To some, the stack of stones in the corner of Black Pot Beach Park might just be a pile of rocks.
To those who helped create it Sunday morning, it’s much more.
Not only is it a sacred ahu, a Hawaiian altar, it symbolizes a way of life — a way of life that some said has been disrespected.
“There’s so much degradation of our culture and natural resources,” said Kamealoha Hanohano Smith, an organizer of the gathering of about 40 people. “And there doesn’t seem to be anyone, at least in the government or local agencies, looking to indigenous or native wisdom as part of the solution.
“So we’re here to say we are part of the solution. We’re here to help and facilitate people’s understanding of these places that we consider not just sacred, but part of our daily life,” he added.
Under sunny skies, men and women from around the island prayed, sang and offered thanks as a Kanaka Maoli flag and a flag of Hawaii fluttered in the wind.
Then, they went to work, moving the big and small stones, some weighing around 50 pounds, which had been gathered from Kapahi, Lumahai and the mountains surrounding Hanalei.
In about 45 minutes, they had neatly arranged the stones, which they see as living things that speak to them, in a square, about 4 feet by 5 feet.
It was hard work. The men were sweating as they lifted, stacked, adjusted, rolled and placed the stones together, almost like puzzle pieces. In the background, a woman softly beat a drum.
In about 90 minutes, the foundation of the ahu was completed. It will be added to in the years to come.
Ohana gathered at the spot near the Hanalei River and Hanalei Pier also “to address certain issues going on with the land, the environment, the people,” said Kaimi Hermosura. “We are constructing this ahu in commemoration of our ancestors, our kupuna, our elderly, also to honor Mauna Kea and our families up there holding it down in peaceful protection.”
“This is concerning our sacred sites, our culture, customs, traditions, to live on with peace so we may share with others. This is an act of peace that we build this altar,” Hermosura added.
He said the site was once home to a fishing shrine.
“So we’re actually rebuilding and restoring something that was originally here,” he said.
For the Hawaiians there, Hermosura said it was also recognizing that there are issues, such as fishing rights and access to natural resources, going on in Hanalei and on other islands that must be addressed.
“A lot of our families are concerned about access to the river and what’s going to happen with these lands here in Hanalei,” he said.
The county provided the group with a special-use permit to accommodate the cultural ceremony.
Michael Sheehan said the ahu is on his family kuleana land. It is near the ocean and fresh water, a place where, historically, Native Hawaiians came and went as they lived and worked.
“This whole valley is an ahu,” he said, looking at the mountains surrounding Hanalei Bay.
He said the idea to place another ahu there came up about 25 years ago.
“This is like a 20-year-old exercise coming to life and fruition today by the descendants of the families that have lived here hundreds of years, maybe longer,” he said.
“This is a cultural statement,” he added, “a positive cultural statement.”
The ahu reconnects Native Hawaiians with their ancestors, in place and spirit, Sheehan said.
“It comes from the heart,” he said.
Hanohano Smith said they hope to have Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami meet them at the ahu “so we can talk peacefully about how we can work together.”
They want to find ways to support each other, and avoid misunderstandings.
Hanohano Smith said they would like to see the county incorporate Native Hawaiian ideas, practices and knowledge into its plans.
“This is what we’re trying to show them, how we can further those things we often talk about,” he said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.