** He Kai Hoee Weliweli Ma Hilo / A Terrifying Tsunami In Hilo

You are here

** He Kai Hoee Weliweli Ma Hilo / A Terrifying Tsunami In Hilo

It spread over an area of one hundred or more acres, and on average was fifteen feet deep.

It slammed and killed five people; four others were critically injured, and over fifty others were left destitute.

Over thirty buildings were completely destroyed; most of them pulverized to bits and turned to nothing, and the same was true for the canoes and some skiffs.

Trees fell, stone walls collapsed, and the fish ponds were all mixed together. More than fifteen animals perished.

The losses that befell the area that was wiped out will be at least $35,000.

The landscape looks desolate and deserted. You, o child of this land, will be struck when you return and look upon its face, your tears will flow, and a numbing chill will run through your heart because the beauty and charm of your mother land are gone.

Hearken, o heavens, stop the tsunamis; don't let their billows engulf the shores of Hanakahi again, or lay waste to the precious populous there.

O waves of Paikaka, do not assist the strange waves from foreign lands, do not allow them to unfurl on the shores of Ohele.

O waters of Wailoa, do not let your springs surge forth again, but may your flow be gentle, and watch over the little siblings swimming along your banks.

O waters of Waiolama, look to the shores of Punahoa, and do not join hands with the harsh waves of the deep sea that come in to smite the children of the land of the lehua rain. Be pleasant to all those youth swimming in your chilly waters.

To Ka Lahui Hawaii; Greetings to you,

Now, I have another important thing to tell you: it is regarding what has been shown above.

At about 5:10 early last Thursday morning (May 10th), a terrifying tsunami rose here in Hilo.

The account of this is very short but right after its passing, it left its doings as a long legend for these days.

There were few people who were already awake and clearly saw the rising of the sea, but their accounts are similar.

By the account of Waiākea's people, the sea receded first, and the rising came after, from outside, and turned directly to march directly inland of Waiolama, but first caught a whaling ship standing at anchor which was tumbled ashore. Since the northern tip of this isthmus is outside of Kaipalaoa, and the southern end arches over where the ship was anchored, the densest part of the rise was cresting all the way inland of Waiolama - just like the charge of a military battalion, that is how this tsunami moved.

As the first ones stepped on the shores of Punahoa's sands the last of them out at sea turned this way, and at that point, they all moved in unison in five great ranks, one behind and above another, five great waves swirling in from the sea, one [7 mostly-illegible lines, with reference to strike, gardens, animals, and battlefield]. . . and one small child.

 Let us leave them as they battle at the shore.

The southern end of this isthmus arches down across the sands from Waiolama, turning toward Ohele, and the center of the isthmus arches out seaward to the site of the ship they had abandoned. When the ship came into the center of the isthmus, it nearly disappeared, and on passing this section seaward of where the ship was anchored, the billows curled and at that point it was torn into two sections and this remaining portion became a northeast flank for the battalion, which was turning directly inland of Waiākea. It was this battalion that slaughtered the people there. The extent of the area they marched was nearly a mile, but it was just a few short minutes before their feet stepped upon Waiākea.

In the numerous accounts of Waiākea's people, they did not have a clear view of the town - the sea had risen that high - they heard the breaking up of the houses amid the trees; and while the houses, trees, and people were swept away with the sea, it was still dry behind there. The folks that remained in the buildings spared by the movement of the sea, reached here and ran back where it was completely dry, since the sea had already departed with nothing was left. It is true, because all the grass was flattened inland, but not here in back.

It was pitiful to see the features of the land, land that should have had houses and people. When you see it, it had been destroyed, and pieces of houses were scattered everywhere. The house of Captain Hopu is now 190 yards from where it originally stood, and the same happened with other houses.

Some houses along the side of Ohele stream were completely lifted up with families still inside, and landed on the other side, without much damage.  The bridge was deposited 180 yards from where it was had been built. When you go to the shrubbery there, you will see the littering of pieces of houses, canoes, skiffs, nets, boxes, lumber, etc.

All those that are familiar with Hilo-one, will recognize the boundaries that were covered by the sea as follows:

 It's northern border begins at the wooden houses of Misters Reed & Sisson at Kaipalaoa, and there from the door of Conway's to Alona's, seaward of the stone wall running toward Puna, and is there at the back of Apana's, from there to Rose's, then to Kaiser's, and from the edge of the pond and seaward of L. Kaina's, and from there along Rainheart's, and from there along the breadfruit tree just seward of Kuhalehau's place, and from there entered under the bridge, and from there just seaward of Keliʻikahi's small houses, and from there seward of Kaikaina and Mereana's and joining at Kumu - and at the front of Kaihenui's and along the back of Kamakea folks' house, and inland of the chiefess Keʻelikōlani's yard, running just below Nalimu folks' house, and running close to Pu[n]ini's house, running along the border of the [fish]pond of Waiākea and Mohouli, and surrounding it, and at Hilo-iki, the structure guarding the sluice gate, at that place zig-zagging seaward, and at Puna, Kaiʻanui folks' houses were taken, arching upward to Kālaiwaʻa's and Mailou's, from there, below Palau folks' place, and at that same path running seaward of Makaoka, close to Mokuola, except for one house atop a hillock, inland of the market. The island of Mokuola was completely covered, and the house was swept away.

Here are the names of those who died: 1) Kaipo, wife of Kaʻaua, previously of Kalepolepo; 2) Mahealani, child of Peka of Punahoa; 3) Kaʻapa, wife of Namakaʻelua, of Keaʻau, Puna; 4) Nakuana, a small child, the grandchild of Kaʻelemakule folks of Waiākea; 5) Keawepoepoe, elder of Waiākea.

Those in [critical] condition: 1) Kauh[-illegible-hu], a woman of Waiākea; 2) Kaʻelemakule of Waiākea; 3) Kalawaiʻa of Waiākea; 4) Parker of Waiākea. Others were cut or scarred.

There are many smaller stories from the families, but this is the combined story. In this disaster there were many families that were deprived of husbands and personal needs. Hundreds of dollars are being received as assistance from friends. The trouble will not end for a long time. Our fortunes and those of our friends in this crisis are up to the heavens.

With regards,

[Author's name illegible]

Hilo, May 12, 1877


(click image for original Hawaiian text)

Ka Lahui Hawaii, May 24, 1877
, Book: 3