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Hilo's popular Wailoa Center was designed by Oda McCarty Architects Ltd. and was completed in 1967. Wailoa Center helped to breathe new life into the green-zone created by the devastating 1960 tsunami along Hilo’s bayfront.  Shinmachi in Japanese means “New Town”. It was once a bustling neighborhood and now encompasses the Wailoa River State Recreation Area.

Wailoa Center is centrally located in the park next to the Tsunami Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, and Korean War Memorial across the river from the King Kamehameha Statue. It is administered by the Division of State Parks within the Department of Land and Natural Resources.



Piopio, an ili kupono within the ahupuaa of Waiakea, is a wahi pana, or storied place. Once, this area was known for its wealth of food production, as well, as a home to alii such as Keelikolani, and Kamehameha I. Yet today, it is an area we drive through often but do not give much thought to its historical and cultural significance. It is a place Hilo residents are familiar with but do not intimately know.

The mural at Wailoa Center seeks to share these stories of Piopio with our community. Lokelani Brandt, whose master’s thesis is an ethno-historical study of Piopio, uncovered a list of place names recorded in 1925 by Mrs. Kaouli Kaai. It is these place names that are inspiration for the imagery within the mural. These wahi pana (storied places) and the moolelo (stories) that take place within them are the backbone to the simple patterns and designs. While it may seem to be just swirl or a triangle, each shape’s simplicity contains the essence of a deep storied past. The images depicted act as a window into these moolelo and give a jumping-off point to the rich history of this special place.

Not all the place names of Piopio are included within the mural. It would not be possible to incorporate all the wahi pana or moolelo. However, I hope that the representation of these names in this visual and public manner will encourage our community to question the history of Hilo that they already know, and then to look deeper. I hope to honor those that have come before, and that this peek into the past will give us a path towards the revitalization of Piopio, a central part of Waiakea, and Hilo.


Each panel depicts place names within the area that the panel faces. Most of names are within Wailoa or Piopio. The mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are also included as they are an essential part of our water gathering systems.


Below is a list of place names contained in each panel and a brief description of the significance of the place name and imagery. Panels are labeled starting from the Puna side of the mural at top of the ramp.


Panel A) Mauna Loa, Puu Kulani

Mauna Loa, the most massive of our islandʻs mountains is the source of water for the Wailoa and Waiakea rivers. As one of the starting points for the mural it is marks the beginning of this body of water. Puu Kulani, a highly visible geographical feature on Mauna Loaʻs southern flank, is a meeting point for three different districts: Puna, Hilo and Kau.


Panel B) Kalepolepo

Kalepolepo is the name of fishpond and the land on the Hilo side of Waiakea River, near Kapiolani School. This area was the birthing place of a shark by the name of Kuhaimoana. It is also home to an epic battle between Kamiki ma and Upeloa. Kalepolepo is also the site of the first battle in the war between Kalaniopuu and Alapai.


Panel C) Mohouli, Ulu o Namu

Mohouli is the second of the five fish ponds in this area. Ulu o Namu was a breadfruit grove found near the lower end of Mohouli fishponds.


Panel D) Waiakea, Piko o Wakea, Kapunakea, Kalimaalae

Waiakea is the largest of the fishponds. Each of the other featured names is a spring within Waiakea. Kapunakea and Kalimaalae both are located near the back of Waiakea where the Waiakea Mill was at one time. Piko o Wakea is the deepest point of Waiakea Pond and is also a name given to a war club used by Upeloa when he battles Kamiki at Kalepolepo.


Panel E) Wailoa, Umi, Piikea, Huaa, Halauwai, Kaohia

Umi, Piikea, Huaa, Halauwai and Kaohia are the names of the makaha or sluice gates in the Waiakea pond. The largest, called Umi is located where the most mauka of the arched bridges are today. The other four makaha are named for Umiʻs wives. Umi has great significance in this area. It is thought that he may have been responsible for designating this land as an ili kupono when he created the ahupuaa system. The ponds of Waiakea and Piopio were famous for their fat mullet. It is highly likely that is a reason the area was designated given this designation.


Panel F) Kuihili

Kuihili is a promontory on Waiakea side of the Wailoa River where kukui bark was pounded to create a red dye that was used for dying kapa and fishing nets.  


Panel G) Kanukuokamanu,

Kanukuokamanu is the peninsula of land on the Hilo side of the Wailoa River mouth. This is a many storied place. One such story tells of Umi breaking the wiliwili necklace of the Hilo chief, Kulukulua, in order to instigate a conflict. As a result of the ensuing battle Umi killed Kulukulua and gained Hilo under his rule.


Panel H) Hilo one

Hilo One is the sandy area we commonly call Bay Front. It sits between Hilo Paliku, towards Hamakua, and Hilo Hanakahi towards Keaukaha. It is where the waters of Waiakea, Waiolama and Wailuku meet. It was also an area where Kamehameha the First, a descendant of Umi, came to build a fleet of canoes.


Panel I) Waiolama

Waiolama are the waters where the Aleniao River once met the ocean during heavy rains.  The water is now diverted to Wailoa River. This diversion causes heavy flooding during those same types of rain.  


Panel J) Wailuku River

This tumultuous river borders the Hamakua side of Hilo town and is known for its treacherous nature. It is the largest of river in the Hilo area and marks the beginning of Mauna Kea watersheds.


Panel K) Maunakea

Mauna Kea is the zenith of our island; a water collector; in one genealogy he is the first born of Wakea, the Sky Father. The woven pattern that holds the mauna (in this panel and on A, I and J) is meant to evoke the night sky, the stars above as well mimic the weave of lau hala.  


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