Interesting Facts About Wai Momi (Pearl Harbor)
February 14, 2017
Interesting Facts About Oahu’s Pearl Harbor
When someone mentions Pearl Harbor, chances are the first thing that comes to mind is not the actual harbor on Oahu but the event that transformed it into a household name. While we enjoy taking our time to dive back into the days surrounding the Japanese attack, the story of the harbor itself often gets overlooked. Let’s take a trek to Oahu and learn some lesser-known facts about Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor Wasn’t Always American
Considering that the Kingdom of Hawaii wasn’t always a part of the United States, it stands to reason that the US Navy didn’t always occupy Pearl Harbor.
The Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 enabled the Kingdom of Hawaii to ship Hawaiian sugar tax-free to the United States. The treaty also gave the US Navy exclusive access to use Pearl Harbor as a coaling and repair station.
After the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the United States opted to construct a naval base in 1899.
Naming Pearl Harbor
Many places around the world are named for a stand-out feature, and Pearl Harbor is no different. Its Hawaiian name is Wai Momi, which translates to “water of pearl,” a name given by early Hawaiians for the abundance of pearl oysters found there.
Wai Momi once had a vast population of pearl-producing oysters, but they were eventually eradicated from the area. Today, the harbor is too polluted to sustain the marine bivalves.
Wai Momi, Ka’ahupahau, and Kahi’uka
Before it was Pearl Harbor it was Wai Momi or Puuloa, meaning long hill. For ancient Hawaiians, the harbor wasn’t a military base or a port of trade; it was an area connected to Ka’ahupahau, the Hawaiian shark goddess, and her brother, Kahi’uka. The Hawaiian people believed that Ka’ahupahau and her brother protected swimmers and fishermen from other, more dangerous sharks.
The origin of Ka’ahupahau has two versions. One tells of her human mother, thinking she had miscarried, leaving her in the waters of the harbor. The still-living fetus was believed to have morphed into a shark. In another version, Ka’ahupahau and Kahi’uka were humans until they were turned into sharks by a shark god. In both versions, the locals cared for Ka’ahupahau and fed her and, in turn, she aimed to protect them.