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Seeing the solstices through ‘Little Black Eyes’

The imminent rising of the sun was announced by a mele, song, of doves and shamas with percussive accents by the raucous roosters and mynah birds…and here came June 21 and the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. The Wailua air smelled fresh, trees and bushes and pastureland freshly washed by intermittent showers of passing clouds. We readied ourselves for our annual pilgrimage to the area near Wailua’s Poliahu Heiau over the river.

Looking out over the Wailua River valley at sunrise on the solstice has become a ritual. However, for many years we have not been able to approach or catch a glimpse of the exact site of Po ‘Ele‘ele, the ancient stones that are the “eyes” and measurers of these calendric events. Neither can anyone else, unless they are dressed in protective clothes and with strong intention. High, knife-edged grasses mask the site; haole (foreign) koa and saplings have grown into a thick and thorny barrier on this state property over a dozen years. We now content ourselves with the view from the public overlook near the storyboards located at cliffside near the Hawaiian cultural site, being somewhat in proximity and providing an inspiring view.

The summer solstice sunrise over the eastern horizon may be viewed from our island’s latitude rising three days in succession around June 21 at the northernmost point of its six-month transit. Following these June rises, the sun may be viewed rising on a progressively southern course over the remaining six months of the year that lead to December 21. At winter solstice, the shortest day(s) of the year, the sun may be viewed from Kauai at our latitude in the Pacific Ocean at its southernmost rise point. (See the Green Flash, “Illuminating the Darkest Days,” The Garden Island, Dec. 21, 2015, A5, or at www.thegardenisland.com)

Back in prehistory, in an ancient epoch or era, two ancient megaliths were somehow engineered and placed in relationship to each other high on the promontory near Poliahu Heiau. Careful observation leads to the supposition that this positioning was intentional, as with other worldwide stone markers placed by ancient people who were sky watchers.

When viewed summer and winter from different points of an X trajectory, separate faces of the Kauai stones appear to touch as they point to two separate and exact sunrise points on the longest and shortest days of the year — sights we have been fortunate enough to behold from the 1990s into the new century. With the current wild overgrowth, the site of the stones is now hidden, making such views impossible.

In the 20th century, these giant stones were for many years mistakenly called “The Bellstones” in tourist literature. However, they did not ring as true bellstones do when struck by another stone. On my first visit, hearing a “clunk,” this puzzled me. I soon learned that no one I asked was questioning the disparity and mostly shrugged off my question.

Toward 1990, the late Frances X. Warther, a perceptive amateur “archeo-astronomer,” spent time researching information about The Bellstones after visiting them and hearing for himself that they were definitely not the hollow-core type of volcanic stone that does, indeed, ring. Published information about the real Wailua bellstones describes how they were placed at intervals up the Wailua River and used for coded messaging.

From recorded history and preserved Hawaiian chants, we learn that Wailua was considered a sacred river, giving life to the valley and the island. Six of the sacred sites of Kauai were placed beside it, leading to the seventh and most highly regarded, Mount Wai‘ale‘ale.

It excited my sleuthing self to hear at a lecture on wider subjects given by Warther at the Kauai Museum that he was convinced that the Wailua “Bellstones” were the ancient Po ‘Ele‘ele (Little Black Eyes) mentioned in Bishop Museum texts. I volunteered to work with Warther in his field studies, noting observations and doing further personal research.

Gaining the support and enthusiasm of kumu hula Roselle Bailey, our cooperative work funneled into Ka ‘Imi Na‘auao O Hawai‘i Nei Institute’s project undertaken to explore the Hawaiian sciences as expressed through preserved chants. Through Ka ‘Imi Institute’s Project Lokahi, the commitment was made to edit, co-write and prepare manuscripts published as scholarly papers on Hawaiian science and chant, and museum and library exhibits — “Pele’s Riddle” — and a subsequent cassette tape of the same title. That work begun with Warther and Bailey has continued to evolve.

Kauai is fortunate to have many important cultural sites established long before Western contact, among these, the treasure of the archaeological sites along the Wailua River corridor, from Hikina a ka La (From the East Rises the Sun) to the rainy summit of Wai‘ale‘ale (Rippling Waters). The Wailua sites being located on state property have not been lost to development, are somewhat preserved, marked with signage and respected. At this time, with local stone carvers who at times have imposed their own modern petroglyphs inappropriately on ancient stones, and with a constant flow of thousands of visitors, the question arises if it would be prudent to once again reveal such a treasured site as Po ‘Ele‘Ele, or let it remain safely hidden.

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Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, made her home on Kauai in the 1980s. She and her husband, a retired biology teacher, live with books, music and birds in Wailua Homesteads. Their passion for travel flows into the writer’s monthly TGI column, “FarAway Places.” The writer’s books may be found in local outlets and on Amazon. For further information, see www.kauaiweddingsandbooks.com.

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