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Updated: May 5, 2021

Aloha mai Kākou! This past week was earth day, a day where people recognize the importance of this land we live on and how we need to be doing our part to make this a better place. Here in Hawaii we have a saying “Mālama Ka ‘Āina” which means to respect the land. The Hawaiians believed that if you took care of the land, the land would in turn take care of you. From food to canoes there was no shortage of what the land provided for the Hawaiians, and our islands are full of rich history and mo’olelo (moh-oh lel-oh) or legends that go along with them. One such plant was called the Naupaka.

Naupaka kahakai CC Forest Starr & Kim Starr

Look to the Sandy Shores

Chances are that if you have been to the beaches in Hawaii, then you have probably seen small trees that grow only half a flower. Those are our Naupaka, they are commonly found down by the beaches as the waxy substance on their leaves allows them to be resistant to salt. In fact many locals know that if you take the leaves, crush it up, and rub the shredded leaves in your swimming goggles they won't fog up while you are in the ocean! The Naupaka plants in the early Hawaiian days also held many other practical uses, the plant grew edible fruits that have proven to be helpful in times of famine. The bark was also used to help as pegs for the canoes.

Interestingly enough there are 2 variations of the naupaka plant. One that grows up in the mountains (Naupaka Kuahiwi) and one that grows down along the beaches (Naupaka Kahakai). Thanks to the buoyancy and salt resistance the Naupaka Kahakai can traverse the ocean finding new places to sprout up along the Polynesian islands. However unlike its counterpart the Naupaka Kuahiwi can only be found along the mountains of the Hawaiian islands; though most commonly found on the islands of Kaua’i and O’ahu.

Naupaka Kuahiwi (currently endemic) CC Forest Starr & Kim Starr

Naupaka and Kaui

Now the legend of the Naupaka flower is a story of love enduring and love lost. As small keiki we would sit on the beach and our Kupuna (kuu-puu nah) would tell us the story. There have been many interpretations over the years, but this one is a favorite.

There was once a beautiful princess named Naupaka who lived up in the mountains, her beauty was as if the stars themself came to rest upon her. Upon her head rested a beautiful haku lei full of radiant flowers and beautiful aroma. She was a very kindhearted person and beloved by all the people, something that made her sister, the goddess Pele, very jealous.

One day as the princess was walking through the village she was met by a handsome fisherman by the name of Kaui. The young fisherman and the princess began to spend time together and fell deeply in love with one another. Naupaka took a flower from her Haku and split it in half giving a piece to Kaui, immortalizing their love. Some time later Naupaka went to her sister Pele to gain permission to marry Kaui. Pele agreed to go down into the town and see the young man for herself, so the next day Pele and the princess made their way down to the beach and as she saw Kaui for herself she decided that he was to be hers. She approached Kaui and she demanded he return home with her and live out his days as her husband.

He replied “I’m sorry goddess Pele but I cannot do as you ask. I am in love with the princess Naupaka, and I wish to marry her.”

As Pele heard this she was enraged and hurled a ball of lava at Kaui, killing him. Broken-hearted to see her loved one killed Naupaka fled up towards the mountainsut. But Pele’s rage had not yet subsided she chased after her sister killing the princess as well, with her rage quelled she went back to her home. Seeing the lifeless bodies of Kaui and Naupaka the more gracious gods took pity and transformed them into the Naupaka plants, each blooming the half of the flower they held. Some say that if you pair the Mountain Naupaka with the beach Naupaka the two lovers can be reunited.

Hawaii has so much history and mo’olelo tied into the land that we live on, and we need to do our part in helping take care of it. Being conscious of our impact on this planet as well as doing our part in protecting the beautiful places we live in is a small way we can work to a better aina. So on your next walk/stroll maybe pick up some trash, shop with the planet in mind, or up cycle! And hey, you might just meet your Naupaka half while you’re at it.

Until next time, Ke Akua Pu!

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