Our Hawaiʻi Research Adventure continues! On Day 4 we awoke cold (and thankfully not too wet) at an elevation of 4,000 feet, just a mile or so from the rim of Kīlauea Caldera. We packed up our soaking tent and threw it in the back seat of our rental car, and then we immediately hit the road: route 11 en route to Kona.
On our way, we passed through the moku (district) of Kaʻu, a rural region with rolling cattle pasture (a reminder that it was here, on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, that cows were first introduced by George Vancouver in 1793, providing a major industry for the Hawaiian Kingdom in the nineteenth century). We stopped in Naʻalehu, a town which bills itself as the most southern destination in the United States. And we ate at Hana Hou, the most southern restaurant in the United States!
A Kaʻu breakfast, at Hana Hou, Naʻalehu
As we rolled into Naʻalehu and my wife read out loud from our guidebook that this was the most southern town in the United States, I immediately got up in arms: "most southern town? What about American Samoa? That's below the equator!"
...[deep breath]... ;)
I guess the question is what we mean when we say "United States." If we take just the fifty incorporated states, then yes, Naʻalelu may be the most southern town. It sits at a latitude just over 19° N. Even Honolulu, at over 21° N, is more "southern" than the southern tips of California, Texas, or Florida. (The keys of Florida may be the next closest thing, at between 24° and 25° N.) But what about the American territories? Is not Puerto Rico part of the United States? And at 18.5° N, its capital city, San Juan, is more southern than Naʻalelu. (If Puerto Rico achieves statehood, as they recently voted in favor of, then Naʻalelu will definitely have to give up their title to most southern town!) But our most southern territory is actually America's only colony in the southern hemisphere. At under 14° S latitude, Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, is definitely more south than Hawaiʻi! So why do we consider Hawaiʻi part of the "United States" but not American Samoa? Does statehood really matter that much? Because historically speaking, the two places are more similar than different: both are Polynesian nations that were captured by the United States during the Spanish-American War. Both are part of an American empire. So I say, no, Naʻalehu is not the most southern town in the United States. (Want to argue about this? Here is some interesting information from Wikipedia!)
But anyway, the food and coffee at Hana Hou was great! :)
We kept driving until we reached Hoʻokena in the moku of South Kona. The fabled, sunny Kona coast! Here we were. We drove the winding road down to Hoʻokena Beach Park and set up our tent at the base of nā pali, the cliffs towering above us.
Our camp at Hoʻokena Beach
Fellow campers enjoying the waves at Hoʻokena Beach Park on the Kona Coast
After setting up camp at Hoʻokena, and going for a quick dip in the water—very refreshing!—we hit the road once again to explore South Kona.
Our first stop was Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau. We loved the name of this place so much that we practiced saying it all the time. (It is not particularly easy for non-native speakers to pronounce!). Puʻuhonua, meaning "refuge/sanctuary," refers to the site's history as a place where Hawaiians who had violated the kapu ("taboo") could come to escape persecution and be relieved. This was pre-1819, before the kapu system was abolished by the aliʻi nui following the death of Kamehameha I. Hōnaunau is the name of the bay where the site is located. So basically, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau means, "Sanctuary of Hōnaunau Bay."
At the entrance of the National Historical Park at Hōnaunau we read this plaque:
A plaque at the entrance of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
The plaque basically says that we have Charles Bishop to thank for preserving this site. Everything has got a history, and so does this. Bishop was the husband of Bernice Pauahi Pākī, a great-granddaughter of Kamehameha I and an important aliʻi of the late nineteenth century. Incidentally, following the enactment of land reforms in the Hawaiian Kingdom in the 1840s—known as the Great Māhele—land was privatized and about 250 aliʻi of various ranks were awarded most of the lands in the Hawaiian Islands not otherwise owned by the mōʻī (king) or reserved to the government. The commoners—nā makaʻāinana, the 99%—received less than 1% of the land. Anyway, that's a little besides the point. But of the 250 or so aliʻi who received title to land, most of them promptly sold off their lands to wealthy white people. So by the mid-1880s there was only one Hawaiian aliʻi left in the Kingdom who still owned land, and that was Pauahi. She died in 1884 and willed her lands and accumulated wealth to be used to benefit future generations of Hawaiians. Out of her estate came the Kamehameha Schools, the Bishop Museum, and various other endeavors, including, it seems, preservation of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau.
