A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites
on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island
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Site Histories, Resource Descriptions, and Management Recommendations


N. Management Recommendations (continued)

2. Treatment of Resources

     a) introductory Remarks

Some of the land included within the boundaries of Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is owned by the State of Hawai'i and some was owned by the Queen's Medical Center, a private, non-profit organization. The Queen Emma Foundation, of which the medical center is a part, donated 34.3 acres to the National Park Service in 1973, a major step toward establishment of the park. It donated another 26.5 acres of land to the NPS in 1986 to be used for expansion of the park and relocation of the visitor center and road in order to return the landscape surrounding the heiau to a more authentic appearance. [278]

Any structures that might have originally stood on top of Pu'ukohola Heiau are gone. These are thought to have included thatched houses, prayer towers, altars, and wooden images, all probably destroyed soon after the abolition of the kapu system. Only the large platform area and dark, massive rock foundations remain. The enabling legislation (86 Stat. 562) establishing the park requires the National Park Service to "restore and preserve in public ownership the historically significant temple associated with Kamehameha the Great . . . and the property of John Young." To complement the heiau, the surrounding land was also to be restored to a more appropriate setting. Other actions suggested included stabilizing Mailekini Heiau and interpreting John Young's house. [279]

Future management activities include relocating the state highway into the park and the county road dividing the heiau. Road cuts would be obliterated and filled, along with any other scars, to return some sense of the area's original topography. Existing power, water, and other utility lines would be relocated. The coastal trail would become the major interpretive trail and wayside exhibits would be provided. Introduced vegetation would be removed and native shrubs and trees reintroduced. New development away from the historic scene would include a parking lot, administrative offices, and a visitor contact site providing reception and orientation services. [280]

Pu'ukohola Heiau
Illustration 89. Pu'ukohola Heiau platform area looking north. NPS photo, 1989.

Pu'ukohola Heiau
Illustration 90. Rear (east) wall of Pu'ukohola Heiau. Note floral offerings. NPS photo, 1989.

Pu'ukohola Heiau
Illustration 91. Pu'ukohola Heiau platform area looking south. NPS photo, 1989.

Pu'ukohola Heiau
Illustration 92. Pavement of large stones, view towad south end of Pu'ukohola Heiau platform area. NPS photo, 1989.

     b) Management Options

          (1) Preservation and Stabilization

A large number of physical remains of the ancient way of life still exist within the state of Hawai'i, including temples and shrines, agricultural field systems, trails, slides, fishponds, and habitation and grave sites. The stone foundations and walls of these sites remain, although the perishable resources of grass, wicker, and wood are long since gone. It is the NPS's primary responsibility to preserve and interpret significant resources within its park units.

Having identified the outstanding significance of the resources in Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, how then could they best be preserved, managed, and interpreted? So far, NPS management practices have consisted of stabilization and preservation efforts in an attempt to prevent further deterioration of walls and foundations. The park's enabling legislation states that these properties will be restored and preserved. This would presumably allow for placing structures on the platform of Pu'ukohola Heiau and rebuilding the houses and associated outbuildings on the upper portion of the John Young homestead. [281] Proponents of this idea believe that the two sites cannot be interpreted adequately without the visitor being able to see complete physical structures, even if they are only as we imagine them to have looked. Archeologist Lloyd Soehren, for instance, suggested that because of the monumentality of the ruins and the pre-eminent significance of Pu'ukohola and Mailekini heiau, they should be preserved and perhaps restored along with clearing and landscaping the area around them. These actions would be, he stated, "a magnificent monument to ancient Hawaii and its rulers." [282]

National Park Service policy defines varying levels of treatment for the management of significant cultural resources in its park units. These include preservation, stabilization, restoration, and reconstruction. These policies, as well as a variety of other factors, including economics and maintenance problems, proposed uses, and the direction of interpretive programs, need to be thoroughly studied and analyzed in order to make informed and appropriate decisions about the treatment of significant, irreplaceable historic structures and cultural landscapes.

NPS Management Policies state that

the fundamental question of which treatments will best provide for the preservation and public enjoyment of particular cultural resources will be decided through planning. No treatment project will be undertaken unless supported by an approved proposal, plan, or report appropriate to the proposed action. The significance of the resource, its condition, its interpretive value, its research potential, and the availability of data will all be weighed in determining the appropriate treatment. . . .

