Pu'uhonua o Honaunau
National Historical Park
Hawai'i
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SPIRIT, POWER, AND SAFETY In the time of ancient Hawai'i, this place possessed extraordinary mana (spiritual power). It came in part from 23 ali'i (chiefs) whose bones were protected in Hale o Keawe, the heiau (temple). The Royal Grounds were a center of power, open only to ali'i and those serving them. Beyond the Great Wall, the Pu'uhonua served as a place of refuge for those who broke kapu, the sacred laws and beliefs by which all lived. These wahi pana (legendary places) and ancient Hawaiian culture endure here as Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

ROYAL GROUNDS

The sound of a (conch) announces the approach of ali'i. Skilled paddlers maneuver wa'a (canoes) around the lava rocks to land at Keone'ele Cove. Ali'i step onto the Royal Grounds with their advisors and priests. For the next several months, they will hold ceremonies and host gatherings. They might engage in negotiating war or peace, meeting in the shade of a hālau (thatched shelter). They participate in amusements like kōnane (a board game) or the sport he'e hõlua (sled riding). Attendants and servants perform daily tasks, hurrying between hale (houses), serving the ali'i or perhaps preparing fish taken from the royal fishponds. Priests consult with the ali'i on matters of spirituality, and conduct rituals here, at Hale o Keawe, and in the Pu'uhonua.

PU'UHONUA Place of Refuge

In the time of kapu, a woman eats with a man. A maka'āinana (commoner) casts his shadow on an ali'i. Someone catches a fish out of season. Break these or any other kapu, and you face the ultimate punishment of death. Your only chance of survival is to elude your pursuers on foot, make your way to the coast, and swim to the Pu'uhonua. If you make it—and many do not—you may be absolved by a priest.

During times of war, the Pu'uhonua served another role—as sanctuary for children, elders, and other noncombatants. Defeated warriors could also seek safety in the refuge. When the battle ended they were free to return home and resume their lives regardless of the battle's outcome.

The Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau, like all pu'uhonua in the islands, served Hawaiians for hundreds of years until kapu ended in 1819. It remains a sacred place of peace, calm, and refuge to Hawaiians, open to all who find their way here.

KĪPAIPAI 'IA I KA 'OIA'I'O
Become Inspired by the Authentic

Today the Hale o Keawe, Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau, Royal Grounds, and surrounding lands remain a center of traditional Hawaiian life. This long tradition has been perpetuated by the National Park Service since 1961. At the park's cultural festival, held every summer, you can become immersed in Hawaiian culture.

Exploring Through Time

900-1110 CE (Common Era) Polynesians arrive in the Hawaiian islands, likely from the Marquesas Islands 2400 miles south. Their voyaging canoes carry plants, animals, and supplies needed to live here. People settle in hereditary groups led by a chief. Their farming, hunting, and gathering begin to change the land.

1100-1400
Tradition tells of ali'i (chiefs) voyaging back and forth between Hawaii and ancestral Kahiki (eastern Polynesia and Tahiti). They bring new ideas and traditions like temple drums, wooden images, and ritual human sacrifice. Tradition also says voyaging ends by 1400. Afterward, Hawaiians live in isolation for several hundred years.

1400-1600
As the population expands, ali'i establish land boundaries and centralize their power. They begin enforcing kapu (sacred laws), which separates them from the maka'āinana (common people) by controlling all aspects of life. During this time, people settle Hōnaunau, establish a pu'uhonua (place of refuge), and build the first heiau (temple) here.

1600-1778
Hawai'i island is united under one ali'i in the early 1600s. Hōnaunau becomes a royal center. Hale o Keawe heiau is built to house the bones and mana (spiritual power) of the ruling ali'i, Keawe-'Ī-kekahi-ali'i-o-ka-moku. Ali'i continue to expand their power and influence. In the mid-1700s, Kamehameha is born. His uncle Kalaniopu'u was the ruling chief of the island by the late 1770s.

1779-1810
In 1779, English explorer Captain James Cook sails into Kealakekua Bay, north of Hōnaunau. His is the first recorded contact with Hawaiians on this island. In 1782, Kalaniopu'u dies. Kamehameha defeats his rivals and rises to power. He unifies the Hawaiian islands by 1810 through treaty and conquest.

