Back to Big Island of Hawaii Index Page
<< Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site >>
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Nat'l Hist. Park
Suppose you lived on the island of Hawaii 300 years ago, and you accidentally walked in the community chief’s footsteps one day. This seemingly simple act would be a violation of kapu, the sacred laws. You would be in big trouble. The penalty might be death. If you went unpunished, the gods would be angry, and they might punish all of the people through a violent earthquake, waves of lava, a sweeping tidal wave, or months of famine. Your community members could not let this happen. They would capture you and ensure that justice was served. If you ran, they would chase you relentlessly.
But what if there were a “safe place”, like in the game of tag—a sanctuary where no punishment would be imposed if you reached that spot before being caught. Such a place actually existed. It was called a pu’uhonua—a place of refuge. If you made it to those sacred grounds, you could be absolved of your crime through a ceremony performed by a holy man (kahuna pule). You could then return home with a clean slate.
One of these pu’uhonua is preserved on the southern Kona coast, within Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.
To reach the park, we followed a winding 2-lane road that gave us a distant view of Kealakekua Bay:
Down along the shore was a skinny strip of asphalt that had us wondering, “Are we on the right road?”
Yes, we were! Welcome to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park!
The small visitor’s center was attached to an open-air display of scenes made from painted tiles and sculptural figures.
We pushed a button in front of each scene to hear a related story about the ancient Hawaiians’ arrival to the islands, as well as some of their cultural traditions.
We then took a ½ mile walking tour of the park ground, which was divided into two parts: the Royal Grounds and the Place of Refuge.
The Royal Grounds area was the former home of the chiefs (ali’i) of the Kona District. Here the main chief lived with his wives and servants; commoners were forbidden to enter or even to cast their shadows within the grounds (the chief was viewed as a god, and his space could not be sullied).
A half-size replica had been created of the Hale o Keawe temple that once stood here:
The temple frame was made from the strong and durable ohi’a tree, tied with coconut fiber; and the roof was thatched with ti leaves.
Konane was a traditional Hawaiian game, similar to checkers. White and black rocks were laid out on a flat rock gameboard that had rows of carved indentations. Two players then took turns jumping the other player’s rocks until only one color rock remained.
Genevieve and Sebastian had great fun playing this game together!
Their game lasted about half an hour—which seemed like a long time for the observers (Ben and I). Both kids, however, were very engaged with the strategy of the game, right to the final move. (Genevieve won, but not by much.)
I’d love to have a giant konane gameboard for our home!
Near the konane game at the park, there were some flat lava rocks with various sized “bowls” (kanoa) carved out—these are believed to have been used for holding dye, pounding roots, or evaporating seawater for salt.
Within the lava rock mounds were long, hollow spaces where small trees had been stuck after being buried over 1000 years ago by the lava from Mauna Loa volcano.
The wood had rotted away long ago, but the hardened lava had retained the mold shape.
Genevieve and Sebastian took a break from exploring to fill in their Jr. Ranger booklets next to a ferocious-looking, carved image (ki’i):
Jr. Ranger programs often provide a form of “treasure hunt” where the kids have to search the park exhibits for clues or information that allows them to solve puzzles or answer questions. Ben and I benefit immensely from the kids’ participation in these programs because we learn so much!
As the children filled in their booklets, I was drawn to a set of beautifully criss-crossed roots (which I think belonged to a hala tree):
Across from the Royal Grounds was the Place of Refuge (pu’uhonua), which was set behind a long stone wall:
Curving around to reach the Place of Refuge, we passed by the royal canoe landing—a slope of sand that was reserved exclusively for the chief and his attendants. (Can you find the sea turtle below?)
The turtle was high and dry, soaking up the delicious sun, and blending in with the sand:
The stone wall that separated the Royal Grounds from the Place of Refuge measured about 10 feet high and was 17 feet thick in places. It was constructed about 1550 in the traditional Hawaiian method without mortar.
Two scary-faced ki’i stood guard near the entrance:
In addition to kapu violators, other people also sought refuge here, including defeated warriors and people who were noncombatants in an ongoing war. All would be provided a safe place to stay.
Inside a fenced enclosure was a rebuilt temple and mausoleum that once contained the bones of 23 high chiefs:
The presence of these bones, with their retained spiritual power (mana), was what gave the Place of Refuge its sanctity.