As a basic principle, anything of historical appearance that the National Park Service presents to the public in a park will be either an authentic survival from the past or an accurate representation of that which formerly existed there. Reconstructions and reproductions will be clearly identified as such. [283]

In regard to the treatment of archeological resources, NPS-28 (Cultural Resources Management Guideline) states that

Archeological resources will be left undisturbed unless intervention can be justified based on overriding research, interpretation, site protection, or park development needs. [284]

Guidelines for preserving historic and prehistoric structures of archeological significance state that "all structures and objects will be protected against natural and human agencies of destruction and deterioration whenever practicable" and that "preservation will maintain the existing form, integrity and materials of the resource." The guidelines also order that "significant archeological sites and structures will not be rehabilitated, restored, or reconstructed." [285]

But the archeological resources we are dealing with here are also historic structures.The guidelines in the Stewardship section under Management of Historic and Prehistoric Structures address standards to be used in evaluating proposed projects impacting those resources. Applicable standards state that:

Each historic structure is recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features from other structures, are not undertaken. [286]

Obviously preservation of the existing foundations at these sites would be the treatment having the least impact on their integrity as ruins of significant prehistoric and historic structures:

Preservation maintains the existing integrity and character of a historic structure by arresting or retarding deterioration caused by natural forces and normal use. It includes both maintenance and stabilization. [287]

This type of action ensures visitor safety while protecting the site for future study and visitor education by retarding natural and human erosion.

          (2) Restoration and Reconstruction

Restoration refers to accurately putting back features and details of a historic structure that are gone but that are known to have been in place on that structure at its original construction or at a specific point in its history. NPS Management Policies state that a structure may be restored to an earlier appearance if (1) restoration is essential to public understanding of the cultural associations of a park, and (2) sufficient data exist to permit restoration with minimal conjecture. [288]

Reconstruction, however, "entails reproducing the form, features, and character of a non-surviving historic structure, or any part thereof, as it appeared at a specific time and place." Policies state that a structure may be reconstructed if it is "essential to public understanding of the cultural associations of a park established for that purpose," and if "sufficient data exist to permit reconstruction . . . with minimal conjecture." The policies also state that "generalized representations of typical structures will not be attempted." [289]

The question of the ethics and merits of NPS restoration projects has been a source of intense debate among NPS professionals in a variety of disciplines since the mid-i 930s. Although today NPS policy is fairly explicit in regard to this question, every professional within the organization has his or her own personal opinion about the appropriateness of such a measure. In addition, the pressures exerted by local communities, politicians, and other outside interests can often result in a much different practice. In reality, then, NPS policy on this issue is subject to the discretion of agency managers on a case-by-case basis. However, there are certain aspects of this management problem that advise caution in considering reconstruction.

First, significant archeological resources are not to be tampered with unless there are overriding research, interpretive, site protection, or park development needs. Basically proponents of reconstruction believe that most visitors would be unable to visualize the form, scale, texture, and position of structures on top of Pu'ukohola, its overall awe-inspiring appearance, or the historical and architectural significance of the Young homestead, from merely looking at foundation ruins. The argument is that in order to be instructive of past Hawaiian lifeways, religious traditions, and historical events, these resources must appear as they did during the historical period. Some might argue, however, that models, dioramas, drawings, films, and other interpretive devices could fulfill that purpose. Certainly the sight of thatched structures and an array of wooden images or skulls on the platform of Pu'ukohola would be an impressive sight, but it could be argued that a well-executed large-scale model and/or several smaller dioramas, paintings, or other imaginative devices in a visitor center could serve as comprehensive interpretive exhibits and adequately convey the story of the cultural traditions, associations, and appearance of the area.

