Stretching along the Koʻolau mountains in Kāneʻohe, Oʻahu, Haʻiku Valley still bares all its beauty. Although untouched by most of today’s modern civilization, the Haʻiku Valley of today is matted with forested overgrowth, littered with trash and uncared for by today’s society. For decades, many have wanted to develop this valley… a few have succeeded. But, this came with a cost. Although the valley may seem “rural” and “wild”, it is changing every year.
The earliest descriptions of this valley come from Hawaiian historians and others who subsequently learned of the important resources to be found here. In ancient times before Western contact, the valley was filled with native species of plants and animals. It was especially known for a number of medicinal plants that were used by kahuna laʻau lapaʻau, the healers of these islands. The valley was known to Hawaiians from throughout the Kāneʻohe bay region as a kind of “hospital”, where people went to consult with kahuna laʻau lapaʻau or to gather plants for medicine
Hawaiian families settled in the valley centuries ago, many related to the kahuna and to chiefs from the area. It was once home to an active flourishing Hawaiian community and many heiau (temples), where ʻakua (gods) were worshipped for agriculture and rain and where aliʻi (chiefs) lived and worshipped.
Archaeological findings in the valley suggest Hawaiians built several large heiau, established farms, buried their dead, and followed a cultural community structure, with everything they needed to survive right there in the valley. The Hawaiian value of mālama ʻāina (caring for the land) fostered a belief that if you care for the land, the ‘akua will care for you. Living by this and other cultural values, Hawaiians believed that their spirits would remain there to watch over the area after death.
With the coming of Westerners to the islands in the late 1700s, Haʻiku Valley was destined to feel the impact of change. Disease decimated thousands of natives during the first few decades after contact and again later in the 19th century. Undoubtedly, disease also touched the families of Haʻiku Valley. However, life in the valley remained relatively stable throughout the 1800-1900s, until the period just before the second world war.
As America anticipated the start of World War II and its potential impact on the islands, military personnel
began planning emergency measures to prepare for the war. One of these was a top-secret radio communications facility in the Valley, later to be known as the OMEGA Station.
The Navy built the radio communications facility which severely affected the natural and cultural resources in the valley, resulting in the relocation of Hawaiian families to lands outside the area.
Thick copper cables were strung overhead from the station to the tops of the pali
Koʻolau; a second set of cables was buried several feet below the valley floor – the resulting
mesh of copper helping to amplify signals sent from Haʻiku to aircraft and ships at sea during the war. Because of Haʻiku’s high ridges and amphitheater shape, it created a perfect antennae for communications. The Haʻiku stairs or “Stairway to Heaven” was among the structures built to maintain the large antenna system.
In 1952, the Navy transferred the station to the Coast Guard, which began operating OMEGA until it was decommissioned in the late 1990s. One of of seven in the world, OMEGA
became part of a global communications network which enabled aircraft and ships at sea to establish coordinates.
When the military first moved in to the valley, they built their facilities directly through several heiau and sacred sites. Yet Haʻiku did benefit as they maintained the valley and kept it clear from many invasive plants. This continued until 1997when OMEGA closed to allow for the completion of the H-3 interstate.
However, with the construction of the H-3, the entire landscape of Haʻiku Valley became the focus of decades of struggle over the impact from the freeway on historic sites, burials and other cultural places in the valley.
Planning for the freeway began in the mid 1960s, when Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation first proposed it to achieve two objectives: connect two military bases (Pearl Harbor to the Marine Corps Base at Mokapu); and provide construction jobs for Hawaiʻi’s workers. It was a combination of political pork barrel politics and addressing what then was considered a “legitimate” Defense necessity.
The proposed freeway was not without its own challenges and obstacles through the history of its planning and construction. During the 1970s, an environmental impact study (EIS) was required by the federal government to find out how the highway would affect the areas through which it would run. What became most controversial was which valley would the highway go through on the Honolulu side of the Koʻolau. The state proposed going through Moanalua Valley, which raised a lot of opposition from people concerned with cultural sites in that valley. At the same time, Windward residents became concerned about the potential effects of the freeway on their community, especially development that could come with the building of this new road.
