Let’s discover the romance behind Naupaka, a common Hawaii plant with a not-so-common story.
There’s a story hidden in everything around us, and like many other cultures, Hawaii’s mo’olelo (stories) have become an integral part of the culture today. They define the place and its people and give meaning to everyday occurrences.
One such story highlights a common beach plant that many overlook: The Naupaka. But first, let’s identify the Naupaka so you can appreciate the beauty of its story.
Naupaka typically grows up to 10 feet tall and six to 15 feet wide. The plant has clusters of small white flowers with light purple streaks, set amid a set of waxy green leaves.
It’s a native plant that’s also endemic to Hawaii, meaning it’s found nowhere else in the world.
But they are common throughout Hawaii. You may see them on almost every island during your Hawaii vacation. On Oahu, you can find them along the ocean near the Honolulu Zoo, Waikiki Aquarium, and Kailua Beach. Or up in the mountains near Manoa Valley.
The Story of Naupaka
In ancient times, there was a beautiful princess named Naupaka. Villagers noticed she looked very sad and asked her what was wrong. She told them that she had fallen in love with a man named Kaui, a commoner from the village below.
Back then, Hawaiian tradition strictly forbade those of royal blood to marry people of common descent. The kupuna (elderly) advised them to take a long journey to a faraway heiau (sacred place), where they should pray and ask the high priest for guidance.
The God’s Disapproval
Naupaka and Kaui traveled together for days, over the mountains and through the forests. When they arrived at the heiau – exhausted but filled with hope – the young couple told their story.
The priest shook his head and explained that he could not help them. The Hawaiian gods must decide. Soon, the sky darkened, and a storm arrived.
This was a sign that the gods disapproved of their relationship. So the young couple knew what they had to do.
The Halved Flower
Naupaka took the white flower in her hair and tore it in half. She placed one half in Kaui’s hand and told him to return to the seashore. She would live a lonely life in the mountains.
Today, you may notice the Naupaka flowers bloom in halves. It is said that when the flower from the mountain (Naupaka Kuahiwi) joins the seashore Naupaka (Naupaka Kahakai), both Hawaiian lovers are together once again.