WAILUA — Their love for their work ramps up whenever Aloha Beach Hotel manager Ronald Kikumoto and hotel cultural coordinator kupuna Sylvia Akana talk about “Sacred Wailua.”
Along with Waimea, Wailua was the political, religious and social center for the ali‘i in pre-contact times.
A series of heiau, a birthing stone for royalty, petroglyphs at the mouth of Wailua River and a bellstone to announce the arrival of ali‘i can be found in the Wailua ahupua‘a, a land division that runs from Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale, the island’s highest point, to Wailua Bay in East Kaua‘i.
Some historical sites in the hotel’s cultural-education project make up the Wailua Complex of Heiau, a national historic landmark maintained by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Na Kahu Hikina A Ka La, a volunteer group from Kaua‘i.
Through what is believed to be the only extensive, multi-layered project of its kind, the hotel links the area’s history with visitors, residents and thousands of school children.
The program has enabled visitors to go home with a deeper understanding of the Hawaiian culture and history and has motivated thousands of Kaua‘i students to protect the ‘aina, or land, wildlife and natural resources, Kikumoto said.
“We want visitors to have the experience, but our goal is to create a learning center for children,” he said.
The hotel was only one of six entities statewide, including Hawaiian Airlines, to win the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority 2006 “Keep It Hawaiian Kahili Award.”
Realizing the area’s cultural importance, the hotel management launched the project in late 2002, when the Holiday Sun Inn Sunspree Resort became the Aloha Beach Hotel, Kikumoto said.
The hotel leaders started off with lectures about cultural preservation and the myths and legends of Wailua.
Presentations, which are 90 minutes long and are offered on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, focus on historical sites, Kikumoto said.
“We talk about the Hikini A Ka La heiau which was 130 yards long and was the site where the royalty greeted the sun from,” he said.
The site is located makai, or on the ocean side, of the hotel.
Akana leads sunrise chants every Tuesday, and on other days when requested.
Also discussed is Hauola, also known as the “dew of life” or “the city of refuge,” where an ancient Hawaiian could escape punishment or find safety during war; the Malae heiau, located immediately mauka or on the mountainside of the hotel; petroglyphs, a birthing stone on the mountainside of Kuhio Highway, a belltower near Opaeka‘a Falls, and the Poliahu heiau, dedicated to the Hawaiian god of war, in upper Wailua.
Presentations on tools used by ancient Hawaiians, including adzes, fish hooks and poi pounders are parts of the program as well.
Added on were craft workshops by Akana and a display of war weapons by kahu James Alalam.
The hotel has expanded the project by creating a garden in honor of Lono, the god of peace, fertility, winds, rain and sports.
The project features examples of 24 plants, trees or shrubbery brought to Hawai‘i by migrating groups — between 200 and 400 A.D. — and by Tahitians beginning in 1,000 A.D.
The flora includes milo, olena, used as a dye and for medicinal purposes, wauke, a birch for making tapa cloth, kalo, which is taro, kukui, used as a dye and for medicinal purposes, bananas and lauhala, for weaving baskets, mats and pillows.
As another way to educate the public, the hotel has led tours for thousands of students between the fourth grade and sixth grade, including Hawaiian children from Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha School.
As part of a partnership with the community, the hotel has invited kupuna, or elderly citizens, to share their knowledge, Kikumoto said.
More programs have been added as interest by visitors, residents and students grows, he said.
“We have had thousands of people sending comments back about how the project made their tour of the island more meaningful,” he said.
The project is a labor of love for him, Kukimoto said. “We have no grants,” he said. “A lot of the work is done from the heart.”
A group of hotel workers calling themselves Nani Wailuanui Aho‘ano, which means “beautiful sacred Wailua,” cleans the city of refuge, Hauola, every Sunday, he said.
Akana worked as a kupuna or elder at Wilcox Elementary School for three years and took her current job because she wants visitors to get the right historical information.
What makes the job special for Akana, who worked with the late Dr. Pila Kikuchi, a noted Kaua‘i archeologist and Kaua‘i Community College instructor, is that “I am able to share with the visitors correct information.”
She said she loves her work because the hotel staff treats the visitors “like royalty.”
Kikumoto also can be reached at 823-1601, and Akana can be reached at 823-1632.