Mo'ili'ili: A Historical Overview

 Commentary is provided in boldface throughout the main text.

Immortalized in Darrell Lum's short story, "The Moiliili Bag Man,"

the transient main character is constantly "looking, looking,

looking" (Lum 72). The narrator of the story wonders if "da Bag

Man is happy or sad or piss off or anyting l' dat cause he get one

moosetash and skinny kine beard wit only little bit strands, stay

hide his mout" (72). Despite the Bag Man's itinerant way of life,

inscrutable facial expressions, and somewhat weathered personal

appearance, the narrator eventually learns how to fashion a bird

out of a coconut leaf, under the patient tutelage of his homeless

 I start with an introduction that doesn't begin with a simple overview of my place. I chose to begin with a literary work that has direct relevance; in this case, Darrell Lum's "Moiliili Bag Man." The story has a direct theme of how the younger generation begins to understand and appreciate the older generation; in the story, the young narrator is taught to appreciate the simple lessons that the Moiliili Bag man teaches him.
Traditional arts, a deeper sense of place, and a richer

appreciation for the past is transmitted across the generational

divide between the Bag Man and his student; ultimately, we might

take the next step and conclude that like the Mo'ili'ili Bag Man,

Mo'ili'ili itself may inform future generations of the complex

interpersonal bonds of aloha, diverse religious and cultural

traditions, and vast history that living in Hawai'i entails.

 I make sure that my introduction and thesis are bridged together with the lines, "Traditional arts, a deeper sense of place, and a richer appreciation for the past is transmitted across the generational divide between the Bag Man and his student"; I follow by connecting this thought to my thesis, demonstrating how, despite its "aged" ethos, Moiliili retains a special charm that teaches the future generations of our Islands about the past. Notice that the thesis has a strong Subject-Verb Structure: "Moililii (S) may inform (V) future generations ____"

Located roughly between McCully Street to Kapahulu Avenue, an area

stretching from the Ala Wai Canal up to the University of Hawai'i,

Mo'ili'ili was part of the ahupua'a, or ancient land division of

Manoa and Waikiki. The area was formally known as Kamo'ili'ili and

was owned by King William Lunalilo in the 19th century; in

addition, Queen Kamamalu's summer cottages "stood near the present

site of the Willow's restaurant on Hausten Street" ("Mysteries"

01). Many scholars have documented that the Queen and her court

revelled in the balmy summer water of the Kapaakea Springs.

Mo'ili'ili's etymology is derived from an ancient legend about

Hi'iakaikapolio Pele (younger sister of the volcano goddess),

Lohiau, a "handsome young chief from the island of Kaua'i," and

Wahineomao, a friend of Hi'iaka's. A large gust of wind blew past

the trio, just as they arrived at the "place where the old

Kamo'ili'ili Church once stood (now the grounds of the Kuhio

Elementary School" (Grant, Tastes 01). In the tale, Wahineomao and

Lohiau feel invisible hands tugging on their ears and cry

fervently for the assistance of Hi'iaka. Hi'iaka knows that a mo'o

is behind this mischief, for the mo'o are powerful lizard aumakua

(spiritual/familial totem gods) who possess potent magic. Hi'iaka

boldly tells Wahinemao and Lohiau to stand beside her and finally

she orders the horrible lizard, who had previously bullied

Hi'iaka's traveling companions, to appear. Whipping off her

outside skirt (which I assume was made out of a supernatural

tapa), bolts of lighting leap out from the cloth and fillet the

dastardly lizard; as his body is sliced apart, the pieces become a

rock hewn "hill in the neighborhood of the old Hawaiian Church"

(Grant Tastes 01). As a result, Kamo'ili'ili, which, when

literally translated, means "pebble lizard" or "place of the

lizard pebbles," was eventually abridged to Mo'ili'ili.

 I engage into geographic and cultural commentary here, discussing where Moiliili was located and the origins of Moiliili's name; in addition, I provide a fable to add a sense of mystique to my place.

