Where You Live: Manoa

Published On: May 08 2014 08:12:46 PM HST

Manoa Valley is home to the University of Hawaii, a number of successful businesses and nearly 45,000 residents. It's often busy and bustling, but it's always connected to its past.

The story of Manoa Valley starts in the back with Manoa Falls, one of many waterfalls flowing down Hawaii's mountains.

Click here to watch Yunji de Nies' report.

Back there everything grows and life flourishes.

Even those that live on Oahu and have never set foot in the Manoa Valley probably drank some of its water. That's because the area collects a lot of moisture as it makes its journey into an aquifer.

"It goes down really slowly. It's like a giant sponge and it holds that water that is available for use, for drinking water, for bathing, for everything," said Jill Laughlin of the Lyon Arboretum .

The rain in Manoa really adds up around here. At the head of the valley, the average rainfall is 160 inches a year, but as you head Makai it gets a lot dryer. About six miles away at the mouth of the valley, the average rainfall drops to just 35 inches.

It was that water that first drew people to the valley. King Kamehameha the Great was said to have fed his armies with sweet potatoes grown on these hill sides. For decades, this was a place for agriculture with plenty of taro and rice to feed the city of Honolulu and then came the dairy farms.

Manoa, the name itself, means wide or vast. It is part of the Waikiki Ahupua'a. Long before the UH and the Ala Wai canal, there was the Moana Hotel.

She says Manoa has the highest concentration of designated historic homes on the island. More than a hundred structures and each have a story. Most were built at the turn of the century when trolleys ran through the streets.

"It's art in our neighborhoods," said Linda LeGrande, a Manoa historical walking tour leader.

Even Manoa's roads are lined with history, literally. The curbs aren't ordinary. They have uneven edges because they were built using blue basalt lava rock cut from the Mo'iliili quarry.

"So when we do our walks, we feature our curbing stones and we call it curb appeal," said LeGrande.

But it's the stream running through the valley that ties it together.

"To me, it's a metaphor for the valley because it carved out the valley thousands of years ago," said George Arizumi, a lifelong Manoa resident.

Arizumi is a third generation Manoa resident. He says as a kid in the 1950s there was plenty of freedom and opportunities for mischief.

"Go around the neighborhood and steal mangos from the trees. The Manoa Graveyard was right there. There were plenty of mango trees. We used to very naughtily step on the headstones so we could reach higher and get the lower mangos," said Arizumi.

The stream – with clean water and plenty of fish – provided endless fun.

"That's what we did. We just played in the stream, played in the mountains. There was no shopping centers, no malls to hang out," said Arizumi.
That's why he leads the stream clean up several times a year. Arizumi aims to preserve the special resource that so many simply drive by.

This is a bustling community that still values taking an extra beat with a place to pause and remember the dead at the state's largest Chinese cemetery.

Even the coffee can take a little longer at Morning Glass; one of the newer businesses. It takes a full five minutes to get a cup of those beans all individually roasted. That pace is just fine because fast just isn't the Manoa way.

"Really only slower in the way life should be slower," said Eric Rose of Morning Glass. "People are very sharp, very educated, very business savvy….But people are willing to take a moment and enjoy the mountains outside, the rain in the air and enjoy the time to talk to friends and acquaintances, which I think is something that is lost in a lot of other parts of the world."

What's not lost here is the connection to the land.

"This valley is alive. It's teeming with all kinds of magic things and lore," said Hawaiian studies professor Kimo Alama Keaulana.

Keaulana says the legends here are plentiful and one of the most visual, including the sleeping giant atop the ridgeline.

"He's lying down. If you can see his forehead, his nose and his chin and his chest and feet go all the way down to Dole Street, by where Kuakalani is today," said Keaulana.

That giant was a chief said to have murdered a princess of the valley and then lied about his actions. That placement is his punishment.

"So Kaui lies there to face his heavenly court as a punishment forever; that teaches you don't lie," said Keaulana. "I think in old Hawaii that must have been a good lesson for all the kids growing up."

That ancient lesson makes for modern day protection as a recognized cultural site. Nothing can be built along the ridgeline, leaving the Giant to sleep forever.

A child of this valley, Keaulana composed a song about the rain. In translation it talks about Manoa being beautiful adorned in the rain; a sentiment anyone who lives here surely shares.

There are so many legends of the Valley and so many special historical places.


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