Natural History from the Folk Story – Princess of Mānoa

I want to start this blog with the Hawaiian folk story — princess of Mānoa, Kahalapuna. In the story, we can peek how the climate and biota in Mānoa were in the past.

The stream and plants in the story are colored and are listed below with photos! 🙂

The story is from:

Hawaiian folk tales: A collection of Native legends. AC McClurg, 1912.


This is how the story starts:

color indicators
Aqua — stream / Orange — biota / dark red — climate

“AKAAKA (laughter) is a projecting spur of the mountain range at the head of Manoa Valley, forming the ridge running back to and above Waiakeakua, “the water of the gods.” Akaaka was united in marriage to Nalehuaakaaka, still represented by some lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) bushes on the very brow of the spur or ridge. They had two children, twins, Kahaukani, a boy, and Kauakuahine, a girl. These children were adopted at birth by a chief, Kolowahi, and chiefess, Pohakukala, who were brother and sister, and cousins of Akaaka. The brother took charge of the boy, Kahaukani, a synonym for the Manoa wind; and Pohakukala the girl, Kauakuahine, meaning the famous Manoa rain. When the children were grown up, the foster parents determined that they should be united; and the children, having been brought up separately and in ignorance of their relationship, made no objections. They were accordingly married and a girl was born to them, who was called Kahalaopuna. Thus Kolowahi and Pohakukala, by conspiring to unite the twin brother and sister, made permanent the union of rain and wind for which Manoa Valley is noted; and the fruit of such a union was the most beautiful woman of her time. So the Manoa girls, foster children of the Manoa rains and winds, have generally been supposed to have inherited the beauty of Kahalaopuna.

A house was built for Kahalaopuna at Kahaiamano on the road to Waiakekua, where she lived with a few attendants. The house was surrounded by a fence of auki  (dracaena), and a puloulou (sign of kapu) was placed on each side of the gate, indicative of forbidden ground. The puloulou were short, stout poles, each surmounted by a ball of white kapa cloth, and indicated that the person or persons inhabiting the premises so defined were of the highest rank, and sacred.

Kahalaopuna was very beautiful from her earliest childhood. Her cheeks were so red and her face so bright that a glow emanated therefrom which shone through the thatch of her house when she was in; a rosy light seemed to envelop the house, and bright rays seemed to play over it constantly. When she went to bathe in the spring below her house, the rays of light surrounded her like a halo. The natives maintain that this bright light is still occasionally seen at Kahaiamano, indicating that the spirit of Kahalaopuna is revisiting her old home.

She was betrothed in childhood to Kauhi, the young chief of Kailua, in Koolau, whose parents were so sensible of the honor of the contemplated union of their son with the Princess of Manoa, who was deemed of a semi-supernatural descent, that they

always sent the poi of Kailua and the fish of Kawainui for the girl’s table. She was thus, as it were, brought up entirely on the food of her prospective husband.

… (I’ll stop here, but I’ll list the biota showed up in the story)”

(If you’re interested in the story, please get the book, Hawaiian folk tales: A collection of Native legends. AC McClurg, 1912., mahalo!)

Waiakeakua, “the water of the gods.”

(photo taken by Easy Hiker Hawaii)



(photo by yfhuang at Aihualama stream in April 2017)


lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha)

(photos from here)


auki  (dracaena)

ti_leaf.jpg(photo by yfhuang at Lyon Arboretum in September 2016)

Dracaena & Cordyline (credit: Hawaiian Sunshine Nursery)

The Dragon Tree and the Ti plant… Dracaenas and Cordylines are similar plants and at one time Cordylines were classified as Dracaenas. The Cordyline or Ti plant is a Hawaiian native and is known as the “Hawaiian Good Luck Plant.” Aside from being a wonderful indoor plant, Ti leaves are traditionally used to wrap foods in Hawaiian recipes.



hala (Pandanus odoratissimus) tree

(photo by yfhuang at Lyon Arboretum in April 2017)


Wiliwili (Erythrina monosperma)

(photo from Onei)


Koa (Acacia koa) tree

Young koa.jpg (photo from Wikipedia)


Elepaio (Chasiempis sandwichensis)

(photo from Hayataro Sakitsu)
(Note: Elepaio is endemic to Hawaiian Island; however, it is recently endangered… ): )

Pueo (Asio flammeus sandwichensis)

Starr 090112-0857 Asio flammeus sandwichensis.jpg
(Photo from Wikipedia at Kanaha beach, Maui)
(Note, Pueo, a short-eared owl, is endemic to Hawaii.  It’s one of physical forms of ʻaumākua (ancestor spirits) in Hawaiian culture.  Since it might be a symbol, it’s hard to say if the pueo really showed up in Mānoa or it is just added in this fold story. But yes, Pueo is endangered in Hawaii, and I couldn’t find a pueo photo taken on Oahu…)

A-pe (Calladium costatum)

(photo from BigHawaii)


Kalo (Colocasia antiquorum)

(photo by yfhuang at Hawaiian Study Center in University of Hawaii at Manoa in March 2017)


Ha-u (hibiscus)

(photo by yfhuang in the University of Hawaii at Manoa in March 2017)





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