The Haʻi ʻolelo (oral history) of Waimea, according to Hawaiian historian Sam Kamakau (who was from Waialua, O‘ahu,) begins with the high chief Kamapuaʻa. Kamapuaʻa, according to traditional history, was given a gift from the Kahuna Nui (high priest) Kahiki‘ula.
The gift was all the lands that begin with the word Wai. The word Waimea means “sacred water.” Prior to the eleventh century, little is known about the kanaka (people) who lived in the ahupuaʻa of Waimea. The valley may have been settled a lot earlier. (pupukeawaimea)
“The Valley of the Priests,” gained its title around 1090, when the ruler of O‘ahu, Kamapuaʻa (who would later be elevated in legend to demigod status as the familiar pig deity) awarded the land to the high priest Lono-a-wohi.
From that time until Western contact and the overturn of the indigenous Hawaiian religion, the land belonged to the kahuna nui (high priests) of the Pa‘ao line. (Kennedy)
After Captain Cook was killed at Kealakekua Bay in 1779, Captain Charles Clerke took command of his ships, Resolution and Discovery. Searching to restock their water supply, they anchored off Waimea Bay in 1779. This was the first known contact of the white man on the island of Oʻahu.
Cook’s lieutenant, James King, who captained the Resolution, commented that the setting “… was as beautiful as any Island we have seen, and appear’d very well Cultivated and Popular.” (HJH)
King noted that the vista on this side of Oʻahu, “was by far the most beautiful country of any in the Group … the Valleys look’d exceedingly pleasant … charmed with the narrow border full of villages, & the Moderate hills that rose behind them.” (HJH)
Clerke wrote in his journal: “On landing I was reciev’d with every token of respect and friendship by a great number of the Natives who were collected upon the occasion; they every one of them prostrated themselves around me which is the first mark of respect at these Isles.” (Kennedy, OHA)
Clerke further noted, “I stood into a Bay to the W(est)ward of this point the Eastern Shore of which was far the most beautifull Country we have yet seen among these Isles, here was a fine expanse of Low Land bounteously cloath’d with Verdure, on which were situate many large Villages and extensive plantations; at the Water side it terminated in a fine sloping, sand Beach.”
“This Bay, its Geographical situation consider’d is by no means a bad Roadsted, being shelterd from the (winds) with a good depth of Water and a fine firm sandy Bottom, it lays on the NW side of this island of Wouahoo … surrounded by a fine pleasant fertile Country.” (HJH)
Kamehameha took the island of O‘ahu in 1795, and he gave Waimea Valley to Hewahewa, his Kahuna Nui. He was the last Kahuna to preside over the heiau (temples) in the valley. Hewahewa died in 1837 and is buried in Waimea Valley. (pupukeawaimea)
In 1826, Hiram Bingham, accompanied by Queen Kaʻahumanu, visited Waimea to preach the gospel and noted, “Saturday (we) reached Waimea … the residence of Hewahewa, the old high priest of Hawaiian superstition, by whom we were welcomed ….”
“The inhabitants of the place assembled with representatives of almost every district of this island, to hear of the great salvation, and to bow before Jehovah, the God of heaven.”
“There were now seen the queen of the group and her sister, and teachers, kindly recommending to her people the duties of Christianity, attention to schools, and a quiet submission, as good subjects, to the laws of the land.” (Bingham)
Reportedly, Waimea was a favored sandalwood source during the 1800s; cargo ships would anchor offshore to load sandalwood. However, by the 1830s, sandalwood was disappearing and soon the trade came to a halt.
From 1894 to 1898, a series of floods devastated the valley including homes and crops of approximately 1,000 native Hawaiians. In 1929, Castle & Cooke acquired the land and leased it to cattle ranchers.
In the 1950s, sand was trucked from Waimea Bay Beach to replenish eroding sand at Waikiki Beach. Reportedly, over 200,000-tons of sand at Waimea Bay was removed to fill beaches in Waikiki and elsewhere.
1884 maps note a ‘Table Rock,’ completely surrounded by sand near the water’s edge on the Haleiwa side of the bay. They say, before the sand excavation, if you would have tried to jump off that rock, you would have jumped about six feet down into the sand below. (Early photographs of the area illustrate that.)
Some reference it as Pōhaku Lele (literally, fly or jump rock – however, given the prior context of the beach, that doesn’t sound like a traditional name.)
Folks now tend to call it “Jump Rock;” when we were kids, we called it something else. There was a certain element with an attitude that also liked to jump off the rock – occasionally, they exerted pressure and precluded others from climbing on.
It’s on the west side of the bay. In summer, when there is no surf, it is a popular place for folks to stand around and eventually jump off (during the winter, the surf is too high to even think of going onto it.)
It’s about 25-feet high and the water is deep enough on the outer edge to cautiously jump. Most people look at this as a rock-jumping thrill.
What people may not know is that there is an underwater natural tunnel through the center of the rock that you can swim through. I did it … once. No mask, no fins. With the blur of the salt water without a mask, you can only see light on the other side and that guides you through.
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Joan Lander says
Lopaka Brown’s father, Francis, who lived at the entrance to Waimea Valley for decades, told us about seeing the many train cars per day that carried away sand from several beaches on the North Shore, including Waimea.