Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

We’ve just experienced a big winter surf event – pretty usual for North Shore on Oahu, but not so much for the Big Island and this one was very ‘westerly’ in direction. The consequences were pretty significant – lots of damage to the small boat harbor in Kawaihae, and, sadly, a major innundation and lots of damage at the National Park at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau.

The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau is one of the most historically significant of the pre-contact sites in the state, and is a major visitor attraction as well. Pu’uhonua were places of refuge in ancient Hawai’i where kapu breakers could seek asylum, and where people could find refuge in times of war. This particular pu’uhonua was closely associated with the Kamehameha dynasty, and was one of the few temples that was not torn down after the overthrow of the kapu system under Kamehameha II in the 1820s.

Here’s a short video showing the damage and an interview with one of the rangers:

Makahiki is over

As of a few days ago, the time of Ku has come again. During the time of Lono – the Makahiki – war and strife were forbidden. Lono is the god of agriculture, rain, music and peace.  Ku, on the other hand, is a god of war – but also of the forest, fishing, sorcery and certain aspects of agriculture – chiefly planting.  He is married to Hina, goddess of the moon, fertility, and together they represent the aspects of the male and female in all life.

Kamehameha I had a special relationship with Ku in his warrior aspect, and had inherited a famous ‘ki’i’ or image of Ku, Kuka’ilimoku.  This is the most famous of the Ku gods of battle.  King Kalakaua described the image as “a small wooden figure, roughly carved, with a headdress of yellow feathers.”  It was said to utter cries during a battle which could be heard above the sounds of the battle and represented the god Kaili of Liloa, which was given to Umi at the time when the rule over the land was given to Hakau.  It was carefully preserved and worshiped by Umi, and descended to Keawe-nui-a-Umi and from him to his son Lono-i-ka-makahiki. Ka-lani-opu‘u gave it to Kamehameha I. The name Kuka’ilimoku means, roughly, Ku the seizer of islands, and appealed particularly to Kamehameha’s ambition to rule over all the islands of Hawai’i.   Kamehameha built the last great luakini (human sacrifice) heiau (temple) in the islands at Pu’ukohola (Whale Hill) in Kohalad district of the Big Island, in honor of this aspect of Ku, and sacrificed his rival and cousin Keoua Kuahu`ula at its dedication. Kamehameha declared his belief that Kuka’ilimoku would give him the mana or spiritual power necessary to conquer all his enemies. Within a mere 4 years, Kamehameha had successfully conquered all the major islands with the exception of Kauai. Then, a few years later, in 1810, Kamehameha successfully finished his work of uniting all the islands under his control.  This ki’i of Ku, believed to be the same one that came down to Kamehameha from Umi,  is now held in the Bishop Museum.

Thought to be Kamehameha's Kuka'ilimoku
Thought to be Kamehameha’s Kuka’ilimoku

This was not, however, the original Ku Kaili god, according to some accounts.  The original god (akua) was a stone (or gourd) about the size of two fists, bound about with sennit, and having two feathers from the mythical bird called Hiva-oa on its top, which were secured by prayer. When Kamehameha I conquered all the islands, the saying was “E ku kaili moku,” that is, “Kaili has risen over the islands.” This expression became attached to that image. After the abolition of the kapu system by Kamehameha II and the chiefs after Kamehameha the Great’s death, it is said that the keeper of Kaili in Kohala made a canoe and placed the god in it, together with food, awa, and tapa cloth. He wept over the god, saying, “O Kaili, here is your canoe, here is food, here is awa, here is tapa; go back to Kahiki.”  He set the god adrift on the ocean and by the mana of the god the canoe sailed onward to Kahiki and was never seen again.

Poli’ahu and Pele


Since we have a lot of snow on the mountains at the moment, it seems a good time to post the main legend about the snow goddess of Mauna Kea, and her rivalry with Pele, the fire goddess.  This is a particularly interesting retelling, as it also links the story with geological science and speculates about the origins of the legend.

