Reverend Asa and Lucy Thurston were in the Pioneer Company of American Christian Missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, arriving in Kailua-Kona on the Thaddeus in 1820.
“After an accurate investigation of the places adjacent, in which they thought it might be found, they chose a valley, about half a mile from the residence of the governor, and near the entrance of Raniakea, as the spot where they were most likely to meet with success.” (Ellis)
They made their home in Kailua Village, in a home the Hawaiians named Laniākea. Thurston received Laniākea, a 5.26 acre homestead parcel as a gift from Governor Kuakini.
As noted by Rev. Sereno Edwards Bishop, in his book “Reminiscences Of Old Hawaii” (1916:) “In the early (1830s,) Kailua was a large native village, of about 4,000 inhabitants rather closely packed along one hundred rods of shore, and averaging twenty rods inland.”
“It had been the chief residence of King Kamehameha, who in 1819 died there in a rudely built stone house whose walls are probably still standing on the west shore of the little bay. Nearby stood a better stone house occupied by the doughty Governor Kuakini.”
“All other buildings in Kailua were thatched, until Rev. Artemas Bishop built his two-story stone dwelling in 1831 and Rev. Asa Thurston in 1833 built his wooden two-story house at Laniākea, a quarter of a mile inland.”
“Most of the native huts were thatched with the stiff pili grass. The better ones were thatched with lau-hala (pandanus leaf) or with la-i.” (Bishop)
“Five acres were enclosed with a stone wall three feet wide and six feet high, with simply the front gate for entrance. A large thatched house was erected. Space was allowed for a yard twenty-five feet in breadth.” (Lucy Thurston)
“Thatched houses are not durable, therefore, in the course of years, we had a succession of dwellings, but this was the general arrangement. In the 12th year of the Mission, a two-storied wooden house was erected in the children’s yard, and the wall for their special enclosure removed, as the times no longer required such an accommodation.” (Lucy Thurston)
In 1823, English protestant missionary William Ellis joined forces with American protestant missionary Asa Thurston and a party of explorers to circumnavigate the island of Hawaii.
“In the course of the forenoon, two of our number visited the ruins of an old military fortification, formerly belonging to the makaʻāinana, (common people.)”
“All that at present remains, is a part of the wall, about twelve feet high, and fourteen feet thick at the bottom, built of lava, and apparently entire.”
“In the upper part of the wall are apertures resembling embrasures; but they could not have been designed for cannon, that being an engine of war, with which the natives have but recently become acquainted.”
“The part of the wall now standing, is near the mouth of Raniakea (Laniākea,) the spacious cavern … which formed a valuable appendage to the fort.” Ellis)
“The whole face of the country marked decisively its volcanic origin; and in the course of their excursion they entered several hollows in the lava, formed by its having cooled and hardened on the surface, while, in a liquid state underneath, it had continued to flow towards the sea, leaving a crust in the shape of a tunnel, or arched vault, of varied thickness and extent.
“After entering it by a small aperture, they passed on in a direction nearly parallel with the surface; sometimes along a spacious arched way, not less than twenty-five feet high and twenty wide…”
“… At other times, by a passage so narrow, that they could with difficulty press through, till they had proceeded about 1,200 feet; here their progress was arrested by a pool of water, wide, deep, and as salt as that found in the hollows of the lava within a few yards of the sea.” (Ellis)
“One may walk along it for about fifteen minutes, through a passage which often reaches a considerable height. … The cave runs into a deep subterranean pool of very cold water, and further progress can be made only by swimming through an aperture in the makai end, when one may enter an inner cave, which is said to lead to the sea.” (Kinney, 1913)
“More than thirty natives, most of them carrying torches, accompanied (Ellis’ group) in their descent; and on arriving at the water, simultaneously plunged in, extending their torches with one hand, and swimming about with the other.”
“The partially illuminated heads of the natives, splashing about in this subterranean lake; the reflection of the torch-light on its agitated surface; the frowning sides and lofty arch of the black vault, hung with lava, that had cooled in every imaginable shape …”
“… the deep gloom of the cavern beyond the water; the hollow sound of their footsteps; and the varied reverberations of their voices, produced a singular effect; and it would have required but little aid from the fancy, to have imagined a resemblance between this scene and the fabled Stygian lake of the poets.”
“The mouth of the cave is about half a mile from the sea, and the perpendicular depth to the water probably Not less than fifty or sixty feet.”
“The pool is occasionally visited by the natives, for the purpose of bathing, as its water is cool and refreshing. From its ebbing and flowing with the tide, it has probably a direct communication with the sea.” (Ellis)
When war threatened the early inhabitants of Kona, and it was not uncommon, those who could not fight took refuge in the cave, and while the battles raged overhead, the refugees sent forays up the mountain and to the sea, via the cave, to gather food and water. (laniakea)
“In this cavern, children and aged persons were placed for security during an assault or sally from the fort, and sometimes the wives of the warriors also, when they did not accompany their husbands to the battle.”
“The fortification was probably extensive, as traces of the ancient walls are discoverable in several places; but what were its original dimensions, the natives who were with us could not tell. They asserted, however, that the cavern, if not the fort also, was formerly surrounded by a strong palisade.” (Ellis)
When the Thurstons retired to Honolulu, the house and land became the property of Mokuʻaikaua Church.
In 1980, sections of the cave had collapsed and the entrance was choked with debris and the entrance near the Thurston House was disturbed by squatters.
Waste products and debris have been dumped into the cave, causing an accumulation of sediment and muck within the cave. The western entrance to the cave near Hale Halawai is blocked. Large concrete pillars within the cave apparently were place to support improvements above. (Rasmussen)
The Laniākea house fell into disrepair, and in the 1990s the Laniākea Foundation was formed to save the ruins of the cave and home site from development. (laniakea)