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Hawaii’s Hokulea Canoe Tells Story of Polynesian Voyage

May 30, 2014 by · 16 Comments 

 

by Lee Foster

“Who were the original Hawaiians?” and “How did they get to Hawaii?” are beguiling questions a traveler can raise.

In our 21st century context, a further question arises, “How can we best protect and preserve the oceans that were the historic highways to Hawaii?”

Answers can be gleaned in Honolulu by visiting the Hawaiian Maritime Center and seeing the re-created deep-sea voyaging canoe, the Hokulea, if it is not out voyaging.

A traveler should ask at the Polynesian Voyaging Society office in the Maritime Center if the visionary leader of the society, Nainoa Thompson, the great open-ocean navigator, happens to be giving a public talk. He is an inspiring person to hear. (Besides seeing the ship and listening to Nainoa, take a look at the ethnography exhibits at the Bishop Museum about the Polynesians.) 

Keep up with the latest developments, such as the planned worldwide trip for the Hokulea, at the Polynesian Voyaging Society website (http://hokulea.org).

The phenomenon that humans ever reached Hawaii ranks with the major accomplishments of mankind.

Hawaii is one of the most remote places on Earth. The islands are fully 2,000 miles from the nearest inhabited places in the South Pacific. It takes five hours by jet to get there today from the South Pacific or from the U.S. mainland. Imagine what time it took for a sailing craft from the South Pacific, headed north to an unknown destination.

Earliest Sailings

The original inhabitants of  Hawaii are believed to have come from the Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific about A.D. 250-450. Later migrations probably came from Tahiti. It is believed that the Tahitians had the skills to make the journey in both directions.

The knowledge of navigation and the personal self-confidence that allowed these people to sail in relatively small deep-sea voyaging canoes over this huge distance are inspiring.

One wonders how many ill-fated canoes missed the Hawaiian Islands and disappeared anonymously in the abyss of history and the ocean.

It is said that some DNA evidence amongst Alaska tribal groups links them to the South Pacific peoples. More detective work on this matter would be welcomed.

On a relatively small double-hull canoe these explorers would have needed to carry their water, food, seeds to plant for more food, tools, livestock and familiar animals (such as pigs, chickens, and dogs), plus sufficient childbearing women to reproduce themselves.

Re-created Canoe

The historic voyages have been re-created by the canoe, called the Hokulea, now a cultural icon at the Hawaiian Maritime Center in Honolulu.

The Hokulea has made the voyage several times, usually without any modern navigation aids, manned by modern Hawaiians, after being built in 1975 by a group of aficionados known as The Polynesian Voyaging Society. In 1976 the Hokulea sailed down to Tahiti and back, a feat it repeated in 1980. In 1985-1987 the double-hull canoe made a voyage of discovery throughout the South Pacific, visiting many remote islands. During a 1995 voyage the Hokulea made record time going to Tahiti and Micronesia.

Hokulea means “Star of Joy,” after a star, Arcturus, that hangs over the islands.

Any traveler can look at the Hokulea or its sister ship, the Hawaii Loa, if the ships are in the water and not in dry-dock for rot repair or out voyaging.  Within the adjacent museum at the Maritime Center, you can learn many details about the Hokulea and view other exhibits.

The Hokulea has exerted a dramatic influence on the resurgence of pride and self-confidence in Hawaiians and South Pacific Islanders. Nainoa Thompson speaks eloquently to this point.

“We built the Hokulea in a dark period,” says Nainoa. “Hawaiians were not then proud of who they are. We were navigating ‘cultural change’ as much as the oceans.”

Nainoa recalls his conflicted youth, when his grandmother spoke with pride of her own grandfather, an independent fisherman, and then averted her eyes as she discussed the more recent Hawaiian period, when people were beaten with sticks for simply being Hawaiian.

“Hawaiian had a negative connotation,” adds Nainoa. “People tried to wash the brown off their skin.”

Young Nainoa came under the influence of an artist, Herb Kane, who was obsessed with images of the great open-hulled canoes that the ancients must have used to cross the oceans. Kane instilled in Thompson and others the dream of building such a canoe, re-creating the voyages, and raising the pride of the people over the feats involved in these monumental voyages and the many skills required to make them. The ocean is a severe and unforgiving adversary for anyone who ventures out unprepared.

“We dreamed that the voyages would bring dignity to people,” says Nainoa. “We could take our anger about our self-image and put it to a positive use. Our language and culture were asleep, but perhaps the re-created voyages would wake us all up.”

Ancient Skills

A South Seas navigator who still had the skills, named Mau Piailug, was enlisted to help. The first 2,500-mile voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti was successful in 31 days, but Mau Piailug resigned because he felt the crew did not have the discipline required. Nainoa himself, full of fear, became the leader of the voyage back to Hawaii, which was made without incident. On the next voyage south, the canoe capsized while still in Hawaiian waters and a legendary surfer and lifeguard among the crew, Eddie Aikau, died. A dark period of introspection followed. Was this voyaging worth the risk? Out of this traumatic time a new leadership team emerged with far greater navigational skills.

“The voyaging canoe was like a needle making a lei of the islands, the flowers of the South Pacific,” says Nainoa.

The navigational skills, archaeology, and modern genetics that are a part of this story are all intriguing.

It is believed that the sweet potato came onto the scene from South America, so there must have been some contact, but the migration probably came from Asia.

Recent genetic studies tend to confirm that Hawaiians came east from Asia through the South Pacific and up to Hawaii. Some Haida natives in Alaska are believed to be part of this genetic heritage. The logs for the new canoe, the Hawaii Loa, were contributed by Alaska natives.

It is believed that voyages from the South Pacific ended in roughly the 14th century, partially by a decree of rulers to preserve their blood lines as the dominant class. There were also resource limitations in the islands as populations grew. Mounting huge voyaging expeditions was costly.

“All the science and human factors work together in the Hokulea story,” says Nainoa. “There has been a huge resurgence of pride in these Pacific peoples, both in Hawaii and in the South Pacific. They now have a sense of their historic accomplishments and a reverence for their past.”

A Remarkable Feat

The size of the Pacific Ocean within the so-called Polynesian Triangle, with New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Islands as the corners, is simply immense. Finding small islands in this vast 10-million square miles of sea was a remarkable feat.

Because of their careful observations of nature, the ancient sailors had some confidence that there would be land to the north, somewhere. One of their indicators was a land bird, the golden plover. They noted that the plover could only set down on land, not at sea. The people of the Marquesas saw that the golden plover migrated to their islands from the north, but did not nest there. Rather, the birds disappeared annually to the north. Therefore, the assumption was that they nested somewhere to the north, on land. Modern bird observers now know that the golden plover flies fully 6,000 miles north to nest in Alaska, far beyond Hawaii.

Knowing there was land up there somewhere, the navigators still had to be able to reckon direction to go north. They developed a method of navigation known as ‘wayfinding,’ totally dependent on natural signs. Nainoa Thompson has these same uncanny skills.

The wayfinding navigator must be able to guide the canoe without any instruments beyond his own mind. At dawn and dusk, of course there is the rising and setting sun. But at midday, the direction of the waves and swells would be the key. And at night, the rising and setting positions of about 210 key stars were critical. As people with an oral rather than a written tradition and with huge capacities for memory, remembering the stars was a critical knowledge to master.

