Mānoa translates as “wide or vast” and is descriptive of the wide valley that makes up the inland portion of the ahupuaʻa of Waikiki. The existence of heiau and trails leading to/from Honolulu indicate it was an important and frequently traversed land.
Mānoa Valley was a favored spot of the Ali‘i, including Kamehameha I, Chief Boki (Governor of O‘ahu), Ka‘ahumanu, Ha‘alilio (an advisor to King Kamehameha III), Princess Victoria, Kana‘ina (father of King Lunalilo), Lunalilo, Ke‘elikōlani (half-sister of Kamehameha IV) and Queen Lili‘uokalani.
In early times Mānoa Valley was socially divided into “Mānoa-Aliʻi” or “royal Mānoa” on the west, and “Mānoa-Kanaka” or “commoners’ (makaʻāinana) Mānoa” on the east. The Ali‘i lived on the high, cooler western (left) slopes; the commoners lived on the warmer eastern (right) slopes and on the valley floor where they farmed.
Mānoa is watered by five streams that merge into the lower Mānoa Stream: ‘Aihualama (lit. eat the fruit of the lama tree), Waihī (lit. trickling water), Nāniu‘apo (lit. the grasped coconuts), Lua‘alaea (lit. pit [of] red earth) and Waiakeakua (lit. water provided by a god). (Cultural Surveys)
In 1792, Captain George Vancouver described Mānoa Valley on a hike from Waikīkī in search of drinking water: “We found the land in a high state of cultivation, mostly under immediate crops of taro; and abounding with a variety of wild fowl chiefly of the duck kind … “
“The sides of the hills, which were in some distance, seemed rocky and barren; the intermediate vallies, which were all inhabited, produced some large trees and made a pleasing appearance. The plains, however, if we may judge from the labour bestowed on their cultivation, seem to afford the principal proportion of the different vegetable productions …” (Edinburgh Gazetteer)
The well-watered, fertile and relatively level lands of Mānoa Valley supported extensive wet taro cultivation well into the twentieth century. Handy and Handy estimated that in 1931 “there were still about 100 terraces in which wet taro was planted, although these represented less than a tenth of the area that was once planted by Hawaiians.” (Cultural Surveys)
“(T)he valley is under almost complete cultivation of taro”. “(T)he whole valley opens out to view, the extensive flat area set out in taro, looking like a huge checker-board, with its symetrical emerald squares in the middle ground.” (Thrum, 1892)
In 1825 an English agriculturist named John Wilkinson, who in his younger years had been a planter in the West Indies, arrived at Honolulu on the frigate Blonde. He had made some arrangement with Governor Boki, while the latter was in England, to go out and engage in cultivating sugar cane … and, probably, rum. (Kuykendall)
Although sugar cane had grown in Hawaiʻi for many centuries, its commercial cultivation for the production of sugar did not occur until 1825. In that year, Wilkinson and Boki started a plantation in Mānoa Valley. Within six months they had seven acres of cane growing and processing. The sugar mill was later converted into a distillery for rum. (Schmitt)
Over the years, sugar‐cane farming soon proved to be the only available crop that could be grown profitably under the severe conditions imposed upon plants grown on the lands which were available for cultivation. (HSPA 1947)
At the industry’s peak a little over a century later (1930s,) Hawaii’s sugar plantations employed more than 50,000 workers and produced more than 1-million tons of sugar a year; over 254,500-acres were planted in sugar.
The sugar industry is at the center of Hawaiʻi’s modern diversity of races and ethnic cultures. Of the nearly 385,000 workers that came, many thousands stayed to become a part of Hawai‘i’s unique ethnic mix.
Hawai‘i continues to be one of the most culturally-diverse and racially-integrated places on the globe. And remember, commercial-scale sugar production started in Mānoa.
That was not the only plantation-scale agriculture started in Mānoa. In 1885, John Kidwell started a pineapple farm with locally available plants, but their fruit was of poor quality. That prompted him to search for better cultivars; he later imported 12 ‘Smooth Cayenne’ plants.
An additional 1,000 plants were obtained from Jamaica in 1886, and an additional 31 cultivars, including ‘Smooth Cayenne’, were imported from various locations around the world. ‘Smooth Cayenne’ was reported to be the best of the introductions.
Kidwell is credited with starting Hawai‘i’s pineapple industry; after his initial planting, others soon realized the potential of growing pineapples in Hawaii and consequently, started their own pineapple plantations.
The “development of the (Hawaiian) pineapple industry is founded on his selection of the Smooth Cayenne variety and on his conviction that the future lay in the canned product, rather than in shipping the fruit in the green state.” (Canning Trade; Hawkins)
The commercial Hawaiian pineapple canning industry began in 1889 when Kidwell’s business associate, John Emmeluth, a Honolulu hardware merchant and plumber, produced commercial quantities of canned pineapple.