Considered a "flat wet area where the Hawaiians grew taro until

the 1800s," Mo'ili'ili's population had a keen sense of being

connected to the land (Choy et al. 18). With a dependence on

Chinese taro, rice, and lotus root, many Chinese immigrants came

to Mo'ili'ili from the 1870s, and continued settling the land

there for a duration of thirty years. Few can forget Lum Yip Kee,

the "Taro King," who along with his fellow Hawaiian and Chinese

counterparts, worked hard to "develop the well-watered region into

a productive agricultural district" ("Mysteries" 01).

Japanese immigrants, discouraged and disgruntled by the wage

slavery and exploitation of the plantations, left the frustrating

morass of the luna, whip, and cane behind and settled in

Mo'ili'ili, hoping to create better lives for themselves and their

families. Some depended on their own labor, working long hours to

tend to their pig farms and rice fields. The stone quarry (circa

1900), now home to the wonderfully banal Lower Campus parking

structure and mazelike U.H. athletic complex, created jobs for

many of these newly transplanted residents. Most scholars conclude

that "Mo'ili'ili residents [during these early years] considered

their existence a step up the social ladder and that the economy

of Mo'ili'ili was primarily agricultural" (Choy et al. 19).

 The section above is dedicated to a more historical and socio-cultural focus; I identify the place's origins in terms of who used to live there and why they lived there. I identify Moiliili as a place where people began to migrate after their work on plantations. As such, in its heydey, I suggest that Moiliili was a haven for the recently enfranchised Japanese and Chinese ethnic groups.

Mo'ili'ili is today stereotypically thought of as an old and

"entrenched" Japanese community, one in which the major social

institutions, the Mo'ili'ili Community Center and Mo'ili'ili

Hongwanji, reign supreme in the social scheme of this community.

While part of this stereotype is true, it is important to discover

exactly what factors made these social institutions so important

in the lives of Mo'ili'ili residents.

Andrew Lind asserts that Mo'ili'ili's heavy concentration of

Japanese perpetuated "traditional Japanese institutions and

patterns of homeland" (qtd. in Choy et al. 20). Hoping to move

several steps ahead of (or perhaps to distinguish themselves from)

their country cousins trapped beneath the suffocating hegemony of

the plantations, the newly arrived issei endured their "Tiny camp

houses and dirt roads"--small sacrifices to pay for personal

freedom and relative financial independence (Choy et al. 18).

Numerous business ventures ensued: meat, vegetable, and produce

markets (along King Street) were the norm. If you were to stroll

up and down King in the 50s, 60s, and even today, you might notice

the many flower shops along the way; indeed, by most estimates,

Mo'ili'ili quickly became "the floral capital of Honolulu" (Choy

et al. 19). Despite these various business ventures and movements

towards greater socioeconomic viability, Mo'ili'ili's Japanese

residents had a justifiable reason to rally around their Community

Association and Hongwanji; after all, World War II intensified

efforts towards Americanization and Americanism.

In 1945, the Mo'ili'ili Community Association (M.C.A.) replaced

the Ka Moiliili Community Council, the latter of which "had served

as the coordinating body and clearing house for all community

activities during the war" (Higa 11). While the M.C.A. continued

to educate the younger students in the Japanese language and

elements of Japanese culture, the M.C.A.'s role in promoting

solidarity amongst community members as well as transmitting

common traditions must not be forgotten.

 Continuing with the historical approach, I begin to focus more intently on the roles of Moiliili's more prominent associations, and try to explain how Japanese-American culture began to take root in this community.

Folklore again entered the consciousness of Mo'ili'ili's residents

in the 1950s. Cave-ins caused severe damage to a home and a local

department store. Research into these cave-ins demonstrated that

"extensive coral formations had [created] underground water

passages in the Moiliili area" (Higa 12). One of the main water

passages in this system is said to run from the top of the quarry

down to an outlet at the Willows Restaurant. Traditionally, the

formation of these coral caverns and water channels are attributed

to Kamapua'a, the rascal Hawaiian pig demi-god.