Other clues would be the way clouds form near islands, especially around islands with peaks. The presence of birds, such as boobies, would also be evidence that islands were near. The flight path of birds would be a directional clue. The content of drifting debris would be another sign as to the direction of and existence of islands. How long would a drifting leaf remain green before deteriorating? How many days had it drifted? Given the wind and wave speed, how far away was the source of the green leaf?

One also wonders what motivated these people to venture north toward Hawaii. The early assumption was that war, overpopulation, and strife may have stimulated them to seek new territory. But the planning required to launch the canoes and the huge amount of social cooperation required for the venture suggest that there were more positive motivations. The spirit of adventure may have been one of the motivating factors.

Outfitting the canoe was a complex task. Perhaps 20 people traveled on these small double-hull crafts. At least five couples would have been needed to produce offspring not adversely inbred. The voyage would last about 30 days.

The threat of becoming becalmed in the middle of the ocean was real and would have been fatal.

Captain James Cook, the Englishman who “discovered” Hawaii for Europeans in 1778, certainly had his equals among the many daring Polynesian navigators who “discovered” Hawaii from their bases in the Marquesas or Tahiti.

More insights into the South Pacific Islanders who settled Hawaii can be gleaned at the Bishop Museum, the major ethnographic facility of the Pacific, documenting early Hawaii and all the islands that contributed to its development.

Every travel destination has ways of enlarging our imagination if we can only discern them. The Hokulea is one of the major Hawaii contributions to our sensibility. A visitor can see in the Hokulea a renewed sense of the grandeur of the human spirit, the spirit of adventure inherent in mankind, and the willingness of the human animal to take on unimaginable risks.

The next time you spend five hours in an airplane flying to Hawaii, consider what a 2,000-mile canoe ride to Hawaii from the South Pacific would have been like, especially if you had no idea when you would ever see land again.

For the modern air traveler, the islands suddenly jump out, magically and improbably in the middle of the ocean. Imagine the intense emotions of a Marquesan about A.D. 250-400 who spotted land after 30 days at sea during a voyage into the unknown.

The Hokulea has inspired a new generation of voyaging canoes with grand visions. In 2011 five of the canoes sailed all the way from the Cook Islands to my home in San Francisco. The Cook Islands mariners and other Polynesian people associated with the canoes came to entertain and to instruct. The instruction was about stewardship of the sea and how these Polynesian people can help lead the cause. The boat captain led the crew in an impassioned chant. (See my video of this event, above, or at its YouTube home at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezBiaDbST9w.)

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The Hokulea: For Further Information

The organization managing the Hokulea is the Polynesian Voyaging Society, whose office is at Pier 7 in the Hawaii Maritime Center in Honolulu. They will know, on any given day, the precise location of the voyaging canoe. Contact them in advance of a visit at http://hokulea.org.

Contact the Hawaiian Visitors Bureau at http://www.gohawaii.com.

Oahu

Hawaii’s Aloha Spirit Begins on Oahu Island

May 26, 2014 by · 1 Comment 


Hawaii Honolulu and Island of Oahu – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

When the plane touches down in Hawaii, the magic of the eight major Islands in the Hawaiian group begins to infuse the sensibility of a traveler. First of all, a traveler from North America has just made a long voyage, 2,000 miles and fully five hours from western U.S. cities, or longer from Chicago and New York. After traversing long stretches of ocean, the islands suddenly appear, as improbable as they must have seemed to the first Polynesians who sailed and paddled their canoes from the South Seas to this site about 750 A.D. or possibly earlier. From out of nowhere the modern visitor alights into a fully-realized dream, Hawaii.

When you leave the airplane, a lei may be put around your neck, if you are on a tour. If not, you may want to buy a lei at the airport, just to get into the spirit. Leis are sometimes made of vanda orchids or of plumeria. The perfume of the lei and the warm tropical air of Hawaii immediately bathe a visitor. A range of bright flowers can be seen everywhere, starting with bougainvillea or hibiscus, the state flower, giving a technicolor aura to Hawaii. Brightly floral aloha shirts, which appear so ostentatious on the mainland, seem immediately appropriate here.

Then you begin observing people in this airport. The most striking aspect of the people is that their racial origins are diverse and are primarily from the Orient. Aside from the Portuguese, the main groups were Polynesians, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. This mixture of races has produced women of legendary beauty, with coal black eyes and olive thighs, who hula dance through the longings of the male visitor. Of course, the men are handsome also, and, as the woman visitor may eventually learn, while observing the rippling muscles of the beachboy paddling the outrigger canoe, the men were the original hula dancers.

The ethnic groups that make up Hawaii are so different from the mainland U.S. racial stock that the place is truly exotic, almost a foreign country, yet Hawaii is one of our own states. Hawaii is like a foreign country where the exchange rate never varies and where the natives speak your language, plus their own. Hawaii, our most exotic destination within the U.S. and a full-status state since 1959, is the favored state for the so-called Pacific Rim Century we are now embarked upon. The history of Hawaii, a visitor soon learns, is wholly different from the story of the mainland U.S. Hawaii leans culturally toward the Pacific Basin, while the mainland leans toward Europe. In fact, the people of Hawaii flourished without benefit of any Indo-European contact or religious trappings until the 18th century. They developed their own severe and superstitious, but understandable, religious system, the kapu system, that required death for slight infringements. Like Christianity with its confessional, the kapu system provided a few sacred places where forgiveness was possible.

Adding to the exotic feel of the islands are the tropical plants that grow so luxuriously in the warm, bright sun and moist air. A visitor from Minnesota, in winter, who has been thinking of the wind chill factor only a day earlier, suddenly alights in Hawaii, where the temperature at sea level varies only from 63 to 85 all year around. For many visitors, the predictable warmth and benign sun are sufficient to breathe life into the word paradise. While Alaskans suffer a dark night of the soul through the winter, Hawaiians luxuriate in sunlight and warmth. Hawaiians distinguish winter from summer by discerning that the weather is a few degrees cooler and the rains are slightly more frequent.

With a snorkel mask a visitor can realize how this tropical richness extends to the world below sea level. Coral and multi-colored fish present an otherworldly offering. Only Florida, within the U.S., competes with Hawaii as a tropical landscape above and below sea level. In Hawaii there is intense color in the land, sea, and sky. Besides the coral and the fish, anticipate the pleasure of some lava-red sunsets in this land of eternal June. All visitors and natives can enjoy these sunsets from the beaches in an egalitarian celebration of nature. All of the beaches of Hawaii are owned by all of the people, all of the time.

As with other destinations in the tropics, Hawaii is a relaxed place with a moderate pace. Moderate activity level is a matter of prudence in the heat of the tropics. Hawaiians have also been so steeped in a tradition of salubrious sun and abundant food from the sea, an engaging natural environment and an ease with the foreigner, that a traveler feels comfortable here. Most Hawaiians realize that they too were once foreigners. Part of the aloha spirit of Hawaii is a notion that strangers are a gift from the gods.

