The sun shines, glistening on the waters of Keauhou Bay. The palm trees give notice to the wind as it moves across the land. The paddlers glide their canoe across the sea, propelled in rhythmic stroke.
This image is one that we can see today and also be transported back in time, for an ageless picture of Hawaiian living.
The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay gives honor to the ‘āina (land) that holds the 22-acre oceanfront property.
Lily Dudoit, the resort’s Director of Culture, says, “Historic sites are a makana (gift) from the ancestors of this land. They help us to step back in time for a moment and imagine what life was like for our Hawaiian ancestors. These ancient sites tell us the story of the past that can help create our future.”
A native of Kailua-Kona, Lily offers a reverent way of storytelling as she recounts each of the historic sites.
In Hawaiian, Keauhou means new current and has been in the center of many changes in Hawaiian history. The eruption of Hualālai in 1801 created Keauhou Bay and a new current in the Pacific Ocean.
“That is significant as we, in Keauhou, are in the middle of one of the most pivotal places in Hawaiian history. The last battle of Hawai‘i was fought within a mile of here—the battle of Kuamo‘o at Lekeleke—this war ended the kapu system and changed history,” Lily says, adding poetically, “We are here connecting the currents of time as we reconnect with the land and its stories, remembering Keauhou as a place of new currents.”
The Birthplace of King Kamehameha III
The birth of Kauikeaouli, King Kamehameha III, on (or about) August 11, 1813, was believed to be at Keauhou Bay. The accounts of his birth say that the future king was delivered stillborn and was laid on a rock, fanned, prayed over, and sprinkled with water until he breathed, moved, and finally cried. The rock is preserved as a monument at Keauhou Bay, adjacent to the Sheraton Kona.
After Kauikeaouli became King Kamehameha III, he ruled Hawai‘i from 1825 until his death in 1854. King Kamehameha III was ruler of the entire island chain and was known for the careful balancing of modernization by adopting western ways while keeping his nation intact.
King Kamehameha III was reportedly a great athlete and especially enjoyed hōlua (sled) sliding at Keauhou.
Heiau are temples made of stone platforms or wall enclosures, each built for a specific purpose. The use would differ depending on traditions. Heiau were built for agriculture, healing, fishing, navigation, and more. The elements surrounding the area would all have been taken into account when choosing a location, style, size, etc. Elements such as the wind, ocean currents, birds, marine life, the sun, the moon, and annual seasonal occurrences relating to both the ocean and the land would all be considered.
Today, heiau help us to understand the lifestyle of those who lived in the area and the traditions that they followed. Spiritual ceremonies would have taken place at the heiau; therefore, we pay special attention to these vestiges. We honor them by acknowledging their place in Hawai‘i’s history and the place they hold in our lives today.
Very little is known about this heiau, which dates back to the 1700s. When Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) abolished the kapu system in 1819, many heiau—considered to be symbols of the old ways—were destroyed, and it is likely Kaukulaelae was among them. All that remains of this heiau are scattered rocks.
In the early 1930s, John Reinecke, an employee of the Bishop Museum at the time, visited Keauhou and recorded his findings. He drew what he found and wrote explanations of what he saw stating in his study, “The whole platform of the heiau is so rough and dilapidated that it is hard to trace its original form and limits carefully. Apparently it was oriented roughly E and W, with dimensions overall about 110×40 feet. There apparently have been later additions.”
Stories from kūpuna (elders) of Keauhou, tell us that this heiau was large and very tall and stood where Pa‘akai Point is today.
Heiau Kanikanika‘ula (Fishing Shrine)
This fishing temple indicates that life in Keauhou revolved around the ocean. Fishermen made offerings here to ensure a good catch and to ask for protection while they were at sea. The first fish they caught was presented to the gods in gratitude for their safe return. Although this heiau hasn’t been restored, it is intact and in fair condition.
Kūpuna who have lived in this area tell the story of how men would give offerings, upon returning from holoholo—a word with several known meanings, in this instance, going fishing (instead of saying ‘fishing,’ which could bring bad luck). This ho‘okupu, (ceremonial gift), was a gesture of gratitude for the provisions the families received from the bay. The offering would consist of fish as well as other items deemed suitable by the gentleman who was responsible for giving the ho‘okupu. The offering was placed on the heiau or taken to the ocean.
John Reinecke’s 1930 study records, “platform on knoll, about 43 x 30 x 4, this site pointed out by a fisherman as a fishing heiau, by the name of Pōhakukanika‘ula or Mokukanika‘ula, which is also the name of the rock off shore. It signifies ‘resounding or echoing rock.’”
Walker and Haun’s 1989 study discovered “marine fish shell midden, bone (fish, mammal, and bird), coral, water worn pebbles, charcoal flecks…a carbon date extending into the modern period was recovered from this feature. Pre-contact habitation, food processing and fishing related activities are indicated.”
Kahua Hale (House Foundation)
The historic reference of the Kahua Hale shows a likely house foundation was present in the village. There could have been a thatched house or structure of some type that provided shelter for the people.
Research done by John Reineke in 1930 says, “platform in good condition 26x18x2, with foundations and wall behind and makai. Probably a modern house platform.”
Walker and Haun’s studies reveal, “a dark brown soil cultural deposit consisted of marine shell midden, bone (fish, mammal, and bird), charcoal flakes, and adze fragment, and several fragments of volcanic glass. A carbon date extending into the modern period was recovered from this feature which was interpreted as a probable modern house platform built on a prehistoric habitation terrace.”
