Journey of a Name

By Jan TenBruggencate
Member, Mālama Hulē‘ia Board of Directors

Malama Huleia refers to this ancient Hawaiian fishpond by the name Alakoko, the spelling most commonly used in the earliest references from the 1800s.

But this historic site has had many names,

Most people today call it the Menehune Fishpond and many folks use the name ‘Alekoko. However, Hawaiian Land Court records and Hawaiian language newspapers dating to the 1800s, in the earliest references, mainly use the spelling Alakoko. 

An 1852 Land Court document about lands in Niumalu, by surveyor W.H. Pease, refers to ka loko o Alakoko (the Alakoko fishpond). 

Issues of the newspapers Ka Leo o Ka Lahui and Nupepa Ka Oiaio from 1895 use Alakoko. In his 1923 book, Hawaiian Legends, William Hyde Rice, who was born on Kaua‘i in 1846, uses Alakoko. In her book Koamalu, Ethel Damon, who was born in 1883, uses Alakoko. 

The alternate spelling Alekoko, without the addition of the diacritical `okino before the first letter, is seen, though rarely, before 1900. Not the first, but among the first to use the spelling Alekoko was Thomas Thrum, who was not Hawaiian-born and not from Kaua‘i, in a 1920 edition of the Journal of the Polynesian Society. The term with the Alekoko spelling appears in a story he wrote involving Menehune. 

Thrum, originally Australian, was a storyteller and publisher, and a powerful voice in the recording of Hawaiian stories—including a fair amount of bogus Hawaiian history. After Thrum’s use of the spelling, Alekoko becomes an alternate spelling to Alakoko. 

The big fishpond in the bend in the river has also gone by the names Pēpē‘awa and even Niumalu loko. 

Pēpē‘awa, while it sometimes has been used to refer to the pond, is apparently the name of the land division in which it is found—the ili, which is the term for the subdivisions of an ahupua‘a.

Niumalu loko may simply be a term of reference rather than a valid name. It means “Niumalu pond” and may be used to refer to Alakoko in the way “City by the bay” refers to San Francisco.

The term Menehune Fishpond, which has gained popularity during the past century, is a reference to a complex story about either the entire construction or just the completion of the fishpond wall project by mythical Hawaiian forest dwellers. 

If you’re interested in more about that, I humbly recommend my book on the subject, Menehune Mystery: The Original Tales and the Origins of the Myth, published by Mutual Publishing in Honolulu.

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