove, with a coastal trail running through it connecting Kailua Village to the Māmalahoa Trail.
The Kuakini Wall (1830-1844,) built to keep the free-ranging livestock out of the coastal settlements and gardens, extends from Kahaluʻu Bay to the southern portion of Keahuolu (with an average distance of about 1 ½ miles from the coastline.) It goes to, but not through, Keahuolū at its northern terminus.
The ahupuaʻa of Keahuolū was awarded to Analeʻa Keohokālole ((c. 1816-1869) mother of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani) during the Māhele of 1848. Two walled houselots in Keahuolū had been held by Keohokālole’s ancestors “from very ancient times”.
Keohokālole was a great-granddaughter of both Kameʻeiamoku and Keaweaheulu two of the important chiefs who supported Kamehameha I in his rise to power.
Kameʻeleihiwa states, “Keohokālole was regarded by the Kamehameha clan as an Aliʻi Nui in honor of the great courage and loyalty proffered by her ancestors in their support of Kamehameha.”
As Aliʻi Nui, Keohokālole held the fifth largest number of ʻāina after the Māhele with 50 parcels. She relinquished 48% of her original 96 ʻāina to the Mōʻī (King) retaining 23-parcels on Hawaiʻi, 25 on Maui and two on Oʻahu. Of her lands on the island of Hawaiʻi, two-thirds were located in the Kona District. (Wong-Smith)
Keohokālole sold portions of her 15,000-20,000-acre grant to the government and other parties, with the balance being transferred to her heir, Liliʻuokalani.
In her Deed of Trust dated December 2, 1909, which was later amended in 1911, Queen Lili‘uokalani entrusted her estate to provide for orphan and destitute children in the Hawaiian Islands, with preference for Hawaiian children. Her legacy is perpetuated through the Queen Liliʻuokalani Children’s Center.