Hapai Pohaku Workshop 2014

A rock wall before restoration.

NPS photo.

The flat rocky peninsula of Kalaupapa has been inhabited for nearly one thousand years, over which time people built with an abundant supply of rock. A'a and pahoehoe lava rocks were the primary resource used to construct land dividers, heiau, house sites, fishponds, walls, tools, and weapons. Hawaiians' reliance on pohaku, or stone, developed a worldview and spirituality which esteemed rock as something much greater, something imbued with its own spirit and life force.

Today, miles of these historic rock walls stretch across the landscape of Kalaupapa National Historical Park, some built by the earliest Hawaiians and some built more recently by Hansen's disease patients exiled to this remote peninsula beginning in 1866. Many of these historic rock walls have fallen into disrepair over the decades, having been toppled by extreme weather, animals, and the growth of aggressive invasive plants.
From May 6th to May 15th, 2014, Kalaupapa National Historical Park hosted a Hapai Pohaku workshop to stabilize and repair deteriorating historic rock walls within the settlement and around the peninsula. The workshop is part of the growing Hawaiian Legacy Program helping to perpetuate traditional Hawaiian skills and knowledge within park staff and on the island of Molokai. For this workshop, skilled Hawaiian masons with the National Park Service from Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site and Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail came to Kalaupapa to assist with repair work and teach the art of Hawaiian dry-stack masonry to Kalaupapa staff and "Topside" Molokai residents. This method of masonry method uses no mortar. Instead, it employs a meticulous placement of the rocks whereby the form of the structure is held in place only by the structure's weight pushing inward on itself from all directions.

On the morning of May 6th, rock wall workers and settlement residents gathered together to open the workshop. The opening ceremony included a traditional Hawaiian protocol, of chants and dances intended to bless the work to be done and keep all workers safe and strong. Participants included Kalaupapa's staff from all divisions, Department of Health workers, local community members, and the esteemed masons from the partnering parks. The Park Superintendent formally welcomed all esteemed guests and shared words of appreciation for all of the work to come.
Participants meticulously rebuild the rock wall.

NPS photo.

Crews immediately began work. On any one day there were as many as twenty people assisting with the resetting of stones in a wall. For the next two weeks archaeological monitors were on hand to document any historical object discovered in the process. Many of the objects found were old bottles and other household items, which people often stuffed into the interior of the walls. The stones were reset quickly, with some walls being completed in under a day; other walls with larger stones took multiple days to complete. Upon completion of each wall workers lined up to perform a closing chant. The chant breathed ha, the breath of life, into the wall to keep it strong and standing for many years to come.

At the end of each of the two week work shop, a closing ceremony was performed. The workshop's closing ceremony included a formal awa ceremony, in which all those who worked on the walls were able to share their thoughts and feelings after having worked on the walls over the two weeks. Many expressed a deep spiritual connection to the walls and a feeling of great satisfaction for having preserved a tangible piece of history which connects people today with the past.

During the two-week 2014 workshop, work crews repaired nine wall segments totaling approximately 1722 feet. With the knowledge gained from the expert stone masons during the workshop a combined crew of Cultural Resources Division and Historic Preservation Division have continued additional repair work on walls throughout the settlement. Since the Kalaupapa Rock Wall Stabilization and Repair Program began in 2006-2007, 23 rock walls have received work, totaling 10827 feet, or 2.05 linear miles of wall. The National Park Service is proud to help with the preservation of the history and cultural landscape at Kalaupapa National Historical Park.
11_Closing Ceremony
Participants prepare to breathe life into the restored wall.

NPS photo.

Last updated: February 28, 2015

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