The Waiwai of Waiahole and Waikane

Hood, Dale
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Early Hawaiians considered water not only as a natural resource which was used to feed their taro fields but also as something much more valuable. It is no coincidence then that the Hawaiians placed much value on this precious resource; it was so precious, in fact, that the very word for goods, property, assets, valuables, value, worth, wealth, importance, benefit, and estate is "waiwai" meaning, lots of water. The root word for waiwai is wai, which means water, specifically fresh, drinking water: the kind of water that is necessary to sustain life, water for the growing of crops and sustenance for man and beast. Gods were attached to the water and strict kapus were used to control its use. With the arrival of the white man the kapu system was eventually overturned and valuable resources such as water were used by these newcomers to irrigate the fields of their new sugar plantations. As we will see, the taking (some would argue, the stealing) of this precious resource was disastrous for the native Hawaiians. Starting with a historical perspective of the sugar industry in Hawai'i, this paper will address several serious issues which led to the downfall of the Hawaiian Monarchy and the rise to power of the haole (Caucasians) elite who took control of Hawai'i and handed it over to the Big Five corporations. As the sugar industry grew, technological changes brought about newer methods of production, and chief among these changes was the development of access to water resources both ground water and surface runoff water. This paper is not meant as a celebration of the construction of the Waiahole/Waikane water ditch system but rather as an informative work describing the climate of change in Hawai'i which gave rise to ambitious projects such as this. Neither is this paper going to be used as a vehicle to validate claims of ownership of water resources or Justify who was right or wrong in making the decision to build this complex network of ditches and tunnels. The Waiahole/Waikane system of ditches and tunnels followed on-the-heels of similar projects that were built on Maui and the Big Island. This paper is about the way in which the haole elite used their technical expertise to collect and transport millions of gallons of water through miles of tunnels and ditches from one side of the Koolau mountain range to the other. The "taking" of this resource was not without repercussions. Native Hawaiians, who, for centuries, used this water to irrigate their taro fields, called lo'i. found their streams drying up and their lo'i starving for water in which to grow their taro. Deprived of their water. Hawaiians eventually were dispossessed from their lands and homes. causing further decline in their population.
Masters of Arts
Pacific Islands Studies
Polynesia - Hawaii
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