Wednesday | February 10, 2016
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Volunteers preserve Hilo heiau

There may still be a lot not known about a rock structure at the end of Baker’s Beach.

But there’s no mystery surrounding its significance.

According to its caretaker and archaeologists, the 12,000-square-foot formation is a once largely forgotten heiau. Not only that, but the last left in Hilo.

And until recently, it was threatened to be lost to history.

Long covered by vegetation, at least a third of the heiau, believed to be used for healing, had been erased when a neighboring lot was leveled, said Donald Pakele, a retired Department of Hawaiian Home Lands district manager. Rocks had also been removed for fire pits by those not knowing any better.

But its biggest threat, Pakele said, was the expansion of Hilo Harbor.

The heiau, located at the northeast corner of Reeds Bay, is on a stretch of land eyed by the state Department of Transportation for expansion of the port.

Pakele worried what remained of the structure could be lost with further development.

He formed a volunteer group in 2012 to protect and restore the heiau. He has since been assured new piers would stop several lots short of the structure.

And, so far, his work has paid off in other ways.

The rock walls and formations of the heiau have been uncovered through countless volunteer hours, including assistance from University of Hawaii at Hilo students and other community members.

On June 27, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources granted the group, Ho‘opakele Heiau, a curator agreement to ensure it remains protected for at least the next five years.

“We have to keep up on it,” said Pakele, noting it could be used for cultural education.

But he wishes there was more known about it.

No name is associated with the heiau, Pakele said, and there are few historical references.

Pakele said it was noted on property records as early as 1932, and it’s believed to have been associated with the god Lono.

But there doesn’t appear to be any documentation verifying the latter.

Still, such details detract little from its significance.

“For some reason or not this wasn’t (destroyed); we feel it’s important because it’s the last one left,” Pakele said.

Email Tom Callis at


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