Oʻahu’s North Shore is seasonally dynamic. During relatively calm summer conditions, the beaches are generally flat and wide.
However, with big winter waves, we often read of homeowner concerns for erosion of the beach and homes and associated improvements at risk.
In 1969, the “swell of the century” (the result of three overlapping North Pacific storms) produced 30-foot surf. At midnight on December 1, hundreds of residents were evacuated – sixty North Shore homes were destroyed or badly damaged.
Last year, when 25-foot waves rolled in, coastal erosion near the North Shore’s Rocky Point was considered the worst in decades. (Fletcher; KITV)
Scientists are forecasting that coastal erosion will worsen in the coming years, leaving beachfront improvements increasingly vulnerable. (Cocke)
Rather than focus on this unfortunate situation right now, let’s look at a bit of history that is periodically exposed (rarely, not every year) when the winter swells crash onto the Oʻahu North Shore.
Let’s look back.
Hawaiian was a spoken language but not a written language. Historical accounts were passed down orally, through chants and songs.
This doesn’t suggest however, that the Hawaiians did not communicate through “written” symbols – Hawaiians also communicated through na kiʻi pōhaku, petroglyphs.
Petroglyph is a word that comes from the Greek words “petros,” for rock, and “gypheian,” to carve. Thus, petroglyphs are rock carvings.
Petroglyphs occur throughout the world. Certain shapes and forms appear to be universal. A petroglyph of a man or dog in Sweden looks just like a petroglyph of a man or dog in Hawai‘i.
It is probable that the first settlers to Hawai‘i started carving in the rocks after they arrived here. With no other writing, the ancient Hawaiians used petroglyphs as forms of communication, with the gods, spirits and others who viewed them.
Hawaiian petroglyphs are more often found near or at junctions of trails, or areas when ‘mana’ (cosmic power or force) was found.
It was this mana that was supposed to be absorbed by the petroglyphs to insure the efficacy of the spiritual rite or act of magic along Oʻahu’s North Shore, when some of the sand is washed from the beach, a plot of petroglyphs is exposed near the shoreline.
Weathered and worn by the wave and abrasive action of the moving sand, once hidden petroglyphs, carved into the smooth lava, are periodically exposed. More than 70 images are in the petroglyph field – mostly human and dog figures.
Hard surface petroglyph carving was done with a stone, repeatedly smashing the stone against the surface. Designs on smoother walls in caves can be scraped with a pointed rock.
I want to extend a special thanks to “Ski” Kwiatkowski for his assistance and information on petroglyphs provided in his book “Na Kiʻi Pohaku”.