We finished eating our plate lunches on one of the picnic tables at Po‘ipū Beach and returned to the car. As we turned back onto Po‘ipū Road, I noticed piles of sharp, volcanic rock in a field to my right. I made a comment to my friend that it looked like an old lava flow, and we continued north towards Līhu‘e.
I spent the next few days adventuring. I surfed a bit, and I hiked near Kalalau Overlook in Waimea Canyon. I also did a bit of relaxing. I spent one morning sitting at Java Kai in Kapa‘a, reading the news. Scrolling through, a story caught my eye, one in, of all places, a Native American publication. It told the story of an ancient Hawaiian village being unearthed on Kaua‘i. A place called Kāneiolouma.
It was this way, by complete accident, that I discovered the piles of rocks at Po‘ipū were much more than piles of rocks.
That afternoon, I drove back to Po‘ipū, to the place I passed by a few days earlier without much of a second thought. I wondered how many other times in my life I had driven by something of such importance without even knowing.
I parked in the Po‘ipū Beach parking lot. I could see many people on the beach and others at Brennecke’s. I walked mauka from the lot to the intersection of Hoowili and Po‘ipū roads. There, at the corner, I found a series of signs on a viewing platform. In front of me was an expansive complex. I could see the outline of what looked like old rock walls.
Ke Kahua O Kāneiolouma, or the Kāneiolouma Complex, has been under restoration for more than a decade. Officially, though, it all started in 2009 with the creation of the Hui Mālama O Kāneiolouma, an independent non-profit organization. Then, phase one of a four-phase master plan began.
So far, researchers have uncovered a 13-acre complex that contains habitation, cultivation, sporting, assembly, and religious structures. Remnants of house sites, fishponds, taro fields, irrigation channels, shrines, and altars have been found. Near its center, there is what may be the only intact Makahiki (ancient Hawaiian new year festival) sporting arena in the state. The complex is believed to date back to the mid-1400s and is referred to as a wahi pana, or a storied place.
Currently, the project is fundraising for phase three of the project, which seeks to reconstruct the internal rock walls, rebuild the traditional houses, and restore the fish ponds and taro farms. Eventually, the fourth phase of the project will connect Kāneiolouma with Po‘ipū Beach Park and begin to integrate the public. As of now, public viewing is limited to the platform at which I stand.
This project is perfectly in line with other cultural efforts taking place on the island. Despite the relatively unknown status of Kāneiolouma, one of the things I have to give Kaua‘i credit for is its movement towards educating and labeling heiaus, as might happen in, say, Asia at a Buddhist temple. For example, one of the days in Kapa‘a, I stumbled upon a heiau that used to be a navigation point for sailors. At its entrance was a sign that read, “This is not a scenic point. It is a scared site.” It had a short list of inappropriate behaviors, i.e. sunbathing.
That is exactly what most people were doing at nearby Po‘ipū Beach. I didn’t want to embarrass anyone, or make myself seem superior when I only discovered it by accident, so I didn’t go around asking anyone on the beach if they knew what lay just behind them. I sat on the platform and watched the cars go by, turning into and out of the intersection at Hoowili and Po‘ipū. Further down the road I remembered passing surf shops and resorts.
“If we sit idle too much and watch these ruins become ruins and don’t look at its importance as perpetuating these places, then all it’s going to be is a forgotten tale,” said Ke‘eaumoku Kapu, High Chief of Maui.
Hopefully now, unlike me, you can discover it on purpose.