Effort to rename Captain Cook remains alive

A resolution asking the Census to re-designate Captain Cook as Ka‘awaloa has crossed over to the state Senate.

House Concurrent Resolution 27 requests the U.S. Census Bureau re-designate the Census-designated place known as Captain Cook on Hawaii Island as Ka‘awaloa. It further requests the County of Hawaii remove all references to Captain Cook as a place name.


Introduced by Rep. Jeanne Kapela (D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, and Kailua-Kona) and others, HCR27, if passed, would not have the force and effect of law, but rather it would state the official position of the Legislature.

The proposal cleared its final House assignment passing the Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs on April 5 on a 9-1 vote with two “ayes” with reservations. The lone negative vote was tendered by Rep. Gene Ward (R-Oahu).

Testimony heard during the April 5 meeting was overwhelmingly in support of renaming the South Kona town. Some 53 people and groups offered written testimony on the matter with just three opposed to the resolution. One person offered testimony but took no position.

Among those in support of the measure was Mehana Kihoi, one of only two people to testify via Zoom during the hearing. The other testifier during hearing was Mitchell Lee, who opposes the resolution.

“I live in the neighboring town of Honaunau and every single day for the last 38 years I have been forced to acknowledge the historical trauma and genocide that Captain Cook inflicted upon my people over 200 years ago,” said Kihoi, noting she represents six Native Hawaiian members of her household. “Simply existing in the surrounding area, hearing this name uttered daily, has changed my energetic relationship with this ‘aina. There is absolutely nothing honorable about irreparably damaging the continuity of the indigenous people of this land.”

Kihoi pushed back on the notion of changing the name being “cancel culture.”

“A common argument that I’ve been seeing is the idea that this is canceling culture, a phrase that has been coined by settlers with no genealogical ties to this land, a phrase that is not only offensive but also grossly inaccurate. What we are doing here is correcting culture and restoring pono and integrity back to the island,” she said, noting that over 2,600 signatures had been collected in support of the re-designation.

Mitchell Lee, a 30-year resident of Captain Cook, said the 12 to 15 people he’d informally polled who either lived or worked in the town thought it was a bad idea to re-designate it as Ka‘awaloa. He said attempts to glean additional information from Kapela about support in the community for the proposal were fruitless.

“I have always respected and enjoyed learning about Native Hawaiian culture, but I must say that the proposed name change has really little to do with Hawaiian culture but a lot to do with cancel culture,” he said. “I’m not sure with all that’s going on in the world if this is the right thing to do, this will have a financial imposition on both the city and County of Hawaii as well as small business people like myself.”

He closed with a request of a nonbinding referendum to determine if the Captain Cook community, in fact, wants the name change.

“I was very impressed with the testimony on both sides. I’m increasingly seeing what is on the ground level but like in the Mckinley High School proposal to change the name once they talked to those on the ground — i.e. the alumni — they said hey back off,” said Ward before voting no on the resolution. “I’d like to see the 2,600 signatures if they were from the people of Captain Cook or what would be a plebiscite to get a better reading and maybe that’s from representative Kapela but right now I am still in the negative category.”

Captain Cook, located between Honaunau and Kealakekua in South Kona, was so named after a post office established at the Captain Cook Coffee Co. in the early 1900s. The coffee company was named after Capt. James Cook, the British explorer and navigator, and first European to discover Hawaii, was later killed at Kealakekua Bay on Feb. 14, 1779.

Prior, the area was known as Ka‘awaloa, and was home to a thriving Hawaiian village and the choice locale for many Kona chiefs, including King Kamehameha I.

Re-designating the area as Ka‘awaloa is vital to recognizing and honoring the rich and storied history of Hawaii, according to the resolution.

The resolution is currently awaiting hearings before the Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental, and Military Affairs and the Committee on Judiciary in the Senate.

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