Mānoa translates as “wide or vast” and is descriptive of the wide valley that makes up the inland portion of this ahupuaʻa.
Mānoa has been a well-populated place. The existence of heiau and trails leading to/from Honolulu indicate it was an important and frequently traversed land.
John Papa ʻI’i wrote of the many trails leading into and throughout Honolulu and the surrounding areas. A trail led out of town at the south side of the coconut grove of Honuakaha and went on to Kalia. From Kalia it ran eastward along the borders of the fish ponds and met the trail from lower Waikīkī. The trail went above the stream to Puʻu o Mānoa.
The evidence of numerous agricultural terraces indicates an abundant food source, probably to support a fairly large population. Its inclusion in many legends and tales also suggests Mānoa Ahupua’a was a significant and well-loved area.
One legend explains Mānoa misty rain, the weeping in grief by a mother, Kuahine, for the death of her beautiful daughter Kahalaopuna (“Ka Ua Kuahine O Mānoa” (the Kuahine rain of Mānoa.))
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.
Mānoa was given to the Maui chief Kame‘eiamoku by Kamehameha I after his conquest of O‘ahu. After Kame‘eiamoku death, the land was inherited by his son Ulumāheihie (or Hoapili), who became the governor of Maui during the reigns of Kamehameha II and Kamehameha III.
Liliha, the daughter of Hoapili, inherited the lands in 1811 and brought them with her to her marriage with the high chief Boki, governor of O‘ahu.
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.
An imaginary line was said to have been drawn from Puʻu O Mānoa (Rocky Hill) to Pali Luahine. 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)
One century later, before it was urbanized, Mānoa Valley was described by Thrum (1892:) “Manoa is both broad and low, with towering hills on both sides that join the forest clad mountain range at the head, whose summits are often hid in cloud land, gathering moisture there from to feed the springs in the various recesses …”
“… that in turn supply the streams winding through the valley, or watering the vast fields of growing taro, to which industry the valley is devoted. The higher portions and foot hills also give pasturage to the stock of more than one dairy enterprise.”
Handy (in his book Hawaiian Planter) writes that in ancient days, all of the level land in upper Mānoa was developed into taro flats and was well-watered, level land that was better adapted to terracing than neighboring Nuʻuanu. The entire floor of Mānoa Valley was a “checkerboard of taro patches.”
Oahu’s first sugar plantation was established here in 1825, by an Englishman named John Wilkinson. Wilkinson died in 1826, the mill for the sugar was moved to Honolulu.
The plantation was sold and new owners wanted to turn it into a distillery. When Ka‘ahumanu heard of this, she was outraged and made Boki give them to Hiram Bingham and his wife as a base for mission work (and later, Punahou School.)
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)
In the early part of the nineteenth century, the Japanese began to move in to the upper valley to start truck farms, growing strawberries, vegetables, such as Japanese dryland taro, Japanese burdock, radishes, sweet potatoes, lettuce, carrots, soy beans and flowers to sell to the Honolulu markets.
“Though the valley is under almost complete cultivation of taro, largely by Chinese companies, an effort was made by them in 1882 to divert it to the growth of rice, but after two years struggle with high winds, cold rains and myriads of rice birds it was abandoned.” (Thrum, 1892)
Today, Mānoa is primarily a residential community in Honolulu’s Primary Urban Center. It is home to over 20,000 permanent residents and University of Hawaiʻi-Manoa (with a student body population of around 20,000) (and several other schools, businesses, etc.)
For an expanded discussion on Mānoa, click the link: