(BIVN) – Of all the many names submitted to the Hawaiʻi Board of Geographic Names as recommendations for the volcanic Fissure 8 feature that erupted during the summer of 2018 on the lower East Rift Zone of Kīlauea, there is one that seems to be getting the most attention.
Ahuʻailāʻau is the name that was submitted by Kalani Makekau-Whittaker on behalf of Piʻilani Kaʻawaloa, Keone Kalawe, and Lei Kaleimamahu.
In their submittal, Makekau-Whittaker noted that ʻAilāʻau is a “Hawaiʻi deity for the volcano and lava. He predates Pelehonuamea and has been relatively absent from the Kanaka consciousness for generations. The collective experience of numerous cultural practitioners in Puna from the beginning of the eruption who have been face-to-face with the lava on multiple occasions has been filled with sightings, visions, and communication with ʻAilāʻau. He has appeared in dreams of a number of cultural experts and there was a sighting of him in human form at the Pu‘uhonua o Puna. Because ʻAilāʻau’s presence has been so prevalent throughout this eruption with so many people, it is no surprise that the visions received for the name of the fissure include his name.”
We spoke to Makekau-Whittaker in Hilo on Thursday, during a small gathering that proceeded a public meeting on the naming process, facilitated by a Permitted Interaction Group formed by the Hawaiʻi Board of Geographic Names.
“I was actually approached by somebody in the County about a name,” Makekau-Whittaker said, stressing that he is not the one who came up with Ahuʻailāʻau. “Not for me, necessarily, to give a name, but just about the idea of a name.”
Makekau-Whittaker, who is not from Puna, knew who to talk to. Before long he was sitting down with Kaʻawaloa, Kalawe, and Kaleimamahuwe, “and started talking story about.”
They decided to put something forward. “They came up with a name based on their personal experiences with the eruption,” Makekau-Whittaker said. “They live in the area so they’ve been interacting with it a lot. Piʻilani and her family are in Kalapana, but also they’re connected with other people who are also in there a lot, and experiencing things, and sharing stories with them. So it’s really putting together of all these stories and experiences that people have been having.”
During the eruption, even before Fissure 8 became the focal point for Kīlauea’s lava output, Piʻilani Kaʻawaloa, as kahu, offered her knowledge and spiritual guidance to the distressed residents of Puna.
Ahuʻailāʻau is “speaking to the experiences that they’ve had as a deity of the eruption,” Makekau-Whittaker said. “They were so adamant about their experiences and a name for it, that they were talking about just moving forward with applying the name to it,” he said, until they learned of the Hawaiʻi Board of Geographic Names process.
“I understand that Pele has been the deity for a long time,” Makekau-Whittaker said, adding that the proposal “is not to say that this isn’t Pele. So when people start to hear ʻAilāʻau, but they don’t have the experience, it’s understandable for them to doubt. But when you know the people who are having the experiences and then you listen to their stories, you know that it’s a truthful experience for them and what they’ve had. They were raised in the area and and been around others or been mentored by some really strong cultural practitioners in the area. All those experiences, the three of them together, is pretty powerful.”