Poli’ahu,Poli`ahu and Pele: Legend as information science
by Keawe Vredenburg

Myths and legends
One of the first things we have to do when we discuss storytelling, is distinguish between myths and legends. Often we use the terms interchangeably. I’ve heard different definitions, so I will just say how I define myth and legend. A myth is a story with a religious basis describing events, creatures, places whose description and existence at a particular time cannot be known for certain. For example, the origin of the earth or a particular custom. A series of myths may have their own relative time frame — people were created after the world was created, and so forth. All myths are sacred and are equally true, whether Estonian, Christian, Navaho, Jewish or Korean. Further, all cultures and religions are based on myths.

A legend concerns an event, person, or place that was, or is considered to be, historical. The basic story in a legend is true although details may be added over time. Pele is both myth and legend. She is part of the creation mythology of Hawai’i, but she is also a historical personage whose genealogy extends to people in the present day.

Both myths and legends are used to teach and both have a place in storytelling — whether for children or adults. Stories of any kind are intended to be easy to listen to, so they can be good teaching tools.

The story of Pele and Poli`ahu
I am now going to talk about geology through a story that involves mythology. When I first heard this legend, I did not know it was about geology. I thought it was just a nice story for kids about Pele and Poli’ahu having a battle.

Pele and Poli’ahu are kupua. That word, kupua, is roughly equal to Moslem and Christian angels — a being that is human with supernatural powers, but is not God. I use the Hawaiian term because English words are “loaded” with false impressions — angel, demigod, goddess, spirit, etc.

Poli`ahu is one of the four female kupua on Mauna Kea — she is associated with, and controls, snow. Another is Lilinoe, who is the mist that comes from the mountain. Waiau is the kupua of the underground reservoir of water that comes from Mauna Kea. Finally, there is Ka Houpo o Käne (“bosom of Käne”), who represents the springs of the island of Hawai’i.

Poli`ahu and her three friends went one day to an area above where Laupähoehoe now is, to go hölua sledding. At that time, the cliff was a lot lower and there was no “lau” in Laupähoehoe — no leaf of lava extending into the ocean. There was nothing down below the cliff but deep water.

The hölua slide started way up on the mountain. Such a slide is perhaps eight feet wide and shaped like a shallow trough. It was made by clearing the big rocks off the slide area, putting smaller rocks and gravel down instead. Over that went a layer of pili grass to make it slippery. You pick up your six-inch wide, seven-foot long hölua, run a few steps, then throw it down and jump on it full length, holding on with your fingers tucked under your chest. You hope you can keep your fingers and toes off the rocks, and that you have good balance or you will die. You can get up to maybe 50 miles an hour on a good hill and when you get to the end, you and the hölua go off into space. You shove the hölua away quickly and both it and you dive into the water.

The four ladies were having a good time that day, racing each other, diving into the cool water, and climbing back up for another ride. There were a number of local farmers and fishermen watching, talking to the four women, and all trying to decide who was faster. After perhaps an hour, a woman came up to the top of the slide, a stranger, and talked with the ladies. She said she was visiting from the southern part of the island, had not brought her hölua with her and asked if she could borrow one. Lilinoe said, “Of course, use mine. What name may we call you by? You are so beautiful.”

“Some call me Keahilele,” replied the stranger with a little smile. Keahilele went to the top of the slide, ran, and dropped onto the hölua. They all watched in admiration as she expertly guided the sled up onto the sides of the slide when there were curves. So fast was she going that they could clearly see wisps of smoke coming from the runners when she went off the end of the slide.

Poli’ahu could hardly wait for her turn. She loved competition, and this Keahilele lived up to her name, “flying fire.” The five women decided to pick two judges who would separately decide who was fastest on the next two runs. Poli’ahu would go first, then Keahilele. Poli’ahu flew down the course as though it were solid ice, with a thin layer of water to make it slippery. The judges made a mark in the dirt to indicate their counting. Keahilele went next. So fast did she go that the two sled runners trailed sparks when she reached the end of the course.

