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Night Lights

The majestic Lamakū Tower salutes Waikīkī’s night fishermen and the faithful beacons that guided them home.



Long before it became a bustling tourist town, Waikīkī was once a hotbed of fresh catch for Native Hawaiians. Many species of fish could be found after dark, so lawai‘a (fishermen) would lie in wait for hours upon end—near the shoreline, above, or beyond the reef depending on their intended targets. Should the good graces of Kū`ula, the Hawaiian god of fishermen, be with them, the lawai‘a would return with enough protein to feed their families and barter with upland farmers for kalo (taro), ʻulu (breadfruit), and other staples.

Armed with generations of local fishing wisdom, the night lawai‘a chose their weapons according to the size and activity of their prey: To stalk shallow swimmers and rock dwellers, they wielded 6-foot-long spears made from kauila or other hardwoods. To ensnare sea creatures at greater depths, they relied on bone hooks attached to lines made from olonā plant fiber, baiting the hooks with fish, shrimp, or crab. Handwoven olonā traps were set for small fish, shrimp, and lobster, and lay nets or scoop nets could efficiently collect fish such as ‘ōpelu (mackerel scad) traveling in schools. Stone sinkers, cowrie-shell or pearl-shell lures, and other crafty implements were often a part of the strategy.

Integral on overnight missions, torches known as lamakū illuminated the lawai‘a’s path and improved his odds by drawing in curious fish. The lamakū were made from the midrib of a coconut leaf wrapped in ti leaves and adorned with kukui nuts, which would burn all night when strung together. In the capture technique lamalama, lamakū were waved over the water’s surface to dazzle the fish, allowing time for a stone’s throw to send them darting into the lawai‘a’s net. Following a successful harvest, the lawai‘a would head to the ko‘a (fishing shrine) to leave an offering of gratitude for their ‘aumakua (ancestors).

Standing 30-feet above International Market Place’s Kalākaua entrance, Lamakū Tower honors the efforts of these dedicated lawai‘a, as well as their ingenuity in crafting fishing tools such as the lamakū. Just as the crucial role of Waikīkī’s freshwater streams is personified throughout the center’s interior, the iconic cascading fire tower celebrates the cultivation of the area’s rich saltwater resources with a series of 4-foot tall stainless steel, bronze-finished lanterns.

Every evening at sundown, the ceremonial lighting of the Lamakū Tower guides spectators to the O Nā Lani Sunset Stories hula performance inside Queen’s Court. And like the kukui nut torches of old, Lamakū Tower’s welcoming glow can be spotted from miles away on a clear night.