Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on the Big Island of Hawaii is a place where history runs deep. The 450 year-old stone walls have borne witness to generations of Hawaiians fleeing war, persecution, or, in some case, justice. It is a gathering place, where people have come together for protection from violence and for keeping ancient traditions alive. It is home to the kapu grounds of the residence of the chief of the Honaunau ahupua’a (district). And it is an enclave of Hawaiian heritage, the last surviving City of Refuge in the Hawaiian islands.
Each year, the National Historical Park celebrates it’s anniversary with a gathering meant to celebrate and perpetuate the traditions of Honaunau and of Hawaii. During the two-day event cultural practitioners in traditional dress will be present to share their knowledge of Hawaiian culture and their expert skills in ancient crafts. Some of the highlights of the event include:
- Canoe Rides – Take a ride on the brilliant blue waters of Honaunau Bay in a traditional dugout canoe. Ancient Hawaiian were expert sailors and paddlers, and used canoes for fishing in both shoreline and pelagic waters. The canoe landing at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau was traditionally reserved for the chief and his retinue.
- Crafts & Games – Learn to play games like konane and ulu maika. Practice traditional crafts with hands-on activities like weaving baskets and hats from lauhala or coconut fronds. Learn to make lei or a bamboo nose flute. At the end of the day you will have a unique souvenir to take home with you.
- Demonstrations – Cultural practitioners will be present to demonstrate their skills, like the carving of wooden ki’i akua, the icons of the many manifestations of the Hawaiian gods that are used to mark sacred locations. Watching these experts at work will give you a greater appreciation for the massive wood carvings and traditional structures that adorn the park.
- Hawaiian Food – The early Hawaiian settlers brought at least 24 different varieties of “canoe plants” with them from the South Pacific including sweet potatoes, yams, breadfruit, and ginger. The food from these simple plants sustained generations of Hawaiians before the 1800s. You will have the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes prepared in traditional styles.
- Hukilau – The highlight of each year’s Cultural Festival is the fishing demonstration using the hukilau, a traditional fishing “net.” The hukilau is a long strand of ti leaves strung together on a long cord and weighed down with stones such that the leaves hang down into the water. It takes a coordinated effort by many people to make this fishing technique work. The hukilau is brought out to the mouth of the small inlet that leads to the canoe launch. A group of people hold the hukilau along the cord so that it spans to the mouth of the inlet, while others begin to slap the water to create noise. Then the entire group begins to slowly close the net in unison. In ancient times, this technique would have been used to push all of the fish trapped in the net up onto the beach, where they could be easily gathered by children. At the cultural festival, the practitioners only bring the fish into the shallows, where the Yellow Tangs create a shimmering golden current beneath the surface. A kumu will recite a chant over the fishermen and the fish before the net is raised and the fish a freed back into the bay.
If you have never visited Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park before, this year’s festival is the perfect opportunity to be immersed in the Park, its history, and its culture. The Festival takes place each year toward the end of June. This year’s date is TBD. Please check in at the Park’s website or call (808) 328-2326 x1702 for more information. Book your luxury room at Holualoa Inn and experience Hawaiian culture like no other.