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Is Nothing Sacred, Nothing Holy in Hawaii?

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Puu Olai is an ancient, weathered cinder cone that juts seaward near Makena Beach on Maui. It is also sacred ground; home to the bones of the ancestors, and at its base, one finds beautiful lava formations and tidepools. Hiking up the steep volcanic slopes from Makena’s Big Beach, those with an open heart recall that they feel the push of strong hands guiding them upward to the resting places of the ancients and heavenly views of Molokini Crater, as well as the islands of Lanai and Kahoolawe.

Over 1,000 archeological sites have been identified on 1800 acres at the base of Puu Olai. These sacred grounds are now in the hands of developers. Only 16 sites are slated for preservation according to island activists and the organization, Save Makena.

The New York Times (April 2007) described a development that will desecrate the graves, homes, and remnants of the ancient Hawaiian villagers, and by doing so, the hearts, hopes and symbolism of a society that is in great danger of fading from existence.

The beleaguered Hawaiian indigenous population will be left with nothing, while billionaires and millionaires will have an 11 acre gated community on Makena Bay, “With the 18th hole of a golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., separating it from the coastline,” according the NYT.

Instead of reasonable housing and access to ancient fishing grounds, there will be 2,300 to 3,500 square-foot, two- to three-bedroom units in 11 two- to four-story buildings and two three-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot bungalows.

“All the residences will have stone floors, wine storage, wireless Internet access and lanais with water views and grills, and the bungalows will feature private swimming pools and whirlpools. A private clubhouse with an infinity pool, a lounge, a restaurant, a fitness center and the full-service spa will be built, and adjacent to the project is a white sand beach where kayaks, snorkels, surfboards and other equipment will be available. Culinary classes and wine tastings will be offered, and a concierge service will arrange golf and other activities,” touts the NYT.

To make matters worse, this development intersects and cuts off the “Kings Highway.” King's Highway was once a footpath that encircled the island and connected all the villages. Anyone who hikes to the end of the Makena road lava fields can see the relics of homes and heiaus (temples)—whispers of a once thriving community of people who fished, hunted, worshipped and gathered along the slopes of the mighty Haleakala volcano. The spirits of the amakua could always be counted on to protect the family in times of danger. A’a (lava rock) is still piled in the ruins of centuries-old native Hawaiian structures, and hardened rivers of lava stretch like tendrils to the summit of Haleakala

The Maui News has been reporting on another residential condominium development that won approval from the Maui Land Use Committee. Planned for a 1.55 acre site near the Makena Bay project, the 4,000 square foot condos call for “careful construction practices—four swimming pools and 16 parking stalls.” These “amenities” will be adjacent to an ancient heiau.

Archeologists working for the developers swear that the sites are closely monitored, but speak to anyone on Maui who is of Hawaiian ancestry, or who cares about the culture, and the stories are long and tearful of artifacts and bones which are uncovered and never reported. Ghosts and disembodied kings wielding torches are marching along the King’s Highway, and those with open and pure hearts hear the chants and see the long processions on the star-filled nights.

Whether you believe in the spirits or not, it is very clear that these excavations are desecrations of holy ground. Bones are still scattered among the rocks on PuuOlai, heiaus are everywhere, and it is impossible to believe that the scope of the construction digs in Makena are not a sacrilege and assault on Hawaiian spirituality.

This is not news.

This writer has been coming to the Islands for over ten years and the stories are only getting worse, the destruction more and more evident. During sunrise at the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala, a native woman spoke of the despair of locals who no longer come to the summit to worship as the sun rises over what is considered to be a spiritual testing ground for the Hawaiians. For those who seek, Haleakala is power unleashed, the earth’s conductor of cosmic energy. The great kahunas (teachers) brought their students there for initiation. Today, crass tourism is becoming the norm and one will very seldom see a Hawaiian praying openly on Haleakala. The rocks, considered the bones of the ancestors, are etched with multi-lingual graffiti—an inexcusable and horrific desecration.

How does one write about this? How does one bring it home to the heart? The answer, like love, came when the writer was not seeking and brings another story to the page—a story of pure friendship that has been long overdue for the telling.

Along the shores of Makena is a hidden, sacred beach called Palauea, or sometimes “white rocks” because of the bleached coral that is caught and held in the embrace of the black lava. The south end of the beach is called Holoa Point, and beneath the great Hawaiian waters are shallow caves, lava arches and huge stands of coral. Fish and sea turtles are regular visitors, as well as eagle rays and reef sharks that inspire mind, heart and soul.

The ashes of my friend, mentor, singer, songwriter, woman, rascal and inspiration are scattered there. I bring her protea flowers, and her amakua, the sea turtle, sometimes devours them when I sit on the rocks and speak with her. She spoke clearly to me this week.

This sacred area, holy to both the Hawaiians and to me, also contains rare cultural sites and is in danger of being lost to the local people. Condos and new developments now are within 150 feet of the ashes of my friend. This outrages me. I wonder if my feelings can be compared to the sadness and despair Hawaiians feel at the loss of their holy places?

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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