Hālau Wa‘a (Canoe Shed)
This is where the canoe would have been stored when not in use or possibly where they would have built the canoe. The entrance and exit to the ocean are in line with the opening of the canoe shed. Stories from residents that grew up in Keauhou, fishing from this area, recall a rock pathway that went out to the ocean, this was most likely the canoe landing. The canoe was a means of survival for the families that lived here.
Walker and Haun used hydration-rind dating to determine the age of the canoe shed, estimating it was built somewhere between 1562 and 1736.
Kū‘ula, named after a fish God, is an altar or stone used to worship or attract fish. They represent the fishing heritage of Keauhou—an integral part of the lifestyle and means of survival. The fisherman would honor the kū‘ula as the reason for prosperous fishing from this bay, therefore, caring for and acknowledging its mana (power) would have been part of their traditions. Offerings were given as a gesture of gratitude for the fish that they had gathered.
Although the use of kū‘ula is not apparent today in this area, they are here to remind us of the connection to the kai (ocean). The more we care for the kai, the kai will care for us and continue to provide what we need. Take the time to say mahalo when your gathering from the ocean is done and never take those gifts for granted.
Pōhaku Pele (Bell Stone)
This pōhaku was identified as a bell stone, when hit in a particular spot with a type of baton, it would send off a loud, clear sound that could be heard throughout the village. This could have been used to alert the village of the arrival of ali‘i (royalty) or to gather villagers to hear news. Across the bay, there is a canoe landing known to have been for King Kamehameha the Great. The village must have waited in much anticipation when he was expected to arrive.
This pōhaku could have also served as a prayer stone. One account says they would dig into the stone making the indentations on the side and pray. Possibly in preparation for the great Makahiki, the annual games where surfing and riding of the hōlua, the slide up on the mountain, would take place.
Another interpretation is when a child is born, its umbilical cord, or in Hawaiian referred to as the ‘piko,’ to center, is considered sacred. This is where life began and sustained the baby. Some stories say that families would bury the piko and plant a tree over it, some would take it to the ocean and bury it, or others could have placed it in an indentation in the pōhaku and covered it with a cement-like compound.
The proper position of a pōhaku is laying down flat, propped up by other stones. The original location is unknown, however, it was placed in its current position at the advice of the kūpuna.
Nohona a Pāpipi (Cattle Pen)
John Reineke describes this site as a, “modern appearing pen 21 x 35, with walls 4’ high and 4’ thick.” Walker and Haun’s studies revealed presence of coral abraders, modified bone, volcanic glass flakes, and midden (bone, charcoal, kukui, and marine shell), therefore assigning this site as a habitation.
The kūpuna of Keauhou share that this could have originally been the hale kuke (cook house). This is closely related to what Walker and Haun have found.
Other accounts say that this could have later been used as a cattle pen. Shipping cattle from Keauhou Bay was done in the early 1900s. Cattle were sent interisland and to the west coast of the mainland. This could have been used to hold some cattle getting them ready for the day of the ship’s arrival or maybe a personal pen used by the local cowboys. The prickly pear cactus could be evidence that the cattle were here at some point as the cattle like to eat the leaves of the cactus plant.
Lekeleke Burial Grounds
After the death of King Kamehameha the Great in May 1819, his son, Liholiho, became ruler of the islands as King Kamehameha II, and Ka‘ahumanu was appointed as Queen Regent. One of Ka‘ahumanu’s first acts was to break the ancient kapu (prohibited) system, whereby men and women didn’t eat together, among other things.
Many chiefs, including Kekuaokalani, Liholiho’s cousin, wanted to preserve the old ways. In December 1819, the King’s army defeated Kekuaokalani’s forces on a lava field at the end of what is now Ali‘i Drive. Rectangular mounds on nearby hillsides mark the graves of more than 300 warriors who died there.
This bay is known for its big waves, which both chiefs and commoners surfed. He‘eia is at the end of Kaneaka, a hōlua course, which runs one mile down a steep mountain slope. Daring chiefs would ride down the grass-covered course on a sled that looked like a narrow ladder with runners. Thrilling contests pitted wave rider against hōlua rider. The race started when a flag was raised and whoever reached the shoreline first was the winner. Kaneaka, the Keauhou hōlua course, is the largest and best preserved course and is a National Historic Landmark.
Pa‘akai (salt) Pans
Pa‘akai (sea salt) was collected in indented stones along the coast. The surf collides against black lava outcroppings where pockets of water collect, evaporate, and leave salt drying in the sun. The salt was used to preserve fish and for healing and cleansing in blessings and religious rituals.
The ‘opiuma (opium) tree is nicknamed the “Menehune Tree” because of its large lumps, which parallel the muscular physique of the Menehune. This mythical race of little people is said to build roads, heiau, ditches, walls, and fishponds only at night. If they don’t complete the work, it is left unfinished. Legend says two such trees on these grounds mark what was once a Menehune village.
On the point beyond the Heiau Kaukulaelae, it is said that there used to be a lighthouse. On the concrete deck, the words “Kaukulaelae Point” have been recently etched, telling the place “we honor you and we know what your name is; where there is light, there is life.”
On each of the plaques that describe the historic sites at Keauhou Bay, there is an overriding message.
Lily explains, “As the times change, so do the people. As the land changes, so do the people. As people change, so do the stories. This reminds us of the importance of passing down the history to our families so the stories can live on for generations. When sharing the stories of these sites in Keauhou, we have relied on the kūpuna to guide our steps and our stories, to ensure what we are doing is pono (righteous), what is right for the land.” ❖
Contact Lily Dudoit: 808.930.4894
Contact writer Gayle ‘Kaleilehua’ Greco