William Westervelt describes in his Legends of Hawaii the

unsuccessful advances (possibly sexual advances) of Kamapua'a

towards two beautiful women he met while walking down a stream

which flows from the top of Manoa Valley. Kamapua'a calls to the

two women, but after they discern his numerous tattoos and

uncouth, pigskin-clothed exterior, they immediately decide to run

away from the demi-god (in an oddly analogous manner to Daphne's

flight from the amorous Apollo). Kamapua'a runs after the women,

but he fails to realize that both women are goddesses in their own

right, and that they possess powers which prove more than a match

for the pig god's own prowess in the arcane arts. Just as he is

about to seize the maidens with his porcine hands, the wily ladies

disappear beneath the surface of the earth. Perhaps "disappear" in

this case is not as effective a word as "dissipate"; suffice it to

say, the two maidens seep through the large beds of petrified

coral beneath the surface. Kamapua'a changes his form into a giant

pig's (a form which has been popularized in several children's

novels) and begins to dig up the stones, soil, and coral beneath

which his "intended lovelies" have dissipated. In both cases, the

maiden goddesses are able to control several floods of water and

set the infuriated pig-god awash in a torrent of water. Nearly

drowning in the floods the goddesses create, Kamapua'a gives up

the chase; to this day, the wells at which the goddesses foiled

Kamapua'a's assumedly amorous plans are known as "The Wells, or

Fountains, of Kamapua'a" (Grant 07).

 In the passage above, I attempt to swirl fact with fiction, combining the myth of Kamapua'a with the factual information about the waterways underneath Moiliili. I hope that the passage tells the reader something "brand-new" about my place, something that they had never heard before.

As the Japanese community grew economically in the 60s, 70s, and

80s, Mo'ili'ili began to shed its reputation of being primarily

"the last Japanese community of its kind left in Honolulu" (Higa

14). While the phrase "of its kind" is nebulous, one might venture

that the term may refer to the relatively high degree upon which

traditional (Buddhist--Jodo Shinshu sect) mores of the "Japanese"

community are shared and esteemed. These values may include filial

piety (and ancestor worship), cooperation with other members of

the group, selflessness, and the requisite patterns of enryo and

gaman. Several Japanese, successful in their business ventures

both B.D.P.E. (Before and During Plantation Era) and A.P.E. (After

the Plantation Era), moved out of Moi'ili'ili and into upwardly

mobile communities such as Hawaii Kai and Kahala.

 In the passage above, I try to demonstrate how Moiliili gradually changed. It began to shed its skin as solely a "Japanese-American" haven; to me, this serves as a good segue into an analysis of how Moiliili continues to change.

There are certain places in Mo'ili'ili which hold a special place

in the hearts of my parents and grandparents' generation. Few

today can actively recall old Honolulu Stadium and Chunky's

Drive-In; nevertheless, the sights and sounds of these places

continue to resonate deeply in the social and cultinary

consciousness of Oahu's residents. Kuni's Dry Goods still has the

"ol' time feel," the fabrics prominently displayed within the

tightly packed cubby holes, while the Hongwanji continues with

efforts to educate its predominantly Japanese-American membership

in the study of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism (I was a member of the

Hongwanji for 4 years and served as Young Buddhist Association

president for a short time there).

 Here, I begin delving into specific places in Moiliili that will be likely to stir up some sense of nostalgia in the reader, were they familiar with my place. I try to identify locations that the reader can readily identify with, were they to visit that town.

Despite the nostalgia that we may have for the past, and despite

the longing for juicy hamburgers from Chunky's, cool drinks from

Kuhio Grill, and the roar of the stadium, Mo'ili'ili has a new and

exciting culture, one that continues to fascinate. If the

deliciously aromatic world of "Local Kine Grinds" (a television

program dedicated to the Island's restaurants) can teach us

anything, it teaches us that local people like to "grind." On King

Street alone, you have Chan's Gourmet Buffet, Golden Dynasty

Restaurant, India House, Sushi King, Blimpy's, Subway, and

numerous other restaurants from different ethnic and culinary

traditions. While the mochi store has disappeared and Revolution

Books has oddly departed to the staid confines of the increasingly

capitalist-in-tone Puck's Alley (Cheapo Books, Coco Ichiban-ya

Curry House, etc.), certain things remain the same: basking

beneath the liquid sunshine of Manoa Valley on the corner of King

and University, you can hear Mo'ili'ili whispering. The whisper

often says, "Remember what I was like. Remember how much fun you

had with your friends at University and at last summer's o-bon.

