History and resilience experienced through Kalihi Ahupua‘a Bike Ride
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.
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.