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Hawaiian terms for land areas by elevation


Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau in his book, The Works of the People of Old, discusses the terms for land divisions according to elevation.

The Mountains

Heights in the center or toward the side of a land, or island, are called mauna, mountains, or kuahiwi, "ridge backs."

The highest places, which cover over with fog and have great "flanks" behind and in front (kaha kua, kaha alo) — like Mauna Kea — are called mauna; the place below the summit, above where the forests grow is the kuahiwi. The peak of the mountain is called pane po‘o or piko.

Mountain Zones
Here are some names for [the zones of] the mountains — the mauna or kuahiwi. A mountain is called a kuahiwi, but mauna is the overall term for the whole mountain, and there are many names applied to one, according to its delineations (‘ano).

The part directly in back and in front of the summit proper is called the kuamauna, mountaintop; below the kuamauna is the kuahea, and makai of the kuahea is the kuahiwi proper. This is where small trees begin to grow. It is the wao nahele.

Makai of this region the trees are tall, and this is the wao lipo.

Makai of the wao lipo is the wao ‘eiwa, and makai of that the wao ma‘ukele.

Makai of the wao ma‘ukele is the wao akua, and makai of there the wao kanaka, the area that people cultivate.

Makai of the wao kanaka is the ‘ama‘u, fern belt, and makai of the ‘ama‘u the ‘apa‘a, grasslands.

A solitary group of trees is a moku la‘au (a "stand" of trees) or an ulu la‘au, grove. Thickets that extend to the kuahiwi are ulunahele, wild growth. And area where koa trees suitable for canoes (koa wa‘a) grow is a wao koa and mauka of there is a wao la‘au, timber land. These are dry forest growths from the ‘apa‘a up to the kuahiwi. The places that are "spongy" (naele) are found in the wao ma‘ukele, the wet forest.

Makai of the ‘apa‘a are the pahe‘e [pili grass] and ‘ilima growth and makai of them the kula, open country, and the ‘apoho hollows near to the habitations of men. Then comes the kahakai, coast, the kahaone, sandy beach, and the kalawa, the curve of the seashore — right down to the ‘ae kai, the water's edge.

That is the way ka po‘e kahiko named the land from mountain peak to sea.

The Works of the People of Old
Samuel Manaiakalani Kamakau


A another list of elevation terms from
Ka Hoku o Hawai‘i
September 21, 1916

Ke Kuahiwi—the mountain
Ke kualono—the region near the mountain top
Ke Kuamauna—the mountain top
Ke ku(a)hea—the misty ridge
Ke kaolo—the trail ways
Ka wao—the inland regions
Ka wao—ma‘u kele
Ka wao kele—the rain belt regions
Ka wao akua—the distant area inhabited by gods
Ka wao la‘au—the forested region
Ka wao kanaka—the region of people below
Ka ‘ama‘u—the place of ‘ama‘u (fern upland agricultural zone)
Ka ‘apa‘a—the arid plains
Ka pahe‘e—the place of wet land planting
Ke Kula—the plain or open country
Ka ‘ilima—the place of ‘ilima growth [a seaward, and generally arid section of the kula]
Ka pu‘eone—the dunes
Ka po‘ina nalu—the place covered by waves [shoreline]
Ke kai kohola—the shallow sea [shoreline reef flats]
Ke kai ‘ele—the dark sea
Ke kai uli—the deep blue-green sea
Ke kai pualena—the yellow [sun reflecting sea on the horizon]
Kai popolohua-a-Kane-i-Tahiti—the deep purplish black sea of Kane at Tahiti

 

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