Hiking Hālawa

This remote Moloka‘i valley is home to hardy Hawaiians, lizard deities, and fish that climb waterfalls.

See the mo‘o (lizard god) peeking out over the waterfall? Mo‘o‘ula Falls is named for this mythological creature that can be benevolent or fierce.
See the mo‘o (lizard god) peeking out over the waterfall? Mo‘o‘ula Falls is named for this mythological creature that can be benevolent or fierce.

When the water receded, it took everything with it: trees, houses, and buildings. The lo‘i were flooded with sand. Many families left the valley then. A second tsunami in 1957 drove the remainders away. Pilipo was away in the Navy by then; he enlisted at age sixteen. But he never forgot his grandfather’s charge to care for the land and his cultural heritage. He returned to Moloka‘i in 1970 and devoted much of his life to educating people about Hawaiian history and arts. He resumed full-time residence in Hālawa in 2008.

Greg Solotario and Julie Bicoy
Greg Solotario with longtime friend Julie Bicoy, director of the Destination Molokai Visitors Bureau.

Pilipo stays behind while Greg leads our group outside for the hike. We thread through the family’s beautifully restored lo‘i and cross the stream into the forest. Greg points out archeological features as we pass them: rock walls delineating house sites and heiau. He scans the forest for signs of wild boar he’ll return to hunt later. The tusks around his neck aren’t mere trophies, he says, but symbols that identify him as belonging to this place. Their curvature mirrors the shape of the valley. The surrounding kukui nuts represent enlightenment. “Wearing them is a reminder to conduct myself with integrity,” he says. It’s clear that he’s stepping into his father’s role as a torchbearer.

We stop amidst a kukui grove for an ethnobotanical demonstration. Greg picks up some kukui nuts and mashes them with a rock to release their fragrant oil. Early Hawaiians burned the oil-rich nuts as candles and applied the gum from raw nuts as an antiseptic. The angular trees are beautiful, with pale green, maple-like leaves. “On moonlit nights,” says Greg, “the dust on the leaves glows.”

We proceed through the patterned shade and I imagine exploring this enchanted terrain by moonlight. Greg interrupts my reverie to point out the hike’s star attraction: a cascading waterfall, visible through the ferns and palm fronds. “Most island maps call this stream by the wrong name,” he says. “It’s not Moa‘ula, which means red chicken. It’s Mo‘o‘ula, red lizard.” Mo‘o are Hawaiian lizard gods — fierce guardians of fresh water — and Moloka‘i is full of stories about these mythic creatures. He points to a huge rock perched over the waterfall. “That doesn’t look like a chicken, does it?” In fact, it resembles a large, crouching lizard surveying his domain.


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