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Saving Sacred Spaces


Faith Chase, a 50-year resident of Maui, is a mother and grandmother who has testified at many Maui County and Hawaii State hearings. Her interest in island agriculture inspired her turn from graphic design to writing.

Kahikinui, Maui has always been marveled by cultural historians and archaeologists for its awesome landmass of living history. The southwestern region of the island of Maui was once inhabited by hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians. There are hundreds of rock features that have remained untouched today. The most significant rock features are heiau, elaborate stone platforms that are sacred spaces or shrines where offerings are made and worship ceremonies are conducted.

Although cultural surveys of many important sites have been catalogued, the total number of heiau is unknown. According to the late Uncle Harry Mitchell, this is both by choice of the heiau to remain hidden and it is also because of intentional protection. Once a heiau is identified in Kahikinui, there is reasonable reassurance that the sacred space is protected. Sadly, this is not true for other places. The Grand Wailea hotel in Kihei, Maui is in an extremely controversial lawsuit because of cultural site desecration and burial disturbance.

One Kahikinui Homestead heiau that is of special importance is called “Kahiki” and Tahitian archaeologists have made several visits to document it. The fervency surrounding this particular heiau is because it connects Tahiti ancestors to Maui. “Kahiki” is in direct alignment to Tahiti and voyagers have made physical and written record of the journey once taken. This heiau and others in Kahikinui have spectacular correlations to constellations which deserves deeper exploration as the late Francis Xavier studied.

With great excitement and reverence Tahitian archaeologist and author Paul Moohono Niva recently mapped the heiau with global positioning system coordinates and aerial drone footage. The most recent visit was an important one as they returned to French Polynesia to exhibit their findings and make plans to return for a more comprehensive investigation.

Moohono Niva is part of Haururu Association a non government organization made up of native Tahitian educators, cultural practitioners, archeologist, anthropologists and researcher. Haururu Association is supported by the Fare Fenua Foundation (house of the land). Moohono Niva and Heifara Doudoute are founding members and establishing links with Hawai‘i through research of oral traditions have been a main goal for Haururu and Fare Fenua.

Kahiki heiau is very special to these organizations as it was the first to be visited by Tahitians since it was abandoned over a hundred years ago. In Tahiti, Haururu Assocation is reknown for bringing back sacred sites to life. Cleaning, doing protocol and ceremonies gives purpose to the sites. Like native languages, if we don’t give it purpose it will fade away and be forgotten. Kahiki Heiau is for all Tahitians and Hawaiians to share, and the work is a first and of historical significance with commitments to continue to give it purpose and tell its story.

Kahikinui homesteader Donna Sterling resides on Lot 41 which keeps “Kahiki” heiau in close observation view. She has hosted the Tahitians on their visits and anxiously awaits their return reassuring them of the safety of the heiau by sending photographs via email regularly.

Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead Association President Donna Sterling and Tahitian Archaeologist Paul Moohono Niva discuss the mountain elements as they do a surface study at one of many heiau in the 22,000 acre Kahikinui Homestead.
Tahitian Archaeologist Paul Moohono Niva and Noemie Doudoute smile as they produce nameplate for heiau reference with a rainbow in the background.
Hironui Johann Bouit prepares his drone for aerial survey of Kahikinui heiau with a rainbow in the background.
Tahitian archaeology team member Noemie Doudoute and Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead Association President Donna Sterling climb to meet survey members at a Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead heaiu.

Donna Sterling, who is also the president of Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead Association (KHHA), chose her lot because of its proximity to the heiau. As one of the first homesteaders she felt compelled to care for the sacred space from the start. Animals have wreaked some havoc but ultimately she watches and warns hunters, new homesteaders and homestead guests of the significance and importance. Donna has had incrediby special moments with the Tahitian visitors cleaning and making offerings at the heaiu.

Long range plans of the 22,000 acres Kahikinui Hawaiian Homestead include securing water resources for the Kahikinui homestead. Her family non-profit, Helekunihi Cultural Foundation, includes 119 acres that is also home to some significant sacred sites. She and her staff recently conducted ceremony prior to important watershed work by collecting water from all relevant sources and made their way to the wai (water) heaiu at Helekunihi. On the first visit to make offering a phenomenal siting of hundreds of iwa birds flew overhead. It was considered a ho‘ailona, a sign from ancestors that the intent was on a steady course. Confirmations like this unfold naturally when protocol is respected and followed.

The cultural sites that need love, attention and ceremony are plentiful and there is much work to do. Other Maui Hawaiian homesteads have sacred sites needing the same time and attention. Keokea Hawaiian Homestead for instance has waited 20 years to find proper footing, funding and boots on the ground homesteaders to return to clean and care for region heiau. They worked hard to protect what was discovered and in all its sacred untouched beauty, it remains a special sacred space that will soon be celebrated with ceremonial activity. This will provide rooted and treasured education for the next generation.

Many roads in Kahikinui remain undeveloped and rock features get overgrown by invasive species that often need some clearing. This is important because by revealing sites that are in harms way will help avoid unwanted distrubances. It can be dangerous when they are unseen. Donna’s lot is the farthest east of all Kahikinui homesteaders and her road home traverses an old jeep road. She is known for leaving on town trips early with tools in hand to clean and protect homestead heiau. Action steps like this will ultimately be the duty of the next generation but having kupuna lead is key because you must know where your sacred spaces are and there is no better way than with kupuna (elder) guidance.

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