Pīla‘a: Ceremonial Sprinkling
Pilaʻa is a very small ahupuaʻa of the Koʻolau district containing only 1250 acres in all. It is fronted by a reef and a sandy beach reaching from Ke-puhi, The eel or The blow-hole, which marked the border with Lepeuli to Pōhaku-malumalu, Sheltering stone, on the border with Waiakalua.
There is a small plain between the beach and a low set of pali that is broken by two gulches, one carved by the Pila’a stream and the other named Kanoa. One of the cliffs was Kai-hale (Ocean house). Another was Ka-‘uha-heke (The tatooed thigh).
After the 1824 rebellion was lost by the Kaua’i forces, the Kamehameha victors ordered that any Kaua’i chief that was tattooed from ankle to thigh, even if only on one leg, to be killed. The island was searched and all those found, save one, was executed.
Above the beach-front pali there is a gently rising plain, dominated by a cinder cone of 761 feet elevation. Beyond that the plain rises to a ridge of hills just above the 800 foot elevation level. The ahupua’a stops short of the mountains.
This must have posed a problem of tax paying, for one of the tributes demanded each year was a supply of feathers from colorful mountain birds. The solution may be indicated by the name of a cultivated area: Ka-moa-‘ahu-‘ula, The chicken feather cloak.
Chicken feathers were also used in the kahili, the long spike topped with a feathered cylinder that always marked the rank of the highest ali’i.
This land was well cultivated. There were many taro lo’i, patches, indicatinggreat deal more water flowed through Pila’a in the olden days than does now. One farmer, in 1848, cultivated 7 lo’i. In the kula, or upland pasture area, farmers grew noni for its medicines and dyes, and bitter gourd from which to make calabashes of all sizes and shapes. Several place names indicate that ‘olona (sennit) was grown which was used to make cords and rope: Ka-‘aha-makole, The sennit scraper, Ka-wa’u, The scraper made of cowry shell. Wauke, the paper mulberry from which tapa was made also grew abundantly.
The land was covered with mahiki grass, a coarse clumpy grass which was prized for it carried the same name a a shrimp. The mahiki shrimp was used to cast out spirits or exorcise troubles, and mahiki grass was a substitute if the shrimp was not to be found.
There were clumps of hala trees. One was named Ka-hua (The fruit) which was used as a marker on the border with Waipake ahupua’a, just below the present government road. At the junction of Pila’a, Waipake, and Lepe’ula was Ka-lana-ki’i, (The lana image), a clump of hala trees. Perhaps the trunks of these trees were used to carve images (lana) which were then placed in the lowest floor of the oracle towers where offerings were placed.
The place names Lola-‘ulu (Drooping breadfruit) and Ulu-kāne (Male breadfruit) indicate there were breadfruit trees growing there once. Breadfruit was not common sine it fruited only once a year. Only one species of breadfruit had been brought in by Kaha’i, grandson of the famed Moikeha in the twelfth century, and after him voyaging to the southern Polynesian islands stopped. Therefore breadfruit trees were important enough to be individually named.
There was possibly a salt pan called Kaheka. A kaheka was a pool, especially a rock basin where the sea washes through an opening and salt forms. However, in Pila’a, Kaheka is far up on the plain and therefore the name may be properly said to be Ka-heka, The bleary one. These possibilities demonstrate the difficulty of translating Hawaiian names into English. Unless the story of the naming is known, any English translated is an educated guess.
Other trees that grew in Pila’a are the kou (Coria subcordata) which has durable beautiful wood which was used to make cups, dishes and calabashes, since kou does not impart flavor to any foodstuff or liquid stored in it. Kukui, one of the plants brought by the earliest settlers, provided the nuts used to make torches and, when crushed, an oil which produced a flame that burned slowly and gave a smokey light for night use. An old ‘ahakea tree named Ka-momoku,, The broken fragments, grew on top of the riedge which is the uppermost boundary of Pila’a. The ‘ahakea is a native tree, a species of Bobea, with yellow wood that made excellent poi boards.
After the foreigner came, orange trees, given by Captain George Vancouver in 1794, were planted and became highly prized. In 1848 oranges were shipped to California, then in the midst of its Gold Rush, and were sold at fabulous prices.