The Mana Mirage

SOURCE: Hope Kallai (
SUBHEAD: Mana means supernatural and dry in Hawaiian and these visitors to Kauai in 1847 found magic there.

By Chester S. Lyman 17 April 1847 in Island Breath -

Image above: Bonafide water in Queens Pond north of the Barking Sands in Kolo ahupuaa along the shoreline. Photo by Juan Wilson (truck tracks edited out).

Below is excerpt from "Around the Horn to the Sandwich Islands and California" 1845-1850 by Chester S. Lyman. Edited by Frederick John Teggart. Starting at Page 184 to 191.

Saturday 17th April [calculated as1847] The horses having been got up, Messrs Alexander and Douglass and Miss Dibble started at 11am for a ride to Mana, 12 miles distant along the coast westerly, to witness the Mana Mirage and the Musical Sand [Barking Sands].

Our route lay over a level plain, scarcely at all elevated above the ocean, and from 1 to 2 miles wide between the sea and the inland bluff by which it is bounded. All along the shore and throughout the plain a coarse sandstone appears, composed chiefly of comminuted shells.

This plain in dry weather is the scene of a remarkable exhibition of the mirage, like that seen by the French soldiers in Egypt. The traveler sees spread out on the plain what seems to be an extensive pond of water, so perfectly resembling the real element as often effectually to deceive the spectator. On approaching it however the illusion vanishes and nothing remains but the dry sandy plain.

On passing this pseudo lake and looking back the apparent water is again visible. Mr Rowell mentions having often witnessed this and all the natives with whom we conversed gave the same account of the matter.

After riding two or three miles over the plain, we came indeed to what seemed to be a sheet of water spreading out for miles over the low level plain. This of course must be the wonderful mirage. To be sure it looked like real water and, on approaching it, we could discern little rippling waves raised by the wind, which so thoroughly completed the illusion that we could scarcely doubt that the exhibition before us was bonafide water.

Nor were we more undeceived when we saw a veritable canoe lying on one of the seeming banks partly on land and partly on the mirage.

Our wits were completely nonplussed when on beginning to cross the Mirage instead of the vision vanishing the horses feet made a splashing and splattering and some large drops of the mirage in a substantial form were actually thrown upon our clothes.

The seemingly clear lake also became to the eye muddled and dark where the hooves passed along, and we had not ridden many rods into the phenomenon before we found that unless we lifted up our feet and gathered them up under us on the saddle they would become wet and soggy in the mirage just as readily as in a real pond of water.

Moreover tall bulrushes grew up from the bottom, and by the time we had reached the opposite bank of 20 or 30 rods of troublesome and muddy wading we were so impressed by the wonderful perfectness of the illusion that we came unanimously to the conclusion that if the phenomenon we had witnessed and felt was not actual water we could not tell what it was.

It is proper to say however that the natives had forewarned us that in place of the mirage we should now find real water, the recent rains having covered the whole plain with a shallow lake of water 5 or 6 miles long and in places half a mile or more wide.

There is no doubt of the reality of the Mirage in dry weather, but on the present occasion it was flooded, and actual water had usurped its place.

Image above: Looking towards Polihale along Barking Sands shoreline. From (

Eleven or twelve miles from Waimea we reached the sand hills at the western extremely of the plain, which stretches off towards the North several miles further and terminates at the precipitous coast which extends along the Western side of the Island to the Caves at Haena, being an almost perpendicular rocky bluff in places attaining an elevation of 3000 or 4000 feet.

At the termination of the plain over which we had ridden is a ridge of sand hill extending from the bluff on the right a mile or more along the shore towards the left. Some parts of this ridge reach to the height of 100 feet or more above the plain, especially the southern extremity, where we first came up to it. The sand here is famous for its peculiar musical, or granting quality. The natives have observed it from time immemorial. The name of the sand bank is Nohili.

It is a beautiful clean bank of white or reddish sand, formed mostly of polished particles of seashells, and perfectly dry from direct exposure to the rays of the sun. This bank is over 100 feet perpendicular elevation above the plain, and the slope of It (30º or 35º) is as great as the particles of the sand will allow. It is steadily advancing along the plain, and the strong breezes from the North are constantly wafting along fresh supplies of sand, which coming over the summit lie on this southern slope at as steep an angle as possible. The natives say that this bank was formerly a great way off, but that now it is coming very nigh.

But the great curiosity here is the barking or grunting property of the sand. On stirring it, or rather on pressing it together with both hands, 'it gives out an audible and peculiar squeak, grunt or hark, more resembling the barking of the little toy dog which children play with than anything else. We it at various places on the sand bank, even on its s t and every where with the same result, except where it was damp.

The particles of the sand viewed with a glass are more or less rounded and highly polished, being comminuted fragments of shells. It seems to be nearly free from finer particles of dust and the sound must in some way be owing to this circumstance together with the smoothness and dryness of the particles. The natives say that they know of no other sand that has the barking quality, but that this when carried elsewhere and dried in the sun still retains it.

Image above: Ocean view of Barking Sands dunes at Nohili Point with cliffs over Mana plain in distance. Area is restricted by US Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility or PMRF. Photo by Juan Wilson.

See also:
Ea O Ka Aina: The Golden Plain 8/27/13



lola said...

Mahalo to Hope and Juan, for encouraging my hope to help restore our precious water, yes, Wai Ola! Comminutedly, Katherine Muzik

Anonymous said...

My wish is that some day water that was diverted will be restored to the river at Polihale. There is evidence that a rather substantial river once flowed into the ocean. Mahalo for this article!

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