Naupaka kahakai (naupaka by the sea) is one of the most, if not the most, widely used of all native plants for commercial and residential landscapes in Hawaiʻi.
They can be planted in practically every form of landscape, from beach parks, along roads and highways, commercial lots, and anywhere else requiring low maintenance and xeric needs.
Plants can be used as an informal hedge, a tall filler to occupy “dead” space, as border planting, or as a windbreak against prevailing sea breeze. (hawaii-edu)
Naupaka kuahiwi (in the mountains) is a mid to high elevation plant for the landscape. People often plant coastal naupaka kahakai on the makai side of the house and naupaka kuahiwi on the mauka side.
A couple stories speak of naupaka.
It is said that two lovers, greatly devoted to each other, came to the attention of the Goddess Pele who had found out that the young man appeared to him as a stranger.
But no matter what Pele did the lovers had always remained devoted to each other. Angered, Pele chased the young man into the mountains, throwing molten lava at him.
Pele’s sisters witnessed this and to save the young man from a certain death they changed him into the mountain Naupaka.
Pele immediately went after the young woman and chased her towards the sea – but again Pele’s sisters stepped in and changed the young lover into beach Naupaka.
It is said that if the mountain Naupaka and beach Naupaka flowers are reunited, the two young lovers will be together again. (ksbe)
In another story, Naupaka was a beautiful princess who fell in love with a commoner named Kaui.
“But Kaui is not of noble birth—he is a commoner.” According to Hawaiian tradition, it was strictly forbidden for members of royalty to marry people from the common ranks.
Distressed, Naupaka and Kaui traveled long and far, seeking a solution to their dilemma. They climbed up a mountain to see a kahuna who was staying at a heiau (temple). Alas, he had no clear answer for the young lovers. “There is nothing I can do,” he told them, “but you should pray. Pray at this heiau.”
So they did. And as they prayed, rain began to fall. Their hearts torn by sorrow, Naupaka and Kaui embraced for a final time.
Then Naupaka took a flower from her ear and tore it in half, giving one half to Kaui. “The gods won’t allow us to be together,” she said. “You go live down by the water, while I will stay up here in the mountains.”
As the two lovers separated, the naupaka plants that grew nearby saw how sad they were. The very next day, they began to bloom in only half flowers.
There are different versions of the naupaka legend, but all carry the same unhappy theme: lovers that are separated forever, one banished to the mountains, the other to the beach. (hawaii-edu)
Today you may notice the Naupaka flowers bloom in halves. It is said that when the flower from the mountain (Naupaka Kuahiwi) joins the seashore Naupaka (Naupaka Kahakai), both Hawaiian lovers are together once again. (hawaii-aloha)
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Jan Becket says
I taught at Kamehameha School Kapālama for 27 years. Speaking Hawaiian was a cause for expulsion earlier in the 20th century. I had several students whose great-grandparents were expelled from Kemehameha for speaking Hawaiian. That memory is very much alive in some families.