Making Waves column: Scars of Hualalai eruption mark today’s Kona

A roaring explosion shook them from sleep.

Hawaiians ran from their huts and gazed up trembling at crimson fountains shooting into the night sky then falling and splashing gold lava onto the black rocks above, a blazing orange river was charging down upon them.


Hualalai Volcano was erupting.

Grabbing up their keiki, the terrified men and women fled barefoot down the horrid aa flanks of the dark mountain, feet bleeding, hearts racing, eyes as wide as the full moon above. Behind them the crimson river ate up huts, tools, mats, konani stones, bamboo toys, everything in its fiery path.

It was a slurping terror of magma eating villages as it oozed to the sea, and would soon cover up most of Kona.

Nothing but a stark pahoehoe carpet would remain, a black field where once a thatched village of people walked happily in the Kona sun.

The Hawaiians fleeing in the night knew it was a month or season of planting, not one of them knew it was the Christian Year of our Lord, 1801. They did not know of a Lord, one son of God that years were named for.

They worshipped a thousand sons of a thousand gods. And now one of them had descended upon their world and they trembled at what kapu had been broken.

They had no idea that 18 years from that night, black-suited missionaries of the Christian Lord would come, and the white foreigners would build towns of cement and write of this eruption of Hualalai in the haole year 1801. Years named with numbers, a silly idea. It ignored the earth, gods, stars and moons, real markers of time.

Hundreds of brown-skinned families ran from the flowing red terror, some headed for Puuhonua O Honaunau to be safe, others joined ohana in the south and other ahupuaa. Most walked to Kona to see what the great King Kamehameha would do.

His grass hale on the lagoon of Kona was the center of the world. Living pono with his favorite wife Kaahumanu and his other wives, he kept the kingdom in perfect balance.

He had all the mana in the world, himself a god. He would protect them as he always had, he and the kahuna with power. They would stop the lava, no doubt.

As the sun rose the Hawaiians could see the massive black and red fingers crawling along the earth. The fingers covered the sacred fishponds. Precious food was gone, along with the king’s pride. The sands of Kua Bay and Kahakai soon would be lost.

To appease the spirit, pigs were sacrificed, to no avail. Kahuna chanted with ti leaves to stop it but it slowed not a bit, it would soon cover everything.

The great king had to act. He had the power to overcome. He stood up to his legendary height, wide shoulders, arms the size of palm trunks, with sad eyes and black curling hair he walked out and stood before the defiant blazing river.

It scorched his face and chest, and with a stone knife the king hacked at his hair and soon held a lock of his hair in his hand and dropped it in front of the flowing lava.

The lava stopped for all time. Kona was saved.


This flow can still be seen today at a popular lava tube north of Kona.

Dennis Gregory writes a bimonthly column for West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at