Emmeluth refined his pineapple canning process between 1889 and 1891, and around 1891 packed and shipped 50 dozen cans of pineapple to Boston, 80 dozen to New York, and 250 dozen to San Francisco.
By 1930 Hawai‘i led the world in the production of canned pineapple and had the world’s largest canneries. And remember, the first commercial cultivation of pineapple and subsequent canning of pineapple started in Mānoa.
Other smaller scale agriculture activities across the Islands also started in Mānoa. Wilkinson, noted for starting commercial sugar in Mānoa, also started commercial coffee in the Islands in Mānoa Valley.
Coffee was planted in Mānoa Valley in the vicinity of the present UH-Mānoa campus; from a small field, trees were introduced to other areas of O‘ahu and neighbor islands.
In 1828, American missionary Samuel Ruggles took cuttings of the same kind of coffee from Hilo and brought them to Kona. Henry Nicholas Greenwell grew and marketed coffee and is recognized for putting “Kona Coffee” on the world markets.
At Weltausstellung 1873 Wien (World Exhibition in Vienna, Austria (1873,)) Greenwell was awarded a “Recognition Diploma” for his Kona Coffee. (Greenwell Farms)
Writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) seemed to concur with this when he noted in his Letters from Hawaiʻi, “The ride through the district of Kona to Kealakekua Bay took us through the famous coffee and orange section. I think the Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it what you please.”
By the 1930s there were more than 1,000 farms and, as late as the 1950s, there were 6,000-acres of coffee in Kona. The only place in the United States where coffee is grown commercially is in Hawaiʻi. And remember, ‘Kona Coffee’ was the same as that in Mānoa Valley.
Another commercial crop, macadamia nuts, also has its Island roots in Mānoa. Macadamia seeds were first imported into Hawaiʻi in 1882 by William Purvis; he planted them in Kapulena on the Hāmākua Coast. A second introduction into Hawaii was made in 1892 by Robert and Edward Jordan who planted the trees at the former’s home in Nuʻuanu Honolulu. (Storey)
“Brought in ‘solely as an addition to the natural beauty of Paradise’ (Hawaiian Annual, 1940,) it was not until ES (Ernest Sheldon) Van Tassel started some plantings at Nutridge in 1921 that the commercial growing of the plant began. On June 1, 1922, the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company Ltd. was formed.” (NPS)
The Van Tassel plantings were at ʻUalakaʻa on a grassy hillside of former pasture land (what we call Round Top on the western slopes of Mānoa Valley.)
Mo‘olelo (Hawaiian stories) indicate that Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a was a favored locality for sweet potato cultivation and King Kamehameha I established his personal sweet potato plantation here. ‘Pu‘u translates as “hill” and ‘ualaka‘a means “rolling sweet potato”, so named for the steepness of the terrain.
In order to stimulate interest in macadamia culture, beginning January 1, 1927, a Territorial law exempted properties in the Territory, used solely for the culture or production of macadamia nuts, from taxation for a period of 5 years.
In just over 10-years (1933,) “the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company has about 7,000 trees in its groves at Keauhou, Kona District, Hawaii, which are now coming into profitable bearing. The company has also approximately 2,000 trees growing and producing in the Nutridge grove on Round Top, Honolulu, or a total of 9,000 trees.” (Mid-Pacific, October 1933)
Macadamia nut candies became commercially available a few years later. Two well-known confectioners, Ellen Dye Candies and the Alexander Young Hotel candy shop, began making and selling chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in the middle or late 1930s. Another early maker was Hawaiian Candies & Nuts Ltd., established in 1939 and originators of the Menehune Mac brand. (Schmitt)
In 1962, MacFarms established one of the world’s largest single macadamia nut orchards with approximately 3,900-acres on the South Kona coast of the Big Island of Hawaiʻi.
Today, about 570 growers farm 17,000 acres of macadamia trees, producing 40 million pounds of in-shell nuts, valued at over $30 million. Additionally, nuts are imported from South Africa and Australia, who currently lead the world market, with Hawai‘i at #3. (hawnnut) And remember, commercial cultivation of macadamia nut’s started at Mānoa.
One last thing, Mānoa was home to the Islands’ first dairy; William Harrison Rice started it at what was then O‘ahu College (now Punahou School.) Later, Woodlawn Dairy was the Islands’ largest dairy (1879.)
As you can see, what became significant commercial-scale agricultural ventures in the Islands – Sugar, Pineapple, Coffee and Macadamia Nuts – all had their start in the Islands, in Mānoa.