Nāhiku comes from “Na Ehiku” meaning “the Seven” and it relates to the seven stars of the constellation Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters – suggesting seven lands. This area is just outside of Hāna.
Nāhiku is a fertile ahupuaʻa that was cleared and terraced with irrigated taro cultivation by the Hawaiians. To the east of Nāhiku out to Hamoa, the land slopes gently down to the ocean. No large gulches or streams run through the ahupua’a, although there is plenty of rain.
Along the shore there was a hala forest that extended from ʻUlaʻino to Hāna. The forests above Nāhiku were traditionally forested with native trees such as koa, ʻōhiʻa lehua and sandalwood. Many plants that were used for native medicine also grew there.
In modern times, when Hāna was without a road, and the coastal steamer arrived on a weekly schedule, Hāna-bound travelers unwilling to wait for the boat drove their car to the road’s end at Kailua, rode horseback to Kaumahina ridge, then walked down the switchback into Honomanu Valley. Friends carried them on flatbed taro trucks across the Keʻanae peninsula to Wailua cove. (Wenkam, NPS)
By outrigger canoe it was a short ride beyond Wailua to Nāhiku landing where they could borrow a car for the rest of the involved trip to Hāna. Sometimes the itinerary could be completed in a day. Bad weather could make it last a week. (Wenkam, NPS)
Today, Nāhiku is located off Hāna Highway (360) on Nāhiku Road between Wailua and Hāna. Just past the 25-mile marker, you head makai on Nāhiku Road about three miles down to the bay. Nearby is the Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside for picnicking, as well as the Kopilula and Waikani Falls. The lower Hanawi Falls is located in Nāhiku.
Nāhiku is the site of an attempt to create a rubber plantation on Maui. The need for automobile tires made rubber a valuable product in the late-1800s. In 1898, Mr. Hugh Howell, of Nāhiku, obtained some seeds of the Manihot glaziovii (Brazilian) and planted them in Nāhiku. These seem to be the first trees of any commercial species that have been tried.
After some initial experimentation in producing rubber, the company was not started until it was definitely ascertained that rubber trees of the best quality would grow at Nāhiku, and the yield of rubber from these trees was sufficient to make it a profitable investment. A number of trees of the Ceara variety have been growing at Nāhiku for six years, and when these were tapped it was found that the rubber obtained was equal to the best. (Thrum)
The first Hawai’i rubber company incorporated in 1905 and on February 4, 1907, the Nāhiku Rubber Plantation was officially established. It was the first rubber plantation on American soil.
There are many thousands of acres of land on the Islands where it is rainy and not too windy, where rubber will thrive, and if this first rubber company proves a success, it is hoped that many other rubber companies will be started.
As this is the first rubber plantation ever started on American soil the officials of the Department of Agriculture at Washington arc greatly interested in its success, and are doing everything they can to help it along. (Thrum, 1905)
According to ‘Rubber World’ 7 (1913,) rubber was steadily becoming an important Hawaiian product. On the island of Maui many trees have been planted and these are tapped in large numbers. Steady efforts are being made to improve the methods of preparation in order to increase the marketable value: 35,000-trees were tapped during 1912, and altogether some 8,000-pounds of rubber were produced, most of which was exported. For 1913, an output of 20,000-pounds is anticipated. (Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1913)
Attention has been directed to an indigenous rubber tree (Euphorbia lorifolia) which grows in several localities; one place in particular on the Island of Hawaiʻi has 6,000-trees averaging 75-trees to the acre, whose product is 14-17 per cent of rubber and 60 per cent resin (chicle.) It is reported that the latex contains 42 per cent of solid material and that one man can collect 16-30 pounds of crude product per day. (Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1913)
Others followed the Nāhiku Rubber Company, each were in the area around Nāhiku:
Nāhiku Rubber Co……..1905…….480
Hawaii-American Co…..1903…… 245
Koʻolau Rubber Co…….1906……..275
Nāhiku Sugar Co……….1906……..250
(Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, 1913)
Cultivation grew with companies and individuals controlling nearly 5,600-acres of land on Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island.
At the height of the rubber production, Nāhiku had a Chinese grocery and post office, a plantation general store; Protestant, Mormon and Catholic churches and a schoolhouse attended by twenty children. One visitor to the area in 1910 said, “Every place has its peculiarities and characteristics; so with Nāhiku. It is rubber, first, last and all the time there.”
However, the quality and quantity of rubber produced by these plantations, despite the hard work of the laborers (who were paid 50 cents for a ten-hour day with a 30-minute lunch break) was not good enough to make a substantial profit for the investors. The companies began to phase out production as early as 1912. The oldest of the rubber companies, the Nāhiku Rubber Plantation, closed on January 20, 1915.
After the rubber plantations closed, some residents moved out of Nāhiku. Those who stayed resumed cultivating bananas and taro for food. Some tried growing bananas as a cash crop and when this didn’t work began growing roselle for jelly. Eventually these attempts also failed. The exodus out of Nāhiku to the “outside” continued.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, in 1930 there were only 182 people living in Nāhiku. Of them, 101 were Hawaiian. By 1941 only fifteen families and two non-Hawaiian families lived there, clustered around a one-room school and the churches.
In December, 1942, Territorial Governor Ingram Stainback tried to help the World War II effort by sending 40 prisoners from Oʻahu Prison to the Keanae Prison Camp (now the YMCA camp) to revive the old Nāhiku rubber plantation. The plan was to produce 20,000 to 50,000 pounds of crude rubber annually. The plan did not work. Now, rubber trees left over from that time line the roads of Nāhiku.