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Origin of Pokémon Regions: Alola Region

Aloha, Pokémon trainers. Welcome to the seventh instalment of our journey around the world of Pokémon. The seventh Pokémon generation, Pokémon Sun & Moon, are set in the Alola region, based on Hawaii. The games saw the introduction of regional forms, previously established Pokémon species who have adapted in this new region. For instance, Vulpix and Ninetales appear as Ice-types in Alola, rather than as Fire-types in Kanto.

Though the smallest Pokémon region, Alola has a large amount of locations. Much of its story, new Pokémon, and culture reference Hawaiian and Polynesian traditions, lifestyles, and animals. The name Alola comes from “aloha”, the traditional Hawaiian greeting. It may incorporate the word “ola”, Hawaiian for “life”.

A Pokémon Postcard Take on Hawaii

Hawaii was originally settled by Polynesians, who lived in independent communities until the British showed up in 1778. Through colonisation, Hawaii was unified as one kingdom, recognised as such in 1810. But, the monarchy was overthrown by white foreigners, ultimately annexed by the United States. Following the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941, Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959.

From this, Hawaii was transformed into a popular tourist destination, particularly amongst the Japanese. During the 1960s and onwards, Japanese tourists made up a majority of visitors to the archipelago. Nowadays, Hawaii and its traditions are depicted as a tropical paradise. Traditions like luaus, surfing, lei, and fire dances have become synonymous with the state, and are referenced within the games.

Alola is depicted as the popular tourist destination within the games. This references the repeated Japanese tourism boom between the 1960s and 1990s. As such, Alola is viewed from an outsider’s perspective. Our playable characters are moving to Alola, exploring the region just as we are. However, Alola’s depiction is a balanced act of tropical familiarities and deeper, cultural inspirations.

The region is made up of five islands, one being the artificial Aether Paradise. The other four are based on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii Island. Many of the new Pokémon are based on Hawaiian wildlife, folklore, and history. For example, Yungoos and Gumshoos are based on the Asian mongoose, which were imported to the archipelago to hunt rats on farmland; they instead killed the local bird population and became an invasive species. This is why Yungoos only appear in the day, and the Alolan Raticate at night.

The Guardian Deities

Alola has several legendary Pokémon, though most originate from outer space. The local guardians, however, are the Tapu, who protect each of the four islands. They are Tapu Koko of Melemele Island, Tapu Lele of Akala Island, Tapu Bulu of Ula’ula Island, and Tapu Fini of Poni Island. The Tapu are reclusive, staying away from human affairs, unless they choose to select a new Island Kahuna (the Alolan equivalent of the Elite Four).

Each Tapu resembles a mix of Polynesian masks and totem poles, and are based on the four primary gods in Hawaiian mythology.

Tapu Koko is based on Kū, the god of war and conflict. This deity is commonly depicted covered in orange and yellow feathers. Tapu Koko resembles a rooster, sharing the same colours as Kū, described as very hot-headed and fickle. The ‘aumakua, family gods that begun as a deified ancestor, are associated with Kū, including the pueo owl, the inspiration behind Rowlet, the Alolan Grass-type starter.

Tapu Lele resembles a pink butterfly emerging from its cocoon, depicted as cruel-natured, but will heal injured Pokémon. It is based on Kāne, considered the highest of all gods, introducing life, procreation, and mankind to the world.

Tapu Bulu resembles a bull, “bulu” being the Hawaiian word for bull. It commands the vegetation to grow and change shape. Though described as peaceful, it is thought to be a lazy deity, and will be merciless towards those who offend it. Tapu Bulu is based on Lono, the god of fertility, agriculture, rain, and peace. This bull-like depiction may reference how bulls are used for ploughing and their short tempers.

Tapu Fini resembles a swordfish, a bivalve, and a mermaid. Using the ocean waves, it can conjure a dense fog, which can summon the spirits of the dead. This references Kanaloa, a sea god, also depicted as a god of the Underworld.

From Beyond the Stars

Solgaleo and Lunala, the Alolan legendaries, are the first to actually evolve, specifically from Cosmog and then Cosmoem. The Pokémon come from the Ultra Space, another dimension, though are regarded as benevolent creatures. Solgaleo is inspired on the “lion with a sun” motif, particularly seen in alchemy. Lunala may be inspired by several bat-like deities, such as the skeletal Itzpapalotl of the Aztecs; Camazotz, a Mayan bat god; or Leutogi, a Samoan protector goddess. It may be based on Pe’a-pe’a-makawalu, an eight-eyed bat who fought Maui.