1819
Kamehameha dies. During the mourning period, two of his wives—Ka'ahumanu and Keōpūolani—and his son Liholiho (Kamehameha II) defy kapu by eating together. Their action begins the collapse of the kapu system. More profound changes in Hawaiian society follow as Christian missionaries arrive along with other Europeans and Americans. Today, the Hawaiian story continues to evolve through the sharing of traditions and the work of archeologists, anthropologists, and other specialists.

LIFE BEYOND THE REFUGE

Life extended beyond the Pu'uhonua and Royal Grounds for both ali'i and maka'āinana.

From the ocean to the mountaintop, Hawaiians divided the island into moku (large districts) and smaller land divisions called ahupua'a. In each ahupua'a, they found all they needed to thrive: access to the sea, fertile farmland inland, forests in the upland, and sacred land in the upper elevations. People lived either makai (near the ocean) or mauka (toward the upland); some people had parcels both near the ocean and higher in the agricultural zones. They used a complex system of trails to travel within the ahupua'a.

UA OLA NO O KAI IA KAI
Life Comes from the Sea

From ocean to shore, Hawaiians found plenty to eat. They fished from canoes. To catch he'e, they used lūhe'e—a lure of shell, stone, wood, and bone. Uhu was one of many reef fish they harvested with nets and spears. Along shore, they gathered delicacies like hā'uke'uke and 'opihi. And they prized honu for its meat and beautiful shell.

UA OLA NO O UKA IA UKA
Life Comes from the Land

Food, medicine, clothing, ritual—Hawaiians had many uses for "canoe plants" brought by their ancestors. Niu provided food, drink, and fiber for cord. 'Ulu, 'uala, and kalo were staple foods. Kī leaves could be made into sandals and capes, among other uses. The stiff leaves of hala were made into mats, baskets, and sails. Noni was one of many medicinal plants.

Explore Two Sides of Hawaiian Life

Follow numbered posts on a half-mile self-guiding tour through the Royal Grounds and the Pu'uhonua. Check the regulations and safety tips before you begin. Please be respectful of this sacred site.

1 Royal Grounds Here, in ancient times, you would have seen workers pound kalo (taro), take fish from the ponds, or prepare the grounds for ali'i. On the far side of the Royal Grounds is the Great Wall (stop 7), the boundary of the Pu'uhonua.

Follow the sandy path to the right.

2 Temple Model This structure is a small reconstruction of Hale o Keawe, the heiau at stop 8. This model shows details of the heiau. Its frame is ōhi'a wood, the roof is thatched with kī leaves, and the trim is of ama'u (fern).

3 Kōnane This Hawaiian strategy game is played with black and white pebbles on a papamū (stone playing surface). Papamū can be any size and are carved into a lava surface. If you would like to play kōnane, ask for rules at the visitor center.

4 Kānoa These bowls, carved into rock, may have been used for dying kapa (bark cloth), tanning fishing nets, or pounding 'awa root to make a ceremonial drink.

5 Tree Mold When hot lava surrounds a living tree, moisture in the tree causes the lava to harden before it burns. Sometimes this leaves tree molds like you see here. Many molds in the park are of loulu palms. Loulu were once abundant, but now are endangered.

6 Keone'ele This protected cove was kapu; only ali'i could land canoes here. At times, honu (sea turtles) rest on the shore. Please watch them from a distance; they are protected by law.

7 Great Wall Up to 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide, and over 950 feet long, this wall defines the sacred space of the Pu'uhonua. The wall was constructed over 400 years ago using uhau humu pohaku (dry-set masonry)—stones fitted without mortar.

8 Hale o Keawe This heiau was a royal mausoleum housing bones of 23 ali'i, including Keawe-'Ī-kekahi-ali'i-o-ka-moku, Kamehameha's great-grandfather. These bones give the heiau immense mana. Hawaiians still revere this place and sometimes leave ho'okupu (offerings) on the lele (tower). The wooden images are ki'i representing Hawaiian gods.

9 Pu'uhonua Imagine scrambling out of the waves onto the rough lava. Although exhausted and out of breath, now you are safe. In a few days you will be absolved by a priest and can go home.

10 Keōua Stone According to local tradition, this was a favorite resting place of Keōua, a high chief. Holes in the lava surrounding the base may have supported a coconut leaf canopy.

Walk back to the sandy path to continue the walking tour.

11 'Āle'ale'a This may have been a principal heiau long before Hale o Keawe (stop 8). The platform was built in seven stages. After Hale o Keawe replaced this heiau, oral tradition describes ali'i relaxing and watching hula on the platform.

