By Bob Krauss
Advertiser Staff Writer
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - The living myth and legend of canoe voyaging stirred again last weekend with a blessing on a slope of bare, gray lava at Ke Ala Ko Waa Heiau.
"It is a privilege to release the wisdom of the past," said chanter Charles Kaupu, who came from Maui to bless the sacred site. "Thank you for allowing these stones to talk to us once again."
The little-known heiau is about a mile above shore-side hotels between Kailua and Keauhou, Kona.
It was long ignored, and to this day, drivers on Kuakini Highway whiz by it, often unaware that it exists.
Yet, a few people stepped forward a few decades ago to save it. Among them was Homer Hayes, a historic preservationist in Kona who inspired Theodore Kelsey as recorder and Henry E. P. Kekahuna as informant to document the heiau in 1953.
What resulted is a site map showing the rock enclosures of temple and priest houses. It included a description of the sites function, handed down orally:
"This heiau, which includes two other heiau structures, is said to have been built by King Umi (circa 1500) for the performance of canoe-making ceremonies.
"Koa trees were cut in the forest lands of Ka-ala-pu-ali a little over a mile below Piha-pono, where King Umi lived while engaged in certain projects...
"The canoe hauling road (on which canoe logs were dragged down from the forest for carving), known as Ke-ala-o-waa, commenced at Piha-pono, descended just south of the present Holualoa post office and about 100 feet south of Ke-ala-o-waa Heiau, and ended at the shore by the spring of Puu where canoes were launched in the surf named Ke-nalu o Puu (the Wave of Puu)."
In 1982, Captain Cook Investment Co. donated the heiau to the Kona Outdoor Circle with the stipulation that it be preserved. Outdoor Circle members organized a foundation that operates a botanical garden, a library and a learning center, and will restore the heiau.
For many, the oral story that links the heiau to canoe hauling gives it special significance.
Kalani Meineke, director of Hawaiian Studies at Windward Community College, notes that the presence of a canoe-making heiau alongside an astronomical heiau suggests the complex held great significance.
"I wish I knew how this figures into the larger pictures of important sites on this island; for instance, Ka Lae O Ka Moa, Cape of Warriors, five heiaus off Alii Drive next to Hølualoa Bay," Meineke said. "It would be interesting to know the time frame; when it was built, who built it."
Robert Suggs, who is known for archaeological work he has done in the Marquesas, also agrees that the site is historically important.
"To preserve any part of the Polynesian legacy, especially something linked to voyaging, is important," he said. "Of all the wonders of the ancient world, the settlement of Polynesia, in my view, is the greatest wonder of all.
"Most of these wonders are monuments to a single colossal human ego. The settlement of Polynesia is a monument to the spirit, knowledge, skill and courage of a whole people."
JoAnne Kahanamoku, a seasoned Hokulea voyager, organized the recent blessing. It was the first time the heiau has received statewide recognition.
As chairwoman of the heiau committee, she hopes awareness of the sites links to canoe-making will inspire a gathering in 2002 of voyaging canoes on the Big Island. By that time, an enormous 110-foot-long Kalia double-canoe will have been completed in Tonga.
"I hope the energy generated here can be perpetuated," she said.
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