Residents and visitors hungry to understand the old Hawaii got a window into history Thursday in Kailua Village.
Led by historian Hannah Kihalani Springer, 30 people spent the morning on a walking tour through Hulihee Palace and by the Kiope fishpond and Ahuena Heiau, learning how the ancient people subsisted, created their art, worshipped and battled.
The walk was hosted by Kai Opua Canoe Club, and was one of the activities leading up the weekend’s 44th annual Queen Liliuokalani Long Distance Outrigger Canoe Race, featuring 2,500 paddlers from around the world.
“Most people, whether visitors or residents, drive through Kailua Village and it’s an inconsequential blur,” explained Springer, whose ancestry traces back to John Parker, founder of Parker Ranch, and his wife, Kipikane, a decedent of the royal line.
“Maybe this way they can see the town a little more through the eyes of the kanaka rather than those of a newcomer,” she said.
Walkers learned the Kona Field System was created to head off famine created by years of war and a standing army that took focus away from cultivation in the early 1800s. Springer showed the surf break the alii rode in front of the palace. Participants soaked up information about how ancient Hawaiians created mulch, dealt with drought, wove hala and used fibers from the fruit of hala to create paint brushes. And how the ancestors viewed the aina as a living, breathing being.
Tommy Hickcox, president of Ahuena Heiau Inc., explained how the cultural site was built in the 1400s, before the Taj Mahal was created.
“We were already an established culture,” he said, explaining how King Kamehameha settled in Kona during peace time, ruled from the heiau and passed on the knowledge of leadership to his son.
Hickcox asked everyone to imagine the area without a pier and other concrete.
“All you have is a huge sand beach,” he said. “It was beautiful, majestic. Fish were plentiful. This is the first capital of Hawaii. This is where it all started.”
Cris Trimble of Vancouver, Wash., is a paddler in Kailua-Kona who competed in the race. She also studies Hawaiian language at the Ke Kukui Foundation, a halau that also teaches hula, music and history in Vancouver.
“This is enhancing what I know,” said Trimble, inside Hulihee Palace. “I love history in general. I could probably stay here a lot longer than most people.”
Springer’s tales of legends and lava flows ranged across the island. The Puukohola Heiau in Kawaihae is familiar to many people as the last luakini, or site of human sacrifice, built on the island, on the prophesy that its creation would allow Kamehameha to conquer all of the Hawaiian Islands.
Those on Thursday’s walk learned something not as well known — that the heiau was carefully positioned with a view up the archipelago.
“King Kamehameha was not only able to gather his mana, he was able to focus it where it needed to go,” Springer said.
The group toured the paintings of Herb Kane in King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Kane’s work vividly depicts Hawaiian life, from weavers to royalty, great battles and lava eruptions.
The paintings gave life to Springer’s descriptions of a world alive with portent, dynamic and magical.
“We tend not to separate the secular from the sacred, church and state,” Springer said, standing on the Hulihee Palace grounds near Kiope Pond.
“It seems to me whether I am with the ones who adhere to the old god or to the new word, we all love the act of devotion,” she said.
“It appeals to us. So, this is a rich place.”
Email Bret Yager at firstname.lastname@example.org.