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'Ewa Moku and the Battle of Kīpapa

Below is some generation information on land set up and life within the 'Ewa Moku, then we jump to a historical battle that happened near lowlands and then we wrap it all up with some petroglyphs. Hope you guys enjoy it.

Soil dirt on hands

Life in 'Ewa Moku

Life in ‘Ewa Moku was centralized around its watershed. The land was fertilized and fueled by mountain streams. The lochs of Pu’uola (Pearl Harbor) were filled with marine resources. Within the moku (district) of ‘Ewa, many of the ahupua’a names are related to Wai (water), such as Waikele, Waipi’o, Waiawa, Waimano, Waiau, and Waimalu. Two streams of note ran within the ‘Ewa Moku, the Wai’eli, and the Waikakalau. Waikele is also known for the Waipahu Spring (bursting/gushing water). The water was fed by an underground spring that connected Kahuku and Waikele. Above a spring in Waipahu, there is a pohaku (boulder), called Pohaku-pili (clinging stone), which was placed by Kamapua’a (the pig-god). The stone was used as an ahuapa’a marker.

'Ewa Moku Land Maps, Ahupua'a map, Pohaku-Pili

The higher plateau areas of Waipi’o were all permanently settled in pre-contact times, while the lower portions within the Gulches would have been used for dryland (non-irrigated) ‘okipu’u gardens (sweet potatoes), you can see evidence of this along the lowland trails. These would have been harvested by travelers, moving from Pu’uloa to the upper plateau of Lihue, now known as Scholfield. The areas within the Waikele and Waipi’o climbing areas are connected to many mo’olelo (oral histories) and even include some wahi pana (legendary places).

Historical Battle Near the Lowlands

Before the eighteenth century, the ‘Ewa Moku was covered by a dryland forest, which began to disappear as the ‘iliahi (sandalwood tree) became Hawai’i’s first export. (See the Valley of Priest blog for more info on sandalwood export). The ‘iliahi forests would never make a comeback within the ‘Ewa Moku, due to the damaging impact of introduced cattle eating all the seedlings. Here are a few excerpts from post-contact history, talking about the agricultural wealth within the ‘Ewa Moku.

“Every stream was carefully embanked, to supply water for taro beds. Where there was no water, the land was under crops of yams and sweet potatoes. The roads and numerous houses are shaded by cocoa-nut trees, and the sides of the mountains are covered with wood to a great height.” written in 1903. [Campbell 1967:103]

From the botanist, Meyen, while visiting in 1831, speaking about the low lands surrounding Pu’uloa

“All around these water basins the land is extraordinarily low but also exceedingly fertile and nowhere else on the whole island of Oahu are such large and continuous stretches of land cultivated. The taro fields, the banana plantations, the plantations of sugar cane are immeasurable.” [Meyen, published 1981:63]

In 1823, the Missionary William Ellis described the interior regions of ‘Ewa as

“nearly twenty miles in length, from the Pearl River to Waialua, and in some parts nine or ten miles across. The soil is fertile, and watered by a number of rivulets, which wind their way along the deep water-courses that intersect its surface, and empty themselves into the sea.” [Ellis, published 1963:7]

In the early 1900s, huge changes happened within the ‘Ewa Moku as plantation owners colluded with the U.S. government. The lands within the ‘Ewa Moku began to dry up as natural water sources were diverted and the landscape was modified by development: dredging, railroad construction, agricultural clearing, road construction, and military land use. The ‘Ewa Moku was forever changed.

Early 1800's Ahupua'a maps


Our main story will focus on the Kīpapa Gulch and Stream area. At the beginning of the 1400s, the starving people of O’ahu rebelled against their chief and placed Māʻilikūkahi in his stead. Māʻilikūkahi was wise, just, and created a judicious government. Māʻilikūkahi's government was sophisticated, organized and supported by its people. Before Māʻilikūkahi had the Island surveyed, the land divisions were in a state of confusion with neighboring chiefs disputing land rights. After the survey, Māʻilikūkahi permanently marked out boundaries and divisions throughout the island. He created a new way to understand the limits of the resources within the moku, ahupua’a, ʻili kupono, ʻili ʻāina, and moʻo ʻāina. This system of land division made it possible for an increase in productivity and crop yield across the island. Māʻilikūkahi created and enforced new laws that prohibited the chiefs from taxing the makaʻāinana (commoners). He opened schools to educate the community, a privilege that was once restricted to only those of high status. He ended human sacrifices and built multiple Heiau, which allowed his people to take refuge and be healed when sick. He was so truly beloved by his people that they willingly brought him the fruits of their labors.

As news spread across the Hawaiian Islands, other ruling chiefs felt threatened by the wealthy condition of O’ahu and the accompanying respect and prestige that Māʻilikūkahi was gaining. Fears grew that this reputation would loosen the grip of power that neighboring chiefs had over their people. In 1410, invading chiefs’ forces from Hawai’i Island and Maui landed in Waikīkī. They then altered their plan and switched the invasion to the Ewa Lagoon, Pu’uloa area. Once they landed, they marched inland to the Waikele/Waipi’o area. The O’ahu forces, led by Māʻilikūkahi, funneled the invaders through the streams and valleys of the Waikele/Waipi’o area into what is now known as Kīpapa gulch. The invaders were trapped in the gulch. With nowhere to turn, streams soon ran dark red with the blood of thousands of warriors. With their corpses littering the banks, the area would take on the name of Kīpapa Gulch (Kīpapa literally means ‘paved with [bodies]’). The remaining fugitives were hunted down and slain throughout the ‘Ewa Moku. Afterward, the corpses were taken to multiple Heiau within the valley and offered to the gods. There is even a mo’oleo (oral history) about the bodies disappearing after lightning struck the Heiau. They called it the tongue of god.

An ‘ili of Waikele was named Kanupo’o, which translates to the planted skull, and can be tied to the events of the battle at Kīpapa. Also, an ‘ili of Honouliuli (Old fort Weaver Road area) was named Po’ohilo because the po’o (head) of Hilo (an invading chief) was placed on a stake at this site as a way to warn other chiefs who wanted to invade O’ahu.

Today, the area is linked to multiple ghost stories and the area is ruled by the spirits of fallen warriors.

Have you seen or felt anything while in the area?

Petroglyphs (trail markers), agricultural terrace walls, Heiau (ancestral lands)

The petroglyphs in the Waipio area are the largest concentration of petroglyphs with some of the most distinguishable designs on the island. Roughly 84 of the 150+ identified petroglyphs on Oʻahu are in this area (numbers from 1970, the last time the area was surveyed). The petroglyphs were most likely made by travelers, moving through the saddle of the island, or used as markers along the trails. Most of the petroglyphs are near resting places and rock shelters. Items that were found within the rock shelters were radiocarbon-dated from the 1400’s AD.

As the community ventures into newer areas, be aware when cleaning up invasive plants or boulders, and be on the lookout for petroglyphs, agricultural terraces, and heiau within the area. Take photos of your findings and send them our way. We love how the community is joining together in the effort to protect our cultural resources. As hikers and climbers, it is our great responsibility to be the stewards of the lands we enjoy. This includes preserving our history.

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