Anyway, when we began to explore the historical park, we were initially disappointed with what we were seeing. From the first few sites on the self-guided trail it appeared that everything there was just a modern reproduction and that there was really not much history here.
A reproduction temple at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau
Of course, grass houses don't last forever. The grass decomposes; the buildings fall apart. And so it is that so much that Hawaiians built previous to the nineteenth century does not exist anymore. A reproduction can help us visualize what it may have once been like, but I tend to dislike reproductions. I'd rather just see the stone base—if it is actually original—and then have a brochure with a picture to help me imagine what might have been there.
A wooden kiʻi (what Westerners call "tiki") figure at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau
Wooden kiʻi statues, like the one in the photograph above, are one of the main attractions of the historical park. Indeed, the park uses these statues in its marketing material. But of course, these are modern-day creations. They are hints at the past, but they are not the past itself. We found this to be sort of frustrating.
But things got better as we continued to explore. I was amazed, for example, by this stone wall that is dated to circa 1550 CE.
A sixteenth century stone wall at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau
The wall was several hundred feet long and very thick. Lots of makaʻāinana labor was certainly used to build this wall that separated the puʻuhonua from the resort of the aliʻi.
The sixteenth century wall at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau was constructed without any mortar. The lava stones were fit together perfectly to keep the wall intact for...well, 500 years now!
A rather somewhat unpleasant reproduction of what was once a heiau (religious temple). I am sure based on archeological evidence as well as historic illustrations and textual descriptions that this is pretty close to what a heiau looked like pre-1819. But part of me just wanted to see the stone base and otherwise use my imagination...
Another view of the impressive sixteenth century stone wall at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau
Besides the stone wall, and the stone bases of nā heiau, another remarkable source of evidence about the past were the two fishponds that were constructed by makaʻāinana labor sometime before 1819.
A pre-1819 fishpond at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau
As we left Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, I took this photograph by the parking lot to show the amazing microclimates that exist on the Kona Coast. This was true of the entire 36 hours we spent on the Kona coast: the coast itself up to an elevation of maybe 500 or 1,000 feet was always hot and sunny; above that, it was always 5-10 degrees colder and slightly rainy. The microclimates remind me that the ancient Hawaiian system of land management, centered on the ahupuaʻa (literally meaning "pig altar," but referring to the pie-slice-shaped districts that radiated out from the center of each island to the coast), ensured that commoners had access to an astounding ecological (and climatic) diversity within their common lands.
The crazy microclimates of Kona
After leaving Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau we had an amazing adventure snorkeling at a site called Two Step just north of the historical park. Since we were under the water looking at fishes, I don't have any photographs from that experience. It certainly was extraordinary to see the 70% of the world that is ocean, when we so often think that our 30% above water is all that matters! What a world there is down there!
Back at Hoʻokena, we watched the sunset and had a sushi picnic on the beach. :)
Watching the sunset from our tent on Hoʻokena Beach
A beautiful sunset over Hoʻokena Beach on the Kona Coast
Day 5: Kailua
Packed up our tent and began heading north. Our goal was to see as much as we could between Hoʻokena and the Kona airport before our flight left at 7PM.
First stop, Kealakekua Bay.
Kealakekua Bay as seen from Hikiʻau Heiau
We drove to the edge of the bay, to the site of an old heiau (temple) called Hikiʻau. Like at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, I was impressed with the stonework. The stone bases of these heiau are not hollow. They are solid piles of rock in three dimensions. This is monumental architecture worthy of respect.
The bay itself, however, is most famous for a non-Hawaiian, Captain James Cook, who came here in 1779. His ships pulled into Kealakekua Bay during the annual Makahiki festival, and according to some historians' accounts, Cook was mistaken by the Hawaiians to be the akua Lono. (Historians debate this issue fiercely: was Cook seen as a god or not?). Anyway, after Cook and his men left, their boats hit some rough weather and were forced to return to Kealakekua Bay. That's when trouble began. There are a million books about this incident that you can read so I won't bother you with my interpretation. But anyway, the Hawaiians killed Cook. Somebody smashed him in the back of a head with a club and he fell face-first into the water. Or at least that's how most illustrations of the event depict his fall.
