The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Halawa Valley Before the H-3

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at October 1981.


1981 Halawa 1 V



As the state gets ready for the controversial H-3, HONOLULU takes what it calls a possible final look at untouched parts of Halawa Valley.


“North Halawa is not an archaeologist’s dream of ruins, not a historian’s page from the past, a zoologist’s menagerie of the endangered, a botanist’s garden of the exotic. North Halawa is not a Moanalua nor a Manoa. And so, to the state of Hawaii, the valley is an ideal place to run its future lanes of concrete ribbon called H-3. Such use of this nearly forgotten valley shouldn’t spawn committees to save, bumper stickers, pickets and court injunctions. The new highway, which may cost as much as $1 billion, will tunnel through the Koolaus from the Windward Side, slice down narrow North Halawa and tie into the granny knot of freeway lanes, ramps and overpasses near Aloha Stadium.


“In the days before Western explorers, missionaries and planters, Hawaiians harvested tall pili grass on the flatlands of the valley’s mouth. The pili provided the thatching for people’s simple homes. Farther back in the valley, other Hawaiians planted taro in small patches terraced by rock walls. Some still grows there as do other evidences of man’s cultivation: banana, mango, yam, ‘ape, hau, kukui, ti and mamaki. This last plant was used to make tapa.


SEE ALSO: O‘ahu in 1957: The Day the Pali Highway Opened


“By the middle of the 19th century, cattle were roaming up the narrow trails from the lower valley below. Rusting sections of wire and a few rotting wooden posts are all that remain of cattle fences. From the turn of the century until the 1960s, Honolulu Sugar Co.’s cane fields spread out across the flat, wide mouth of the lower valley where the pili once grew. The sugar even reached part way back between the valley walls. Sluice gates, irrigation ditches and mortared rock walls are reminders of the company’s efforts to control the waters of North Halawa’s stream. Deep in the valley the sugar company planted eucalyptus, globulus and ironwood as part of an ambitious reforestation project. Some trees remain today, stretching high above the valley floor. Also deep in Halawa are the nearly hidden vestiges of an agricultural enterprise that made the valley notorious: ‘awa.


“Since ‘awa propagates only when planted by man, North Halawa’s groves are not here by chance. These are the last of Halawa’s once famous plants. Says UH botanist Evangeline Funk, who recently found the valley’s remaining ʻawa: ‘It was one of the most impressive stands I’ve ever seen. There were bowers of ʻawa. One stem measured over 18 feet long.’”


How wrong some of those words were. The construction of the H-3 Freeway in Halawa Valley certainly did spark committees; sit-ins that ended in arrests; court lawsuits, including one involving the U.S. Supreme Court; and disagreements between experts that still persist over what was lost in that valley. And at $1.3 billion, the freeway was one of the most expensive public works projects in the state. In 2015, Mark Hamasaki and Kapulani Landgraf released a book, Ē Luku Wale Ē, filled with their photographs of the devastating effect construction had on the landscape.



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