Most commonly known as Coconut Island in Hilo, literally it means ‘healing island.’ Moku meaning island and ola meaning life. Historically, people came to Mokuola for spring water believed to have healing qualities; umbilical cords of infants were hidden here under a flat stone known as Papa-a-Hina [stratum of Hina] to protect them from rats. Another explanation is that Mokuola was a son of `Ulu (see Waiākea ). A sea pool to the right of the landing on the island was called Pua`a-kāheka.
Just outside of Mokuola is a small islet called Kaula`i-nā-iwi, literally ‘dry the bones’ (bones of chiefs were dried here).
Other stories about Mokuola:
Mokuola was also a pu`uhonua or place of refuge. Moku ‘Ola and Maka-oku, the piece of mainland opposite the island, formed a place of refuge for defeated warriors and others who needed safety.
Mythology: Maui, the demi-god (son of Hina of Waianuenue, Rainbow Falls) tried to unite the islands. He called a meeting of the chiefs and people and told them of his plan to join the islands together so they could travel throughout the kingdom easily. He told them he needed their help to pull but that they should not look back until the islands were connected. Maui fastened his magic fishhook into Maui Island and the men paddled and pulled with all their might and the island slowly moved behind them. Just as Maui Island was about to be connected to Hawaii Island, one of the chiefs (some say one of Maui’s brothers) looked back and broke the spell. The island of Maui slid back to its former position except for the piece fastened to Maui’s fishhook. This piece of land is known as Coconut Island or Moku ‘Ola.
Growing up in Hilo, I was told that if one was ill and could swim around Kaula`i-nā-iwi, you would be cured of your illness. The Keli`ipio family were the caretakers of Mokuola and at one time the piko of their children were planted under coconut trees on the island. The Keli`ipio family were very strong swimmers and taught many of the children in Hilo to swim through programs at the old NAS pool.