The women all gathered around the two judges. They sat, looked at their timing numbers; first one, then the other, pointed to Poli’ahu as the fastest. Keahilele was furious. She stamped her feet, saying, “She was not faster than me! I won! I am much better than she was.” She glared at Poli’ahu. “You cheated!” she cried. Everyone was shocked — the woman had been so lovely and friendly earlier, now she was furious for no good reason. Keahilele stamped her foot again and the ground shook — an earthquake. Keahilele hurled Lilinoe’s hölua to the ground and, where the tips of the runners struck the ground, cracks appeared and smoke emerged from within the earth.

Poli’ahu realized now who “Keahilele” really was — she was Pele. Mauna Kea had been free of volcanoes for many years by this time and Poli’ahu’s soft blankets of snow slept silently on the high peaks, melting their water into Lake Waiau during the summer heat. Pele pointed at the snow-capped hills and said, “I will destroy you and your mountain!”

The four women began to run back up Mauna Kea, followed by Pele, who screamed at them and hurled burning chunks of lava. They wrapped themselves in their soft kïkepa of fine white kapa to ward off the burning cinders that blistered their skin. Pele’s fingers grasped a corner of Waiau’s garment and flames spurted from the kapa; Waiau tore it from Pele’s fingers and ran faster. Poli’ahu reached the top of Mauna Kea and immediately called forth the snow.

By the time all four women were on Pu’u Poli’ahu, thick snow blanketed the ground and more was falling, so much snow they could barely see each other. But then, just a few hundred yards away, Pu’u Hau Kea began to erupt hot red lava. A little later, Pu’u Lilinoe also erupted. Below Lake Waiau, cracks appeared and rift eruptions began, lines of lava fountains spilled fiery streams that melted the snow.

Pele decided to destroy the hölua slide at Laupähoehoe, knowing Poli’ahu would be unable to stop her. Eruptions began along the eastern side of Mauna Kea and a broad wave of ‘a’ä raced down toward the coast. The lava poured over the edge of the cliff into the ocean, piling up higher cliffs along the edge. At Laupähoehoe, where the hölua slide was, Pele forced an enormous amount of lava into the ocean. So much rock went down that a peninsula about a hundred feet high formed above the waves. The hölua slide was never seen again.

Poli’ahu called on Lilinoe to create a thick blanket of mist that stayed close to the ground. Then Waiau and Ka Houpo o Käne brought forth their waters. The icy mist froze the water as it spread out on the ground. Meanwhile Poli’ahu continued to cause the snow to fall. Soon the water from Waiau and Ka Houpo o Käne and the snow from Poli’ahu, all frozen together by Lilinoe, began to get thicker. It was two miles wide, four miles long and twenty, then sixty feet thick, a huge mass of hard ice. Pele continued her lava eruptions that blazed and flowed from Pu’u Lilinoe to Lake Waiau, but the upper edges of her lava army hardened and turned black where it met the block of ice.

Pele did not suspect that the heat of her own lava would soon defeat her. The ground under the thick ice sheet was warm and the heat caused a very thin layer of ice to melt into water. With the great weight of ice above, the entire mass of ice, now a glacier, began to move downward toward Pele’s rift fountains and vents. With more ice and snow filling in behind it, the glacier gained speed and – too late – Pele saw that the ice was sliding over all her sources of hot lava. She poured out lava as fast as she could, but the ice merely hardened it with icy cold water. Pele could not move the ice away and in a little while, the lava had forced itself upward against the bottom of the glacier. Unable to gain release, the hot gases that make lava liquid were dissolved, leaving only very hard stone pressing up against the glacier.

Pele had no more lava to bring to this battle; without liquid rock, she had no means of fighting. Pele was defeated. Whatever remained in her underground reservoir was turned away from Mauna Kea forever, and used to fill the lava pools of Kïlauea.

