On Sunday something special happened. I got to borrow a friend's car while she was away on the Big Island, and for the first time ever I got to cruise around Oʻahu in an automobile. I love The Bus, don't get me wrong. (Yes, the bus system here is literally called "The Bus.") But a car gives one extra opportunities. Sure I could bus around the island, but how frequently could I reasonable get on and off in the course of one day's trip around the island? And what about all the sites off of the main road—how would I get to those?
On Sunday I took a drive through history. As a historian of Hawaiian, as I noted in my previous post, everything around me in Hawaiʻi reminds me of this archipelago's history. It is as if this is the most history-filled place in the world! And I know that others will say, "no, Boston, or Virginia, or London, or Rome, or Athens, or Xi'an, you name it, that place is more historical than Oʻahu!" Many a mainlander would be hard-pressed to think of something "historical" (and material) on Oʻahu other than the sunken U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor. Historical, yes; it was sunk nearly seventy-five years ago. But historical, really?? What about everything else that happened here before 1941?
Well, you can take me as your guide, as I post, in two parts, photographs from my journey yesterday all across Oʻahu in my friend's wonderful, beautiful beat-up car named Constance. (Yes, the car has a name.)
View of Kaneʻohe and Kailua from Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout
Tourists at the Nuʻuanu Pali Lookout
My day began at 6:30 a.m. I woke, threw on some clothes, and headed off for Constance, parked all the way on the other side of campus (I'm at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa). I got behind the wheel by 7:30 a.m., and being the weekend, there was no traffic on the Lunalilo Freeway, named for my favorite Hawaiian mōʻī (ruler), Hawaiʻi's first democratically-elected king (in 1873). It's also known as the H-1 Freeway, part of the U.S. Interstate Highway System... but wait! How can there be an interstate highway on an archipelago thousands of miles from the next-nearest state?? Think about that.
From Lunalilo, I turned mauka (towards the mountains) on the Pali Highway. For part of the time I drove on the Old Pali Highway. The current highway was built, I think, in the mid-twentieth century. The old one dated back to the early Territorial period (1900-1959), maybe the first decades of the last century. Before all that, there was a Pali Highway for horse-drawn vehicles, too, and before that, a prominent footpath.
And if we go back over two hundreds years ago, it was at this site—or at least nearby—that one of the most famous battles in Hawaiian history took place: the Battle of Nuʻuanu of 1795. This was the battle that clinched's Kamehameha's rule over Oʻahu. He had previously taken control of Hawaiʻi Island and Maui... thus many date his conquest of Oʻahu as the moment when his empire—the future Kingdom of Hawaiʻi—was first established. Others say, now hold on, what about Kauaʻi and Niʻihau! Kauaʻi's ruler, Kaumualiʻi, did not submit to Kamehameha's rule until 1810, and even then Kauaʻi was not really pacified until the early 1820s. Historians generally either date the founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom to 1795 or 1810; the earlier date is based on the Battle of Nuʻuanu.
So what happened at the battle? Look at the photograph of the impressive pali (cliffs) above. Kamehameha and his forces are said to have chased his opponent's forces all the way from the coast up to this point, at which his men were able to then push hundreds of the other party's men off of the pali to fall to their deaths below.
Might sound like just a random factoid, but it is the very reason why Oʻahu today is part of a unified Hawaiian state... because Kamehameha conquered Oʻahu in 1795 and incorporated it into his unified pan-Hawaiian empire.
Kawainui Marsh, Kailua
Next, I drove down to Kailua, on the windward side of Oʻahu. I stopped at Whole Foods (as advised by the friends I made in Honolulu earlier that week). I did not get the poke, as advised—it was only 8:30 a.m. in the morning, for crying out loud—but I did get a suitable breakfast, including some locally-made juice, and then I was off to explore Kawainui Marsh. Kawainui means "the big water." As I learned, before it was a marsh, it was once a bay...so, "big water." If you look at the photograph above, you might imagine all that flat land beneath the foothills and pali as part of the ocean. There was no Kailua thousands of years ago, just a bay. Then, when the first Hawaiians arrived well over one thousand years ago, they began building up land around and on the bay. They didn't fill it in very much, but they did develop what would later be Kailua while retaining the big bay behind Kailua as a fishpond. By the eighteenth and nineteenth century—the period of sustained contact with outsiders—much of the bay was used for wet kalo (taro) agriculture. Then, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Chinese immigrant farmers converted the kalo paddy into rice paddy. And then, with the decline of agriculture in the twentieth century, the marsh just filled in. (This story is all based on a few interpretive signs I read that morning... so just a loose sketch!!)
Anyway, the history helps us understand why it is called ka wai nui / the big water. There is not that much water there anymore—certainly not equivalent to an ocean bay—but the history is there, readable in the landscape.
Ulupo Heiau, Kailua
Ulupo Heiau, Kailua
Next, I drove a little bit out of town, mauka of Kailua, to a spot hidden behind a YMCA building. Here lies a heiau, or Hawaiian temple. The Hawaiian religion was largely stamped out in 1819 by Kaʻahumanu (one of Kamehameha's wives) and her cadre (Kaʻahumanu mā), who overthrew the kapu (sacred law—incidentally the source of the English word "taboo") by means of ʻai noa ("free eating"; women were not allowed to eat besides men under the kapu, but she and her followers broke that rule, setting off an overthrow of the entire traditional religion. Incidentally, within a year the first Christian missionaries arrived from New England, just in time for a religious revolution!)
