Wahi Pana, Hawai‘i’s Special Places

In traditional indigenous cultures, we find a more focused commitment to preparing the next generations by making sure they understand the history, traditions, and values from which they have blossomed. In addition to genealogy and family traditions, many indigenous cultures like the Hawaiian culture, pay close attention to the specific geographical places their families inhabit. They understand the power of an active and vibrant sense of place in the life of its people.

In Hawaiian culture, “wahi pana” is defined as celebrated, noted, and legendary places, or landmarks of special interest and historical significance. Each of these special places have distinguishing landmarks (mountain peaks, streams, wind, rain, etc.) that are given specific names and are connected to the rich history, chants, stories, and songs that are traditionally passed down from one generation to the next. Hawaiian music, for example, is replete with songs that praise places in our islands with the actual place only being revealed by the specific name of the wind or rain that is referred to in the melody. In public gatherings fifty or sixty years ago, it was common for the various songs of the islands or communities to be sung as an invitation for people from those places to stand and be identified with that wahi pana. It kept our kupuna aware of the traditions they represented as they faced the challenges of day to day living. Although we still possess many of these names and songs today, we may not know the physical characteristics that led our ancestors to call a wind or rain differently from others. Our understanding of our sense of place is eroding.

The unique and special cradle of people, traditions, and physical realities of a place shape who we are. It is a strong framework from which we can make decisions consistent with their historical and cultural anchors, to meet the challenges of contemporary life. Often we allow the larger world to teach our young ones the values and perspectives which are inconsistent with our cultures and our family traditions. We step back from intentionally teaching our children who they represent and where they find their roots. Let us return to a commitment to teach our children and adults the power of wahi pana.



North Kohala

The diverse beauty of Hawai‘i Island’s North Kohala can be found from its majestic cliffs to its rocky shores and beaches.



Hawai‘i Island’s Waimea is a place of heritage and misty mountaintops, a place of the paniolo and ranching, and a place steeped in tradition.



Windward Oʻahu’s Waihe'e Valley is a place of dramatic beauty and rural lifestyle. It’s a place where community stands together with kalo as its core.



Hilo is a place of ancient prophecy, natural disasters and the revival of Hawaiian culture. We go beyond the name of this “wahi pana,” or legendary place, and get to know Hilo.



From soaring cliffs and miles of white sand beaches, from ancient fishing village to modern playground, this is Waimānalo.



This video reflects about the history of Kaʻū, a moku that stretches east from the Volcano Village to Manukā on the border of South Kona and the top of Mauna Loa to the coast of South Point on Hawaiʻi Island.



Kauaʻi, the oldest island in Hawaiʻi and one of the wettest places on earth. An unconquered land of royalty and riches, with dramatic cliffs and canyons carved over centuries by the rivers and rain.