Where You Live: Kaneohe

By Brenton Awa
Published On: Feb 06 2014 09:56:00 PM HST

Riches and hidden treasures are no secret for Kaneohe residents. People on the Windward side value their beautiful land and what the east side of the island has to offer. KITV4's Brenton Awa takes you to Kaneohe.

KANEOHE, Hawaii -

Kaneohe is home to more than 34,000 people and spans over 4,000 acres of land, from ancient farmlands and fishponds to a modern day shopping mall. Everyone's heard of it, but how much do you really know about Kaneohe, and what it took to become the town it is today.

Nourished by the Koolau range lies Kaneohe. One of 11 ahupua'a in the Koolaupoko region, spanning Kualoa to Makapu'u. Once considered the bread basket in times of drought on the Leeward side, with food hauled around or carried over the mountain. The wai (water) still saturates the aina here.

"It's mana is so rich, in the soil, in the water, in the bay, in the plants that grow here, in the people," said Mahealani Cypher, Ko'olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club.

A prized treasure that caught the eye of Kamehameha the Great.

"Looking down on Kaneohe from the Nuuanu Pali, he would have seen flowing streams from the mountain to the ocean. He would have seen farm lands that stretch from the base of the land all the way to the shore and he would have seen dozens of fishponds in the bay," said Cypher.

Today, the mailing address of Kaneohe includes ahupua'a He'eia, Kahalu'u, Waihe'e, Waiahole and several others which might make it confusing to some to determine where you live. That depends on whether you're following the hawaiian land division or the modern zip-code, and then there's the division of the town itself.

Today, Kaneohe is crowded with homes and shops but back in 1879 there were no paved roads, just a mill and farmland. That was much of Kaneohe back then. The Kapunahala neighborhood was once occupied by Lo'i before being converted to rice fields. Just up the road, the Halekou neighborhood was filled with cattle dairies, and just down the hill Keapuka is now home to the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Gardens. Nearby, the Kaneohe-Kailua dam was built after the floods in the 1960's ripped through the subdivision.

"The rain was in the mountain, not in the town and they lost a few ladies," said Alice Hewitt, Ko'olaupoko Hawaiian Civic Club.

Kaneohe is also steeped in Hawaiian history. Homes in Kawa'ewa'e were built just below an ancient Hei'au believed to date back to the 12th century. In Waikalua, what is now the Kaneohe Beach Park was once the site where four chiefs made peace and spared a bloody war in the bay from taking place.

Historically, Kaneohe was a very poor town. To help, the Yim family opened their first market right next to what is now Ben Parker Elementary and currently, the Kaneohe Medical Building . The Yims own eight buildings today, but times weren't always this comfortable.

"We bought a ton and a half truck to haul all these things on the dangerous Pali tunnel," said Evans Yim.

Yim says he's lucky to be alive after all those trips over the "gateway" to and from his town. Now, He gets to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

"Can't believe it, can't believe it. But we did this all for the people of Kaneohe," said Yim.

Perhaps one of the most memorable places in Kaneohe sat at the corner of Lilipuna road and Kamehameha highway back in the 1960's. Honeys café is said to have been the "go to" watering hole and also where Don Ho's career got its start after he took over the family business.

As Kaneohe grew, so did it's technology. This song titled "Kaneohe hula" was composed just after the town turned it's lights on, getting electricity for the first time. Now many say this town is thriving.

"Everything about Kaneohe is special, you have everything you want here, you got the ocean, you've got the mountain, you've got the land to plant, you got the homes, which is expensive nowadays but," said Hewitt.

But even as things change, others still remain. At Paepae 'O He'eia, an ancient fishpond, volunteers are rebuilding the past to serve the future.

"For us it's really a mission of getting the people that live here more connected, more connected with their surroundings and their environment and their ecosystem so that we can make the most informed decisions for our future," said Hi'ilei Kawelo, Executive Director at Paepae 'O He'eia.

That was a glimpse of Kaneohe, where many agree the lights still shine bright. Preserving it's past, savoring the present and preparing for generations to come.

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