History and resilience experienced through Kalihi Ahupua‘a Bike Ride

Place Kalihi
Text Radiant Marie Cordero
Art Philip Racsa

Nerves, excitement and high energy fill the damp environment at Ho‘oulu ‘Āina at the top of Kalihi Valley. It's a bright day in April, 2017, and Kalihi residents, cycling enthusiasts and families gather for a Saturday filled with riding and education. The Kalihi Valley Instructional Bike Exchange (KVIBE)—a program of Kokua Kalihi Valley (KKV)—is about to launch the inaugural Kalihi Ahupua‘a Bike Ride.

Unlike other community bike rides, the Kalihi Ahupua‘a Bike Ride is the first of its kind to focus on a singular ahupua‘a, from mauka to makai. The ride brings riders through a historical and cultural ride through multiple “story stops” at landmarks in the Kalihi ahupua‘a where riders learn about and experience the community in-depth.

Before departing Ho‘oulu ‘Āina, riders join hands and form a circle as the history of the valley is shared in an inspiring speech by Kanoa O'Connor.

Does anyone know what the word "Kalihi"means? It means "The Edge." Some people think that means Kalihi is the edge between town and country. There are a lot of ideas about what Kalihi means. But the real old-timers call this place by a different name. The really, really old name of this ahupua‘a, of this valley, is actually Kalihilihiolaumiha. And that translates to "the Eyelashes of Laumiha." And this valley was famous for gods and strong beings. And one of those beings was Laumiha and her name actually means "Intense Silence." I recently came across this room that was constructed in Germany. The acoustics in this room are such that, if you go inside, it makes you uncomfortable because it’s so quiet in there that you can’t hear anything except your blood flowing through your body. I like to think that’s what Laumiha might mean: so intensely silent that it makes you feel uncomfortable.

We like to share the old name of this valley because that way the name lives on. A lot of the old names for places in Hawai‘i were almost lost. Kalihilihiolaumiha is the old name of this ahupua‘a, and that’s the ahupua‘a that we’re going to celebrate today as we do our bike ride together. This is a place that we call home, or a place that we work, or a place that we grew up, or a place that our grandparents or parents grew up. This is a place that means a lot to a lot of people.

See the ridgelines coming down into the valley and forming smaller valleys? Back in the old days, our kūpuna had names for all of these smaller valleys contained within the larger valley. For generations, the old timers called the land that we are standing on right now ‘Ōuaua. If you break that down into smaller words, it’s ‘ō-ua-ua and, in Hawaiian, "ua" means "rain." So this place is called "o-rainy-rain," and if you guys come up here with any frequency, you know that it rains up here almost every day. So we’re very grateful that ‘Ōuaua is actually blessing us with a little sunshine right now to start our bike ride off.

Taken together, the word ‘ōuaua also means to have tough or thick skin, and so we like to say the people of old must have named this place ‘Ōuaua because they had to have tough skin to deal with all the rain here without modern clothing like rain jackets. We also like to think that it speaks to greater Kalihi as well. A lot of people that come from here have that tough, thick skin; it’s a calling card of the Kalihi people.

We like to share the names of these places so that we have a framework to start from here today. The land is the oldest member of our circle here. This bike ride is celebrating environmental sustainability, the beautiful community that we have here, and the land itself. A lot of times, the land gets forgotten. So we’re very thankful that we actually have an opportunity to honor the land through this bike ride. The land is our foundation, and the stories you are going to be hearing are all connected to this valley and the beautiful community we have here.

Kanoa O'Connor

It’s more than just the valley’s past that gets shared. Participants count off into groups and, just as the history of Kalihi Valley is told, individuals each share who they are, where they come from, what emotion they are experiencing at that point in time, and which person in their lives they are bringing with them in mind and spirit during the ride.

The initial part of the ride down takes us from deep in the wet green of the valley to the KVIBE facility on Kamehameha IV Road at the School Street edge of the industrial warehouse district that occupies the Kalihi ahupua‘a’s bottom half. As the riders begin their descent, the steep decline at the back of the valley pushes them to peak speeds.

The KVIBE facility serves as a stop for riders to eat some popcorn and refuel with water. From here, the environment quickly changes from the lush valley to the drier lower Kalihi Valley. This particular weather pattern is depicted in one of the three murals the riders stop at along the ride: community-generated artwork created in collaboration with the 808 Urban art collective to depict the story of Kalihi, as told by its residents. The mural is located at KVIBE, facing Kamehameha IV Road.

Ua-Po‘o-lipilipi, or Ua-Ko‘i-lipilipi, is the name for the rain that occurs in Kalihi, while Makani Haupe‘epe‘e o Kalihi is the hide-and-seek wind that flows throughout the Kalihi ahupua‘a. Both are depicted in the mural through the loud, blue droplets fronting the backdrop, which depicts a stream reminiscent of the popular Kalihi Ice Ponds.