The same benevolence cannot be said for the Ultra Beasts, monstrous Lovecraftian Pokémon from other dimensions. All of these Pokémon are studied by the Aether Foundation, perhaps the most complex villain group. They protect and care for injured Pokémon, and to preserve the conservation of Alola’s natural habitats. However, they secretly study the Ultra Space, their leader Lusamine having an unhealthy obsession with the Ultra Beasts. In the sequels, Ultra Sun & Ultra Moon, Aether aims to use Cosmog’s power to stop an invasion by the Ultra Beasts.

This double-edged behaviour may reference the controversy surrounding the Mauna Kea Observatories, which are built on the summit of Big Island’s dormant volcano. The location is considered ideal for numerous reasons, including a lack of light pollution and a high elevation. But, the observatories have been opposed by Hawaiians, from environmentalism, to the site being sacred to the Hawaiian religion, being home to several deities. Protests and campaigns have been occurring over the past decade to avert the construction of the Thirty Metre Telescope.

Melemele Island

Melemele is based on Oahu. The name means “yellow,” the colour of the island. Hau’oli City is based on Honolulu, Hawaii’s state island, mirroring its popular beaches like Waikiki, the shopping mall Ala Moana, and even Pearl Harbour. Iki Town is based on Wahiawa, depicted as an old traditional town with close connections to Tapu Koko. Big Wave Beach is inspired by the Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach, both popular with surfers.

Ten Carat Hill is inspired by Diamond Head, a volcanic tuff cone shaped like a tuna’s dorsal fin. In the 19th century, British sailors mistook calcite crystals on the nearby beach for diamonds. This is referenced in Necrozma’s appearance in Pokémon Sun & Moon. Hau’oli Cemetery, based on the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, honouring fallen soldiers; though, in the games, the cemetery is for dead Pokémon.

The berry fields reference the Dole Food Company plantation, the business founded in Hawaii in 1851. Melemele Meadow is based on the Oahu Forest National Wildlife Refuge, home to endangered honeycreepers (likely referenced in the form of Cutiefly). Kala’e Bay is based on Hanauma Bay, a nature sanctuary preserving native marine life.

The Ruins of Conflict, home to Tapu Koko, stands in for Pu’u o Mahuka Heiau, the largest temple on Oahu. The temple was built between the 17th-18th centuries, during times of conflict. It is suggested that the heiau’s upper platform may have been used for sacrifices to bring about victory in war. In 1792, three British crewman of the HMS Daedalus were killed and possibly sacrificed by Native Hawaiians at the heiau.

Akala Island

This island is based on Maui, the second largest Hawaiian island. Akala means “pink”, the island’s designated colour. Heahea City is said to have been founded by immigrants from Kanto and Johto. This references Kahului and its large demography of Asian residents. There are many geographical stand-ins for Maui – Pikachu Valley being Iao Valley, Brooklet Hill for ‘Ohe’o Gulch (referencing its seven sacred pools), and Diglett’s Tunnel for the Hana Lava Tube.

Paniola Town and Paniola Ranch pay tribute to Makawao, a community known for their agricultural and ranch land, the largest being Haleakala Ranch. The city Wailuku is represented by Royal Avenue, built around the Battle Royal Dome, which is architecturally based on the War Memorial Stadium.

Konikoni City stands in for the Lahaina region. The distinct Asian architecture references the large Chinese populace in the area during the early 20th century, who came to work in the sugarcane industry. Wailea, a resort-heavy area, is represented by the Hano Grand Resort, based on the Grand Wailea Resort.

The Wela Volcano Park is based on Haleakalā National Park, named after a dormant volcano in the area. Bulbapedia suggests Wela takes geographical inspiration from Kīlauea, one of the active volcanoes, due to the presence of magma pools and running lava. Lush Jungle is based on Hana, an isolated community on Maui’s eastern end. Though Hawaii is a tropical location, the jungle may take inspiration from the Kanahu Garden and the Kaia Ranch Tropical Botanical Gardens.

Kanahu Garden is home to Pi’ilanihale Heiau, the largest temple in Hawaii. This is the inspiration behind the Ruins of Life, dedicated to Tapu Lele.

