He Wahi Pana O Lānaʻi – A Storied Place of Lānaʻi – the Kapihaʻā Interpretive Trail is an approximate one-mile round trip. The Kapihaʻā preservation area contains at least fifteen distinct sites, made up of more than 60 features, by which we may see how Hawaiians lived, worked and worshiped on Lānaʻi.
Interpretive signs found along the trail identify several different types of sites, including agricultural fields, residences, ceremonial sites and lithic (stone) workshops.
Sign 1 – ”Wahi Pana” are storied and sacred places on the Hawaiian landscape.
Walking the trail from this point, you will step back in time, and glimpse life on Lānaʻi prior to the arrival of westerners in 1778.
Sign 2- Kapihaʻā: Life Along The Leeward Shore Of Lānaʻi
Close to 800 years ago, native Hawaiians settled along sheltered areas of the coast line on Lānaʻi, and then extended inland where extensive dry land agricultural fields were developed.
Because water resources were limited even then, most agricultural pursuits were in the form of dry land crops planted upon the kula (plains) and under the canopy of now reduced forests that collected fog drip.
Along the trail there is evidence of permanent and temporary dwellings, agricultural plots, lithic (stone) workshops and ceremonial sites, and the ancient setting of Kapihaʻā Village.
Sign 3 – Puʻupehe Islet
Native lore describes the platform with an upright stone in it as either a burial place for a woman who bore the name of Puʻupehe, or as a shrine dedicated to the god of bird catchers.
In traditional times, sea birds were an important part of the Hawaiian diet, and koʻa (shrines) were placed on “bird islands to sustain the land with plenty of birds.”
Sign 4 – Heiau (Temple) of Kapihaʻā Village
This heiau is a significant architectural feature on the cultural landscape of Kapihaʻā. There are five features associated with the heiau, which include a walled platform, terraces and an ʻahu (altar or cairn).
The prominence of this site, and the fact that it commands an imposing view of the ocean and surrounding lands, suggests that it was a temple associated with prayers and offerings to promote the abundance of the fisheries, or perhaps to pray for rains and sustainable growth of crops on land.
Sign 5 – Dry Land Agricultural Terraces
Because of the arid nature of Lānaʻi, most of the crops grown here were adapted to the kula (open flat lands), and planted in kīhāpai, and moʻo (walled fields or shallow terraces). Passing showers born by the nāulu (southerly) breezes and the early morning kēhau (dew born upon mountain breezes) provided enough water for the plants to grow.
Both natural terraces, some of which were modified, and formal terraces, in which mulch was developed to support plant growth, may be found in this area. Crops such as ʻuala (sweet potatoes), uhi (yams), hue (gourds), lau ki (ti plants) and clumps of kō (sugarcane) could be grown here.
Sign 6 – Kauhale and Hale Pāpaʻi House Sites, Temporary Habitation Sites and Shelters
On the leeward side of Lānaʻi, Kapihaʻā and neighboring villages of the Hulopoʻe-Mānele vicinity supported a population of at least several hundred people at any given time.
The small house sites were basically shelters from bad weather, with most activities – such as making fishing gear, working on stone tools, and food preparation – occurring outside.
Poles of wood, gathered from the uplands, would have been placed upon the stone foundations of these house sites and shelters as support posts, beams and purloins. Thatching of native pili grass, leaves of loulu (pritchardia) palms, niu (coconut fronds), and leafy branches from shrubs would then be lashed to the poles on narrow cross pieces, thus providing protection from rain, cold and heat.
The house foundation has multiple terraces and separate leveled areas, each of which would have served a special use in domestic life. Generally the highest area on the upslope side was reserved for special functions associated with family worship.
Sign 7 – Koʻa, a Fisherman’s Shrine and Triangulation Station
A significant wealth of this part of Lana’i lay in its fisheries, as marine resources supplied protein for the native Hawaiian diet. In addition to fish, various pūpū (shellfish), papaʻi (crabs), and several varieties of limu (seaweeds) were also collected along the shore and from the sea. These fishery resources, together with crops from the uplands sustained the residents of Kapihaʻā over many generations.
A significant Hawaiian ceremonial site, a koʻa or fishing shrine, lies to the west of this trail, perched on a promontory overlooking the ocean and the fisherman’s trail. Portions of the koʻa have collapsed, but the large mound of coral set upon the stone foundation is symbolic of the god Kūʻula and makes this koʻa one of the most unique sites of its kind anywhere in Hawai’i.
Fishermen sought protection during fishing trips and continued abundance of the fisheries through offerings of fish, urchins, and shell fish to the gods and ʻaumakua (guardians). Offerings would again be made upon return from fishing expeditions to thank the gods for their successful catch and safe return.
Sign 8 – The Kapihaʻā Preservation Area and Interpretive Trail (Coastal Section)
Sections of the Fisherman’s Trail along this coast follow a traditional ala hele (trail) traveled by ancient Hawaiian residents of Lānaʻi for generations.
The ala hele linked coastal communities together, and provided residents with access to various resources. The ala hele that turns mauka (upland) at this point enters the ancient village site known as Kapihaʻā. (Information on the Kapihaʻā interpretive trail is from Lānaʻi Culture & Heritage Center, prepared by Kepā Maly, Kumu Pono Associates LLC.)