After a prolonged battle over Moanalua Valley, the state then proposed several alternative routes through Nuʻuanu, Kalihi, South and North Halawa Valleys. Ultimately, it was decided that they would build the road through North Halawa Valley, tunneling through the mountains and going through Haʻiku Valley.
“Our community was greatly concerned, because we knew that with a new trans-Koʻolau thoroughfare would come more development, growth that could change Windward Oʻahu forever,” says Mahealani Cypher of the Koʻolau Foundation, who has fought the highway for over 30 years. “We were not so much against the road, but worried about the social, environmental and cultural impacts that would come.”
She had read all 13 volumns of the H-3 EIS as well as the Eckbo, Dean, Austin and Williams (EDAW) study which identified social impacts that H-3 would have on the Windward side. As news editor of the Sun Press community paper during the 1970s, she regularly wrote stories and covered meetings and hearings where people would talk about their fears about growth caused by H-3.
Controversy erupted over the freeway’s routing past Hoʻomaluhia Park and the Pali Golf Course, and the group “Stop H-3” filed a lawsuit against the highway, and the federal court ruled in their favor. The highway was stopped. Hawaii’s congressional delegation pushed for an exemption from the federal law which required projects to avoid public parks, and won a congressional exemption for H-3 from the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
The exemption did not include effects on historic sites, the National Historic Preservation Act, which would require archaeological studies in the Luluku area of Kāneʻohe, Kukuiokane, Haʻiku Valley and Halawa. In the 10 mile corridor planned for the highway, between Halawa and the Marine Base at Mokapu, Bishop Museum archaeologists’ initial reports indicated that there were no sites of any historic or cultural significance within the entire route.
“Native Hawaiians voiced their concern about the impact of the highway on the Luluku banana patch area, where Hawaiians had been farming taro since the 5th century, and about the large heiau, Kukuiokane, located near Luluku, and also the hundreds of sites believed to be in Halawa Valley and at Haiku,” Cypher says. The state’s hired archaeological consultants from Bishop Museum, however, proceeded with their work after the Office of Hawaiian Affairs signed a memorandum of agreement with the DOT to allow construction to continue – with the bulldozers immediately following teams of archeologists throughout the project. If important sites were found, they were usually bulldozed.
The largest controversy over historic sites, however, occurred in Halawa Valley, where Hawaiians claimed the highway would cross a major heiau site known as the Hale o Papa and Luakini. At Haʻiku Valley, archaeologists surveyed a narrow area along the route, never speaking with the Hawaiian families who know a lot about the historic sites in the valley.
Mitigation for the impact of H-3 on these four major cultural areas, which should have been completed before the highway was built, is still on-going, 15 years after the H-3 was opened to traffic.
H-3 is a highway that was meant to connect Central Oahu with the windward side, starting at one military base and ending at another. It took 30 years just to get construction started due to protests because the highway was to be built over several sacred sites in Windward Oʻahu and Halawa valley. Its construction is what caused much of the damage to the valley. Road builders had to damage some of the sites to create drainage and build pillars for the highway, sometimes going through many heiau. With the closing of the OMEGA station 15 years ago, more damage has occurred due to vandals, etc. who come into the valley and mark up the buildings or vandalize the historic structures.
Today, the Koʻolau Foundation is working with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and community stakeholders to establish a cultural preserve in the valley. They are hoping to convince the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which owns the valley, to allow this preserve to happen.
Today the valley is home to Samuel K. Kamakau charter school, Hui Ku Maoli Ola Native Plant Nursery, Papa Hana Kuaola, vandals, and others. But Haʻiku is about to get a makeover for the better, with more notice, groups helping, and funding, Haʻiku valley’s voice has not gone unheard.