Another aspect of Hawaii’s charm is the Hawaiian language. The language is so rich in liquid vowels that a face needs to smile to speak. Originating in Polynesia, the language is musical and sensuous, absent of gutturals and spitting consonants, soothing to a visitor’s ear. Like so much in Hawaii, this language came from the East, not the West. Moreover, many of the meanings behind the words come from the beauty of nature and the joy of life. Not only does a word sound beautiful, but when you inquire about its meaning, you are liable to hear that it means something like “a bouquet of rainbows.” The classic greeting of Hawaii, which is aloha, translates roughly as “I recognize in you the breath of life.” Could a more evocative or metaphysically profound salutation be imagined? Honolulu, Waikiki, Hawaii, Oahu, Hanauma–just say the words and try to avoid the hypnotic softness. The Polynesian Hawaiians had no written language before the Europeans arrived in the 18th century (the Europeans and Americans controlled later migration of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos in the 19th and 20th centuries.) In the earlier Hawaii, with its emphasis on a spoken language, elders enjoyed a special role because in their minds and speech the collective culture of the people survived and passed from generation to generation.

Hawaii also has an air of illusion about it. Part of the illusion is that the economy is supported mainly by unseen resources decided upon far away, namely military expenditures and tourism. Agriculture or fishing on the islands is actually minuscule compared to government spending. The military controls 25 percent of the land mass on Oahu. Because Hawaii occupies a strategic position, its future is secure, though the basis of its security is dependent on the distant military providers. As long as inexpensive gasoline or other fuel is available, Hawaii as a tourism destination looks promising. Concerted efforts strive to market Hawaii to an international audience, perhaps to the Chinese, beyond the current dependence on U.S. and Japanese patrons.

The difference that distinguishes Hawaii begins to strike a traveler who turns on the hotel TV. The news will carry the important information of the day, such as the height of the waves for surfing. Possibly a surfing tournament, a form of sport here since ancient times, will be broadcast. The Japanese presence, in Waikiki, but less extensively in the outlying islands, is another major aspect of the experience. Japanese travelers have dominated Waikiki tourism when the Japanese economy is strong. All information is printed in Japanese. Excellent Japanese restaurants abound. You open your dresser in the hotel room to find both a Bible and The Works of Buddha. You open the refrigerator in the hotel room to find packages of dried seaweed and dried fish. Ethnic Japanese, who are U.S. citizens, are one of the major groups in the complex Hawaiian ethnic mix.

For most of the millions of Americans who visit the state of Hawaii each year, the island of Oahu and its major city of Honolulu, with famous Waikiki Beach, is the gateway. Here the mystique of Hawaii will be felt by most travelers.

For some travelers, direct flights to the state of Hawaii’s biggest island, the Big Island of Hawaii, or to the island of Maui are the initial encounter with the islands.

Getting To and Around Hawaii

The flight to Honolulu, as mentioned, takes about five hours from the major west coast gateway cities. Flights originate in major coastal cities, with several airlines participating in the trade. Some carriers fly directly to the islands of Hawaii and Maui as well as to Honolulu.

(When departing from Hawaii for the return flight to the mainland, be sure to allow plenty of airport check-in time. All luggage must be inspected because of agricultural needs to keep pests from being imported on fruits, vegetables, and flowers. This hand checking requires time and the lines can be long.)

Once in Honolulu, the airport is west of the downtown and Waikiki Beach, where most of the hotels are located. If you plan a rather sedentary vacation soaking up the sun on the beach or if you are particularly adept at taking trolleys or buses, you won’t need a rental car. The Waikiki Trolley can take you around the central area. A bus simply called The Bus makes a full island circuit for a small charge. If you wish to get around quickly and want to see the countryside beyond Honolulu, with flexibility about places to stop and take photos, a rental car makes life easier. All the major and several local rental companies provide cars. When looking at physical or Google maps and planning excursions around the island, keep in mind that the roads are low-speed roads with plenty of twists and turns. Considering this, plus the pleasure of stopping to look at sites, allow plenty of time for excursion trips.

The major Honolulu hotels are in the Waikiki Beach area, with the Hilton Hawaiian Village a typical example. This massive high-rise, with 2,600 rooms, is indeed a vertical village, with plenty of beach accessible below and views of the city, water, and sunsets possible from the higher levels. Several restaurants are located on the premises, including the Bali, a delightful over-the ocean view. Another hotel, The Outrigger, fronts the beach and creates a fun beach-watching scene with its Duke’s Canoe Club restaurant, right on the beach. Still other great hotels, such as The Hyatt Regency Waikiki, are across the street from the beach. The beach, the main Waikiki attraction, is never far away.

History of Honolulu

Upon arrival, your first activity in Honolulu should be an immersion in the pleasures of Waikiki Beach, especially a long stroll along the beach (as described under Main Attractions). Then step back to begin pondering how this paradise was discovered. The best place to answer this question is at the Bishop Museum, which devotes itself to the origin of the Hawaiian people. The Bishop Museum is in the western part of the city at 1525 Bernice Street.

The Bishop Museum building has a tropical and colonial feel, with three levels built around a large courtyard. The first level displays the origins of the Hawaiian people. Feathered capes and helmets are some of the historic artifacts of greatest interest here. The historic kings of Hawaii are a colorful subject. On the second level, which covers the age of whaling and missionaries, artifacts that contrast with the Christian and European temperament are in evidence. A necklace of human teeth, wooden swords with shark tooth blades, and bark cloth garments are some of the ethnic artifacts on display. On the third floor, the many cultures of modern Hawaii are presented, including artifacts showing the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean migrations. (The Lyman Museum in Hilo is the other Hawaiian place at which to learn of these migration stories). A whale skeleton shows the massive size of these behemoths.

Other wings of the Bishop Museum display Polynesian artifacts. At adjacent Atherton Hall you may see women working in crafts, such as feather or fabric designs. The Kilolani Planetarium associated with the museum puts on shows for the public and displays instruments that assisted in earlier star-guided migration across the Pacific.

After the Bishop Museum, proceed toward the downtown. Iolani Palace, west of Waikiki, is a royal residence from the monarchical days of Hawaii. The house was built in 1882 by King David Kalakaua and served as the royal residence until the demise of the monarchy in 1893, when Sanford P. Dole, of pineapple fame, guided events surrounding the formation of a Republic of Hawaii. While imprisoned here in 1894, celebrated Queen Liliuokalani wrote several Hawaiian songs that are still popular today. Guided tours take you through this Hawaiian adaptation of Victorian architecture, where Hawaiian woods, such as koa and ohia, were fashioned into hardwood elegance. In the throne room you can see feathered capes favored by the royalty. Iolani Palace is at King and Richards Streets.

Across the street from the palace is a large statue of the legendary King Kamehameha I, in front of the Judiciary Building. On June 11, King Kamehameha Day, flower leis clothe the statue of this man, who united the Islands by 1795 after subduing rival kings on his native Island of Hawaii and then conquering the other islands, such as Oahu.

One block from the statue is another critical chapter in the Hawaii story–the Mission Houses Museum. There you can see the Christian missionary effort that began here in 1820. The church, built of coral, still addresses the spiritual needs of a modern congregation.