12 Ka'ahumanu Stone Legend holds that Queen Ka'ahumanu, a favorite wife of Kamehameha, swam to the Pu'uhonua after they quarreled. She hid under this stone, but her barking dog revealed her location. Fortunately, she and her husband reconciled.

13 Papamū Small poho (depressions) were carved into flat lava rock to create this surface for playing kōnane (stop 3). The skills mastered in this game could be used in battle or other pursuits.

14 Old Heiau Site Long ago, another heiau was built here. It may have been the first heiau for the refuge. Ravaged for centuries by ocean waves, only remnants remain. They are among the oldest structures in the park.

The path now leads back toward the Royal Grounds. Just before the Great Wall, you pass a pond on the right. It is an anchialine (an-kee-uh-line) pool, fed by a freshwater spring and the ocean. The tour continues through a modern opening in the wall.

15 Royal Fish Ponds These anchialine pools held fish to be eaten by the ali'i.

The next stop is the large thatched shelter.

16 Hālau In ancient times, this structure would have been made of ōhi'a wood tied with cord and thatched with pili grass. Today it serves as a hālau wa'a, or canoe house. Artisans work in the smaller hālau.

E KOMO MAI
Welcome

The National Park Service welcomes you to Pu'uhonua o Hõnaunau National Historical Park, established in 1961. We invite you to explore the culture and enjoy the coastal landscape that speaks of people who lived here for centuries.

park map

topo map
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Getting Here
Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park is in the South Kona district of the island of Hawai'i. Take Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 11) to Ke Ala o Keawe Road (Hwy. 160), between mileposts 103 and 104. Follow Hwy. 160 to the park entrance.

Visitor Center
Open daily. Information, exhibits, gift shop. Call or check the park website for hours.

Immerse Yourself in Hawaiian Culture
• Walk the self-guiding tour in this brochure. • Take the cell phone tour. • Talk to people demonstrating activities, crafts, and games. • Attend a ranger program. • Watch a film. • Look for native plants and animals. • Play a game of kōnane (tour stop 3). • Children ages 3 and up can become Junior Rangers. • Attend our annual cultural festival on the weekend before the Fourth of July.

1871 Trail to Ki'ilae Village
Pick up a trail guide at the visitor center for this 2.25-mile roundtrip hike that passes ancient and historic sites, volcanic features, and ocean views. Wear sturdy shoes for walking on lava.

Wildlife and Plants
Feeding, touching, and harassing wildlife—including those in water—is prohibited. • Federal and state law protects threatened or endangered sea turtles, monk seals, and some plants.

Regulations and Safety
Honor and respect ceremonies, protocols, and practices. Keep your distance and refrain from photographing and recording. • Ask at the visitor center for other special rules and regulations. • Stay on the trails. • Federal law protects all cultural objects. • Firearms regulations and fishing guidelines are on the park website. • Food is allowed only in the picnic area. • Pets are allowed only in the picnic area and on the Coastal and 1871 trails. They must be restrained and under control by a leash no longer than six feet. • Wear sun protection; bring plenty of water.

Accessibility
We strive to make facilities, services, and programs accessible to all. Beach wheelchairs are available at the visitor center. For more information go to the visitor center, call, or check the park website.

Related Sites
Explore traditional Hawaiian life at other National Park sites on this island: Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

Source: NPS Brochure (2016)


Establishment

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park — November 10, 1978
City of Refuge National Historical Park — July 26, 1955


For More Information
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Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards expand section

Documents

A Cultural History of Three Traditional Hawaiian Sites on the West Coast of Hawai'i Island (HTML edition) (Linda Wedel Greene, September 1993)

Acoustic Environment and Soundscape Resource Summary, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park (L. Wood, 2015)

Biological inventory of anchialine pool invertebrates at Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site, Hawai'i Island Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 181 (L.K. Tangio, D. Foote, K.N. Magnacca, S.J. Foltz, K. Cutler, 2012)

Birds of Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 106 (M. P. Morin, May 1996)

Cultural Landscapes Inventory: Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park Visitor Center (2009)

Development Concept Plan/Environmental Assessment, Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Honaunau, Hawai'i (June 2001)

Evaluation of Anchialine Fishponds Hele 'I Palala at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Honaunau, Hawai'i (Oceanic Institute, August 25, 1992)