Riders enter KVIBE to the distinct sound of popping corn and the smell of butter welcoming each of the participants as they crank their brakes and bring their bikes to a halt. A couple of paint cans are opened, allowing the aroma to mix in the air. Participants are invited to dip their hands into any of the cans and “place their mark” on KVIBE’s mural.

With the sun higher up in the sky, participants continue the ride with a turn onto School Street and Gulick Avenue leading to Mokauea and Hau Streets where they take in the smells of restaurants, mom and pop stores, older gentlemen smoking cigarettes on the sidewalks, sawdust, chemicals wafting from industrial warehouses and whiffs of spam or longganisa permeating through the screen doors of homes.

These sounds and smells, married in the air, are what define the neighborhood of Kalihi Kai among the imagination of locals.

The group of 130 or so riders gathers at the parking lot of Eki Cyclery on Dillingham Boulevard for another stop. Here, the Kalihi Kai neighborhood is louder, with more neighbors walking to and from home. A block from the shop, a farmers’ market crowd grows by the minute.

A family-owned business for more than 100 years, Eki Cyclery’s focus is on the thousands of families it has served throughout the years. The cycle shop’s beginnings were on King and Alapa‘i streets in the Downtown area, but the business’ soul is all Kalihi. Fifty percent or more of Kalihi residents use other modes of transportation than cars, and Eki Cyclery’s presence in Kalihi has been instrumental to the growing population’s unusual, enviable independence from automobiles.

An hour and a half into the ride, the cyclists move on to Kapālama Canal, nearest to City Square Shopping Center, for the next story stop.

The mo‘olelo (story) of Kapālama Canal and its importance to the Kalihi ahupua‘a is told through the history of the area, which was traditionally known as Niuhelewai, which means coconut (going) in water. Niuehelewai was known for its ideal freshwater springs, where wetland plants like kalo thrived with fresh water from both the Niuhelewai and Kapālama streams. At the story stop at Kapālama Canal, riders learn that the canal connected and drained the springs that led to the Pacific Ocean via Honolulu Harbor.

The lo‘i kalo that thrived here was later reduced to just one area, Lo‘i Kalo Park, which is hidden by restaurants, stores and apartment complexes today. Fortunately, through the efforts of organizations, neighbors and dedicated community members, Lo‘i Kalo Park is continuously being restored and is now used as a place for Hawaiian educational purposes, in-tune with the work being done at KVIBE and through the Kalihi Ahupua‘a Bike Ride.

Beaming smiles break out across the crowd of cyclists as the Honolulu Police Department (HPD)’s District 5 Community Policing team signals that the ride will continue makai to Sand Island, the longest leg on the course.

Riders pass through traffic, stopped by HPD at every single major intersection from Kapālama Canal to Kalihi Street and Nimitz Highway, to Sand Island Access Road before stopping for the last story stop at Sand Island State Park.

This mo‘olelo explores Sand Island’s various uses during World War II, including its use as an internment camp for Japanese-American citizens. Nowadays, the island hosts a state-run houseless camp called Hale Mauliola. While it’s true that the houseless need shelter, the housing complex functions as a de facto internment camp for those too poor to thrive in Hawai‘i, keeping them out of sight of the tourists whose dollars still drive a large part of our economy. Located within sight of the the former Japanese detention camp, Hale Mauliola is a visual reminder that the historical significance of an area can often repeat itself.

As the guides conclude this mo‘olelo, they recap the importance of understanding, preserving and continuing the storied and rich culture of the Kalihi ahupua‘a. The guides draw attention to the Hōkūle‘a and its sister wa‘a (canoe) Nāmāhoe, which are both docked just a few yards away from the group at the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s Sand Island facility.

Reflecting on the impact that both the Hōkūle‘a’s Worldwide Voyage and the ambitious and successful inaugural Kalihi Ahupua‘a Ride will bring for the community and the state as a whole, the riders make their way to finish the last leg of the course and walk up for refreshments and fellowship at the 2017 Hawai‘i Bike Festival at Sandbox BMX on Sand Island.

The first ever Kalihi Ahupua‘a Bike Ride has taken one of Kalihi residents’ main modes of transportation and transformed it into a means of uniting neighbors and promoting awareness of the deep history of Kalihi. The contrast between the ahupua‘a’s history and its current growth will only help create an active awareness and appreciation for the community in the wake of near-future changes that Kalihi will soon see, including the construction of a major Honolulu Rail stop and ensuing development and gentrification.

Celebrating the culturally and historically rich community and bearing witness to some of the great work going on in Kalihi brings a renewed sense of pride for participants. As Hawai‘i continues to change and experience growing pains in the 21st century, there will be many challenges for the community in Kalihi to overcome. But, through the enthusiasm witnessed among the active and engaged youth at KVIBE, a strong sense of hope has emerged: hope that the future of Kalihi will be in good hands.


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