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TRADITIONAL WAYS OF KNOWING: Words of Rain

Listen to The Water Fall

Native plants gather water in Waikamoi forest, known as the heart of Maui.

Video

Waikamoi Forest — Native Plants Gather Water

Listen to the water fall on the ʻāmaʻumaʻu fern (Sadleria cyatheoides), ohelo (Vaccinium sp.), hāpu̒u – Hawaiian tree fern (Cibotium glaucum), and Pilo (Coprosma stephanocarpa).

Hawaiian Words of Rain

The Hawaiians were intimately aware of the importance of fresh water, and of rain, to their lives. In fact, the words for water and wealth have the same root:

  • Wai is the Hawaiian word for fresh water.
  • Waiwai is the Hawaiian word for wealth.

There are hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of Hawaiian words for rain. Here we share some of the information collected in Hānau Ka Ua by Collette Leimomi Akana with Kiele Gonale*.

Hawaiian words for rain describe:

  • Rain in specific places (nāulu is a sudden shower, asscoeated with Kawaihae, Hawaiʻi, Niʻihau, and other areas).
  • Types of rain (nahua is a hard, cold, pelting, stinging rain; there are also names for misty, cold, white, heavy, warm rains, etc.).
  • Characteristics of rain (Ua kualau rain that comes from the sea; there also names for rain along cliffs, sneaking by, duration, scent, etc.).
  • Seasonal rain signals (for example, the ʻuala farmer counts the kuāu showers to know when to plant, Hānau Ka Ua, p. xvi).
  • Figurative meanings of rain (like Kanilehua, the name for a chattering rain, which refers to birds in lehua trees and can also be used to mean gossiping).

Video

Rain of Kauaʻi

Puʻupuʻua i luna ke ʻawa a ka Nāulu
Huahuaʻi nā huawai a ka ua i ka lani
Swollen above is the cold rain of the Nāulu
The water gourds with rain from the heavens gush forth
– Hānau Ka Ua, p. 198 #43.

The Hawaiians had many terms to describe the misty rains and clouds that settle over mountains. A few examples are listed below.

  • Lilinoe is the Hawaiian word for the fine mist that covers mountains and cliffs on Hawaiʻi and Maui (Figs. 1 and 2 show examples of mist that might be called Lilinoe). Lilinoe is also the name of a goddess of mists.
  • Ua Noe is a light rain and mist that clings to the plains (East Maui). Noe mist is lighter than the uhiwai but heavier than ʻohu, ʻehu, and ʻehuehu fog.
  • ʻOhu is fog, smoke, a light cloud on a mountain.
  • ʻAwa rain is a fine mountain rain. 

ʻO ka uahi noe lehua ē

ʻO ke ʻAwa nui i ka mauna 

The vapor that mists the lehua blossoms 

The thick ʻAwa fog of the mountain

(Hānau Ka Ua, p. 15)

  • ʻAwaʻawa rain is like ʻawa. It is cold and bitter smoke (may be acidic) of the mountains (associated with Pele) that smothers the cliff and is inhaled. ʻAwaʻawa is also used as a descriptive term for grief.

<p>Fig. 1. Mist covers East Mauiʻs&nbsp;Haleakalā Volcano as researchers from the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project hike out to plant native trees.</p><br />
<p>Fig. 2. Mist settles on native Koa forest in Nakula Natural Area Reserve on Haleakalā, East Maui.</p><br />


* Much of the information for this section was learned from Hānau Ka Ua by Collette Leimomi Akana with Kiele Gonale (Fig. 3). It is an amazing resource for learning more about Hawaiian rain names, place, and culture.


<p>Fig. 3. "Hānau Ka Ua is the fullest record of Hawaiian rain names and their lore to date, drawing on oral tradition and literature, including approximately three hundred 'ōlelo Hawai'i primary sources from the ninteeth and twentieth centuries containing chants, songs, laments, and narratives."&nbsp;</p><br />

Hawaiian Weather Vocabulary:

  • ʻAwa: a fine mountain rain
  • ʻAwaʻawa: like ʻawa. It is cold and bitter smoke (may be acidic) of the mountains (associated with Pele) that smothers the cliff and is inhaled; also used as a descriptive term for grief.
  • Ho‘oilo: the wet season
  • Kanilehua: a chattering rain; gossip
  • Kau: summer
  • Kuāu: a shower; rain without wind extending over a small area
  • Lilinoe: the fine mist that covers mountains and cliffs on Hawaiʻi and Maui; the name of a goddess of mists
  • Makai: ocean side, or an area located next to an ocean
  • Mauka: mountains, or an area located next to the mountains
  • Nahua: is a hard, cold, pelting, stinging rain
  • Nāulu: a sudden shower
  • ʻOhu: fog, smoke, a light cloud on a mountain
  • Ua kualau: rain that comes from the sea
  • Ua Noe: a light rain and mist that clings to the plains (East Maui).
  • Wai: fresh water.
  • Waiwai: wealth.

Special Feature Type:

Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.