Ula’ula Island

Our third island is based on Hawaii Island, the largest in the archipelago, Ula’ula meaning “red”. Malie City is based on Hilo, the largest city on Hawaii Island. Maile has a heavy dose of Asian architecture, referencing Hilo’s large Asian populace similar to Konikoni City’s backstory. The Maile Garden represent the Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, stunning Japanese gardens, donated by Queen Liliuokalani, the last monarch of Hawaii. In the games, the garden and Maile were founded by immigrants from Johto, which is based on Kansai. It pays homage to the first two Pokémon generations.

The island’s two volcanoes are represented in Alola. Mauna Kea, home to the controversial observatories, is personified as Mount Hokulani. Kilauea, an active volcano, appears as Blush Mountain, home to a geothermal power plant. This references a plant in the Puna district of Hawaii to generate electricity from the volcano’s geothermal vents. However, Kilauea’s eruption 2018 caused the plant to be temporary shutdown.

The Secluded Shore and Tapu Village are both based on towns that have been destroyed by volcano eruptions. Kaimū was buried under fifty feet of lava from Kilauea in 1990. Kalapana has been struck several times by lava flows, but remains standing and occupied to this day. Tapu Village was destroyed by Tapu Bulu.

Haina Desert is based on Ka’ū Desert, which mostly consists of dried lava remnants, ash, and gravel. A high amount of acidic rain prevents plant life from growing in the desert. The Lake of the Sunne/Moone fits Lake Waiau, the largest lake in Hawaii. Po Town is a town bordered by high walls and home to the ineffective Team Skull. Their presence references Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, where those who broke the ancient Hawaiian laws (kapu), could seek sanctuary from prosecution. Priests would absolve the criminals, allowing them to walk free. Team Skull use their location as a stronghold, and are “forgiven” whilst in the employment of the Aether Foundation.

Mount Lanakila serves as the snowy area of Alola, being the home for the Alolan Pokémon League. It is based on Mauna Loa, the largest shield volcano in the world. The Ruins of Abundance are inspired by Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, the last temple built in Hawaii.

Poni Island and Other Locations

Poni Island is based on Kauai, poni meaning “purple”. Seafolk Village, where everyone lives on a boat, stands in for Port Allen, a community and trade harbour. Next door is Poni Wilds, inspired by Kalalau Valley; inaccessible to vehicles and is uninhabited, allowing the local wildlife to roam free. Poni Breaker Coast takes its blowholes Poipu, which has the impressive Spouting Hole. In folklore, the noise from the blowhole is from a giant lizard trapped in a lava tube thanks to a swimmer named Liko.

The Ruins of Hope, Tapu Fini’s home, are based on Wailua Complex, a collection of important temples. Our tour of Alola continues to Vast Poni Canyon, based on Waimea Canyon State Park, nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, carved by a mass amount of rainfall. The Altar of the Sunne/Moone, where the player can access the Ultra Wormhole, is based on  Mount Waialeale, the central volcano in Kauai.

Poni Grove and Poni Plains are based on the communities of Lihue and Kapaa. Plains Grotto is based on Fern Grotto, a lava rock grotto. Poni Meadow is based on the Alaka’I Wilderness Preserve, a wet forest commonly identified as a swamp, often shrouded in clouds, referenced via the fog that covers Poni Meadow. Other locations include Poni Coast, based on Kalihiwai; Poni Gauntlet based on Hanalei; and the Battle Tree is based on the Ha’ena State Park, notable for its archaeological sites being related to the hula.

Offshore is the Exeggutor Island, an isolated location, based on a fusion of Niihau and Kaho’olawe. Niihau provides habitats for the Hawaiian coots, stilts, and ducks. Aside from its caretaker, the island is off limits to all outsiders. Kaho’olawe was used by the US Armed Forces as a bombing ground, until protests brought that to an end. Nowadays, the island is strictly used for native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual purposes.

The Aether Paradise references Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a vast area of ocean, consisting of ten islands of the North-western Hawaiian Islands. Being a World Heritage site, it is one of the world’s largest protected areas. The area has a deep importance to native Hawaiian traditions, and is home to a variety of endemic, endangered species.

Our next destination is the newest region in the Pokémon world. The Galar region is based on the United Kingdom, so get ready for a very British trip. Want to know where we’ve been? Check out our previous tours too. What is your favourite location in Alola? Leave a comment below, or on our Twitter feed.

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Mark Russell

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