That is the end of the story.

Hawaiian legend as information science

A few years after I rewrote this story, I decided to research Mauna Kea, Laupähoehoe and the volcanoes on Mauna Kea. I found this quote:

“The cones and flows at the summit are part of the Laupahoehoe Volcanic series. The Laupahoehoe volcanism occurred both during and after the late Pleistocene Makanaka glacial episode at the summit. In addition, a few Laupahoehoe cones have been glacially eroded as evidenced by oversteepened slopes, which suggests that they predate the Makanaka glacial period (16-20,000 yrs). Two notable examples of possible preglacial cones are Puu Waiau and Puu Poliahu. These two cones are also significantly altered, most likely by hydrothermal activity that has weakly cemented the materials on the cones.” [1]

[1] Mapping Lithologic Units Exposed on the Summit of Mauna Kea Using AVIRIS Hyperspectral Reflectance Data – Dept of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Washington University, St Louis, MO; and NASA-Johnson Space Center, Houston TX

The geologist’s interpretation is that the volcanoes started on Mauna Kea, first, to build the Laupähoehoe Point. Then came the glaciers. Meanwhile the volcanoes continued to erupt until the glaciers covered them (“hydrothermal” = water and heat).

That’s where the adze quarry basalt came from, directly from this battle between Poli`ahu and Pele. A thousand years ago, Hawaiians knew all about the geological history of Laupähoehoe, the glaciers, and the forces that made adze rocks. They created that story to teach their children this science of geology.

The story of Pele and Poli’ahu illustrates just how important storytelling can be.

Recently, storytelling has received considerable recognition from information scientists. Information Science is not really new, except for the name. People have handled information for centuries. However, what is new is that information is now a commodity, much like beef, tomatoes, or shoes. People buy and sell information. The entire Internet is for, about, and by information. Information is what propels TV networks, publishing, stock exchanges.

The biggest problem in Information Science is what to do with the information: how to classify it, store it, retrieve it, and do all those things quickly and accurately. Some of the concepts used in Information Science are so complex they cannot be adequately explained without producing both textual and graphic explanations in books and journals, each of which explains a small part of the problem, solution, or concepts involved in the solution. Then other explanations may integrate or unite some of these small pieces and eventually we may have the entire set, of problem definitions, solution concepts, and solutions down to just a few thousand pages of explanation. Most people have trouble understanding a dozen pages, let alone a thousand pages, of detailed explanation. There is a famous saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Both academic and business professionals have taken that to heart. In order to make complex information understandable, the books and journals are converted to graphic presentations – charts, cartoons, briefing slides. The success of these efforts has been brutally summarized by a term, “Death by Powerpoint” where a speaker will “brief” complex ideas for hours using brightly colored slide projections.

The most recent proposed solution? Storytelling! That’s right, scientists are turning to stories to get their point across because charts, graphs, briefing slides – all of those tools of the modern age – cannot make complex information as understandable as it needs to be. While pictures may seem helpful for adding descriptive detail, they also disconnect the listener’s imagination from the tasks of reflection and interpretation. Listener interaction during and after the storytelling is vital to understanding complex ideas – the more a listener’s own experience is tied to the explanation, the more likely he is to internalize the ideas into his own knowledge base. Stories can compress information in the telling, allowing the listener’s mind to expand it later on. A good story, in other words, will use the listener’s background to provide much of the necessary information, reducing the need to spell all that out in detail.

Hawaiians of ancient times knew the difference between types of lava – some lavas had air (or gas) holes, the hard rocks did not. Why would lava not have air in it? Only if it never reached the air. I will leave you to discover what else is unsaid in the story, that you probably already know.

Hawaii’s Dry Land Forest

wiliwili2I’ve written about the most famous of the Hawai dry land forest trees – the sandalwood – here’s an interesting article about some other rare trees that are being assisted by some local folks in making a comeback.

