Uncovering 'Wani Pani' or a Storied Place in Hawaii
The ancient village of Po’ipū, Kōloa on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i is rising again, stone by stone, and with it is rising a renaissance of cultural pride and acknowledgement of the Hawaiian people.
Stone by stone is how local people have been rebuilding the walls within the site, donating thousand of volunteer hours.
In October, the organization supporting the site, called the Ke Kahua O Kāneiolouma (Kāneiolouma Heiau Complex), unveiled a viewing platform and five interpretive panels explaining in English and Hawaiian the history of this place, aspects of Hawaiian, Polynesian and Kaua’i culture and honoring Henry Kekahuna, the Hawaiian surveyor who mapped the site in 1959 and wrote out his vision for reviving the village and his people’s heritage.
“The island of Kaua’i should receive the honor of being the very first to produce the only true Hawaiian village of ancient character in the world,” Kekahuna wrote then. “Not only should it be a village of real Hawaiian houses and surroundings, but especially of genuinely native life with genuine native Hawaiians preserving and perpetuating the now largely lost fascinating and valuable arts and crafts of their ancestors. Such a project would keep old Hawaii alive, not only in inanimate form as at present, but as living reality.”
That is essentially what is happening, with knowledgeable volunteers training others as the work is done, as shown in a video, Past, Present & Future of Kaneiolouma.
Hidden for centuries by overgrowth, the site contains remains of houses, a fishpond, a taro (root vegetable) patch, irrigation channels and religious places. “Near its center,” the online description continues, “the complex contains what may be the only intact Makahiki sporting arena in the state. The site also contains the sacred spring of Waiohai.”
The time-obscured mid-1400s village is “wahi pana,” a storied place for the Hawaiian people.
“It wasn’t really discovered, we knew it was there,” said Hawaiian elder Rupert Rowe, po’o (leader) and president of the complex’s stewardship group, Hui Mālama o Kānei’olouma, founded in 2010. “This project was unique because you could not see it from the road. … We finally opened it up so the world would be in there. … From 2013 to now, we’ve been restoring the place and doing our culture thing. There are so many things happening in Hawaii that many people do not know.”
In a conversation punctuated with lyrical Hawaiian words, Rowe addresses the fractured history of Hawaii while talking about this village’s rebirth.
“What America did to the American Indians was a complete different way from how America got control of Hawaii,” he believes.
Hawaii was a constitutional monarchy with 93 consulates around the world in 1893, when U.S. marines ordered the queen to abdicate. In the Kāneiolouma video, Keao Ne’Smith, a language professor at the University of Hawaii said that action “immediately started this cultural and linguistic stress put on us to abandon Hawaiian language.”
Rowe said Hawaii has not given up its sovereignty. “There is no legal document saying that Hawaii gave up its sovereignty. … The Hawaiian people never wanted to be American because America is a country without a culture, America is a country without a nationality. Its only culture is the tribes.”
Hawaiian control of this site is important. “Henry Kekahuna, he had a vision of the changes that Hawaii would go through when we became a state because we would lose all of these cultural sites,” Rowe said. “In 1993, Bill Clinton apologized to the Native people for the wrong doing of America, but if you don’t give us back our government, we are still prisoners.”
Rowe hopes this restoration project and other cultural revivals will bring a brighter future, including a rise in the use of the Hawaiian language. “Take away ones’ language, then you really don’t understand your past. … In the last 15 years, talking the language really has picked up.”
The project of rebuilding Kaneiolouma is one way to strengthen the future with the past, said Rowe. “My granddad always said, ‘When you take your journey home, you must look back at your past, and the legacy you’ve laid out for the future.”
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