Anyway, all that history is to say that while the temples were abandoned and some even destroyed following Hawaiʻi's 1819 religious revolution, many of the heiau still remain intact. Many date back to the eighteenth century, but there are also many that date back many centuries earlier. I cannot say with certainty when Ulupo Heiau dates to, but it was here at least as early as the eighteenth century.
This heiau used to feature stone terracing, but the terracing has eroded much since 1819, making it look like just a big pile of rocks. And I mean "big." From top to bottom, the heiau must be at least twenty feet high. The good news is that today many Hawaiians are going back and reclaiming these heiau as religious sites. While some might want to refer to Ulupo Heiau as "ruins," many in the Hawaiian community urge use of the English term "temple" rather than "ruin." "Ruin" suggests that the site no longer has any value or function. But the site does hold value and function to many people today. And the possibility of using the temple for religious holidays and other functions still exists (as long as the state department in charge of the site allows it!). That's why Ulupo Heiau is a "temple" and not a "ruin."
View of windward coast from Kualoa Point
View of Mokoliʻi Island from Kualoa Point
Kualoa Beach Park
I kept on driving north along the windward coast, through Kaneʻohe, to Kualoa Point. I'm not sure why I stopped there, but it was nearing noon and I needed a little "beach therapy." I had been in Hawaiʻi for exactly one week and still had not seen, heard, or smelled the ocean. So I turned off at Kualoa Beach Park and planted myself on the beach, feet in the sand (crabs crawling around my legs), sun blazing down on my white haole skin!
The funny looking island off the coast seen here—Mokoliʻi, which means "small lizard"—is also unfortunately known as "Chinaman's Hat," because nineteenth-century folks here thought it looked a lot like the hats that Chinese laborers brought over with them from the Qing domains. I don't think the reference to the hat itself is insensitive, but apparently some have a problem with the use of the term "Chinaman." I wonder if there is any site in the archipelago named "Haole's beard," or something like that! That would be funny (and/or insensitive, depending on the thickness of one's skin, I guess). Names always seem to bother people, but one's got to keep in mind that the act of naming, itself, is political. Consider the fight over using English vs. Hawaiian place names throughout these islands... it's all political. It's all a fight, and it's a worthy one, too. Names are about power. Reclaiming a name is a also a reclamation of dignity...and power.
Anyway, that's it for history here. I dunked myself in the salt water and relaxed for a moment. There's nothing historical about this except that I was following in the footsteps of millions of other non-Hawaiians who have come to these islands at one time or another to dunk themselves in these waters!
Ruins of a Sugar Mill, north of Kualoa Point
Driving on, I passed the above-pictured sugar mill ruins, dating back to the late nineteenth century. Here I'll use the word "ruin" rather than "active sugar mill." It's not that I'm saying that the sugar industry will never come back to Hawaiʻi—the last mill closed in 1996—but this particular "ruin" is too far gone to be reconverted to active use, unlike the previously mentioned heiau (despite extensive erosion). Anyway, this is a curious "ruin," especially when compared to Ulupo Heiau. The heaiu represents a site that may have been used for many centuries. The mill is a site that was used for only a few decades. There are different kinds of history in Hawaiʻi. Think about how quickly the U.S.S. Arizona sunk on that fateful day in 1941. The Japanese attack happened so quickly and unexpectedly. At another level, industries such as sugar and pineapple had definite moments of beginning, climaxing, declining... the whole thing lasted decades, maybe a century or two. Then there are the heiau, the petroglyphs, the moʻolelo (stories / myths / histories). When we talk about history in Hawaiʻi what are we talking about? The brief shooting stars or the slow cosmic cycles?
Another kind of temple: The Mormon Temple in Lāʻie
I won't get much into the history of Lāʻie, the last stop of Part I of my trip, except to say, in a nutshell, that in the late nineteenth century this place on Oʻahu became the base of Mormonism in the Hawaiian Islands. To this day it still is, hosting a satellite campus of Brigham Young University, as well as hosting this gorgeous 1919 temple (seen in the photograph above). You get a sense of just how important the Mormon Church sees this place based on the grand architecture of the site.
But I only stopped here for a moment. It was lunch time, and I was hungry. As I drove into Lāʻie, the only restaurant I saw was the most disturbing restaurant I think I've ever seen in Hawaiʻi: a McDonald's, under construction, being built in the traditional Polynesian style! Not to say that there is a "traditional" way of building a McDonald's—no, there is not—but the architects here apparently imagined that this is what McDonald's would have looked like if Kamehameha mā had a big lūʻau of Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets after their conquest of Oʻahu back in 1795! Ridiculous. Completely absurd.
It's not that the Lāʻie McDonald's is rejecting Western culture and promoting a revitalization of indigenous architecture. No. Because this McDonald's is directly next door to the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), a Polynesian "theme park," as many have described it, where for tickets that cost more than I would ever pay for that sort of thing ($50 per person!), I could learn about all the things that I learned anyway from reading books and driving around Oʻahu on my own. PCC (and Lāʻie) want to sell you the "authentic" Polynesian experience, Polynesian Big Macs included. All the while, the real (maoli) Polynesian experience is the lived experience of the Hawaiian people today. And how many tour buses, by the way, visit heiau and fishponds, not to mention majority-Hawaiian communities? Do people want history or just entertainment?
Part I ends here. Part II will include my visit to the largest surviving heiau on Oʻahu, the last surviving sugar mill of Oʻahu, and my "will-I-survive-this" visit to the sickeningly sweet Dole Plantation in Wahiawa.