Past cultural practices along the region of Wai‘alae to Kuli‘ou‘ou are generally associated with habitation, farming, fishing, gathering, religious activities and burials. During the early post contact period, this area was well-populated and several settlements, fishing villages and fishponds lined the coast.
Niu was noted in early records for a number of inland caves used for burials. “Sometimes the bodies of chiefs were placed in small canoes, or parts of a canoe, and hidden in roomy caverns, watched over by devoted guards.”
“This was done at Niu, where decayed remnants of canoes can still be seen. … On O‘ahu the caves of Niu … were abundantly used for burial.” (Westervelt; Thrum)
Here, areas along streams and springs were used for taro patches while other areas were used for dry land cultivation or pasture. Cultural practices associated with former fishponds in the region were significant prior to development of the area.
Fishponds played an important role in Hawaiian culture, providing a definite supply of food. Hawaiian fishponds were usually constructed in estuaries where freshwater streams flowed into the ocean.
Kūpapa Pond or Niu Fishpond (the former fishpond at Niuiki Circle) had water-worn walls 3-feet high and 8-feet wide that formed a 2,000-foot long semicircle around several acres. (By 1933, the pond had been filled and used for agriculture. In 1953, the pond was filled and developed for residential use.)
In 1826, the missionary Levi Chamberlain took a tour of the island of O‘ahu, traveling through the southern coast of O‘ahu westward from Makapu‘u.
He recorded a settlement of eighteen houses at Maunalua, with three additional settlements between Maunalua and Wai‘alae. These settlements were probably at Kuli‘ou‘ou, Niu and Wailupe.
In 1828, Chamberlain made a second tour of southeastern O‘ahu, this time traveling eastward from Waikiki. He arrived at Wai‘alae, reporting a school with at least 30 scholars. The next stop was at Niu.
“At a quarter before 9 o’clock we arrived at the pleasant settlement of Wai‘alae, distant on a straight line from Waikiki in a NE direction, about 4 miles, but much farther following the circuitous path along the sea shore.”
“This place is rendered agreeable by a grove of cocoanut trees and a number of branching kou trees, among which stand the grass huts of the natives, having a cool appearance, overshadowed by the waving tops of the cocoanuts, among which the trade winds sweep unobstructed.” (Cultural Surveys) This is Niu.
Niu literally means “coconut”; it was named for a woman who husked coconuts (He ‘o niu kana hana). Niu is variously described as an ‘ili in the ahupua‘a of Waikīkī or an ahupua‘a in the district of Kona. It extends from the border with Wailupe on the west to the border with Kuli‘ou‘ou on the east, and from the sea to the Ko‘olau Mountains.
Niu is divided into two valleys, separated by Kūlepeamoa (flapping of chicken) Ridge. On the west is Pia (arrowroot) Valley and on the east is Kūpaua (upright clam) Valley. The two streams of these valleys merge into Niu Stream near the coast.
This was the home of Alexander Adams. Kamehameha had awarded Adams control of over Niu Valley (much of which is still under the control on his descendants).
It is part of a tract of 2,446-acres that was once a summer home of Kamehameha I and which later claimed by Alexander Adams under Claim No. 802 filed February 14, 1848, with the land commission at the time of the Great Māhele.
The claim states: “From the testimony of Governor Kekūanāoʻa … it appears that the claimant was created lord or konohiki of this land, in the time of Kamehameha I, and that he has exercised the konohikiship of the same without dispute ever since the year of Our Lord 1822.”
It further appears that the claimant obtained his rights in this land, in the same way that he obtained his rights in the land comprised in the Claim No. 801 (in Downtown Honolulu,) namely in remuneration for services rendered the king as sea captain or sailing master.”
Captain Alexander Adams was born December 27, 1780; he left Scotland in 1792 to begin a life of working on the sea. This eventually led him to Hawaiʻi, where he arrived in 1811 on the American trading ship the ‘Albatross’ from Boston.