Two other major concerns arise when considering actions affecting resources in the park. The integrity of remains would be severely compromised with the addition of structures on top of Pu'ukohola — with the attendant impact on the platform surface — or the reconstruction of walls to enclose the Young homestead. Both actions would require more in-depth archeological excavation work first in order to retrieve any information that might be lost or acquire additional information to help locate original structures and features. This would be especially necessary at the John Young homestead to gather more information on structural details and determine when each structure was used and how. Another concern deals with long-term maintenance of reconstructed thatched huts and adobe walls. Preservation of grass and wicker structures and numerous wooden images would be expensive and time-consuming (and there do exist in the islands other heiau reconstructions for public view and interpretation). The history of preservation of adobe walls had been a long, arduous, and unsatisfactory one for NPS preservationists. In addition, reconstruction, involving removing or covering the original remaining wall material and adding new fabric, can hardly be justified as part of our mission of preservation of authentic historical structures and fabric. The question of what to do with the homestead is certainly thought provoking. Total excavation would leave an important archeological record exposed to the vicissitudes of vandalism, earthquakes, and weathering. Burying the resources, as has been done at some archeological sites, does not benefit the visitor because it precludes meaningful interpretation. The other alternative is that the site not be excavated further, but interpreted as is.

The primary and most important factor influencing the decision on reconstruction of the heiau structures is a lack of substantive documentary or visual data to support this activity. The question of authenticity is an important one for the Park Service to consider. The significance of Hawaiian heiau, "the ancient Hawaiians' highest architectural achievement," has only recently been realized. [290] There still exists little in-depth analysis of this type of structure. [291] By the time interest in heiau arose, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, much firsthand knowledge of these structures had been lost through the death of the generation that had participated in the construction of these temples or witnessed their ceremonies. The absence of a written language prior to the 1820s also resulted in much loss of information. [292] The lack of similarity in heiau construction and placement and number of structures has been noted elsewhere in this report. Byron Shimizu points out in his study that the fact that heiau were usually abandoned after the dedicatory ceremonies until their reconsecration for another crisis, and that their inferior images were no longer regarded with respect, as noted by early visitors, shows that in many cases the physical form of the temple was secondary in importance to the rituals conducted therein. He believes this lack of imposed formal restrictions allowed for great flexibility and innovation in temple layout design. [293]

Unfortunately, we have little information to date on the number and extent of structures on top of Pu'ukohola, and we have no idea about structures on Mailekini prior to its use as a fort. Nor do we have any historical pictures of the Young homestead complex or any evidence other than what has been learned through limited archeological excavation. In addition, there have undoubtedly been changes over the years on all sites that we have absolutely no record of, relating to periodic maintenance or replacement of structures while they were in use. The appearance of Pu'ukohola as it was built, before the assassination of Keoua, would be conjectural; its appearance after the sacrifice of Keoua would include his skull and those of his followers as part of the heiau furnishings; later descriptions mention numerous images on the walls and terraces. A reconstruction could either address the high point of the structure's development, the time of its greatest historical significance — the sacrifice of Keoua and the dedication of the temple — or its appearance in 1823, thirty years after that event and after a multitude of changes might have taken place. It would be especially difficult to determine the appearance of structures on the Young homestead at any particular point in time.

Three non-native Hawaiian scholars have stated in the past their own ideas on heiau restoration. Thomas G. Thrum in 1905 believed that there was too little evidence in most remaining heiau to convey a clear idea of the original plan, thus advising against restoration:

Such a course would not detract from its historic value; in fact a deeper interest ever prevails over well kept ruins than can be maintained on false restorations. [294]

John F. G. Stokes, former curator of Polynesian Ethnology at the Bishop Museum, wrote the Honolulu Superintendent of Public Works in 1915 in regard to a statement of the latter that he wanted to "put the old temples back as near as I can to their original shape. . . ." [295] Stokes was in full agreement with Forbes's plan to erect a protective iron fence around each heiau, but added,

I am convinced, from the number of heiau sites I have examined and measured (practically all those on Hawaii and Molokai, and others of the Group) and the study made on the subject, that it would be a serious mistake to make attempts at restoration of any kind. . . . [296]

Stokes admitted that the presence of structures on top of the stone heiau platforms would provide a graphic impression of Hawaiian religion and society that one could not easily obtain from a ruin. But he also emphasized the known dissimilarities in individual heiau and the lack of substantive data in the form of pictures and firsthand accounts. He guarded against tampering with a single stone in Hawaiian temples for fear of entirely changing an original wall or platform configuration. He recommended instead interpreting with signs as much information as was available, such as the name of the heiau, its builder, and the gods worshipped within it, if known. [297]

