Palolo-Pukele Stream Cultural History Project

We have just started a new project (at least as of January 2020) examining the past and present cultural patterns in Palolo Valley, with emphasis on the Pukele Stream area. This is a spin-off of the agricultural planting project started by our colleagues at St. Louis School.

The campuses of Saint Louis School and Chaminade University of Honolulu are located on the slopes of Kalaepōhaku, within the area of Pālolo Valley. While the campus (then of Saint Louis School) moved to Pālolo in 1927-28, there has never been any comprehensive historical, biological or cultural study done of Pālolo Valley. In 1993 a series of papers by graduate students in American Studies at Univ. of Hawai’I Manoa looking at various aspects of Palolo was published, edited by Katherine Tehranian (1993 A Study of Palolo Valley: Ethnicity, Class, and Social Identity).  A historical survey of Kaimukī was published by John Takasaki in 1979 (Hawaii Journal of History) which mentions some sections of Pālolo, but that is the extent of overall survey material to date.

As Saint Louis School and Chaminade University both seek to more closely align their academic goals with engagement with the local (Pālolo) community, the need for a comprehensive study of the past and present cultural landscape of Pālolo has become clear.

From the academic perspective, this allows faculty to engage students in meaningful place-based learning, which is central to the Native Hawaiian educational logic we support and encourage. This also provides a venue for faculty to engage in advanced research, based on their areas of expertise within a common research topic.

From the student’s perspective (at both secondary and university levels), this project is an opportunity to relate academic subjects and concepts to real-world scenarios based in their local community.

For the Pālolo community, this will provide detailed documentation of the past and current conditions in Pālolo Valley. This project will be a valuable resource for contemporary and future discussions about land use and decision making in Pālolo.

Social History:

Palolo was an ili in the ahupua’a of Waititi, moku of Honoruru, island of O’ahu in the pre-Contact period, usually under control of the Ali’I ai Moku (the last independent one being Kalanikupule).  In traditional Hawaiian land use the ili  was a specialized area within the ahupua’a which was the basic bounded land unit, one that provided most sustainable needs for the resident population.  This makes traditional Hawaiian land boundaries somewhat unique from those found in Eurasia or the Americas as it was based on resource and sustainability, a very practical environmentally-driven way to divide up the land.  Palolo was one of the areas contributing the food and resources of the population living in the ahupua’a of Waititi. 

This system started to change in the early Monarchy by the 1820’s with the depopulation of most areas due to disease and outmigration.  The most dramatic single change occurred with the application of the Mahele (1850s) which shifted control of land from ali’i to individual land owners. 

During the Mahele 32 Land Claim Awards (L.C.A.) were given within the ‘ili of Palolo.  By the late 1800’s the makai part of the valley had become a suburb of Honolulu with low-cost housing for those moving away from the plantation-based workplace into urban living in Honolulu.  The mauka portion of the valley (the Pukele side) was converted into “truck farming” providing produce to the growing Honolulu urban population. 

According to Jarrett Middle School, the first public golf course on Oahu was opened in the 1920s, was converted to War Emergency Housing in WWII as part of an airfield complex and eventually become Palolo Valley Homes.   With introduction of public housing along with new subdivisions such as the Carlos Long subdivision Palolo evolved into a complex multi-ethnic neighborhood with a very different ethos than that found in surrounding sections of Honolulu, with a higher population of lower socio-economic and new immigrant families than in neighboring Kaimuki or Manoa.  In the 1960-70s drug and gang activity centered around public housing gave the valley a stereotype of a “tough” neighborhood, and real estate values are lower in Palolo than Kaimuki or Manoa even in 2020.

CURRENT GOALS:

We are in the initial phase of a comprehensive historical, biological or cultural study done of Palolo Valley.  We have located A Study of Palolo Valley: Ethnicity, class, and spatial identity (Katharine Tehranian ed.) from 1993, published by UH Manoa’s Dept. of American Studies (Center for Arts & Humanities Occas. Paper No. 1), which consists of a series of papers by UHM students as part of 1990 graduate seminar.  This is the only summative work we have been able to locate to date, though the search is on-going As mentioned in the Project description there are a number of interrelated components to be examined.  One of our issues is avoiding repetition in the archival research, so that everyone is working collaboratively vs. at cross purposes.

Here are the Archival Themes we have identified to date:

GEOLOGY-GEOMORPHOLOGY-ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS THEME:

A detailed geological analysis of Palolo, with some emphasis on the very complex geology of the secondary Honolulu Volcanic Sequence, specifically the Kaau volcanics event(s) and Kaimuki-Kaau Rift.  We also need details on all past modifications to Palolo Stream.  Hopefully the USACE (Corps of Engineers) would have this as part of the EIS for the Ala Wai Flood Control project or maybe somewhere else.  The Honolulu Board of Water Supply may also have this and other information, hopefully with maps.  We also need the detailed Soil Conservation Service soil maps for the valley.  Any material on Palolo-Pukele Stream is central to our study.