Foundation Document, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii (September 2017)

Foundation Document Overview, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Hawaii (January 2017)

Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report. NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2011/385 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, April 2011)

Hale-o-Keawe Archeological Report: Archeology at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park Western Archeological and Conservation Center Publications in Anthropology No. 33 (Edmund J. Ladd, 1985)

Hawai'i Island National Parks Junior Ranger Adventure Book (c2016)

Hawaiian Thatched House: Use-Construction-Adaptation (Russell A. Apple, May 1971)

Historic Sites Survey Report: Place of Refuge, Hawaii (V. Aubrey Neasham, November 10, 1949)

Honu Helper Activity Booklet (Ages 3-6), Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Date Unknown)

Herpetological inventory in West Hawai'i national parks: Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, Pu'ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 141 (J. Bazzano, April 2007)

Inventory of marine vertebrate species and fish-habitat utilization patterns in coastal waters off four national parks in Hawai'i Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 168 (Jim Beets, Eric Brown and Alan Friedlander, February 2010)

Junior Ranger Adventure Book, Hawai'i Island National Parks (Date Unknown)

Kupuna Ranger (Ages 13 and up), Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Date Unknown)

Master Plan: City of Refuge National Historical Park (1977)

Museum Management Plan, West Hawai'i Parks (February 2004)

National Parks in Hawaii University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Circular 443 (Wade W. McCall, February 1972

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form

City of Refuge National Historical Park (Honaunau Historic District) (Edmund J. Ladd, c1974)

Natural and Cultural Resources Management Plan And Environmental Assessment: City of Refuge National Historical Park, Hawai'i (November 1976)

Predicting Impacts of Sea Level Rise for Cultural and Natural Resources in Five National Park Units on the Island of Hawai'i Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 188 (Lisa Marrack and Patrick O'Grady, June 2014)

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park: How might future warming alter visitation? (N.A. Fisichelli and P.S. Ziesler, June 19, 2015)

Ranger Explorer Activity Guide (Ages 6-12), Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Date Unknown)

Recent Climate Change Exposure of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (W.B. Monahan and N.A. Fisichelli, July 30, 2014)

Shorebird, seabird and waterbird inventory of Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Sept. 2003-May 2004 (J. Scott Waddington, June 4, 2004, rev. March 31, 2005)

Statement for Management: City of Refuge National Historical Park, Hawaii (1978)

Summer census of the reef fish communities of waters adjacent to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Summers 1974-1978 Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 32 ( G. M. Ludwig, L. R. Taylor, Jr. and D. M. Imose, August 1980)

The Natural and Cultural History of Honaunau, Kona, Hawaii: Vol I, The Natural History of Honaunau (Edwin H. Bryan, Jr., Chester K. Wentworth, Amy Greenwell, Marie C. Neal, Amy Suehiro and Alison Kay, 1957)

The Natural and Cultural History of Honaunau, Kona, Hawaii: Vol II, The Cultural History of Honaunau (Kenneth P. Emory, John F.G. Stokes, Dorothy B. Barrere and Marion A. Kelly, 1957)

The Natural and Cultural History of Honaunau, Kona, Hawaii (Edwin H. Bryan, Jr. and Kenneth P. Emory, October 1986)

Vascular plants of Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 56 (C. W. Smith, L. Stemmermann, P. K. Higashino and E. Funk, February 1986)

Vascular plants of Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 105 (L. W. Pratt and L. L. Abbott., May 1996)

Vegetation Inventory Project: Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/PUHO/NRR—2011/461 (Dan Cogan, Keith Schulz, David Benitez, Greg Kudray and Alison Ainsworth, October 2011)

Vegetation management strategies for three national historical parks on Hawai'i Island Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 121 (Linda W. Pratt, September 1998)

Vegetation map of Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park Pacific Islands Cooperative National Park Resources Studies Unit Technical Report No. 57 (J. Leishmann, February 1986)

Water quality in anchialine pools of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park: Summary report 2007-2011 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/PACN/NRDS-2014/665 (David F. Raikow and Anne Farahi, May 2014)

Water quality in pools and groundwater monitoring wells of the national parks on the west coast of the Island of Hawai'i: Summary report 2012-2014 NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/PACN/NRDS-2016/1008 (David F. Raikow and Anne Farahi, March 2016)



Handbooks ◆ Books expand section

Videos

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park in 64 Seconds



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Last Updated: 14-Aug-2021