Localogy: The Great Wall of Hilo

Hilo 1Ironically, this is my first entry even though I’ve lived on the Big Island of Hawai’i for over a year. Hilo is a strange place, it’s somewhere between a city and a village. All around the city there are artifacts, shrines and secreted nooks full of every kind of thing you could imagine, much like Japan where in behind a Laundromat there are 2000 year old statues of the Budah.

Hilo has a rich history, after King Kamehameha gained control of Hawai’i he celebrated the Makahiki [Hawaiian New Year] in Hilo and used it as a staging location to build and launch his forces towards the unification of all the islands. Hilo was also where he had his first seat of government. It was here that he created the ‘Kanawai Mamalahoe’ or Law of the Splintered Paddle in which even during times of war amnesty was granted to women, children and the elderly. One day while camped near the mouth of Wailuku, the king desired to visit an old friend who lived nearby. He gathered his servants and instructed them to stand guard over his canoe while he was gone. An hour passed, and then another, and finally the servants grew uneasy waiting for him to return. Suddenly one of the men from Waipi’o said, “I know what we can do, we can weave a rope and secure the canoe so it doesn’t drift away.” “Make a rope?” replied the others, “How? And with what?” The servant was smiling as he said, “I’ll show you,” Gathering ti leaves, he formed two chains and began twisting each leaf and then twisting them together to form cordage. “Such twisting,” he told them, “is called Hilo.” After using the rope to secure the canoe, the servants went out to search for the king and found him a short while later. “Where is my canoe?” He shouted. “You promised to stand watch and by now it must have drifted off!” The servants explained to him how they had secured it, and Kamehameha nodded in approval. Upon seeing the canoe the king said, “From now on, this place shall be called Hilo.”

Located less than 30 miles from Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Hilo has seen its fair share of struggles. Kilauea has been emitting lava since 1983 with previous eruptions in both the early 18 and 1900’s. It is responsible for the destruction of numerous homes and property, and most of the lava makes its way to the ocean. Upon reaching the water, and then cooling and expanding, this process has enlarged the island at least 500 acres since it began to flow. Hilo is also situated at the inlet of Waiakea Bay, making it dangerously susceptible to tsunamis. In 1946 a tidal wave swept half the town inland then dragged the remains out to sea. Residents rebuilt and constructed a 2-mile stone breakwater upon existing reef to protect the harbor. However, in 1960, another wave destroyed a major part of the waterfront and adjacent beach. Those that have remained through 200 years of pitfalls have had to start fresh and rebuild multiple times. It is these individuals and families that have a special connection with both the city itself and the aina [or land] on which it stands.

This week, Syd and I made it to the breakwater. There are talks now of carving out holes in the wall to let the bay replenish itself. Since the age of sugarcane, 5 separate mills all along the Hamakua coast dumped their waste into the bay, which is why the water within the bay is murky, and yet just on the other side of the wall it’s crystal clear.

Here are some photos from our journey, more entries to come….

Hilo 4 Hilo 5 Hilo 2 Hilo 6 Hilo 3 Hilo test 2


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