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


O. Further Research and Interpretive Needs

At the time of European contact and before the Hawaiian temples were disassembled in 1819, thousands of them were in use. Some were described by early visitors, who provided tantalizing clues as to the functions of various parts of the temple and the rituals performed in them. A systematic accounting of heiau was not initiated until Malo, Kamakau, and others began the process in the late nineteenth century. From them we learned the basic heiau types, the particular functions of each type, and which ones were used by which segments of society. But frustrating gaps still exist in our knowledge of heiau and their specific uses. Ruins of heiau remain as a symbol of the all-pervading spiritual environment within which the early Hawaiians lived and which influenced all aspects of their culture.

This study has researched all repositories known or thought to have historical data relative to Pu'ukohola and Mailekini heiau, as well as to the John Young homestead. Some scholars believe the key to understanding the development of Hawaiian temple construction, re-use, subtypes, and rituals lies in detailed archeological study and excavation. [303] Cluff et al. point out that heiau "are archaeologically significant as little archaeological research has been undertaken with regard to the remaining religious structures of the aboriginal Hawaiian" [304]

It is highly probable that some further archeological research would provide more data for interpretation and enhance our knowledge of ancient religious structures and of the aboriginal Hawaiian culture prior to and during the time of European contact. So far, neither research nor limited survey work has conclusively shown whether Pu'ukohola originated with Kamehameha or was rebuilt over an earlier structure. If Pu'ukohola is built on an earlier structure, as tradition says, the possibility exists that it is architecturally stratified, with the platforms and terraces of the older heiau buried under later additions and elaborations. Excavations at other East Polynesian temple sites have shown this stratification, and it has proven a significant step in ascertaining the development of temple ritual in those areas. In Hawai'i, few investigations of internal heiau architecture have been conducted. [305] The few done, however, have shown that excavations and detailed architectural studies of heiau can contribute significantly to an understanding of political and religious change in early Hawaiian society. The construction sequences of the temples in this park might help explain the development of complex chiefdoms on Hawai'i Island in the centuries before European contact. Architectural studies can also help assure the accuracy of stabilization and reconstruction efforts. [306]

Pu'ukohola Heiau is significant architecturally for what it can show us about how Hawai'i Island heiau architecture differed from that on other islands and in other areas of Polynesia. Archeological excavations could add to our knowledge of Mailekini Heiau, which has undergone substantial changes over the years and about whose original configuration we are uncertain. This type of study might provide information on whether sacrifices were performed there, whether the platform held any structures, what changes might have occurred when the structure became a fort, when the burials were added and to what degree their addition resulted in changes to the configuration of the temple platform, and other alterations over time. Archeologists have determined that the structure has been greatly changed by the moving around of rocks for other construction purposes and by vandalism. Major concerns in any work of this type would be care and preservation of original fabric and of areas important to native Hawaiians.

Archeological resources within Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site other than the heiau have been archeologically surveyed, given site numbers, and recorded on an Archeological Base Map. Further excavation does not seem warranted at this time, although park interpretation should mention the nature and origin of these features. Little evidence of outlying structures that might have been connected with either Pu'ukohola or Mailekini heiau has been found. Although a possibility existed that archeological survey work might expose additional exterior features that had not been mentioned in the historical record in connection with Pu'ukohola but that were integral parts of many luakini, such has not been the case. These features might have included the oven near Mailekini in which Keoua's body was baked; tombs; postholes of a sacred boundary fence; a hut, or at least a large stone, where victims were slain; an outside pavement area where the idols were carved; refuse pits; perhaps the foundations of a hale papa, an exterior row of images, or other satellite structures; or indications of the limits of the sacred space surrounding the temples and the Pelekane area. Further archeological work on Pu'ukohola and Mailekini heiau might reveal evidence of internal features, such as structures and additional tombs on the temple platforms and in their foundations as well as changes over the years. Perhaps when foundations or portions of the walls of either heiau need stabilization, they could be checked for earlier remains. The course of the walls emanating from the corners of the heiau as depicted by Jackson in 1883 have changed somewhat, and only slight remains exist of any type of enclosure around the royal compound in the Pelekane area. Further study of the ground with maps in hand might reveal some earlier traces of these walls.

Personnel connected with the NPS Submerged Cultural Resources Unit based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, have searched for, but not found, foundations associated with the Hale-o-Kapuni heiau. Pelekane, the site of the royal compound, would be an excellent interpretive area if more of the overgrowth were cleared out, exposing archeological features. These ruins are within the park but on state-owned lands. The Park Service removed debris determined not to be of historical significance from this area, which serves as the site of an annual park cultural festival. The leaning post near the shore should be repaired and replaced in a protected area but close enough to the shore that its use in ancient times and its possible association with the shark heiau can be interpreted.

Temporary stabilization actions at the John Young homestead have included erecting a plyboard reinforcing wall around the standing plastered masonry walls to protect them from the elements and adding a metal roof. Some type of long-term stabilization method needs to be utilized that will be more effective and that permits viewing of the resource by the public. In 1985 Cultural Resource Specialist George J. Chambers of the NPS Western Archeological and Conservation Center (WACC), in Tucson, Arizona, recommended a procedure for stabilization of the John Young home. It would have enabled removal of the protective roofing and concealment of the plywood sheets. Both the Superintendent and Pacific Area Director endorsed this plan, but it was not implemented because a Historic Resource Study had not been done.

The landscape surrounding the heiau is a resource also. The vegetative cover might be hiding still other early Hawaiian structures, some of which might be associated with the heiau functions. Some individuals have discussed restoring the landscape to its "original" condition, presumably utilizing more appropriate traditional plants, such as sweet potatoes or melons, and shrubs in the landscape scene. A large-scale landscape restoration program could utilize early data on similar seashore sites in the Kohala District or attempt to utilize data from some of the later-period pictures of the site that are available.

A Cultural Landscape Report, an Ethnographic Overview and Assessment, an Ethnohistory, and a Park Administrative History should be programmed.

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Last Updated: 15-Nov-2001