• Kanaka Climbers

37 Kānaka Voices; Route names

Updated: Mar 24

Within the blog you will see a couple of concerns raised by Hawaiian voices within the Hawai’i Climbing Community.


Palm trees during a hurricane

To gather this information we surveyed our Kanaka members (Hawaiian by blood) and Cultural Practitioners.

This small blog cannot speak for every Hawaiian or cover every issue, but we do feel that the 37 voices who assisted in answering these questions are well represented below. This is in no way a blog demanding name changes. We only hope that the Hawai’i Climbing community can learn from these opinions and make more progressive choices when naming or renaming future climbs.


Renaming Places

While adventuring in Hawai’i you’ll probably notice the trend of place names being changed to foreign (non-Hawaiian) words. Our Hawaiian ancestors used place names to describe and understand the geography, history, and religious significance of the land. Renaming of beaches, valleys, mountains, and peaks perpetuates false information about geographical areas. While the practice of renaming places is more convenient for foreigners (non-indigenous people), it aids colonization in further erasing indigenous identities and weakening ancestral connections to our land. This leads to confusion for people who are trying to ethically revitalize our ancestral narratives by following the clues left for us in place names.


Some climbers may use foreign names to curb the access issues to a given site in order to protect both native and endemic flora and fauna, which are endangered or cultural resources. This is a less harmful practice, but still requires engagement and consultation within the Hawaiian community.

The Kanaka Climbers organization actively works to identify cultural resources and responsible access options for the climbing community within those specific sites.

Inappropriately Named Routes

Another concern within the islands, we have multiple climbing routes that were inappropriately named by foreigners after Hawaiian gods. Within the Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) belief system, naming a pohaku (rock or boulder) after a god breathes the mana (divine power) of that god into the pohaku. Gods alike are desecrated twice: first when named without following traditional protocol, and again, when individuals climb on the rock. This is highly disrespectful and derogatory to the Hawaiian religion and culture.


We also have a few climbing locations in close proximity to wahi pana (legendary places) and cultural sites. Some of the places closest to climbing areas include burial caves, petroglyphs, ancient heiau (temple), and places of battle. When thinking about what the area was used for by our Hawaiian ancestors, route names should be culturally appropriate for the area. One example of culturally inappropriate names is multiple routes named after alcohol within the boundaries of a heiau. This can be seen as highly offensive to the host culture and further aids in colonization by making our wahi pana seem less significant to non-natives.

Traditional Practices

Hawai’i was once itʻs own sovereign nation with multiple respected international treaties. After the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Hawaiian language and cultural practices were banned for generations. Our land and water rights were taken away, land became privatized and developed. Currently, our islands are under immense pressure due to both overpopulation and an ever-growing influx of tourists. Our outdoor popularity is outpacing efforts to promote cultural awareness. It is sometimes easy to forget that historically climbing was a common practice for Hawaiians and many indigenous cultures. Whether they were moving through the sheer mountain cliffs or up and down the sea cliffs to access fishing areas. As Kanaka Maoli start returning to these traditional practices as a way to reconnect with the land we have lost and our voices are finally being heard and listened to across the world.

Our Goals

Our group of Native Hawaiian Climbers and Hikers are working to inspire members of the climbing community to educate themselves on indigenous issues, as well as appropriately engage and consult with indigenous communities all over the world. It is our hope that as we encourage the outdoor recreational community to invite indigenous people to the table, indigenous voices will be lifted and heard.


A portion of the blog was featured on Access Fund.

https://www.accessfund.org/open-gate-blog/why-route-names-matter


Written by @kolealani


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