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Cultural Significance of Water in Hawai'i: World Water Day

The significance of water for Hawaiians runs much deeper than how the western world views it today. Fresh water was more than a means to an end; it shaped social divisions, played an important role in the stories of procreation, and was the currency of societal wealth.

Hawaiians understood that “wai” (fresh water) was a sacred element on which the health of their community relied on. They treated it with reverence. Protecting precious streams and practicing conservation, ancient people in Hawaii conducted their lives then as now according to “Kānāwai,” a rule of law that dictates the “equal sharing of water.”

World Water Day, which takes place on March 22nd, is modern man’s way of bringing back awareness to an issue that has lost its societal value. World Water Day invites you to share Hawaiians’ appreciation for water.

As Cliff Kapono, part of Waiākea's ʻohana, explains; “Like many Hawaiians, developing a reverence for fresh water comes at an early age. We live in one of the most isolated places on Earth in the middle of the largest body of salt water. The value of wai often needs no added emphasis. My grandfather's family comes from a line of people who value the astonishing waters of North Maui. Belonging to this lineage allows me to never forget my family's unique connection to such a precious resource.”

Water and Hawaiian Culture

Hawaiian culture shows a deep respect for Mother Nature and all living things. From the earliest days, Hawaiians had a belief system that relied on the interconnectedness of mankind and the natural elements. Streams from the mountains dictated the native communities’ land divisions, otherwise


called "ahupua`a," allowing each division equal access to fresh water streams and terrain (from mountain forest, to flat plains and sea) for agriculture.

“In the old days, although there were land divisions, there was no ownership of these lands”, Cliff states. “This changed in the mid 1800s and as a result many were displaced from the land. This has since had significant consequences on the overall structure of Hawai'i and overall social status. Many Hawaiians may not agree with land ownership, but I believe many do appreciate land division. It allows visitors, Hawaiian or not, to respect the land and people in a way that promotes social sustainability. I grew up just slightly north of Hilo, close to a beach called Honoli'i. The streams near there are called Kauhiula, Alealea, Maili, and Honoli'i. Whenever I would surf another wave, I made sure to shake everyone's hand in the line up and say where I was from. Realizing someone was different wasn't necessarily a bad thing growing up. It facilitated order and was often done in a respectful way.”

Native Hawaiians protected their water sources, taking care not to pollute their streams and only take as much as they needed -- they understood the delicate balance of the ecosystem on fresh water sources, recognized their dependence on crops that “wai” enabled them to grow (Taro, a tuber that has sustained them for a thousand years), and ensured that those downstream from them also had enough water.

The Story of Kalo

Maddison McKibben, Waiākea ʻohana and Oahu native, tells the story of taro: “Taro or also known as Kalo, is an extremely sacred plant to the Hawaiian people because they see taro as their ancestor. Wakea, the God of the heavens, and Ho’ohokulani, the daughter of Papa, the earth mother, bore a son prematurely and unfortunately died. From his grave a plant grew which they named Haloanakalaukapalili, the first Kalo plant. Ho’ohokulani, the mother, became pregnant yet again to a baby boy. He was given the name Haloa to honor of his deceased brother. According to the legend, Haloa was the first Native Hawaiian, so in essence the Hawaiian people are brothers and sisters of the Kalo plant.”

Observing World Water Day

World Water Day honors efforts around the world to protect water resources. Just as native Hawaiians have been practicing for years, it recognizes the importance of clean water and the need for its sustainable management.

Honoring an Ethical Approach to Water in Hawai'i

Our core belief at Waiākea Hawaiian Volcanic Water is that everyone deserves access to clean drinking water. For every liter of Waiākea sold, 1 week's supply of clean water is donated to communities around the world who lack access to sanitary water supplies. Our leadership allows us to help raise thousands of dollars for worthwhile charities and give back to our local, and greater, community.




Photo by Willie Kessel


This entry was posted in Hawaiian culture, Live Aloha, live aloha, Live Ethically, world water day, cultural significance of water in hawaii, Waiakea