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The Big Island: South Kohala, Part 1

High on the hillside in South Kohala stands the Pu`ukohola Heiau — the name means "Temple on Whale Hill". It was constructed by Kamehameha I in 1790-91 to fulfill a prophecy which foretold that if the future king built the heiau and dedicated it to the family war god Ku, that Kamehameha would come to rule all the Hawai`ian Islands. In order to satisfy Ku, the rocks had to be brought from a seaside valley 20 miles away — which was accomplished with a human chain, handing each rock from one worker to the next then placed on the heiau.

When the heiau was complete, Kamehameha invited his cousin and rival, Keoua Kuahu`ula, to the dedication. Keoua and his followers came and were slain, giving Kamehameha undisputed authority over the island of Hawai`i. Subsequently, he conquered or negotiated peace with each of the other islands and thus united them as the Kingdom of Hawai`i.

The heiau is considered sacred to the Hawai`ian people and thus is kapu (meaning both sacred and forbidden) to non-Hawai`ians. Even though I believe I was Hawai`ian in a previous life, I was also denied access.

And since I had loaned my helicopter to Tom Selleck, I could not get a photo showing the entire heiau — thus I offer the next best thing, a shot of the park's sign showing a drawing of the interior.

Note that there is a cultural festival held at the park each August when native Hawai`ians and other Polynesian peoples celebrate their centuries-old traditions through ceremonies demonstrating ancient crafts, and the wearing of traditional dress.

The ancient Hawai`ians did not have cement or mortar to anchor the rocks — but instead fit them together like a jigsaw puzzle to provide a sound structure. My previous visit was shortly after a major earthquake and the heiau was closed for repair. I am glad to see that the renovation is completed.

Standing just outside the Pu`ukohola Heiau is a small wooden tower with three platforms. There were no signs indicating its purpose — but I assume it is used during the ceremonies mentioned earlier.

Below the Pu`ukohola Heiau is an older and less finely crafted heiau named Mailekini Heiau. It predated Kamehameha and he converted it into a fort with the help of John Young, a trusted advisor to the King.

Further down the hillside is the stone leaning post or kikiako`i used by Chief Alapa`i Kupalupalu Mano. It originally stood closer to the ocean and was some six feet tall. It was accidentally broken in 1937.

At the bottom of the hill was a clearing adjacent to the ocean which served as the homestead for the aforementioned John Young. In 1790, he had been stranded on Hawai`i and must have quite impressed Kamehameha since he was later appointed governor of the entire island. This homestead included a number of buildings including his main house built in a European style but with basalt and mortar made of sand, burnt coral, poi and hair. He was married to Ka`oana`eha who was a niece of Kamehameha's. He is one of only two foreigners buried on the grounds of the royal Mausoleum in Nu`uanu. His granddaughter was Queen Emma, wife of Kamehameha IV.

Here the beach by Young's homestead provided every opportunity for the family and servants to obtain food and enjoy the recreation of the ocean.

This photo shows the area where the submerged Hale o Kapuni Heiau rests. This is a temple dedicated to the shark gods.

According to the brochure, black-tipped reef sharks frequent park waters year-round. The Hawai`ians believed that sharks to be `aumakua, ancestral deities.

The trail continues along the ocean and provides a magnificent view of Pu`ukohola Heiau near the trail end. Quite a place!

To be continued.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com