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On the Hunt for the Elusive Enuhe

By Kaleimanukeakealani Yahna-DeLeon

8th grade student

The Volcano School of Arts & Sciences, PCS

When I was seven years old, we went to our friend’s house in Green Sands Subdivision on Kaʻaluʻalu road in Waiohinu. I remember a whole lot of caterpillars, inch worms, on all the plants. They would come down from the mango and Christmas berry trees and would land on me and my mom. They were everywhere, there were just so many of them! They came down from the trees on spider-like webs. I have not seen them since.

I am finding out more about the caterpillars, the enuhe, because our 8th grade class of Volcano School is doing research about the enuhe of Kaʻū. Last month we listened to entomologist Steven Montgomery with University of Hawaii at Manoa, talk about how he visited Uncle Willie Meinecke in Waiohinu in the 1970’s; how Uncle Willie, who was 82 years young, climbed the orange tree in his backyard, and how Uncle found the rare Blackburn moth in Kaʻū. This moth was last seen in the 1890’s. Montgomery also told us about the carnivorous caterpillars (Eupithecia) found only in Hawaii and how he found one brown one in Kaiholena.

We also watched a video of the caterpillars eating a fruit fly. It was filmed by The National Geographic and it took six weeks for the crew to wait patiently and finally capture on film the caterpillar eating a fly. Our Hawaiian caterpillars are the only ones in the world that eat meat, not leaves. Montgomery also found the wekiu bug on Mauna Kea.

Insects are interesting; when I was a kid, I would play with bugs in the dirt and grass in our pasture at South Point. I remember when Auntie Ke came to Naʻalehu Elementary and told us stories about Kaʻū, like why Puʻu Enuhe is called that. Puʻu Enuhe, or the caterpillar hill, is named for Kumuhea -- a son of Kū who could change from a caterpillar to a man. According to Mary Kawena Pukui’s “The Polynesian Family System in Ka’ū, Hawaiʻi”, Kumuhea fell in love with a girl from Kaʻū, married her, and took her to the top of Puʻu Enuhe. He fed her only sweet-potato leaves and she became skinny; her ‘ohana became worried about her.

Today, some people in Kaʻū still consider Kumuhea an aumakua, ancestor, and “precautions were taken to avoid stepping on them (caterpillars) even when the roads were covered with them during unusual and pestilential visitations.” (Pukui). I remember my dad, Earl DeLeon, wouldn’t let us pick up and play with the loli (sea cucumbers) when we were kids. The loli are considered another form of Kumuhea so that is why some people in Kaʻū do not eat loli.

We are collecting moʻolelo, stories from Kaʻū people about the enuhe, so please contact my teacher: to make sure these stories are recorded for future generations. Mahalo nui.

This student research project on enuhe is part of Hui Kiaʻi Wai O Kaʻū, (Water Guardians of Kaʻū), a watershed stewardship initiative supported by the USDA Forest Service PSW Institute of Pacific Island Forestry (USDA FS) through a Youth Conservation Education award and by the US Department of Commerce National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ocean Guardian School (OGS) program. In addition to USDA FS and NOAA OGS, VSAS is working with The Nature Conservancy, Akaka Foundation for Tropical Forests and the Teaching Change Partnership, National Park Service, Hawaii Island Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project, ʻAlalā Project: State of Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, the State of Hawaiʻi Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, San Diego Zoo Global and Three Mountain Alliance (HAWP; Hawaii Alliance of Watershed Partnerships).

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