 The Waikoloa Dry Forest Initative

Hawai`i Island is uniquely beautiful, with its vast lava fields of black and brown, its perfect beaches and bays, rolling green upcountry, and towering mountains. There’s nowhere else like it on earth.
But as lovely as it is today, the landscape looked much different 200 years ago, when much of the upcountry was blanketed by thick sandalwood forests, and many other genus of trees flourished on the mountain slopes. Among the most magnificent of the endemic flora is the wiliwili tree, which was once found in abundance in the drier, lower elevations.
Once common on the terrain now occupied by Waikoloa Resort’s golf courses and the dry forest areas surrounding Waikoloa Village a few miles mauka, the lands on which the wiliwili trees thrived became degraded over time by ungulates (hooved animals such as goats, pigs, and cattle), invasive plants, fire, and dumping.


Enter Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, a group whose mission is to “preserve, protect and restore a remnant native Hawaiian dry forest ecosystem through land management, outreach, education and grass roots advocacy.” Founded 10 years ago by a group of concerned residents, including Beverly Brand and members of the Outdoor Circle, a 75- year lease for 275 acres was procured from the Waikoloa Village Association to create a sanctuary where the wiliwili trees and other dry forest species could be protected and restored. Located just southwest of Waikoloa Village, the land was fenced off, and restoration work was begun. “The fence helped get rid of the ungulates,” says Jen Lawson, Executive Director of Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative. “That was the first important step.”
Next, a squad of volunteers started working on cleaning up the land, and readying it for replanting. “Wiliwili trees were populous on the island at one time,” Lawson says, “but we’ve lost about half of the entire population here in Waikoloa over the last 10 years, and likely the same overall.” She speculates that there are around 60 trees left in the preserve, maybe 200 in the Waikoloa zone, and no more than 1,000 on the island, but stresses that because the trees are not protected no data has been collected.
In addition to degradation of habitat, Lawson says many of the trees are simply dying of old age. With a maximum life span of around 350 years, if no seedlings (Lawson calls the young trees “keiki”) are sprouting, the species becomes even further threatened.



Under Lawson’s guidance, the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative has been busy planting trees, and not just the wiliwili. As they worked the land, the group also discovered several rare uhiuhi trees, so they started replanting those as well.
“These trees can survive in super-harsh environments,” Lawson says. “They just need a little help from us. Both of these species were significant in Hawaiian culture, so it’s important for them to survive. The uhiuhi tree was used in making tools, weaponry, and housing. It is a dense wood … heavier than water. The wiliwili tree is super light, and was used in making the ama (float) on outrigger canoes and surfboards.”
A field biologist by training, Lawson says the group’s goal is to one day improve access to the site by improving the road, as well as have the preserve open for self-guided tours. She also hopes to construct an interpretive center with staff on-site.
For the time being, “We try to accommodate people as much as we can,” she says. “We interact with all the schools, and our Future Foresters Program brings kids in every other Saturday. We’ve also had groups from the resorts come up by appointment … a group from Hilton Grand Vacations was up recently and really enjoyed the experience.”


Lawson is also passionate about getting both wiliwili and uhiuhi wood (from dead trees only) into the hands of artists so that, much like koa, the qualities and beauty of each tree will come to be further appreciated. Legendary Hawaiian surfer, surf historian, and Olympian Duke Kahanamoku (1890- 1968) once noted that the olo (18- 24 feet long) board designs of the old Hawaiian ali‘i were often made from the wood of wiliwili trees.
Though the task of restoring the dry forests of Waikoloa is a big one, Lawson is optimistic. “With a rainy year like 2014,” she says, “more than 500 keiki came up out of the ground and about one-third of them made it!”
That ray of hope, along with the additional exposure and support the preserve received last September during the Wiliwili Festival — scheduled to coincide with one of the best flowering seasons in recent memory — and Lawson feels the group’s efforts may be starting to turn a corner toward recovery and restoration of the dry forest.
“I tell the school kids who come and visit us here that, ‘If something is bothering you in the environment, do something about it!’” she says.
With positive examples like Lawson and the Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative leading the way, the future for Hawai`i’s keiki — both human and tree — has been planted.