Near the temple and mausoleum, more sea turtles were lounging on the lava rocks and swimming in the warm waters:
Back within the Royal Grounds, master wood carver Charlie Grace was carefully sculpting a new ki’i:
Mr. Grace has been working on this image for about 2 months; when finished, it will replace an existing ki’i in the park. The hard wood was Hawaiian ironwood, which has a natural resistance to weather. Usually, a ki’i can last 25 years or so before beginning to significantly deteriorate; however, the ki’i within the park get replaced every 12 to 15 years because the lower portion buried in the ground rots more quickly than the top part.
In a nearby open-air structure, huge bunches of ti leaves hung from the rafters:
Hawaiians used to attach these leaves to long ropes and nets that would be pulled through the water; the dangling leaves would scare the fish and drive them into the shallow water, where they could be scooped up in nets.
Another structure held a traditional Hawaiian canoe:
After we had completed our walking loop, we returned to the visitor’s center, where the children presented their Jr. Ranger booklets for review by Hulali Jewell, of the Hawaii Natural History Association. Ms. Jewell then thrilled us all by taking a long coconut leaf (launiu) and quickly transforming it into a small boat!
As the final task in earning their Jr. Ranger badges, Genevieve and Sebastian had to make something out of coconut leaves too. They started with several strands, and were guided by the gentle and patient instructions of Ranger Charles Hua.
Voila! They ended with small fish dangling from zigzag fishing poles:
Ranger Hua also made us this amazing insect:
Sebastian had been wondering what the Hawaiian children had played with long ago, and he was really surprised to find that they had “some really cool toys”!
For lunch, we had a picnic beneath the palm trees at Pu’uhonua Beach Park, about ¼ mile south down a dirt road.
Sebastian tested his climbing skills on a large tree next to our picnic table:
Genevieve dashed about on the lava rocks along the shore:
This afternoon, we wanted to try snorkeling in a new area. The beach by our hotel was fantastic, but we were ready to venture into some different water. We had spotted a promising lava beach across from the historical park, jutting out into Honaunau Bay.
We discovered that this snorkeling area is known as “Two Step”, and there are supposedly many colorful fish in the deep water. We could see a half dozen snorkelers out in the choppy water today:
The water immediately off of the lava rocks was supposed to be 6 feet deep, however, and 30-feet beyond. This deep water, combined with the surging small waves that would make entering (and exiting) the water a bit tricky for Genevieve and Sebastian, steered us toward the calm shallow waters around the corner.
We put on our masks and fins and floated out into the cool water. A sea turtle was gliding near the rocks, and there were some small schools of colorful fish far out into the cove.
Another view of the rocky beach:
While there wasn't an abundance of sea life in the shallow areas, we still enjoyed Two Step. There was a bit of sand for building sand castles, and the kids loved exploring the lava rocks.
Sebastian found a big “bathtub”:
And the prickly sea urchins were fascinating:
After our time in the sun, we retraced our route to Kealakekua Bay:
The choppy water and strong currents there had made us revise our original plans to rent a kayak and paddle across the bay to reach the Captain Cook monument on the other side. (There are no roads leading down to the monument.) Instead, we contented ourselves with viewing the tall white obelisk from afar:
Captain Cook was a British explorer who was purportedly the first European to visit Hawaii. He sailed into this bay in 1779 during the Hawaiians’ annual peace-and-harvest festival. The sails of his two ships had looked very similar to poles and cloth that the Hawaiians had erected to represent their god Lono, and Cook was heartily welcomed. He stayed for a few weeks. Shortly after he left, however, one of his ships had experienced some problems, so he and his crew returned to Kealakekua Bay. The peace festival was over by then, and he was not welcomed so warmly. After some Hawaiians took one of Cook’s small rowboats, his crew attempted to hold the local king hostage. Cook was killed in the skirmish, along with a number of Hawaiians. The monument was erected in 1874 by the British.
After returning to our hotel this afternoon, Ben discovered that his wedding ring was no longer on his finger—it must have slipped off at Two Steps while he was helping Sebastian tug on his fins and adjust the strap on his snorkeling mask. Ahhh, well. It was a beautiful ring, but it was merely a symbol of the great love that has bound us together for the past 19 years. The true treasures in life are not made of gold.
Back to Big Island of Hawaii Index Page
<< Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Park >>