Kalaeloa is literally translated as, “the distant point or the long cape.” It is situated on the ʻEwa Plain in the ahupuaʻa of Honouliuli.
Kalaeloa region was a very good place for fishing and shoreline collecting; the koʻa (fishing ground) outside of Kalaeloa is called Hani-o. (Beckwith)
A nearby heiau on Puʻu o Kapolei (hill of beloved Kapo (sister of Pele)) marked the movements of the sun and served as an astronomical marker to designate the seasons.
“(T)he people of Oʻahu reckoned from the setting of the sun at Puu-o-Kapolei, until it set in the hollow of Mahinaona, it was called Kau. And from Puu-o-Kapolei, the sun moved south (noting winter).” (Polynesian Voyaging Society)
The area between Puʻu o Kapolei and Kalaeloa is known as Kaupeʻa (what we generally refer to as the ʻEwa Plain.) Kaupeʻa is said to be the realm of the ao kuewa or ao ‘auwana (the homeless or wandering souls). Kaupeʻa was the wandering place of those who died having no rightful place to go. (Maly)
In 1793, Captain George Vancouver described this area as desolate and barren: “From the commencement of the high land to the westward of Opooroah (Puʻuloa – Pearl Harbor) was … one barren rocky waste, nearly destitute of verdure, cultivation or inhabitants, with little variation all to the west point of the island. …”
In 1839, Missionary EO Hall described the area between Pearl Harbor and Kalaeloa as follows: “Passing all the villages (after leaving the Pearl River) at one or two of which we stopped, we crossed the barren desolate plain”. (Robicheaux) In the 1880s, these lands were being turned over to cattle grazing and continued through the early-1900s.
Kalaeloa was first renamed on June 5, 1786 by British Captain Nathanial Portlock – he named the cape Point Banks, honoring his patron Sir Joseph Banks. (Banks was the naturalist on Captain Cook’s first voyage into the Pacific.)
However, the cape was shortly thereafter given a new name, as a result of an unfortunate grounding of the ‘Arthur’ at that point on October 31, 1796; the ship was captained by Henry Barber.
“Unscrupulous, tyrannical, opportunistic, over-reaching and a trifle-fond of the bottle” is a brief description by one of Captain Barber. (Scott)
On a voyage to China, Barber called at Honolulu for supplies. He left Honolulu, heading for Kauaʻi to get a supply of yams, at about 6 pm, October 31. At 8:10 pm Barber’s ship struck a coral shoal.
After scraping bottom, Barber and his crew of twenty-two, manned the life-boats and reached shore through the pounding surf (six drowned in the process.) The Arthur was driven on the reef and broke up.
The next morning when Barber returned to the wrecked Arthur he found there John Young, who happened to be on Oʻahu at the time and, learning of the disaster, hurried to the scene to take charge of the efforts to salvage the cargo. (Howay)
Barber was a successful and influential trader across the Pacific. “If America was the main supplier of the Australian market in the years immediately succeeding the settlement of Port Jackson (Sydney), India was a close contender. Captain Henry Barber, Master of the 85-ton snow Arthur, operated from both centres …” (Journal of the Polynesian Society) He included China in his trade loop.
“(T)here were but 500 otter skins on board when she was cast away, which he carried with him to Canton, 500 otter skins in those days were worth some $20 to $40,000” (Polynesian, February 8, 1851) The greater part of the skins and ships stores were saved.
Several years later, on his way to China, Barber passed through Hawaiʻi again (December 17, 1802.) He learned that King Kamehameha had retrieved ten guns off the wreck of the Arthur and installed them for the defense of a newly built fort in Lāhainā, Maui.
Barber claimed the guns were his, but Kamehameha refused, claiming possession was nine-tenths of the law. To top it off, since Barber was in Hawaiʻi to reprovision, Kamehameha made Barber pay for his supplies with gunpowder.
Since the grounding of the Arthur, the point has been associated with the captain of the ill-fated ship. In 1968, the US Board of Geographic Names dropped the apostrophe, changing the name from Barber’s Point to Barbers Point.
This wasn’t the only wreck, here. In looking for a lighthouse here in 1880, Hawaiian government surveyor William Alexander noted, “I examined the coast for some miles in the neighborhood of Barber’s Point, selected a site for a light house and marked the spot by a pile of stones and a staff with a red and white flag. I also fixed the position … where there are several pieces of … the French whaleship Marquis de Turenne, which was wrecked about a mile off the point in 1855.” (Lighthouse Friends)
“A shoal with only 6 to 10 feet of water on it is said to extend 2 to 3 miles south by west from the point, and it should be sounded. In fact it is a question whether the light house might not be placed on a shallow spot or “okohola” whale’s back, as the natives call it, a mile or more offshore.” (Alexander, Lighthouse Friends)
The first Barbers Point lighthouse tower was “constructed of coral (another source noted lava) in the days of King Kalākaua in 1888”. It stood 42 feet.
The current 72-foot tower was built in 1933. The older tower was intentionally toppled on 29 December 1933, the same day the new tower was lit. The light was automated in 1964.
Aviation facilities were also constructed nearby. Starting in 1925, a mooring mast for lighter-than-air dirigibles was erected. The original field was called Navy Mooring Mast Field because the Navy had originally planned to have the ‘Akron’ based there when in Hawaiʻi. But the ‘Akron’ crashed, ending the project. The mooring mast was taken down in 1932 and planning moved forward for other aviation facilities.
Around 1940, two air stations were built at Kaupeʻa (the ʻEwa Plain the Naval Air Station Barber’s Point, the larger and the Marine Corps Air Station, ʻEwa, the smaller.) Following the outbreak of World War II, facilities were expanded to sustain four carrier groups.
Ewa was officially closed on June 18, 1952 and its property assumed by Naval Air Station Barbers Point. (The thirty-two revetments on the property, originally designed to shield aircraft from bomb blasts, have served as stables since the 1950s and provide a home for approximately 50 horses.)
Barbers Point was decommissioned by the Navy in 1998 and turned over to the State of Hawaiʻi for use as Kalaeloa Airport and is used by the US Coast Guard, Hawaii Community College Flight Program, Hawaiʻi National Guard and general aviation, as well as an alternate landing site for Honolulu International Airport.