As recently as the 1960s, Dr. Kenneth Emory stated,

The pattern of the heiaus was varied as to the plan of the enclosure or platform on which the structures stood and also as to the position of these structures. Therefore, it is now difficult to reconstruct the appearance of a heiau from the ruins which survive.... [298]

NPS Bureau Historian Barry Mackintosh has said on the question of restoration:

The Service is basically in the preservation business, It is also in the interpretation business, but it is supposed to be interpreting original, genuine things that it is preserving, not its own handiwork. [299]

Mackintosh believes, as do many professional historians, that people acquire more sense of an association and communion with the past from viewing an actual physical remnant of history than from gazing upon a modern rendition of it. [300] In a sense expanding on this theory years earlier, NPS Architect Albert Good stated in the 1930s that:

the faint shadow of the genuine often makes more intelligent appeal to the imagination than the crass and visionary replica. . . . for a group to materialize largely out of thin air its arbitrary conception of what is fitting and proper is to trespass the right and privilege of the individual to re-create vanished or near- vanished things within his own imagination. [301]

A New York State archeologist, finally, adds another perspective to the problem by posing the following question:

Also, one might ask why original, authentic historic structures should be preserved if historic structures can be reconstructed and if the reconstructions are as good as (maybe better than) the originals. What do reconstructions teach the public about preservation and the value of saving real, original structures? [302]

This writer believes there are valid points on both sides of this question. One of the primary purposes of this historic resource study was to determine if there was sufficient historical data to reconstruct Pu'ukohola Heiau and the John Young homestead site with a high degree of accuracy. No descriptions or drawings of the sites at the time of their original construction were found. Only scanty accounts of Pu'ukohola Heiau and its appearance have been found, as is also the case with Mailekini Heiau. Whether more detailed ethnographic research would add much enlightenment on this question is not known. Young's home is particularly lacking in historical data. Interpretation of the homestead has to be based on a limited historical record. There is no specific information on the precise location or appearance of structures and a problem exists differentiating between physical development on the upper and lower sections of the homestead. Although archeology has found some answers, some will never be ascertained, making it difficult to interpret specific physical remains or their use. Work accomplished to date has helped define Young's integrated Western-Hawaiian lifestyle to some extent, but gaps remain. We have no precise idea of the cultural landscape at either site — only vague generalities at one or two points in the historical period.

The park's enabling legislation calls for restoration of Pu'ukohola Heiau and the John Young homestead. NPS managers will have to decide if that course of action is essential to public understanding of the site and if sufficient historical data is available to enable an authentic reconstruction of this particular temple. Care should be taken that restoration/reconstruction would not delve into aspects of Hawaiian religion that some native Hawaiians might not want made public.

          (3) Interpretive Options

What other interpretive options are available? The Park Service has experimented with various ideas at other sites, including locating reconstructions at a distance from the original site, an action that would not be appropriate in this park because the topographical locations of these structures are so closely interwoven with their significance. In other places attempts at "ghost reconstruction" have been made, using a skeletal framework to suggest the form and outline of structures. This alternative also would be less than satisfactory because the configuration of temple buildings — their textures and materials — are vital aspects of their traditional architectural significance and religious associations Outlining on the heiau platform or the homestead site the locations of specific structures, which would be tied in to interpretive exhibits at the visitor center, would not work well because of the restricted access to the platform level of Pu'ukohola. It might be more satisfactory at the homestead site, but would be a distracting intrusion on the historic ambience.

Whatever decision is made should aim at preserving surviving prehistoric and historic fabric and archeological resources. At Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site the Park Service has stewardship over three different types of heiau, a microcosm of prehistoric and historic Hawaiian religious practices and political processes — an amazing interpretive opportunity. An expanded interpretive program, using data presented in this report and formulated cooperatively with native Hawaiian scholars, could be a stimulating aspect of a park visit and provide a wealth of information on early Hawaiian religion and aboriginal Hawaiian society. Whatever the Park Service finally decides, it must bear in mind the uniqueness of these resources and its responsibility not to degrade their integrity or detract from their many cultural, interpretive, and educational values.

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Last Updated: 15-Nov-2001