HONOLULU (KHON2) — In Hawaiʻi, names are very important as they tell a story and that includes our roadways. 

Do you know the meaning of the street you live on? 

On the go with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8

KHON2’s weekly ‘Aloha Authentic’ segment highlights various roadways across the islands so we can dig into those given names, and in turn, learn something new about Hawaiʻi and our history. This week, we bring attention to a tree used in a wide range of things, much of which could be in your home right now. 

In the ahupuaʻa of Honolulu, which lies in the moku Kona on Oʻahu, stands a roadway named after how we say Sandalwood in the Hawaiian language. We are talking about ʻIliahi Street.

Known for over 4,000 years, sandalwood has played a part in many cultures and civilizations around the globe.

Hawaiʻi has its own endemic varieties. When the first Hawaiian ancestors arrived in the islands, the mountains flourished with ʻIliahi. It wasn’t until the early 1790s that sandalwood became a trade commodity.

Chinese traders established a deal with King Kamehameha I to begin trade, which led sandalwood to become the main Hawaiian export from 1810 to 1820. 

But after the king passed away, King Kamehameha II — his son — ascended the throne, and unfortunately, drove the Hawaiian Kingdom into massive debt.

The Kingdom would take credit from foreign traders with the expectation to pay them back with ʻIliahi. However, they ended up owing more than they could deliver, dwindling the Kingdom’s economy.

So, to help pay off the debt, the Kingdom put a tax on each person, making them provide 133 pounds of ʻIliahi wood annually. As a result, it is estimated that about 13,000,000 pounds of wood were stripped from Hawaiʻi’s mountainsides.

Today, sandalwood is used in items such as furniture, perfumes, soaps and incense. It is considered one of the most expensive woods in the world.

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