“The ancient system consisted in the many tabus, restrictions or prohibitions, by which the high chiefs contrived, to throw about their persons a kind of sacredness, and to instil into the minds of the people a superstitious awe and peculiar dread.”
“If the shadow of a common man fell on a chief, it was death; if he put on a kapa or a malo of a chief, it was death; if he went into the chief’s yard, it was death; if he wore the chief’s consecrated mat, it was death; if he went upon the house of the chief, it was death.”
“If a man stood on those occasions when he should prostrate himself, (such as) when the king’s bathing water… (was) carried along, it was death. If a man walked in the shade of the house of a chief with his head besmeared with clay, or with a wreath around it, or with his head wet… it was death.”
“There were many other offenses of the people which were made capital by the chiefs, who magnified and exalted themselves over their subjects.” (Dibble)
The social rules for interaction with gods and members of the chiefly class were legion, and death by human sacrifice was the default punishment in many cases. (Shoenfelder)
Puʻuhonua were locations which, through the power of the gods and the generosity of the chiefs, afforded unconditional absolution to those who broke taboos, disobeyed rulers, or committed other crimes. (Schoenfelder)
Ethno-historical literature, and available physical, cultural, and locational data, note at least 57-sites across the Islands. Puʻuhonua tended to occur in areas of high population and/or in areas frequented by chiefs. (Schoenfelder)
These range from enclosed compounds such as Hōnaunau, to platforms (Halulu on Lānaʻi), to fortified mountain-tops (Kawela on Molokaʻi), to unmodified natural features (Kūkaniloko on Oʻahu) and to entire inhabited land sections, as at Lāhainā on Maui. (Schoenfelder)
Recognized as one of the significant puʻuhonua, and one that is well preserved and presented for the rest of us to understand was Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau on the Kona coast on the Island of Hawaiʻi.
The Place of Refuge, termed the ‘City of Refuge’ by Rev. William Ellis in 1823, with its adjoining chiefly residences. Beyond the boundaries of the “Palace Grounds”, around the head of Hōnaunau Bay, lived the chiefly retainers and the commoners. South of the Place of Refuge were scattered settlements along the coast and inland under the cliffs of Keanaee. (NPS)
“The Puhonua at Hōnaunau is a very capacious one, capable of containing a vast multitude of people. In time of war, the females, children, and old people of the neighbouring districts, were generally left within it, while the men went to battle. Here they awaited in safety the issue of the conflict, and were secure against surprise and destruction in the event of a defeat.” (Ellis, 1823)
“These Puhonuas were the Hawaiian ‘Cities of Refuge,” and afforded an inviolable sanctuary to the guilty fugitive, who, when flying from the avenging spear, was so favoured as to enter their precincts.” (Ellis, 1823)
“Hither the manslayer, the man who had broken a taboo, or failed in the observance of its rigid requirements, the thief, and even the murderer, fled from his incensed pursuers, and was secure. To whomsoever he belonged, and from whatever part he came, he was equally certain of admittance, though liable to be pursued even to the gates of the enclosure.” (Ellis, 1823)
“Happily for him, those gates were perpetually open. Whenever war was proclaimed, and during the period of actual hostilities, a white flag was unfurled on the top of a tall spear, on the outside, at each end of the enclosure, and until’ the conclusion of peace, waved the symbal of hope to those, who, vanquished in fight, might flee thither for protection.”
“To the spot, on which this banner was unfurled, the victorious warrior might chase his routed foes. But here he must himself fall back. Beyond it he must not advance one step, on pain of forfeiting his life.”
“The priests and their adherents – would immediately put to death anyone, who should have the temerity to follow, or molest those, who were once within the pale of the pahu tabu, and, and as they expressed it, under the shade, or skreening protection, of the spirit of Keave, the tutelar deity of the place.” (Ellis, 1823)
A structure there, Hale-O-Keawe was erected around 1650 to serve as a temple mausoleum for the ruling chiefs of Kona. It served as the major temple for the “Place of Refuge” until 1819, when the religious laws (kapu) were abandoned.
“The appearance of the house was good. Its posts and rafters were of kauila wood, and it was said that this kind of timber was found in the upland of Napu’u. It was well built, with crossed stems of dried ti leaves, for that was the kind of thatching used.”
“The appearance inside and outside of the house was good to look at. The compact bundles of bones (pukuʻi iwi) that were deified (hoʻokuaʻia) were in a row there in the house, beginning with Keawe’s near the right side of the door by which one went in and out, and going to the spot opposite the door (kuʻono).” (John Papa ʻĪʻi)
“It is a compact building, 24 feet by 16, constructed with the most durable timber, and thatched with ti leaves, standing on a bed of lava, which runs out a considerable distance into the sea. It is surrounded by a strong fence, or paling, leaving an area in the front and at each end, about twenty-four feet wide, paved with smooth fragments of lava laid down with considerable skill.”
“Several rudely carved male and female images of wood were placed on the outside of the enclosure; some on low pedestals, under the shade of an adjacent tree; others on high posts, on the jutting rocks that hung over the edge of the water.” (Ellis, 1823)
“The zeal of Kaʻahumanu led her as early as 1829 to visit the Hale O Keawe at Honaunau, a cemetery associated with dark superstitions, and surrounded with horrid wooden images of former generations. The regent visited the place not to mingle her adorations with her early contemporaries and predecessors to the relics of departed mortals, but for the purpose of removing the bones of twenty-four deified kings and princes of the Hawaiian race….” (Bingham)
“… when she saw it ought to be done, she determined it should be done: and in company with Mr. Ruggles and Kapiolani, she went to the sacred deposit, and caused the bones to be placed in large coffins and entombed in a cave in the precipice at the head of Kealakekua Bay.” (Bingham)
The puʻuhonua was deeded to Miriam Kekāuluohi, a granddaughter of Kamehameha I, in the Māhele of 1848, and it was inherited, upon her death, by Levi Haʻalelea, her second husband. In 1866, the property was auctioned by Ha‘alelea’s estate to Charles Kana‘ina, the father of William Charles Lunalilo.
Kana‘ina, however, did not pay the $5,000 bid, and Charles Reed Bishop stepped in to purchase Ha‘alelea’s land for that same amount on April 1, 1867. In 1891, six years after Pauahi’s death, Bishop deeded the land to the trustees of the Bishop Estate who leased it to one of their members, SM Damon.
Damon was responsible for the 1902 restoration work on the Great Wall and the stone platforms of two heiau, Hale O Keawe and ‘Ale‘ale‘a. The County of Hawai‘i took over Damon’s lease in 1921. That lease expired in 1961 when the then County Park was acquired by the US National Park Service. (deSilva)
Originally established in 1955 as City of Refuge National Historical Park, Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park was renamed on November 10, 1978.
Further reconstruction consisted of four terraces and a passage between the southern end of the platform and the northern end of the Great Wall. In 1966-67 Edmund J Ladd directed the excavation and re-stabilization of the Hale o Keawe platform. Ladd’s excavations in addition to historical accounts indicated that the platform did not originally have multiple tiers; therefore, the 1967 work restored the platform to its more authentic form that joins the Great Wall on its south side.
After the platform was restored, the thatched hale, wooden palisade, and kiʻi were also rebuilt on the site. Since the time of Ladd’s initial reconstruction, the Hale o Keawe structure and carved wooden kiʻi have been replaced on two occasions with the most recent efforts being completed in 2004. (NPS)
The image shows Hale O Keawe at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau (NPS.) I have added other images to a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.