Remember where you come from, where you grew up. Never forget."

Then the streetlights change, and the cars roar by, and perhaps a

forlorn businessman curses the morning Dow Jones Industrial

Average and you hear a different whisper: "Remember where you are

going . . . by remembering from where you came." It is only when

we hear both of these seemingly imperceptible whispers that we may

truly appreciate the savory foods of international origin to

be found in every nook and cranny, the sweet smells of the

numberous flower shops and the laughter of the new generation

of Mo'ili'ili children, forming their own "places of the heart."

Grant Tastes 03)
 In the concluding paragraph, I begin to branch out of the historical mode, and suggest more of a sense of where Moiliili is headed as a college town and a location known for its great eateries. I also try to reiterate my theme of being able to learn about one's culture through a stricter and more meaningful appreciation for the past. I try to end on a positive, if not overly nostalgic note in the final sentence.

Places in Mo'ili'ili: adapted from "Mo'ili'ili Mysteries"; original source is Mary Kawena Pukui et al.'s Names of Hawaii.

Ala Wai Canal. The canal was created between 1919-1928, part of the Waikiki Reclamation Project started "to reclaim a most unsanitary and unsightly protion of the city" (03). Literally, and to many Hawai'i residents, the polluted canal (replete with angry tilapia) means "freshwater way" (03).

Isenberg Street. The street is named for Daniel Paul Rice Isenberg, the son of Paul and Hanna Rice Isenberg. Daniel Isenberg was owner of Wai'alae Ranch; the Wai'alae Golf Course stands on this property. Isenberg was also president of the Mo'ili'ili baseball league, "when the street, leading to the old baseball park, was opened" (03). Isenberg passed away in 1919.

Kamo'ili'ili Church. Under the guidance of Father William Harrison Rice, the church was completed in 1852 and demolished in the late 60s.

Kapa'akea. This area, which once held the Old Honolulu Stadium Park, and which now contains a family park was named for "white coral."

Kuhio School. The school was named after Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole (1871-1922). The prince was a delegate to Congress and created the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act (03).

Opuka'aloha. On the Waikiki side of the St. Louis High School Alumni Clubhouse, this 2.5 acre fishpond held mullet, goldfish, and a bearded type of Chinese fish. According to Pukui and others, "There was a cave-like opening in the solid coral, now filled in, in which there was a large spring" (03).

McCully Street. Appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii by King Kalakaua, Lawrence McCully "opened the Punahou tract as a subdivision" (03). There are different public facilities which bear his name; most notably, the McCully Public Library.

Mo'ili'ili From upper Manoa, Kamapua'a was said to have chased two beautiful women to this area. Pele's sister Hi'iaka was said to have obliterated a mo'o (a supernatrual lizard) with lightning bolts. With the abridged Mo (from mo'o) and the 'ili'ili (pebbles/small stones), we get the common meaning, "pebble lizard" (03).

Waiaka. This is land upon which the Kamo'ili'ili Church was located.


Works Cited

Choy, Ellen, et al. Moiliili: A Historical Analysis, 1900-1945 Part II. M.A. Research
Project. School of Social Work. University of Hawai'i. 1977.

Higa, Brian K. Moiliili: An Historical Analysis, 1945-1976 Part III. M.A. Research Project. School of Social Work. University of Hawai'i. 1977.

Honolulu Time Walks. "Mo'ili'ili Mysteries: A TimeWalk through the Ancient Legends, Urban History and Modern Lore of a Honolulu Ethnic Neiborhood." Honolulu: Honolulu Time Walks, 1994.

Kaminaka, Muriel Miura, ed. The Tastes and Tales of Moiliili. Honolulu:
Moiliili Community Center, 1997.