Ke ala o ke akua ("Kealakekua" is a shortening of this phrase) means "the road/path of the god." Whether Cook was seen as a god, or not, is anyone's guess. The more important aspect of this is that the rest of Cook's men made it home to tell Europe (and also North America) of the material and human wealth of the Hawaiian Islands, and the rest was history. The story picks up again in 1786 when Hawaiʻi received its next foreign visitors, trans-Pacific traders, and that's where my dissertation begins!
Ancient stonework at Hikiʻau Heiau, Kealakekua Bay
Entrance to Hikiʻau Heiau at Kealakekua Bay. Signs abound warning visitors that the site is "kapu" (taboo), but it certainly wasn't kapu enough to keep Cook away, who in 1779 performed the first Christian service in the Hawaiian Islands on this site (as we are reminded by a huge monument someone put up right next to these stairs—which I conveniently cropped out of the photo!).
Our next goal was to walk the Captain Cook Monument Trail down the pali (cliff) to the site where Mr. Cook had his head bashed in.
Along the Captain Cook Monument Trail, goats!
At the bottom of the trail, following an arduous hike over lava rocks, we reached the ruins of an old Hawaiian village known as Kaʻawaloa. Perhaps this village was bustling with people when Captain Cook arrived in 1779?
The abandoned village of Kaʻawaloa, Kealakekua Bay
The abandoned village of Kaʻawaloa, Kealakekua Bay
It was nice to see the ruins of a village because otherwise it seemed we were only seeing sites important to the aliʻi (the ruling class). Heiau (temples) are fascinating, but I also want to see how common Hawaiians lived in the pre-Cookian days. Perhaps there are clues here at Kaʻawaloa?
Finally we made it to the monument.
The Captain Cook Monument, Kealakekua Bay
The monument is small, white, and simple. It is a fitting tribute to a man who so many Hawaiians wish had never come here in the first place. Cook is actually an amazing figure, and as a human being it is hard not to admire him. But in the context of Hawaiian history, he doesn't really deserve much celebration. (For what? For bringing epidemic diseases that decimated the native population?) Apparently the land right here was given by the Hawaiian Kingdom to the British government in the late nineteenth century. Those Brits always wanted extraterritoriality anyway. I guess this was their own little puʻuhonua on Hawaiʻi. ;)
And then we hiked all the way back up the pali, over 1,000 feet up lava rock to the top. We earned ourselves a big lunch, and that's what we found at Kanaka Kava in Kailua.
Our amazing lunch at Kanaka Kava, Kailua
Finally, some "real" Hawaiian food. (See my discussion on Day 1 of this Hawaiʻi Research Adventure for my caveats about what constitutes "real" Hawaiian food!) A big bowl of kava (at center), a big bowl of poi (at left), and a cute leaf-shaped tray of kalua pork, ʻopihi (sea snail), and ahi poke. Yum! We had eaten all of these things before except for ʻava (kava). Drinking ʻava was really a shock. It tasted like "dirt," as my wife said. Yes, but it was psycho-stimulating dirt! I swear I could really quickly feel the effects of the kava on my mind and on my mood. Who knows? But I wonder if Hawaiʻi has any laws about how much ʻava you can drink before driving your rental car around Kailua as I did! (whoops.)
Next stop, Mokuʻaikaua Church, the oldest church in the Hawaiian Islands.
The entrance to Mokuʻaikaua Church in Kailua.
The interior of Mokuʻaikaua Church, built in 1836.
