The name literally means ‘gathering [at the] sea [to watch surfing].’ This land section and village, at Kalapana, Hawaiʻi, was noted for its surf and its black sand beach. The black sand was formed by steam explosions that occurred when a lava flow entered the ocean in about 1750. (Pukui)
“Kaimu is pleasantly situated near the sea shore, on the SE side of the island, standing on a bed of lava considerably decomposed, and covered over with a light and fertile soil. It is adorned with plantations, groves of cocoa-nuts and clumps of kou trees.”
“It has a sandy beach, where canoes may land with safety; and according to the houses numbered to-day contains 725 inhabitants. Including the villages in the immediate vicinity, along the coast, the populations would probably amount to 2,000; and, if water could be procured near at hand, it would form an eligible missionary station.”
“There are several wells in the village, containing brackish water, which has passed from the sea, through the cells of the lava, undergoing a kind of filtration, and it is collected in hollows scooped out to receive it. The natives told us, that, at the distance of about a mile, there is plenty of fresh water.” (Ellis from 1823)
“The most important reason that settlement in the Kalapana area was on the coast was the availability of fresh food from the sea. Fishing was on the shore, which also hosted gathering of shellfish, crabs and limu, and from canoes.”
“Taro and breadfruit were major crops of the better watered coastal areas in the east but especially in the forested uplands. Bananas, sugar cane, and ‘awa were also grown in the uplands.” (Hawai‘i County)
“We passed a potato patch in the broken lava which exceeded anything I had seen. Not a particle of soil was anywhere to be seen, and the holes dug among the stones to receive the potatoes were some of them six feet in depth-thus securing a degree of moisture and shelter from the sun-though no more soil than at the surface.”
“There are but few people in this region. They are miserably poor, & for some time past have been almost in a state of famine. They get their living by fishing, making salt, & getting fern roots & a few potatoes in the mountains.”
“Their salt works are on the naked lava near the sea, the water of which is evaporated in little cups or vessels made of the Ki leaf & holding of course but a minute quantity of water.”
“These are laid in parallel rows over several acres, & the water poured into them a little at a time from Calabashes. The process is an extremely slow one, tho’ the salt is s[aid] to be excellent for the table. It is sold at the exceedingly low prices of 25 cts a bag, which will contain I sh’d judge ½ a bushel or more” (Chester Lyman, 1846)
“At the beach the road enters first the village of Kaimu, exclusively Hawaiian, with a large grove of cocoanut trees surrounding a fine semi-circular sand beach. Care should be exercised in bathing on account of the under tow.”
“Less than a mile further on, westwards, lies the village of Kalapana, one of the largest Hawaiian villages in the Islands. There are no white inhabitants, and only a couple of Chinese stores. Here is the headquarters for a couple of stages, which make irregular trips to Pahoa (Rate: 75 cents a passenger one way.)” (Kinney, 1913)
The district of Puna is distinguished as one of the least awarded private lands from the 1848 Māhele and Kuleana Act. Only 19 awards of private land were made in the entire district.
Of these, 16 awards were made in large tracts to 10 chiefs who lived outside of Puna, and three small parcels were granted, to commoners Baranaba, Hewahewa and Haka (Territory of Hawai`i 1929.)
The small number of land awards was not because Puna had a small population. In 1854, four years after the Kuleana awards were granted, the estimated population for Puna was 2,702 (Hawaii Mission Children’s Library 1854.)
Moreover, the 1858 tax records for Puna shows that 894 males over the age of 20 paid poll taxes in Puna ten years after the deadline for filing for land awards (Hawai‘i State Archives 1858.)
An examination of the possible reasons why almost the entire population of Puna did not enjoy the benefits of the Māhele and Kuleana Act lends an understanding of why Hawaiians living in the district remained outside of the mainstream of Hawai`i’s economic and social development.
First, Puna was isolated from the mainstream of economic, social and political developments. It is possible that the Hawaiians in Puna were not aware of the process or did not realize the significance of the new law.
Second, it is possible that the Puna Hawaiians did not have a way to raise the cash needed for the land surveys, which cost between $6 to $12. Wages at the time were normally between 12 1/2 cents and 33 cents a day.
However, there were few wage-earning jobs in Puna. Cash would have to be raised from selling extra fish or other products, which was difficult given the subsistence living of many Hawaiians.
Third, at least some Puna Hawaiians filed their land claims after the deadline. In an 1851 petition to the legislature, several Puna residents asked to be issued land grants without penalty, as they had filed their claims after February 14, 1848 (Allen 1979).
Under the Māhele, the bulk of Puna lands were designated as public lands either to the monarchy, as “Crown” lands or to the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom. (McGregor)
In March 1990, Kīlauea’s ongoing Puʻu ʻŌʻō-Kupaianaha eruption (that began on January 3, 1983) entered its most destructive period of the 20th century when lava flows turned toward Kalapana, an area cherished for its historic sites and black sand beaches.
By the end of the summer, the entire community, including a church, store, and 100 homes, were buried beneath 50-80 feet of lava.
As the lava flows advanced eastward, they took to the sea, replacing the palm-lined Kaimū Bay with a plain of lava that now extends nearly 1,000-feet beyond the original shoreline.
In late 1990, a new lava tube finally diverted lava away from Kalapana and back into the National Park. (USGS)