ORAL TRADITION THEME:

Detailed Hawaiian oral traditions based in Palolo or linked to Palolo.  A Kaau crater hiking web blog mentions “It’s named Ka’au Crater after a supernatural chicken, Ka’auhelemoa, that once lived in the valley. Legend has it that the demigod Maui insisted on joining all the islands of Hawai’i together. From Ka’ena Point he threw his mighty hook toward the island of Kaua’i, ensnaring the island only briefly, after which a mighty tug caused the hook to free itself and sail back over his head, landing in the valley and creating the indentation of Ka’au Crater;” from  https://www.outdoorproject.com/united-states/hawaii/kaau-crater-hike.  We need to locate where this comes from, relate this story to any others and also other noted features such as Mau’umae. 

We also need to comb the newspapers for any more recent oral legends linked to Palolo, such as 19-20c ghost stories.  This will likely come from the various newspaper archives.

SOCIAL HISTORY THEME:

Compile a social history of Palolo-Pukele including any events that have taken place in the valley.  This will largely come from the various newspaper archives mentioned below.  This should include any movers-shakers in the valley, and probably should include the various developers of different areas including the “Kaimukl Land Company” [Wilhelmina Rise]—who were these guys, what was their history, what impact did they have?

LCA-BIOGRAPHICAL-GENEOLOGICAL THEME:

This will likely start with the LCA (Land Court Awards from the Mahele) claims for Palolo-Pukele, but should include their other claims and history outside of just Palolo-Pukele.  There are references to the Cooke family in the back of Palolo and later G. Tongg (a famous architect).  Who else?  What about the families that settled in the makai portion of the valley in the early subdivisions?  The families who settled the Carlos Long subdivision in 1940-50s?  Can we find any info on why they moved to Palolo, and maybe from where?

LAND USE AND BUILT ENVIRONMENT IN PALOLO VALLEY THEME:

Past and contemporary land use in Palolo-Pukele, with emphasis on past and contemporary agricultural use along Palolo-Pukele Stream.  This would include all available text and any photos.  We should consider including material related to production systems such as traditional dryland/wetfield systems and 19-20c truck farming in kona areas even if not Palolo-specific [though probably O’ahu only?] as I don’t remember seeing any major work discussing historic-period agricultural practices in stream-based kona areas.  Is there some for Manoa or Nuuanu?  This should include past-present economically successful species and why.  For this we need input from contemporary farmers in Pukele and maybe neighboring valleys.  This ties specifically back into the SLS/CUH planting project on our campus.

NEIGHBORHOODS IN PALOLO THEME:

Tehranian’s 1993 book has several chapters on differing aspects of vernacular architecture in Palolo.  Given the availability of the Google Earth and Zillow we want to expand this study and look at the relationship (if any) between built environment and perceived value of property.  The real estate website Zillow [https://www.zillow.com/homes/Palolo,-Honolulu,-HI/] includes the estimated values of all properties (I assume based on assessed property tax data), along with basic data such as lot size and number of bedrooms.  I still have to work out a analysis data form for this theme, but we want to compare the structure and visible area to assessed value, and then compare different sections of Palolo to see what patterns emerge in Palolo’s built environment.  We will add the Palolo side of Maunalani Heights-Wilhelmina Rise to get a comparison to see what impact elevation and viewplane have on value.  This will also include background research in just how assessed value is arrived at—how does the C&C of Honolulu assess values.  There should be standardized templates that assessors use to standardize the process and minimize bias.

RELIGION AND BELIEF IN PALOLO THEME:

Past and contemporary religious use in Palolo-Pukele.  Tehranian’s 1993 work has a chapter on the then-controversial Korean Buddhist temple that was built in Waiomao as an example.  We want to ask what belief systems to we see in Palolo and how do the religious institutions reflect perceptions of Palolo.  What changes have there been in religious practices in Palolo and how do these reflect changing ethnic residential patterns?  Some of the less mainstream may require additional research to elicit the beliefs and world view of the members.

TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY MEDICAL-HEALING PRACTICES IN PALOLO THEME:

Past and contemporary healing and medical practices in Palolo.  This will include formal and informal medical-healing practices with emphasis on their place in the Palolo community, especially as they relate to the various ethnic groups in Palolo (past and present).  This will include some analysis into patterns of changes in practices and how these reflect changing values and attitudes in Palolo and surrounding communities. Some of the less mainstream will require additional research to clarify the beliefs and world view of the practitioners and their clients.

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