The Legend of the Māpuna Lab

Picture of Carolann Carl

Carolann Carl

Research Associate & Writer for Māpuna Lab

Come back to the blog to read along while you listen

Mapuna Lab Logo

Pili kau, pili hoʻoilo
Together in the dry season, together in the wet season
Said of loving companionship

Oopu swimming in unison_sign

On the other side of yesterday, there swam five ‘o‘opu¹ in a secluded pond nestled within the academy of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The pond was home to an assortment of creatures. Some were new to the area, struggling to find their role in this foreign ecosystem. Others had been there for some time and went with the flow of things that were and that were not. Others had been there so long they remembered when the pond was first dug out, a product of redirected streams flowing together. Along the edges of the pond, there roamed a mo‘o² who tended to those streams, ensuring the dams that were set in place remain. The pond’s gatekeeper tended to its creatures, giving them responsibilities and making sure every rock and piece of algae was where it should be.

One day, a great conflict arose and the ‘o‘opu became caught in its swirls. Many creatures were lost in battle including the gatekeeper. The ‘o‘opu and the mo‘o survived but not unscathed. The pond’s gatekeeper now gone, the ‘o‘opu seized their chance to thrive beyond the pond. Their new companion, the mo‘o, removed the stones from one of the dams, clearing a path. 

At first the ‘o‘opu were not sure what direction to take. Amongst themselves, they began to contemplate their past, present and future. Where would they go? Why would they go? Who can they go to? 

That night, they dreamt of the ‘ōhi‘a lehua³. Their teacher. Their sustenance. Calling from upstream. At sunrise, they swam following iridescent echoes in freshwater ripples. With still more blockages yet in their path, the ‘o‘opu searched for friends to help them ho‘i ka wai4. One of these friends was Mama. The ‘o‘opu met with mama over many moons. Together they shared stories, wisdom, and truth. In Mama’s guidance, the ‘o‘opu knew where they needed to go. How they needed to move. Who they needed to move for.

Aramas chok angang
There is much work for the people, the work is the people,
Much is done by many hands working together

The ‘ōhi‘a lehua continued to call from upstream. As the path cleared and the sweet scents of lehua grew stronger, embracing them in her fragrant water swept tendrils, the ʻo‘opu began to chant

Hū ka wai māpuna 

Māpuna kapu ka hāhā 

Ha‘a inu ha‘a ola 

Ha‘a kapu ha‘a noa e 

E nā kupukupu o nā kūpuna

E mālama ka māpuna

Mālama ka māpuna

Mālama ka māpuna e

I ola loa e 

I mauli ola e

The spring water swells

Sacred Spring

Bend and drink bend and live

Sacred bend common bend

Sword fern of the ancestors

Care for the spring water

Nourish the spring water 

Protect the spring water

For long life, 

for optimal health

Oopu swimming to ohia_sign

Accompanied by their companions mo‘o and Mama, the ‘o‘opu continue to swim upstream to this day, now clear in their direction. Gathering more and more cousins as they go. Creating new relationships and maintaining old ones. In unity, they forge onward towards their life source, the ‘ōhi‘a lehua. The ʻai. The sustenance that is a constant reminder of where they once came as they cultivate safe passage for the next seven generations.

Ho‘i ka ‘o‘opu ‘ai lehua i ka māpunapuna
The lehua-eating ‘o‘opu has gone back to the spring.
Said of one who has gone back to the source

 1Endemic Hawaiian freshwater goby, Lentipes concolor

 2n. Lizard, reptile of any kind, dragon, serpent; water spirit (source: Nā Puke Wehewehe ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi)

 3Metrosideros polymorpha endemic to the Hawai‘i

4nvs. Water other than sea water




(c. 1540-1634)

Kākuhihewa is the 15th aliʻi ‘aimoku (ruling chief) of O‘ahu famously named in the mele “Kaulana Nā Pua.” Kākuhihewa was a kind and friendly chief who was born in Kūkaniloko and raised in the ‘Ewa moku. His primary endeavor was farming, and it is said that his abundant harvests on O‘ahu could be smelled from Kaua‘i.

Today, there is a state office building named after him in Kapolei.