Kalalau rises from a beach which is reputed to “winter in Kalalau and summer in Lumahai”. Kalalau can be translated as Fluted leaves, a reference to the curtain-like appearance of the cliffs.


 

Kala-lau can be translated as Fluted leaves, a reference to the curtain-like appearance of the cliffs. 

Kala-lau can also be translated at Leaves of the ʻokala berry, a raspberry-like plant that can still be found in the mountains. 

Kalalau, as one word, means to call, as one person does to another.

Ka-lalau means The wandering one.

Kalalau was the largest of the Nāpali ahupuaʻa. It rises from a beach which is reputed to “winter in Kalalau and summer in Lumahai”. The lower portion is a broad plain formed by erosion from two valleys surrounded by two to three thousand foot high cliffs. These cliffs are fringed at the four thousand foot level by a narrow plain and the Kaunuohua ridge.

Like all Nāpali ahupua’a, Kalalau was reached by sea in good weather or by a steep dangerous trail leading up a ridge to the mountains. The trail is marked by two pinnacles of stone named Nākeikionā’iwi (The children of Nā’iwi) who played too late by moonlight and were turned to stone when a ray of sunshine touched them as they ran home.

The valley was heavily populated. There are remains of many house sites, of irrigation ditches and dry-land farming terraces. The valley was self-sufficient. The people grew taro, sweet potatoes, sugar cane and bananas. Wauke and mamaki trees were grown to provide bark for tapa which was made into clothing and bedding. ‘Olonā plants provided strong twine or rope which was much prized later on by the whalers who used to winter off the shores of Kaua’i. They found that ‘olona ropes were stronger than any cordage they could get from New England.

Pili, a giant, was very friendly with a troop of Menehune and lived with them on the banks of the Wailua river. From time to time, they would make an excursion to Kalalau. Pili, being so much larger, always arrived first and to while away the time until his friends came, decided to shape the walls of the Kalalau cliffs. When the Menehune arrived and saw what he was doing they asked what he was making but Pili told them it would be a surprise. Unfortunately, Pili died before the shaping was finished and the Menehune never did know what Pili’s plan for the Kalalau cliffs was.

A famous tapa maker was Kahuanui who lived in the fourteenth century. She was the sister of Limaloa, the god of the Mānā mirage, and of Lohi’au who was beloved by Pele and Hi’iaka. Kahua-nui was the first to beat fronds of the laua’e fern into her tapa which gave it a delicious smell.    

This valley was also the home of Kukua-o-Kalalau. He was named after the large graspid crab, Metopograpsus thukuhar. Whenever he seized boys, fish, or anything that did not belong to him, he would shout “’Owā!” In time the word “kaikaowa” was coined meaning to seize, take, or follow. ‘Owā has several meanings: 1. to talk loudly back and forth, to roar; 2. the cry of the ‘auku’u heron; 3. to retch or gag; 4. split, cracked, burst grooves; to split, crack; and in time came to mean figuratively, bereaved, forsaken. 

In 1893 this was the home of Ko’olau, a leper who wished to remain with his wife and son until his death. He stood off an army armed with howitzers and is buried in the valley. When the army left, they forced all the inhabitants to leave and burned down the houses. Since then no one has lived full time in any of the ahupua’a of Nāpali.

A variety of taro was called kalalau, perhaps because it originated here. The white corm yielded a gray poi.    

 

        Ua hala i Kaua’i, i Kalalau.
        Gone to Kalalau, at Kaua’i.
        Gone astray, a pun on the word “lalau”, astray. Refers to the fact that someone has gone to Kalalau on Kaua’i instead of Kalalau on Hawai’i, a big mistake indeed. (Judd 633)
 
        Napelepele na pali o Kalalau, i ka wili ia e ka makani.
        Crumbling are the cliffs of Kalalau, twisted by the winds.
        Expression to describe a man in great anger. (Judd 635)
 
        Naue Kalalau, poniu Kalawakua.
        Trembling Kalalau, swayed and dizzy.
        Unreasonable anger. (Judd 636)
 
        Ha’ulelau i o Kalalau, i Luali’i la i Kauli’ili’i.
        Haulelau is at Kalalau and Lualii is at Kauliilii.
        Such a scattering all over the place, like fallen leaves, with bits and pieces         strewn all about. (Pukui 490)
 
        Ka laua’e ‘ala o Kalalau.
        Fragrant laua’e ferns of Kalalau.
        Kahuanui scented tapa with laua’e. (Pukui 1433)
 
        Molale loa no kumupali o Kalalau.
        Clearly seen is the base of Kalalau cliff.
        It is obvious that one is way off the subject. A play on “lalau”, to wander, to err. (Pukui 2190)
 
        Nāpelepele kalalau ‘ōwili i ka makani.
        Wounded, yelled at, twisted by the wind. (Andrews)