A short walk away from the statue, along the waterfront, you come to the Hawaii Maritime Center. The Aloha Tower Marketplace and Maritime Museum, at Pier 8, offer a glimpse at maritime history, a venue for a shopping center, and a view of the harbor. Hawaii’s importance, historically and today, depends on its safe harbor in the long Pacific waterway.

Adjacent to the tower is the historic ship, the Falls of Clyde, the only surviving fully-rigged four-masted sailing ship used in the sugar trade. The Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 and carried sugar between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Berthed next to the Falls of Clyde is the Hokulea, a square-rigged replica of ancient ships that the Polynesians used to navigate their way to Hawaii. The Hokulea has engaged in many re-creations of the voyages of discovery, epic undertakings in which skilled volunteers re-lived the voyages without benefit of modern navigational instruments. The museum has an excellent taped interpretive program, informing a visitor of Hawaii’s sea heritage, from the era of the Hokulea to the time of early-modern Matson line shipping. (See my article on the Hokulea, including the YouTube video. This is the most popular of all my Hawaii writings.)

The legendary first hotels on Waikiki catering to travelers were the white Moana, with its mammoth banyan tree in the courtyard, and the pink Royal Hawaiian, which opened in 1927. Both remain vital today, upgraded to the modern era. Another early and legendary property, the Halekulani, was a cluster of cottages, but was redone as a modern hotel, and remains a prominent hotel and restaurant choice in Waikiki.

State buildings that govern modern Hawaii reflect all elements of the islands. The State Capitol, at Beretania and Richards Streets, is a rectangular structure rising to an open crown, like a volcano. Pools suggest the ocean and concrete columns simulate palm trees. The exterior stone is volcanic rock. Interior decor are wall coverings resembling bark tapa prints. The Capitol is open at all times.

The grim modern historical story of Hawaii can be witnessed at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial west of Honolulu. The Memorial is a white concrete and steel edifice spanning the 185-foot hull of the sunken ship, in which over a thousand servicemen were entombed during the Japanese air attack on December 7, 1941. Today, of course, Japanese pleasure travelers are the second main market for Hawaii, after North Americans.

Main Attractions of Honolulu

Waikiki’s inviting beach will always rank as a main attraction of Honolulu. The walk along the beach all the way from the Yacht Basin at the Hilton Hawaiian Village to Kapiolani Park is an engaging outing, passing thousands of people enjoying the sun. Aging chess players lounge in the sheltered verandas as you pass the downtown. The major hotels rest directly on the beach.

The beach is tranquil in the early morning, if you jog or walk along it at 6 a.m. up to the New Otani Hotel, then back through Kapiolani Park. The sun rises in the mountains in back of the city.

Outrigger canoes or catamaran sailboats along the beach, available for rides, are especially appealing. Outriggers are paddled out and then can be surfed in to the shore. Some of the large catamaran boats become an impromptu party, with the crew offering your beverage of choice.

Shopping areas of Honolulu are impressive bazaars. Shells and coral, often transformed into jewelry, make lovely Hawaiian mementos. Wood carvings and flower leis are other specialties. Fabrics in bright colors are typically Hawaiian, either in aloha shirts or ladies muumuus. Macadamia nuts, those crunchy, addictive, round nuts that seem to melt like butter in the mouth, are a specialty of the Island of Hawaii. The Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, which snakes its way for three blocks on three levels, is a good example of the several major shopping centers in the city. Ala Moana and the Aloha Tower complex are other competing shopping areas.

The restaurants of Honolulu are diverse, with those most original to the place featuring Hawaiian seafood and ambiance. Try the Duke’s Canoe Club, as an example, where you are likely to be entertained with Hawaiian songs, strummed on a ukulele, which was a Portuguese import. Try the ono, a fish from Hawaiian waters, or perhaps the paniolo steak (paniolo being the Hawaiian word for cowboy). For dessert, consider a scoop of macadamia nut ice cream.

The Honolulu Academy of Arts is interesting because it has emerged as an important cultural center for the state. The Academy of Arts contains both an eastern and western wing of art, as if paralleling the historic influences on the islands. The Eastern Wing includes Chinese bronze dishes from the 11th Century B.C. The Western Wing shows some celebrated paintings, including works by Van Gogh and Matisse, plus Maron’s scenic called “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” The Academy is at 900 S. Beretania Street.

Kapiolani Park, at the east end of Waikiki, is a multi-use open area where people fly kites or practice their tai chi exercises. One of the special pleasures here is the Waikiki Aquarium, 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, which has more than 300 species of Pacific fish. Perusing these fish is a prelude to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. At the Aquarium you will learn of the ancient fish ponds that were so important for raising food fish in the region. The Hawaiians had learned to dry salt from the sea, create nets and lashings from coconut fibers, cultivate certain seaweeds as vegetables, and make effective weapons with shark teeth.

Hanauma Bay State Underwater Park, east of Honolulu, offers good opportunities to view fish in the coral reefs. The extensive reefs, in front of a tan sand area, house abundant fish life. As the tide level changes, different parts of the reef become accessible. A drive out to Hanauma past the Diamond Head State Monument takes you through attractive residential areas of Honolulu.

Inquire where you might see a good hula dance. The hulas are soft-spoken history tales of the islands, records of a people without a written language. The tradition of grass skirts is Tahitian rather than Hawaiian. Old-style hulas involved chant and dance. The hula depends on subtlety rather than gymnastics for expression. The music is soft and soothing, and the sensuousness of the older woman is a main theme. The pride of an older dancer in her skills can be much in evidence.

Within Hawaii, interest is strong in preserving the native culture. At the Kamehameha School in Honolulu, you must have some Hawaiian blood to matriculate. As part of the curriculum in some public schools, children may learn Hawaiian language and lore.

For an overall view of Honolulu, drive the Round Top road starting at the end of Makiki Street. The road circles Round Top Mountain and includes excellent views of the Manoa Valley. Along the drive, flowering trees, mainly hibiscus and bougainvillea, delight the eye. From the top, at Puu Ualakaa State Wayside Park, you get a superb view of Honolulu. The word Honolulu is said to mean hono or “bay” that is “sheltered” or lulu, a matter that is apparent from this promontory. The word Oahu is said to mean “the gathering place.”

An early-morning hike in Honolulu to the top of Diamond Head crater can be highly recommended. Early morning is the cool time of the day for the hike. The hike proceeds about .7 mile to the top, passing various military observation posts and pillboxes for lightly-armed defenses. You see Franklin birds, a tame, quail-like creature. Take a flashlight to pass through a tunnel for part of the outing. At the top you are rewarded with views of Waikiki from this elevated 761-foot perspective. The Hawaiians named the crater originally after the head of the ahi fish, but British sailors, finding crystalline on the shore, renamed it Diamond Head.

Nearby Trips from Honolulu

The main nearby trip to consider from Honolulu is to rent a car and circle the island. This can be done in a day, though you could linger in the outlying areas for several days to explore.

As you leave the city and climb into the mountains, an interesting stop is at Queen Emma’s Summer Palace, where you can see the elegant summer residence of some of the last of the ill-fated Hawaiian Royalty.

On the east side of the island one interesting stop is Senator Fong’s Plantation and Gardens, where a former Hawaii Senator has planted over 700 acres in various native and horticultural plants.

