“It was the same from Hawaiʻi to Kauai –
no name was given without some reason.”
In old Hawaiʻi, it was the nature of ‘place’ that shaped the practical, cultural and spiritual view of the Hawaiian people.
In ancient times, the naming of a place was not a task to be undertaken lightly, for the Hawaiians recognized the power inherent in a name.
In giving a name to a piece of land, whether it be an island, a hill or a rocky headland, the inhabitants of ancient Hawaiʻi were placing a part of themselves on the landscape. (Reeve)
In Hawaiian culture, natural and cultural resources are one and the same. Traditions describe the formation (literally the birth) of the Hawaiian Islands and the presence of life on, and around them, in the context of genealogical accounts.
Place names reflect the way in which the ancient Hawaiians viewed their island home, and today, centuries later, they provide windows through which we can look back into the past and see the world again as they saw it, through a Hawaiian perspective.
The name chosen might reflect the physical characteristics of the place, it might recall some event which occurred there, or it might honor a god or gods.
One need only to listen to the ancient mele, the traditional poetry of these islands, to appreciate the important role which place names (and the remembrances they evoke) played in Hawaiian culture. (Reeve)
“The ancients gave names to the natural features of the land according to their ideas of fitness. … There were many names used by the ancients to designate appropriately the varieties of rain peculiar to each part of the island coast; the people of each region naming the varieties of rain as they deemed fitting. … The ancients also had names for the different winds.” (Malo)
For place names were a reaffirming link, not only to the land itself, but to all the events, both legendary and historic, which had taken place on that land and to the ancestors who had lived on and were now buried within it.
All forms of the natural environment, from the skies and mountain peaks, to the watered valleys and lava plains, and to the shore line and ocean depths are believed to be embodiments of Hawaiian gods and deities.
Place names are often descriptive of: (1) the terrain, (2) an event in history, (3) the kind of resources a particular place was noted for or (4) the kind of land use which occurred in the area so named. Sometimes an earlier resident of a given land area was also commemorated by place names. (Maly)
“Cultural Attachment” embodies the tangible and intangible values of a culture – how a people identify with, and personify the environment around them.
It is the intimate relationship (developed over generations of experiences) that people of a particular culture feel for the sites, features, phenomena and natural resources etc, that surround them – their sense of place. This attachment is deeply rooted in the beliefs, practices, cultural evolution and identity of a people. (Kent)
The meaning of a particular Hawaiian place name might have been evident to all, or understandable only to those intimately familiar with the place and its history.
Often times a single place name carried more than one meaning. In addition to its easily discernible descriptive meaning, a place name might also possess a kaona, a hidden meaning.
Hawaiian customs and practices demonstrate the belief that all portions of the land and environment are related; the place names given to them tell us that areas are of cultural importance. (Maly)
“Sense of place is about the feeling that emanates from a place as a combination of the physical environment and the social construct of people activity (or absence of) that produces the feeling of a place. … People seek out Hawaiʻi because of the expectation of what its sense of place will be when they get there.” (Apo)
“Sense of place helps to define the relationships we have as hosts and guests, as well as how we treat one another and our surroundings.” (Taum)
“In the Hawaiian mind, a sense-of-place was inseparably linked with self-identity and self-esteem. To have roots in a place meant to have roots in the soil of permanence and continuity.”
“Almost every significant activity of his life was fixed to a place.”
“No genealogical chant was possible without the mention of personal geography; no myth could be conceived without reference to a place of some kind; no family could have any standing in the community unless it had a place; no place of significance, even the smallest, went without a name; and no history could have been made or preserved without reference, directly or indirectly, to a place.”
“So, place had enormous meaning for Hawaiians of old.” (Kanahele) (Lots of information here from Maly, Kanahele and Reeve.)