Mrs. Lilia Wahapaa Kaneihalau (1835-1944), whose birth name was Wahapaa, was born in Waimea Valley, Kauai, the daughter of Makaiki and Namu, and was hanai’d to her grandfather, Mikolouka, and her grandmother, Pakai, who raised her in upper Waimea Valley at Puehuehunui on kuleanas that had been allotted to them by their alii.
Wahapaa’s family were kuaaina — people who lived at the back of the land — bound up in the countryside with their families, carrying on the ways and culture of their people, and having little to do with folks living in towns and villages.
Yet, when whaling ships visited Waimea, Wahapaa would go with her grandfather in his canoe to whalers anchored off Waimea to trade taro, onions, pigs, chickens, bananas and coconuts for whale oil, turkey, red calico, dungarees, needles and nails.
And, in the fall of 1850, when she was 15, she left Waimea Valley with her sister, who lived with her parents further down the valley, and set off on foot for the school established at Puulima, Makaweli, in 1840.
Their first teacher was Palaileki, a graduate of Lahainaluna School, Maui, and during Wahapaa’s six years at Puulima School, she was also taught by Opaa, Keheleloha, Oaka, Nauainaluahi and Pilipu Kekona.
Students used a wood slate and a piece of chalk for their writing lessons, and they learned to read from primers that contained an alphabet, a catechism, hymns and the Ten Commandments.
During her school years, Wahapaa and her entire family — all devout Protestants, but most notably her grandfather, who’d helped build the stone church at Waimea — converted to Mormonism, were baptized by Kualaulau in the deep pool at the junction of the Waimea and Makaweli rivers and thereafter attended services further up the Makaweli River.
In 1870, the family moved to Laie, Oahu, but Wahapaa returned to Waimea Valley, and eventually made her home at Haikoa, Makaweli.
Famed as a healer by her people, she survived three husbands and all but one of her eight children and died in Honolulu at age 109.