Snow on the mountains

At the end of the road, distant view of Mauna Loa
At the end of the road, distant view of Mauna Loa
Snow on Mauna Loa Summit, above the clouds
Snow on Mauna Loa Summit, above the clouds
Distant view of Mauna Kea
Distant view of Mauna Kea

We had a real winter storm last night and finally by late this afternoon, there were enough breaks in the clouds to get a few pictures, although there are still a lot of obscuring clouds. You have to look pretty closely to differentiate between clouds and snow, but it looks to me like there’s snow on Mauna Kea down to about 10,000 feet and maybe as much on Mauna Loa, although, since it is so much further away from us, it is harder to tell. In any case, here are some pictures I took this afternoon while walking the pups.


If you look carefully, you can see the observatories on the summit
If you look carefully, you can see the observatories on the summit
Cropped view, somewhat better view of observatories to lft above rock outcropping in foreground
Cropped view, somewhat better view of observatories to left above rock outcropping in foreground



Start of a New Year

The mochi was pounded, the red fish was eaten, the fireworks were exploded, the Christmas decorations are down and put away for another year and, so far, Madam Pele is still more or less on pause above Pahoa Marketplace.

While we personally had a quiet New Year’s Eve – dinner with some of the neighbors and in bed well before midnight  and the fireworks down the coast didn’t even wake up the dogs – the New Year’s Eve celebrations on Oahu once again have fire officials and other calling for a ban on all personal fireworks. Sadly, yet again, there were horrible fireworks related incidents.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Several people were hurt from fireworks or assaults during New Years Eve celebrations including a Waialua man who is fighting for his life.

The firework remnants remain on Kuhi Street in Waialua. A 44 year old man on that street hurt himself when he looked down the barrel of an illegal aerial firework when it went off hitting him in the face.

“We spoke about many of them being into the face, well think about what that’s going to look like for probably the rest of that person’s life,” said Shayne Enright, Emergency Medical Services Spokesperson.

Ten people on Oahu were hurt by fireworks overnight compared to two last year. One was a six years old boy in Waimanalo who took a popper in to the eye. Another was a 22 year old Waianae man who seriously hurt his eye when an aerial firework exploded in a PVC pipe. The injuries were from both illegal and legal firecrackers.

“We can respond to these, we can give the numbers and the stats but it’s the people who are now in the emergency rooms this morning hoping that their loved one is going to be okay. We can talk about it until we’re blue in the face but until it’s your loved one or your neighbor people aren’t going to stop,” said Enright.

Right now only firecrackers are allowed with a permit, although plenty of people still light off illegal fireworks. Fortunately no homes on Oahu were damaged, but there were still nuisance fires.

“They were rubbish fires, Christmas trees being lit on fire, dumpsters that had firecrackers thrown into them that the contents inside the dumpster then burned,” said Battalion Chief Terry Seelig, Honolulu Fire Department.

The Honolulu Fire Department says it will continue to fight to outlaw all fireworks including the firecrackers.

Frankly makes me wonder what it will take for folks to stop setting off their own fireworks and settle for going to one the many professional fireworks shows that are put on each year.

Meanwhile, we again have blizzard warnings up for the summits of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and, for us, we’re have really chilly weather – it is overcast and in the sixties right now and that’s enough for us to be in jeans and sweaters and last night we had one of our relatively rare fires in the fireplace just to take the chill off the living room.  Maybe we will get enough snow this time for me to get some decent pictures.  The Christmas snow was pretty much gone by the time it got clear enough to see the summits, between heavy overcast between us and the mountains, and then really hazy conditions due to the vog.