Chief Kamehameha l, Pu'ukohola Heiau and Pu'uhonua O Honaunau - a bit of culture!


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Published: June 26th 2012
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24 & 25th June ’12 Kailua-Kona

For the first time we actually managed to visit a couple of places and learn a bit about Hawaiian culture. On the first day we headed north along the coast highway past lots and lots of lava fields. For miles there were various names and dates picked out in white stones, at first I thought they were memorials and some may have been but the majority turned out to be a kind of graffiti saying things like Gazza loves Shazza (only with more Hawaiian sounding names).

We were heading to Pu’ukohola Heiau – The Temple on the Hill of the Whale, a war temple which was built 1790-91 by the Kamehameha l , who became the King of the Islands.

Prophecy told that Kamehameha was destined to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, by 1790 he had conquered Maui, Lana’I and Molokai but not yet his home island of Hawaii – due to opposition from his cousin. He sought help from a prophet and was told he would conquer all the islands if he built a large heiau (temple) dedicated to his family war god – Kuka’ilimoku (Ku), on top of Whale Hill at Kawaihae.

He immediately built the temple using rigid guidelines to please Ku the war god. When it was finished he invited his cousin to the dedication ceremonies, the cousin was subsequently killed and his body carried to the heiau and offered as the principle sacrifice to Ku. Following this by 1810 Kamehameha the Great was the revered king of all the Hawaiin Islands.

Interestingly two British sailors who had been stranded on Hawaii became his close advisors, they were John Young and Isaac Davis and I must find out about them!!

There was not a lot to see at the temple, it has been rebuilt but you can only see it from the outside – great lava stone walls, only Hawaiians conducting religious rituals are allowed inside. We did walk around the site though and saw the original Stone Leaning Post which one of the earlier chiefs used for watching out over the bay.

In this area is also the submerged ruins of a temple dedicated to the shark god and there were signs warning you not to swim in the area due to the presence of black tipped reef sharks. These sharks were believed to be ancestral deities.

The other interesting thing at this site was the information display board that showed the Political Pyramid, the structure of Hawaiian society at the time. At the top was the Supreme Chief with his high priest (for religious matters) and chief counsellor (for administrative matters), and the Chiefesses who carried birth right and the genealogical lineage.

Beneath them were the lesser chiefs and administrators and below them the highly skilled craftsmen with spiritual responsibilities, under all of these were the commoners, who made up the majority of the Hawaiian population. The lowest level were the outcasts who were invisible to the rest of the population but came in handy as sacrifices at the temple when there were no war prisoners!

It really reminded me of the Hindu caste system.

After this visit we carried on up the coast to Hawi and Kapa’au where we found the original King Kamehameha Stature that had been restored. By the size of his cloak, which is kept in a museum they reckon he was about 7 foot tall!

Then it started raining and we headed for the hotel.

The next day we went south
Pu'ukohola HeiauPu'ukohola HeiauPu'ukohola Heiau

The Leaning Stone
down the coast to Honaunau Bay and the National Historical Park to visit the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau – The Place of Refuge.

Honaunau Bay is where the royal chiefs established one of their most important residencies, there is a sheltered canoe landing and fresh drinking water available, making it a prime location. To separate the royal residencies from the Pu’uhonua thee is a massive wall of lava rocks.

The Place of Refuge was used for centuries until 1819 when Kamehameha ll abolished traditional religious practices. It was considered sacred as it was the burial place for the bones of 23 great chiefs and no blood could be shed within it’s confines. It was used as a sanctuary for people who were too old, too young or unable to fight in times of war and for defeated warriors to wait out the end of the battle. It was also sanctuary for people who violated kapu – the sacred laws.

It was believed that breaking the sacred laws would lead to a violent reaction from the gods such as volcanic eruptions or earthquakes. So the people who violated kapu would be chased until caught and killed. If they could
Chief Kamehameha lChief Kamehameha lChief Kamehameha l

King of the islands
reach the pu’uhonua before capture then the priest would perform a ceremony of absolution, no matter what the crime and they could then return to their home again in safety. Everyone respected the spirit of pu’uhonua.

Some of the sacred laws were: commoners could not look at or approach the chief, or let their shadow fall on palace grounds. Everyday life was also regulated by kapu, women could not prepare meals for men or eat with them. There were strict times for activities like harvesting and fishing.

The site had been restored by local craftspeople using traditional tools and it was a wonderful place. There was a walk leading round the area highlighting all the main sites. We also saw a sea turtle basking on the beach in the royal cove and by the time we had finished the walk it had turned itself around and was heading out to sea again.

The temple and mausoleum had great towering wooden statues in the grounds and outside of it, these were the guardians of the place of refuge. On the rocks of the bay facing the sea was another wooden image, this was to warn others of the
Pu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O Honaunau

Canoe Landing Site
kapu, but the other side of the Great Wall on the ocean side was the sanctuary which was open to everyone. It was a really, really interesting and beautiful place to visit.


Additional photos below
Photos: 17, Displayed: 17


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Pu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O Honaunau
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Royal residencies area
Pu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O Honaunau
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Royal residencies area
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Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

The Great Wall
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Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Inside the temple courtyard
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Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Guardian deities of the Place of Refuge
Pu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O Honaunau
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

It's Kapu here!
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Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Traditional fishing nets
Pu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O Honaunau
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Traditional game on the original stone
Pu'uhonua O HonaunauPu'uhonua O Honaunau
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Temple - Place of Refuge


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