Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Hämäkua Coast

My Fun Fact at last Thursday's hula class took the form of a geography lesson. A dance we learned recently accompanies the mele ma'i entitled "Ka Ua I Hämäkua," or The Rain at Hämäkua." The first line is about the rain at Hämäkua and the sea at Opae'ula. So I was curious myself and figured my hula sisters as well would like to know where these places are.

What we did know was that the place names figured in the life of Kamehameha the Great. I figured they would be in the same vicinity, but as it turns out, Hämäkua and Opae'ula are hundreds of miles apart on the Big Island of Hawai'i.

Hämäkua is the name given to the north coastline that runs west from Hilo to North Kohala, which is thought to be the king's birthplace. The coast is characterized by lush vegetation, thanks to the rain mentioned in the song's title. The rainfall along the Hämäkua Coast, in fact, averages 84 inches, but in some places is as high as 140 inches a year. There are pali, or high cliffs and many waterfalls. Akaka Falls, which is 400 feet high, is the best known of these.

As I told in an earlier Fun Fact, one of the several parallels between the life of Kamehameha and the life of Jesus was that the ruler in Hawai'i at the time of Kamehameha's birth somehow knew of the baby's great destiny and ordered baby boys in the region to be slaughtered. Kamehameha was taken into hiding into the Waipio Valley along the coastline.

The ancient forests were once cleared to grow sugar cane, but the last sugar cane plantation shut down in 1994. Now the land is cultivated by small farmers growing traditional crops, such as taro.

The other place name, Opae'ula, is on the west coast of Hawai'i, just south of Kona. Kona was the seat of Kamehameha's power once he became a king. Opae'ula is actually a 12-acre pond that was an ancient fish pond. The word opae'ula means red shrimp. There are still plenty of the little buggers living in the water there. Now Opae'ula is a bird sanctuary. The birds find the little shrimp quite tasty. I found several YouTube videos showing the shrimp swimming in tanks. There's even a web site about them that's called Who knows? Maybe Hawaiian red shrimp are catching on and someday will be a greater sensation than sea monkeys.

No comments: