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Wahi A Kahiko: Place names as vehicles of ancestral memory

Katrina-Ann R. Kapā’anaokalāokeola Nākoa Oliveira


Hawai‘i is the most isolated landmass in the world and thus ancient Native Hawaiians relied on the local resources of the land, sea and sky for their sustenance. Their dependence on nature fostered a close relationship with the environment, so much so that according to Hawaiian history, the land was considered to be the kaikua‘ana (older sibling) of the Indigenous people of Hawai‘i (Kame‘eleihiwa, 1992, p. 25). This intimate relationship with the environment is still evident in the names that are bestowed on places. Almost every stretch of land, from entire islands to home lots, was named; every place considered to be significant to traditional Hawaiians was honoured with its own name.

This paper explores the cultural politics of place names in Hawai‘i by revealing the close relationship that the traditional Indigenous people of Hawai‘i generally enjoyed with the land, and by acknowledging the power of Hawaiian place names and “mapping”practices to narrate history, encode meaning and inscribe the landscape. It then addresses the linguistic and toponymic changes imposed upon the landscape as a result of the occupation and colonization of the Hawaiian Islands. Finally, this paper strongly advocates for preserving and restoring Hawaiian place names.


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Print ISSN 1177-1801 Online ISSN 1174-1740