Sunday, May 29, 2022 |
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CIRA de CASTILLOTGI Staff Writer
WAILUA — Ka’ililauokekoa, the granddaughter of legendary Kaua’i chief
Mo’ikeha, was born at a place called Malae near the mouth of the Wailua
Far up the north fork of the river in a place called Pihanakalani
lived a young man whose name was Kauakahiali’i. There, he resided in a house
decorated with red feathers and flowering ohi’a lehua
Kauakahiali’i was in love with Ka’ililauokekoa. He wanted her to
leave Malae and come to his house with the red feathers and lehua
So, the story goes, he invented the first nose flute and lured
Ka’ililauokekoa away from Malae with his magical melodies.
this, passed down through generations of oral Hawaiian history, are unfolding
as restoration of the island’s largest heiau—the sacred site called Malae near
the mouth of the Wailua River—continues.
The long-neglected heiau appears
on the southwest side of the river in view from Kuhio Highway as it approaches
the Wailua Bridge.
The site is not open to the public for viewing. But that
may change in the future thanks to the work of members of Na Kahu Hikina A Ka
La, an organization assigned curatorship of the site by the Department of Land
and Natural Resources.
Na Kahu Hikina A Ka La, a nonprofit organization
dedicated to help preserve two of several Native Hawaiian cultural sites on the
Wailua River, has selected Malae Heiau as its current project.
Helela, president of the organization, says the heiau has been misused and
abused for 180 years.
The Malae Heiau restoration plan is being overseen
by state archeologist Martha Yent.
The heiau, she says, is included in a
string of sacred places stretching along three miles of an ancient pilgrimage
route from the ocean through Wailua Valley to the summit of Mount Wai’ale’ale.
The area was called Wailuanuihoano, or Great Sacred Wailua, and was taboo for
commoners because the highest ranking ali’i resided and worshipped within the
The heiau complex has been placed on the State and National
Registers of Historic Places and includes Poli’ahu Heiau, Hikinaakala Heiau,
Kalaeokamanu Heiau, Malae Heiau and the royal birth site at Holoholoku,a
bellstone and the petroglyphs at the Wailua river mouth.
the Wailua ahupu’a (the land division from the ocean to the summit of Mount
Wai’ale’ale) the heiau complex is known as one of the most sacred places in the
It was at these sites that the ali’i and their kahuna
practiced sacred ceremonies founded on maintaining harmonious relationships
“Hawaiians held no concept of the supernatural as a sphere
separate from nature,” Helela says. “Nature embodied everything in the
universe, including the gods whose duty it was to aid mankind on earth. In the
end, it was nature that was worshipped, and keeping in harmony, or lokahi, with
nature was the objective of every Hawaiian.”
From the Malae Heiau, one can
glimpse sweeping views of the ocean east to Oahu, south to Nawiliwili Harbor,
north to Anahola and west to Wai’ale’ale.
The heiau is built in a square
shape that covers nearly two acres, with walls that were once 7 to 10 feet high
and 8 feet wide. Its construction was distinguished by ledges, which acted as
buttresses, extending from each corner, a unique feature that no longer
Helela says the site has all the traditional Menehune (legendary
small people) construction qualities of cutting, stacking, and carrying, a lot
of very hard work for which they were paid with a single shrimp for a day’s
The outer walls are still standing in good order, he says, a
testament to Menehune builders who did amazing work.
According to Helela,
the site was used by the highest chiefs for religious and political practices
which may have included human as well as pig and fish sacrifices. Its altar is
placed near the center toward the west wall.
A companion heiau of Malae,
Poli’ahu, is further inland but the two were in plain sight of each other.
Yent says stories about the heiau date the original construction to the
12th Century. New carbon testing information, however, points to16th Century
The original high wall construction is associated with a
Tahitian style of building.
Yent says the site has changed a great deal
since it was originally built. Major changes took place when Deborah Kapule,
wife of King Kaumuali’i, changed the heiau in the 1830s.
converted to Christianity, moved from Waimea to Wailua and sought to establish
a mission at the sacred Hawaiian temple sites.
Kapule saw to the
dismantling and rearranging of interior stone walls and the altar and had
division walls erected for her cattle and calf pens within the inner structures
of the heiau.
It is said she did this to demonstrate her break from
Hawaiian religion and devotion to Christianity. There are also indications that
vegetable and fruit farming took place on the site.
Later, the surrounding
field was bulldozed up to the outer walls of the temple platform and planted
with cane. Today the site is heavily overgrown with vegetation and in the
process of being cleared by Na Kahu Hikina A Ka La volunteers.
although Malae underwent historic adaptive reuse, its original walls and some
associated features and its prehistoric building sequences are still intact.
As the clearing take place the archeologist will be refining the site maps
and begin the process of identifying what portions of the wall can be
Yent says that none of the work completed so far fully defines
what the heiau was used for.
What is clear is that some 800 years ago, a
massive stone temple was built by human hands to hold the mana of the Hawaiian
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