Among the main island-loop attractions to see are the Polynesian Cultural Center and Waimea Park.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is a Mormon-sponsored cultural park at which the public is entertained by islander young people, who come to Hawaii for their Mormon education. The students, from various islands in the Pacific, study in the morning and perform for the public in the afternoon to finance the operation. The interpretive effort has both the vigor of youth and the intellectual rigor of an educational effort. Seven South Pacific Islands villages are re-created here.

Waimea Valley Adventure Park is noted for its impressive Waimea Falls, its elaborate horticultural efforts, the Hawaiian hula performances by men and women, and reconstructed living sites of ancient Hawaiians, including one authentic, restored heiau, or sacred religious site, right at the entrance to the park.

If you drive northeast from Honolulu on this loop, you first pass the Pali overlook, where King Kamehameha pushed the remaining recalcitrant warriors of Oahu over the cliffs in his final drive to unite Hawaii. Then you drive along the east and north shore, past the Polynesian Cultural Center and Waimea Park, passing also the great surfing beaches of the north. Finally, the road curves inland and back to Honolulu, passing through pineapple plantings.

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Honolulu: If You Go

A main visitor information site is the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau at http://www.gohawaii.com/oahu.

Oahu

Hiking the Ancient Sites of Hawaii on Oahu and Nature Outings on Maui

May 24, 2014 by · 2 Comments 


Hike Ancient Sites Oahu and Nature Maui – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

Whenever paths to insight open up for travelers at a major destination, such as Hawaii, there is much to celebrate.

For Hawaii, a guidebook to the ancient historical sites on Oahu and an outstanding naturalist-hiking program on Maui are the treasures.

Ancient Sites on Oahu

When artist Van James moved to Oahu, he gradually became enamored with the silent, flat platforms of rock, called heiau, that were the ancient ceremonial sites on the island.

At the same time, the Bishop Museum, one of main cultural forces in Honolulu, saw a need to produce a guidebook to the ancient sites of Hawaii for visitors.

This convergence of energy resulted in Ancient Sites of Oahu: A Guide to Hawaiian Archaeological Places of Interest, written by Van James, photographed by Michael Weidenback, and published by the Bishop Museum Press.

With its excellent maps, photos, and lucid explanatory text, the book offers an excellent rationale for a day’s drive in a rental car around Oahu, starting with ancient sites right at Waikiki Beach and proceeding all the way to the north side of the island.

With the book it is easy to locate the five main types of ancient sites. Heiau were the temples or shrines, consisting of flat rock platforms with thatch buildings on them. The thatch structures are now gone, of course. Pohaku were the sacred, large stones, felt to be filled with special spirit. Petroglyphs recorded various images from ancient times. Caves and rock shelters were used as living spaces and as burial sites, with the bones often housed in a wooden canoe. Fishponds were the large fish-storage pens where the bounty of the sea in this salubrious climate could be kept.

Some highlights of my field exploration with the book, hiking and driving, were:

*The Wizard Stones on Waikiki. These are several large stones, right on Waikiki beach, whose position and angle suggested to Hawaiian natives that a special spiritual presence existed here. Archaeologists keep pushing back the estimated dates of the first arrivals in Hawaii from the South Pacific. The Third Century is now the estimated time.

*The Pali Lookout. This is where King Kamehameha, who unified Hawaii, decisively defeated the warriors of Oahu, pushing the remaining warriors over the 600-foot cliffs in a climactic battle. Whether the defeated warriors voluntarily jumped, rather than suffer capture, is a question. During a road excavation below the Lookout, over 800 skulls were unearthed.

*The Heeia Fishponds. This is an excellent example of the large fishponds, some still operative as late as the 1950s. In these enclosures Hawaiians stored ocean fish, preserving alive a ready supply of food. Over 100 large fishponds have been identified on Oahu.

*The Puuomahuka Heiau. This largest sacred place on Oahu overlooks Waimea Bay and offers a stunning view of the large breakers. Without the book, very few visitors would come to the site, though some native Hawaiians continue to worship here, as evidenced by the offerings of fruit or the leaf-wrapped prayer rocks. This was also a site of human sacrifice.

*The restored Hale O Lono Heiau at Waimea Falls Park. This heiau should be visited because it is restored, complete with the thatch structures. You can see the spirit house, drum house, oracle towers, and wooden images of the god, in this case Lono, the god of agriculture.

*The Kukaniloko birthing site. Set in what is now the upland pineapple-growing region, this ancient site was felt to be a favorable place to give birth. Women of the ali’i or elite class were brought here for childbirth, assuring an auspicious future for their progeny. Chiefs born here would be a “chief divine, a burning fire,” it was said.

The book can be ordered in advance from Amazon or purchased in Hawaii at the Bishop Museum.

Van James has done visitors to Hawaii a favor by gathering this critical information on the ancient sites in a lucid volume, providing an enticing rationale for a day trip around Oahu.

Naturalist-Led Hikes on Maui

Long before ecotourism was a buzzword in travel, naturalist/philosopher Ken Schmitt was guiding hikers around his beloved Maui, immersing them in a meditation about the geology, flora, and fauna. Ken started in 1983, and his guiding vision flourishes today in the Hike Maui Company. See their website at http://www.hikemaui.com/ for all details.

Many kind of hikes are presented, from more accessible rain forest walks to rigorous mountain treks. The personal encounter with a skilled guide is emphasizes on the website.

During my visit, I took a mountain hike, a half-day trip on the north side of the Waihee River. The hike was a 4.5-mile round trip, after a 30-minute drive from our meeting spot. We climbed to view panoramic displays of the coastline and 3000-foot deep Waihee Canyon. Our experiences included tall waterfalls, many wild flowers and fruits, forests, birds, and plenty of lush vegetation, both native and exotic. The elevation changed 1500 feet each way, so Ken describes this hike as moderately strenuous.

Other scheduled hikes might emphasize waterfalls, Hana Coast, exotic forest (dense forest of gigantic trees in fog-laden canyons), Haleakala Crater, coastline, and snorkel and hike outings. See the website for the evolving pattern of current hikes.

Spending a few hours with Ken was an immersion in the beauty of nature and the joy of life, described by a man who delighted in the connections and relationships between the volcanic geologic base of Hawaii and all the life forms that subsequently arose there. The current set of guides carry on this tradition.

Here were a few of Ken’s memorable observations:

*The beauty of the Hawaiian language. Not only does the language sound sensuous, with its heavy emphasis on melodic vowels. The sentiments behind the word are also beautiful, indicating a close connection with nature. Haleakala Crater on Maui means, typically, “house of the sun.” The west Maui volcano we hiked toward translated as “mountain of the misty breath of the sun.”

*The mountains of Hawaii are actually the tallest on the planet because the mountains begin at 18,000 feet below sea level. As shield volcano mountains, with a typical squat profile, the mountains of Hawaii, including their portion below sea level, are also incredibly massive. Mauna Loa on the Big Island is incredibly massive.

*No plants in Hawaii are poisonous to touch. The Islands boast one of the most benign environments of the planet, partly because plants did not need to evolve to escape mammals eating them. A large number of Hawaiian plants are edible. Under Ken’s watchful direction, we dined on wild sword ferns and fiddlenecks.