He became an intimate friend and confidential advisor to King Kamehameha I, who entrusted to him the command of the king’s sandalwood fleet. He became the first regular pilot for the port of Honolulu.
Adams is credited with helping to design the Hawaiian flag – a new flag for Hawaiʻi was needed to avoid confusion by American vessels (prior to that time, Hawaiian vessels flew the British Union Jack.)
“The Hawaiian flag was designed for King Kamehameha I, in the year 1816. As the King desired to send a vessel to China to sell a cargo of sandal-wood, he in company with John Young, Isaac Davis and Alexander Adams …”
“… made this flag for the ship, which was a war vessel, called the Forrester, carrying 16 guns, and was owned by Kamehameha I.” (Ka Nupepa Kuokoa, January 1, 1862)
On March 7, 1817, the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi sent Adams to China to sell the sandalwood. When he sailed to China, it was the first vessel under the flag of Hawaiʻi.
To enter the Chinese harbor, the ship was heavily taxed in port charges. Upon returning October 5, 1817, at Hilo and hearing of the amount Adams had to pay, King Kamehameha decided Hawaiʻi should also generate revenue from port charges. This was the origin of harbor dues in the islands.
Captain Adams was sent to Kauai by Kamehameha I to remove the Russians from Fort Elizabeth that had been set up in 1817. His words reportedly were, “upon arriving they were soon dispatched”. Adams raised the Kingdom of Hawai‘i flag over the fort in October 1817.
Adams stood on the shore with John Young at Kailua-Kona when the first American Christian missionaries anchored off shore on April 4, 1820. He helped convince the King to allow the missionaries to come ashore and take up residence in Hawaiʻi.
When the HMS Blonde arrived in 1825, Adams helped the Scottish naturalist James Macrae distribute some plants he thought would be commercially successful in the tropical climate.
In 1828, Queen Kaʻahumanu gave Adams over 290-acres of land in Kalihi Valley (on the island of Oʻahu) in connection with and in gratitude for his services. The area was called Apili.
Adams married three times, his first was to Sarah ‘Sally’ Davis, daughter of Isaac Davis; two of his wives were the Harbottle sisters (Sarah Harbottle and Charlotte Harbottle,) who were reared by Queen Kaʻahumanu and were favorites at court. According to his personal account, he was the father of 15 children, eight of whom were by his third wife.
After 30 years of piloting, Adams retired in 1853, grew fruit on his land in Kalihi Valley, and was great host to visitors. He also had a home on what was named Adams Lane (in 1850,) a small lane in downtown Honolulu off of Hotel Street named after him (near the Hawaiian Telephone company building.)
Adams died October 17, 1871. He is buried next to his friend and fellow Scotsman Andrew Auld in the Oʻahu Cemetery. Their common tombstone contains the following inscription in the Scots dialect: “Twa croanies frae the land of heather; Are sleepin’ here in death th’gether.”
His estate in Niu Valley was held by his granddaughter Mary Lucas, who started subdividing it in the 1950s. The area created by the filling of Kūpapa Fishpond is now the site of numerous oceanfront homes.
Niu Valley used to house the Dairyman’s (later known as Meadow Gold) dairy in the Niu Shopping Center area, and was the home of “Lani Moo,” their mascot. Most of Niu valley was dairy pasture with some small ranches and nurseries in the interior.
Prior to 1954 when the first residents of the Niu Valley subdivision moved into their new homes, Kalaniana‘ole Highway was a three lane road (one lane was for turning) leading to pig and cattle farms and fishponds. Niu Valley used to be a dairy farm and back then was considered the ‘country.’
Niu Valley Middle School first opened its doors in 1955 with just a seventh grade and a staff of only six members. Since then, it has grown from one building to 15 and now accommodates almost 800 students in grades sixth, seventh and eighth. Niu Valley Middle School is the only middle school in the Kaiser Complex (pop. 30,670). (Niu Valley Playground)