Visitor industry meeting highlights importance of knowing Kauai history

LIHUE — Connecting visitors to Kauai’s culture is important for Jeff Demma, owner and operator of 17 Palms Kauai Vacation Cottages in Wailua.

Getting on the same page with the rest of the travel industry is also paramount for Demma, which is why he stopped by Friday’s Kauai Visitors Bureau membership meeting at the Kauai Beach Resort.

“I’m one of the little guys,” he said. “This helps us find a way to fit in and do the right thing (for the community).”

Demma was one of about 50 people updated on KVB activities, Hawaii Tourism Authority programs and statewide initiatives — like solidifying proper place names in all marketing materials.

Bill Kennedy, membership manager for Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, aired the new 2018 pocket maps out for review.

Kauai’s archaeological treasures took much of the meeting’s spotlight with a lecture on Nualolo Kai from Victoria Wichman, interpretative specialist and archaeologist with the State Parks Interpretative Program – Kauai.

The ancient Hawaiian village’s cultural peak was about 1500 AD and it was continuously occupied for about 800 years, from the 12th through the 20th centuries.

It is situated between Polihale and Kalalau on Kauai’s Napali Coast, is only accessible by boat, and is home to a cemetery, trading areas and a spiritual center.

Restoration and conservation efforts have been ongoing since 1987, much of it centered on the reconstruction of rock walls and the clearing of thick, overgrown vegetation.

“Besides walls, we’ve found little rooms and we’ve found different tools,” Wichman said. “One building, the boys think that later it became a church.”

In 2015, iwi — or ancient human bones — that had been excavated and taken from Nualolo Kai were returned to their places within the boundaries of the ancient village.

Upon a more detailed look at the bones, archaeologists decided they were most likely the bones of children, which Wichman thinks means these iwi were offerings, not necessarily burials.

“I think these pieces of iwi were given as offerings because what’s more valuable than the bones of your children?” Wichman said.

She continued: “We have brought them back, but we didn’t put them in the cemetery; we put them back where they came from.”

Wichman said that location isn’t public knowledge — it’s kept secret in order to protect the iwi and the site — but it was located using maps and other tools of the trade.

Many cultural practices, as well as everyday trading of goods, still occur at Nualolo, Wichman said, and she’s always looking for volunteers to make the trek and lend a hand in restoration.

“We can do day trips. We have all kinds of people that come in and volunteer,” Wichman said.

Restoration work primarily occurs between mid-May and the beginning of September when access to Nualolo is easiest. It always begins with a massive effort to curb the grass that has overgrown the area.

Nualolo Kai is a state park that’s managed by the community group Na Pali Coast Ohana, as well as the state.

Learning about Kauai’s important archaeological areas was important to include in the KVB meeting because it’s a resource that the entire visitor industry benefits from and should protect, said Sue Kanoho, KVB executive director.

“It is all of our responsibility to do what’s good for the place and to do what’s good for the people,” Kanoho said. “And that’s what we’re working on, giving it (visitor marketing) a sense of place.”

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