*Hawaii has about 3,000 species of native plants brought here by wind, by floating on water, or by seeds excreted from birds. Hawaii is one of the most isolated environments on the planet, with the closest islands over 1,000 miles away. The bird life of Hawaii is also diverse. Ken could identify every bird call, such as the Japanese bush warbler.

*The humpback whales breaching off the Maui Coast in February are believed to breach partly to slap off the barnacles encrusted on their skin.

Such were the insights that Ken Schmitt imparted.

If you want to make a future trip to Hawaii more meaningful, consider perusing Van James’s book and engaging the services of the Hike Maui Company for a hike. Both expand a traveler’s awareness and instill a more supple sense of wonder.

**

Insights into Hawaii: If You Go

Van James’ book is Ancient Sites of Oahu.

The Hike Maui Company is at http://www.hikemaui.com/.

Oahu

Beyond the Beaches, the Culture of Hawaii

May 22, 2014 by · 1 Comment 


Hawaii Culture – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

Many of the visitors to Hawaii unabashedly seek beaches and sun, especially the winter traveler escaping the wind-chill factor. But a portion of visitors also want further enticements, asking: what do The Islands offer beyond beaches and sun? Where can I learn of the historic story of Hawaii? What are the special experiences of nature available here?

The answers begin as your plane touches down at Honolulu International Airport and the magic of the eight major Islands in the Hawaiian group infuses your sensibility. First of all, you have just made a long voyage, fully five-and-a-half hours from the U.S. West Coast or perhaps more if you came from Asia. After traversing long stretches of ocean, the islands suddenly appear (if you have a daylight flight), as improbable as they must have seemed to the first Polynesians who sailed and paddled their canoes from the South Seas to this site about A.D. 750. From out of nowhere you alight into a fully realized dream, Hawaii.

Soon you begin observing the people in this airport. The most striking aspect of the people is that their racial origins are diverse and are primarily from the Orient and South Pacific. Some main groups were Polynesians, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. The ethnic groups that make up Hawaii are so different from the North American experience that the place is truly exotic, a foreign country, yet English-speaking. The history of Hawaii, an inquiring visitor soon learns, leans culturally toward the Pacific Basin, unlike the U.S. story leaning toward Europe. The people of Hawaii flourished without benefit of any Indo-European contact or religious trappings until the 18th century. They developed their own severe and superstitious, but understandable, religious system, the kapu system, that required death for slight infringements. Like Christianity with its confessional, the kapu system provided a few sacred places where forgiveness was possible.

The natural setting is equally novel. When you enter the airport, a lei may be put around your neck. Leis are sometimes made of vanda orchids, a flower that can be eaten, or of plumeria. The perfume of the lei and the warm tropical air of Hawaii immediately bathe a visitor. A range of bright flowers can be seen everywhere, starting with bougainvillea or hibiscus, the state flower, giving a technicolor aura to Hawaii. Brightly floral aloha shirts, which appear so ostentatious on the Mainland, seem immediately appropriate here. Tropical plants grow luxuriously in the warm, bright sun and moist air.

Another stimulus awakening the desire to look beyond the beaches and sun in Hawaii is the Hawaiian language. The language is so rich in liquid vowels that a face needs to smile to speak. Originating in Polynesia, the language is musical and sensuous, absent of gutterals and spitting consonants, soothing a visitor’s ear. Many of the meanings of words come from the beauty of nature and the joy of life. Not only does a word sound beautiful, but when you inquire about its meaning, you are liable to hear that it means something like “a bouquet of rainbows.” The classic greeting of Hawaii, which is aloha, translates roughly as “I recognize in you the breath of life.” Could a more evocative or metaphysically profound salutation be imagined? Honolulu, Waikiki, Hawaii, Oahu, Hanauma–just say the words and try to avoid the hypnotic softness. The Polynesian Hawaiians had no written language before the Europeans arrived in the 18th century (the Europeans and Americans controlled later migration of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos in the 19th and 20th centuries.) In earlier Hawaii, with its emphasis on a spoken language, elders enjoyed a special role because in their minds and speech the collective culture of the people survived and passed from generation to generation.

When you begin to look for Hawaii beyond beaches and sun, there is also an air of illusion about the place. The economy is supported mainly by unseen resources decided upon far away, namely military expenditures and tourism. Agriculture or fishing on the islands is actually miniscule compared to government spending. The military controls 25 percent of the land mass on Oahu, the island where Honolulu is located. Because Hawaii occupies a strategic position, its future is secure, though the basis of its security is dependent on the distant military providers. As long as inexpensive gasoline or other fuel is available, Hawaii as a tourism destination also looks promising. However, if fuel sources became unavailable or costly, the entire tourism economy would collapse overnight.

To discover Hawaii beyond the beaches, we’ll concentrate on the two most promising sites. First we’ll go to the Island of Oahu and its metropolis, Honolulu, the capital of modern Hawaii. Then we’ll proceed to The Big Island of Hawaii, the royal capital before the period of European dominance.

Island of Oahu: Discovering Honolulu

Upon arrival, step back to ponder how this paradise arose. The best place to seek answers is at the Bishop Museum, which devotes itself to the origin of the Hawaiian people. The Bishop Museum is in the western part of the city at 1525 Bernice Street.

The Bishop Museum building has a tropical and exotic feel, with three levels built around a large courtyard. The first level displays the origins of the Hawaiian people. Feathered capes and helmets are some of the historic artifacts of greatest interest here. The historic kings of Hawaii were a colorful lot. On the second level, which portrays the age of whaling and missionaries, artifacts of the natives contrast with the Christian and European temperament. A necklace of human teeth, wooden swords with shark-tooth blades, and bark cloth garments are some of the ethnic items on display. On the third floor, the many cultures of modern Hawaii are presented, including the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean migrations. A whale skeleton shows the massive size of these behemoths.

After the Bishop Museum, proceed toward the downtown and Iolani Palace, a royal residence from the monarchical days of Hawaii. The house, west of Waikiki beach, was built in 1882 by King David Kalakaua and served as the royal residence until the demise of the monarchy in 1893, when Sanford P. Dole, of pineapple fame, guided events surrounding the formation of a Republic of Hawaii. While imprisoned here in 1894, celebrated Queen Liliuokalani wrote several Hawaiian songs that are still popular today. Guided tours take you through this Hawaiian adaptation of Victorian architecture, where Hawaiian woods, such as koa and ohia, were fashioned into hardwood elegance. In the throne room you can see feathered capes favored by the royalty. Iolani Palace is at King and Richards Streets.

Across the street from the palace is a large statue of the legendary King Kamehameha I, in front of the Judiciary Building. On June 11, King Kamehameha Day, flower leis clothe the statue to this man, who united the Islands by 1795 after subduing rival kings on his native Island of Hawaii and then conquering the other islands.

A short walk away from the statue, along the waterfront, you come to the Hawaii Maritime Center. The Aloha Tower and Maritime Museum, at Pier 8, offer a view of the harbor and city from an observation deck. Hawaii’s importance, historically and today, depends on its safe harbor in the long Pacific waterway. Adjacent to the tower is the historic ship, the Falls of Clyde, a surviving fully-rigged four-masted sailing ship. The Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 and carried sugar between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Berthed next to the Falls of Clyde is the Hokulea, a square-rigged replica of ancient ships that the Polynesians used to navigate in these waters when they discovered Hawaii. The Hokulea has engaged in a longterm re-creation of the voyages of discovery, an epic undertaking that included volunteers re-living the voyages without benefit of modern navigation instruments.

