Article by Pamela Varma Brown, for Garden Island News
If you listen with your heart while walking near the ancient Hawaiian village of Kaneiolouma in Poipu on Kauai’s South Shore, you will hear the sounds of this thriving Hawaiian community as it was when it was alive: Hawaiians speaking their own language; growing, catching and preparing their own food; pounding tree bark into kapa cloth for clothing; dancing hula; playing competitive sports (makahiki games) and praying to their gods.
Kaneiolouma once spanned from mauka to makai (from the mountains to the ocean) about 600 years ago, a generous swath of land that contained all the resources required for life: waters from the mountains and rivers, land on which to grow food, the ocean abundant with sea life.
But beginning in the mid-1800s when the Native Hawaiian lifestyle began moving toward the ways of the Western world, the jungle overtook Kaneiolouma, enshrouding it so densely that even those who drove to work daily in Poipu’s burgeoning visitor industry had no idea it was there, protecting the village for 150 years.
“As kanaka (native Hawaiians) we always knew this village was here,” says Kauai son Rupert Rowe, 73, a tall man of few but well-chosen words who often wears his long white hair in a single braid, and under whose supervision restoration of Kaneiolouma is taking place through a stewardship agreement with the County of Kauai.
“This is the only fully intact Hawaiian complex never destroyed by man,” Rupert says. “It was overlooked by progress of the Western world.”
Guided in part by maps of the exterior of Kaneiolouma, drawn by Hawaiian Henry E.P. Kekahuna in 1959 when the village was already overgrown, Rupert and his team of experts are reconstructing a small part of the settlement to make it as it once was.
“There are two big taro patches in here, remains of a fishpond, a natural spring, 17 house sites, 23 idol sites and a heiau (Hawaiian place of worship),” Rupert says of the 13-acre site. “Until about September of 2013, when we knocked down all the brush growing along Poipu Road, you would never have known.”
Rupert and his well-organized team of professionals have built handsome perimeter rock walls, matching ones they found still intact when they cleared all overgrowth. “These original rock walls, they were all in beautiful shape when we removed the kiawe, mango, plum and banyan trees,” Rupert says. “Any indentations in the walls were from trees that had fallen down through the years.”
Rupert’s team has removed most of the invasive species and are replanting with Niihau palms, plumeria, native white hibiscus and kukui nut trees. A couple of the kukui nut trees’ roots are touching the water table, allowing them to grow much taller in the past two years than most trees normally would in that span of time, a visual metaphor for the rebirth of this Hawaiian village and the Hawaiian culture as a whole.
As part of his vision, Rupert will have constructed an interpretive cultural visitors center and two ancient-style Hawaiian houses, one for kane (men) to showcase traditional carving skills and one for wahine (women) demonstrating the art of kapa-making, pounding tree bark until it is so soft and pliable that it is wearable as clothing. He plans to have this all complete within four years, in time to celebrate the return of the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokulea that is leaving soon on its worldwide journey.
Rupert and his team are also eyeing the adjacent property on which a surf shop sits and are hopeful that’s where they will site the cultural center. “It’s zoned open, public culture, so it gives us an opportunity to negotiate with the landowner from the culture’s point of view,” he says.
Gift from Hawaii Island
Bringing back some of the character of days when Kaneiolouma was a vital community are four recently carved 16-foot tall kii (similar to tiki) that were erected in a private ceremony in July 2013, towering above and marking the entrance to the Hawaiian village.
The kii were a gift from the Big Island of Hawaii, Rupert says, returning a centuries-old favor in which a Kauai kahuna (priest) built a heiau for King Kamehameha in exchange for the warrior king’s promise that he would never invade Kauai.
“And Kamehameha never invaded us,” Rupert says, smiling.
The kii facing east with eyes that appear to contain the sky represents the Hawaiian god Kane, “the giver of life,” Rupert says. “His home is Mount Waialeale.”
The other kii represent gods Lono (peace and prosperity), Kanaloa (the ocean) and Ku (war).
“At certain times of the year, the kii line up with the stars. They will tell you how to make your journey to wherever you need to go,” Rupert says. “If you’re going to go to Tahiti or Tonga or New Zealand, everything lines up here.”
Rupert looks forward to sharing Kaneiolouma and Hawaiian culture with everyone who comes to Kauai.
“This place is for all of Hawaii, not just one particular culture. You must include all ‘those who is and those who ain’t’ to become one, so you can receive the same energy from those who are. That’s the motive of putting something like this together,” Rupert says.
“Mana is respect. When you respect one’s past and understand that they have a future, then all can profit by it.”
This excellent article is by Pamela Varma Brown, author of Kauai Stories: Life on the Garden Island Told by Kauai’s People.