On Day 1 we had visited Kawaiahaʻo Church, which is really old and built of coral. This one, Mokuʻaikaua, is built of lava rock I guess, and it happens to be just a few years older than the other church. Mokuʻaikaua Church contained a lot of tributes inside to the Euro-American missionaries who came to Hawaiʻi in 1820 and introduced the Hawaiian people to Christianity. There is, for example, a replica of the boat that the first company of missionaries sailed in. There is also a big tribute to Henry Opukahaia, or "Obookiah" as the New Englanders called him. His story is kind of interesting. As a teenager he ended up on a foreign boat that took him from Hawaiʻi to New England where he enrolled in school, learned English, and converted to Christianity. This was in the 1810s. Unfortunately, his body didn't hold up well to the New England diseases, and he died in his early twenties. (You can visit his gravesite in Cornwall, Connecticut, I think.) Anyway, his last dying wish was something like, "Please go to Hawaiʻi and teach my heathen ʻohana about Christianity." And so, the white missionaries from New England fulfilled Opukahaia's dying wish.
Tribute to Henry Opukahaia, early Hawaiian Christian, at Mokuʻaikaua Church
Across the street from the church is another historic building, Huliheʻe Palace (1838). Unfortunately, it was closed when we got there. So all I got was this lousy photograph. :)
Huliheʻe Palace (1838), Kailua
We walked around Kailua Bay to one of Kamehameha's favorite temples—he spent the last few years of his life here in Kailua in the 1810s. But not much is left of Ahuʻena Heiau, except perhaps the stones. Otherwise it is a modern reproduction, and not only that, but it sits on the land right behind the Marriott Hotel. It is a weird sight to see so many Euro-American tourists sunbathing and swimming in the shadow of one of Kamehameha's favorite heiau. A strange juxtaposition. It's definitely hard to feel the kapu here.
Ahuʻena Heiau, with the modern city of Kailua in the background.
Our last stop on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, before arriving at the airport, was Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. It is a strange park. When we pulled into the main parking lot, all we saw were old lava fields. But there is another way to enter, closer to the coast.
You might wonder what Kaloko-Honokōhau means. It's actually similar to saying "Dallas-Ft. Worth," or something like that. It's just two place names put together. The names describe two adjacent ahupuaʻa (traditional land divisions). The park attempts to tell the story of the common people, nā makaʻāinana, who lived in these ahupuaʻa. I like this. This is a not a park to memorialize great kings or conquerors, but simply an attempt to remember the common people who lived common lives on the Kona coast in a not-so-distant past.
ʻAiʻōpio Fishtrap, Honokōhau Bay
The scene in the photograph above might look like a bunch of lava rocks sitting in the ocean off the coast, but this is actually the handiwork of skilled laborers who engineered a system that allowed fish in during high tide, and kept them from escaping during low tide. Hawaiians definitely knew how to fish!
Of course, the park has its own heiau, too:
Stonework of a heiau at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Another view of the heiau at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
We went swimming at Honokōhau Beach, a "salt and pepper" beach that comprises a mix of coarse lava and coral sands. A pretty strange sight, and feel. Just behind the beach at Honokōhau Bay is the ʻAimakapā Fishpond. This was also built by common Hawaiians. Fish were raised here for subsistence and for hoʻokupu (tribute) to aliʻi.
ʻAimakapā Fishpond, Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
Overall, our stay on Hawaiʻi Island was amazing. We enjoyed camping out in three different locations on three nights, and visiting historic sites and natural areas over the course of four days. We ate a lot of good food. And we learned a lot about Hawaiian history. What I particularly like about Hawaiʻi Island is the great abundance of pre-nineteenth-century history here. We too often forget that there was a past in Hawaiʻi before the missionaries arrived (1820), and even before Cook arrived (1778). Even before Kamehameha was born in the 1750s or whenever he was born, too! There is a human history here recorded in the fishponds and fishtraps, in the heiau and other stone structures, and in the petroglyphs we saw at Puʻuloa. I thank the Big Island, and its kind and loving people, for reminding me of this important longue durée in Hawaiian history.
On the evening of Day 5 we flew to Honolulu and stayed for one night in a hostel in Waikīkī. The next morning I began my archival research in Honolulu. The story of my "research adventure" in the archives might not be as exciting as that of our "research adventure" on the land and sea of Hawaiʻi Island, but I will continue to post about my trip. The next post will recount my first week of archival research in Honolulu: what I found, what I didn't, and what else I have learned about Hawaiʻi since arriving here on Day 1.
Mahalo for reading!