The other area to visit is east of town at Kapiolani Park. At this multi-use open area people fly kites or practice their tai chi exercises. One of the special pleasures here is the renovated Waikiki Aquarium, 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, which has more than 300 species of Pacific marine fish. At the Aquarium you will learn of the ancient fish ponds that were so important for raising food fish in the region. The Hawaiians had learned to dry salt from the sea, create nets and lashings from coconut fibers, cultivate certain seaweeds as vegetables, and make effective weapons with shark teeth.

Within Hawaii, interest is strong in preserving the native culture. At the Kamehameha School in Honolulu, you must have some Hawaiian blood to matriculate. As part of the curriculum, you learn Hawaiian language and lore.

All considered, Honolulu is the best initial place at which to discover Hawaii beyond the beaches and sun. The next most promising venue would be The Big Island, former royal residence of Hawaii. The Big Island is a 40-minute commuter flight southeast from Honolulu. Fly into the airport at Hilo.

Island of Hawaii: Discovering Hilo

In the Hilo region you will learn most about Hawaii by visiting the Lyman Museum, Akaka Falls Park, Nani Mau Gardens, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Come prepared with rain gear to enjoy Hilo. The lush tropical vegetation that makes the area so inviting flourishes because an average of 137 inches of rain falls here each year.

Lyman Mission House and Museum is a major attraction and historical interpreter for the Island of Hawaii. The galvanized iron roof of the house suggests the typical structures in which missionary families lived as they brought western culture and Christianity to the region in the 19th century. The Lyman property is at 276 Haili Street in Hilo.

David Belden Lyman and his wife built this house in 1839 with the financing assistance of the American Board of Foreign Missionaries. The Lymans raised a large family of eight children. Their role was cultural and agricultural as well as religious. Farming skills and carpentry were as crucial for survival as the proper theological passions. With the coming of the missionaries, some Hawaiian traditions changed. For example, the men of Hawaii did the cooking before the missionary period. The staple food was taro root, made into poi. If you have a chance to sample poi in Hawaii, you will appreciate it as a bland sustainer of life, perhaps destined to oblivion when competing with tastier foods of choice.

The Lyman Museum and House is organized to present a panorama of Hawaiian life. The human pageant of Hawaii is the saga of Polynesians, Orientals, and Portuguese fashioning a mixed-race culture of today. The tools and baskets of the Polynesians are impressive, including their fish hooks, fishing lures for catching the sea’s bounty, and large wooden bowls for food storage. Tapa bark was pounded to make clothing and bed coverings. Feather standards became the mark of the aristocracy. The religious beliefs, known as the kapu system, dictated death for offenses that would seem to us as trivial, such as glancing up from a prostrate position as the royalty passed by. All of the material world was infused with a supernatural force or spirit, the mana of the object.

The museum also salutes the man who might be called the greatest adventurer of all time, Captain James Cook. Cook made three world-circling voyages between 1768-1780, losing his life on the Island of Hawaii in a scuffle with natives. He brought the existence of Hawaii to the attention of Europe by making the first contact here on January 20, 1778, naming the Islands after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook’s worthy title is that of The Great Circumnavigator.

Displays in the museum chart the modern contributors to the Hawaii ethnic mix.

The Chinese first came in 1852 as contract laborers, bringing their three major religions, all of which developed from teachings in the 6th century B.C. Buddhism emphasized that life was a continual round of cares, joys, and pains. Taoism counseled that one should flow with the inevitable and move with events. Confucianism stressed obedience and orderly social virtues.

The Japanese came to Hawaii starting in 1868, as farmers. Europeans were too expensive, so the planters, who needed a labor force, looked to Japan. In 1885, and later, large contract labor teams came from Japan.

The Portuguese came after the Japanese. Planters, meaning the landowners, still seeking inexpensive European workers, found them in the people of Madeira and the Azores. In 1878 the first shiploads came, bringing their braginhas, the forerunners of the ukulele, which became a symbol of Hawaiian music.

Koreans arrived after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 cut off Japanese emigrants. In 1903 the planters contracted with the first Korean migrants.

Filipinos were the last to arrive. The 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement cut off further Japanese migration, which opened the way for the first Filipinos.

All of these ethnic groups blend in the city of Hilo today in the attractive visages of the people. Hawaii, as a state, is a kind of microcosm of the world at large, a working United Nations, showing the possibilities of a social and economic democracy.

North from Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park offers both appealing waterfalls and an introduction to a tropical rainforest. The larger of two waterfalls in the park drops 442 feet into Kolekole Stream. The park amounts to 65 acres of dimly-lit undergrowth and fecund trails. Akaka Falls is 13.5 miles north of Hilo on Highway 19, with a clearly marked turnoff west into the foothills. The road approaching the falls provides lovely views of snow-capped Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot peak that is the highest point in Hawaii.

The side road north (Highway 240) takes you to the Waipio Valley overlook, one of the loveliest views on the Island. Stretching right to left before you is the blue ocean, the dark sand beach with its white surf, and the fertile green valley. Jeep shuttles can take you on a guided trip down the steep road into Waipio Valley.

South from Hilo, the Nani Mau Gardens are an extraordinary display of Hawaiian and Polynesian flora. The name of the garden translates to mean “forever beautiful,” which aptly names this landscape of 225 types of flowering plants, 100 species of fruit trees, and over 2,300 orchids, one of the world’s largest collections. Here you can see good examples of the Vanda Orchid (named after Miss Joaquin Vanda), which is so prominent in the leis of Hawaii. Blooming in this garden is sequential, so there is always something colorful in flower. Many visitors mistakenly assume that everything in Hawaii is always in bloom, which is not true. However, you are likely to find unusual flowers in bloom at any time here, such as the Red Bombax (Ellipticum). Many kinds of hibiscus and bougainvillea flourish here. One common practice at Nani Mau is to plant a tree when a famous visitor arrives. The past social history of the Nani Mau Garden can be read on the plaques associated with trees planted by dignitaries. The Nani Mau Gardens are 3.5 miles south on Highway 11, at 421 Makalika Street, with signs clearly marking it.

West from Hilo some 30 miles is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, domain of Pele. Pele is the goddess of fire, daughter of Haumea the Earth Mother and Wakea the Sky Father. Pele lives inside the two volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Kilauea on the Island of Hawaii. Pele is the melter of rocks, the builder of mountains, the eater of forests, the burner of lands. Within Pele are the paradoxical roles of creator and destroyer.

One attractive element in Pele’s domain at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Jaggar Museum, located on the north rim of the Kilauea Caldera. The Museum honors Thomas A. Jaggar, a professor who founded the volcano observatory here in 1912. One of the special pleasures of the Jaggar Museum is a video of the eruptions that have occurred here within the video-making era.

