Sunday, February 05, 2023

Harbor's history colorful

| December 7, 2010 8:00 PM

Long before the fateful day, its native Polynesian residents named it "Wai Momi." Wai momi means water of pearl; until the late 1800s the exotic waters of Pearl Harbor were teeming with oysters.

They were well protected oysters. Hawaiian legend tells of the shark goddess Ka'ahupahau and her brother (some stories refer to him as a son) Kahi'uka. The two lived in a coral cave at Wai Momi, guarding the waters against sharks. If fishermen pulled in a good catch or harvested pearls in relative safety, it was thanks to the gods' protection.

America's relationship with Pearl Harbor began when English Captain James Cook sailed from Plymouth in 1776, arriving there to "discover" the Hawaiian Islands (he named them the Sandwich Isles) in 1778. Capt. Cook reported the harbor unfit for naval use because a large coral reef would interfere with passage. Cook's story here makes a fascinating study; he was mistaken for a god, from which he first benefitted, but later suffered death.

In 1875 the Hawaiian Kingdom and the U. S. signed a treaty granting the U.S. exclusive rights to Pearl Harbor for the duty-free export of sugar. Less than a quarter century later the Spanish-American War made a permanent American presence in the Pacific useful, so Hawaii was annexed. The coral was cleared and the channel dredged. By 1908 Congress authorized a naval base at Pearl Harbor.

The shark gods weren't crazy about this arrangement. It wasn't just the idea of having neighbors; the caves they had lived in were in the coral bar which the U.S. destroyed. Legends explain the multiple collapses of dry dock during base construction by stories of angry shark gods. U.S. engineers chocked them up to seismic disturbances. The dock didn't open until 1919.

"Mai ho'oni i ka wai lana malie." - Don't disturb tranquil waters.

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. E-mail

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