These days, the place known as Moanalua is often associated with the schools that are located there, the freeway that runs through it, or Moanalua Gardens and the Prince Lot Hula Festival, where thousands turn out to enjoy the largest noncompetitive hula event on the islands.
But the gardens are only a small part of what was once the Moanalua ahupua‘a, a 6,000-acre district that ran from the mountaintops to the water. This summer, thanks to a new summer youth program offered by the Moanalua Gardens Foundation, a small group of students will get an introduction to the history and culture of the larger area, also known as Kamananui Valley, which is considered to be the last undeveloped valley in the urban Honolulu core.
“There’s a long history of culture and traditional history and modern history there,” said Michael Lee, director of education and stewardship for the Moanalua Gardens Foundation. “There is wahi pana (legendary sites) there, and there were many old heiau there.”
Ultimately, the aim of the foundation’s Malama Kamananui Summer Program is get kids connected with nature in hopes of training them to become the next generation of environmental stewards, Lee said.
The free program is intended for middle schoolers but is also open to high school students, preferably from urban Honolulu. It will offer activities like plant identification, basic first-aid training, team-building exercises, as well as learning about the ancient history of the area.
“A lot of the mo‘olelo (legends) and history we’ll be learning, we’ll be using different fun activities,” Lee said. “For some of the mo‘olelo we’ll be telling, the kids might be making a skit, and foraging through the valley to make props for it.”
Modern technology will also be incorporated into the programs, with students learning to use cellphones and apps to take creative photos and videos, Lee said.
Hiking will be a major part of the program, with groups starting from Moanalua Valley Neighborhood Park, located uphill from Moana Golf Club, and hiking the Moanalua Valley Trail. “That trail, if you go all the way, goes all the way up to the backside of Stairway to Heaven,” Lee said.
Most hikes will be about a mile or two up the trail, with students stopping to gather items for activities and learning about them along the way. “It’s specifically place-based learning in Kamananui Valley, utilizing history and culture,” Lee said. “It’s our outdoor classroom.”
Moanalua has a rich history dating back centuries, said Pauline Worsham, managing director of the Moanalua Gardens Foundation. In the 1600s, “it became a center of hula chanting and spiritual renewal,” she said. “The name Kamananui means ‘the valley of great power.’”
In 1884, the 6,000-acre ahupua‘a was bequeathed to banker and businessman Samuel Mills Damon by Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. In ensuing years, some development occurred in the region, but the bulk of it, about 3,700 acres in all, is now under the jurisdiction of the state DLNR and remains undeveloped.
The Moanalua Gardens Foundation was created in 1970 as part of a community effort to oppose Interstate H-3, which was then planned for the valley. The foundation now focuses on educational programs and spearheading improvements to the area.
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