The volcanoes of Hawaii differ from volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The Hawaii volcanoes, it is said, are laid back and calm, like the people. An eruption amounts to an outflowing of lava. By contrast, the Cascade chain of volcanoes, such as Mt. St. Helens, have explosive natures. Size of the lava flows in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park simply stuns the imagination. Various flows, which scientists can pinpoint as to year of origin, spew over hundreds of square miles of landscape, causing a rough, newly-created appearance.

The Park honors the two most-observed volcanoes on earth, Mauna Kea and Kilauea.

Mauna Kea is the taller of the two volcanoes and is said by some to be the world’s largest volcano. If you consider it as rising from the ocean floor, the mountain is fully 31,700 feet high. You can drive toward the summit of Mauna Kea on the Mauna Kea Strip Road and get spectacular views at the road’s end, a shelter at 6,662 feet. The hike to the summit is an arduous one, however, because of the altitude, plus potential for sun, wind, and frost exposure. If you are in Hawaii and have heard that either volcano is erupting, you can call locally for recorded reports (ask locally for the number).

Mauna Kea’s various eruptions in recent decades, including a 22-day performance in 1984, are part of the video record available for viewing in the Jaggar Museum. So massive were the outflows of lava in a 1950 eruption, for example, that the volume of material is said to be capable of paving a four-lane highway 4.5 times around the earth. During the 19th century the volcano erupted on the average every 3.8 years.

Kilauea is the little sister volcano, at 4,090 feet, but Kilauea is as active as Mauna Kea. Certain pyrotechnic performances, including curtains of lava spewing out, have made Kilauea a marvel to behold. These recorded performances are all available for viewing at the Museum. The caldera of Kilauea is a shallow pan about 2.5 miles across. The central part of the pan is called Halemaumau or “The Fire Pit.” Major eruptions occurred in 1952 and in 1955. During the 1955 eruption the village of Pahoa, outside the park, was buried and curtains of lava shot forth for 88 days. It is easy to imagine why the ancient Hawaiians paid such attentive homage to their fire god, Pele.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is easy to visit. The Jaggar Museum and the Kilauea Visitor Center can orient you. The volcanoes are sometimes called “drive-in” volcanoes because you can circle Kilauea in your car and peer into the caldera.

Big Island of Hawaii: Discovering the Kona-Kohala Coast

The final area to explore in our search for Hawaii culture beyond the sun and beaches is the west side of the Island of Hawaii, the Kona-Kohala Coast.

Royalty has a way of choosing the best places to live. On the Island of Hawaii, King Kamehameha and the generations of dominant kings left no doubt about their judgment on the choicest real estate. They favored the sunny west side of the island, the Kona and Kohala region coasts. Their abodes remain important historic shrines today.

At three main stops along this coast you can encounter the royal story of Hawaii.

*The City of Refuge, or Pu’Uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. The visitor who can pronounce and spell the name of this historic park correctly should win a free trip to Hawaii. The Anglicized title, City of Refuge, tells the story of this most important historic site in all of Hawaii. Established in the 15th century at the time of the death of Keawe, ancestor of King Kamehameha I, this site was a main expression of the severe kapu system of religion. Kapus were various taboos that could require death as atonement. Taboos were numerous because there were many gods who could be angry. Volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, those devastating seismic waves that destroyed coastal habitations, were taken as evidence of the gods’ anger. If the gods were angry, who had made them angry? Let that person be discovered and properly punished.

As in Christianity, with its confessional, the severe kapu system allowed for the prospect of forgiveness. If a transgressor in the kapu system could somehow reach the City of Refuge without being killed, the transgressor would be safe at this sanctuary. Atonement and purification rituals, as determined by the priests, might take a period of time, and starvation was a risk, but no punitive deaths were allowed here. Once absolved, the transgressor could leave the City of Refuge and return to his or her home village without fear of retribution. Refugees in time of war could also find safe haven here.

King Kamehameha II destroyed the kapu system by openly flaunting it in the 1830s. His sacrilegious act amounted to dining with women, formerly a taboo. When he did this and the volcano did not erupt or other untoward events occur, the force of the kapu system was called into question and collapsed.

At the site you can see recreated, carved effigies of the gods, a heiau or stone-walled sacred area, and such minor aspects of daily life as a Hawaiian checker game. Today, craftsmen at the site build canoes in the traditional manner and display arts of early Hawaii, especially wood carving.

*Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae. This heiau, another sacred walled place, was dedicated in 1791 with 11 human sacrifices by Kamehameha I, who went on to conquer the Island and subsequently all of the Islands of Hawaii. Kamehameha believed a prophet’s pronouncement that if he built this heiau and sacrificed here to his war god, victory over all the other chiefs on all the islands was assured. The human sacrifices to his war god, Kukailimoku, are a special tale. The story of the visiting rival chief, Keoua Kuahuula, and his warriors, who turned out to be the sacrifices, is a poignant matter, partly because it appears that they perceived their role and did not resist. This site is important to the people of Hawaii because they consider it the birthplace of the modern Hawaiian kingdom and state. A festival called Establishment Day occurs here each August, emphasizing hula skills, lei making, and the Hawaiian language. The heiau is off limits, partly in deference to its religious importance and partly because of the danger to visitors scrambling around on mortarless lava rock. The appearance of this heiau on a hill, the simplicity of the gathered lava rock in this grassy setting, marking what was a sacred place to earlier humans, is a moving experience. Originally there were thatch houses on the heiau, but tropical decay has claimed them.

At the site, closer to the sea, there is also an older and smaller heiau, Mailekini Heiau, built by the ruler who preceded Kamehameha.

*The Hulilee Palace State Monument and the Ahuena Heiau in Kailua. These sites were the epitome of the favored residences for Hawaiian royalty.

The Ahuena Heiau, appropriately within the grounds of the present Hotel King Kamehameha, saw dramatic changes in Hawaiian life. This is where Kamehameha’s son, Liholiho, by eating with women, broke the kapu system. The heiau area was called Kamakahonu or “eye of the turtle.” Today you can see at the site a replica of the final residence of King Kamehameha and temples for worship. From this building the unifier of the Hawaiian Islands managed his affairs from 1813-1819. This site was also one of the first landing places for missionaries from New England. In the lobby of the hotel you’ll see a large selection of photos from early Hawaii.

The Hulihee Palace, a short walk from the heiau along the waterfront, was the summer residence of Hawaiian royalty in the 19th century. The structure was built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, who was Hawaii’s first governor after consolidation of the islands. The structure houses an extraordinary collection of quality Hawaiana, such as a dining room table made from one piece of koa wood, and an elaborate set of portraits of Hawaiian royalty. Other important historic treasures at the palace include fishing stones, tapa cloth garments and fabrics, sandals, drums made of coconut palms, kukuinut necklaces, coconut wood dishes, and sandalwood artifacts formerly exported.

Across the street from Hulihee Palace is the first Christian church in Hawaii, dating from 1836. The church is rich in ohia and koa wood. In the back you can see a replica of the ship Thaddeus that brought the first missionaries here, in 1820.

Hawaii’s beaches and sun are compelling reasons to visit The Islands. Added pleasures of history and nature, including the full panorama of Hawaiian culture, can enhance the journey for actual travelers or armchair voyagers.

***

Hawaii: If You Go

For further information, contact the Hawaii Convention & Visitors Bureau at http://www.gohawaii.com.

Foster Travel Publishing