Keawakapu is the traditional name of the bay fronting Ka‘eo, and is the ‘ili where the historical church (now known as Keawala‘i), is situated. In the present day, the place names, Ka‘eo and Keawakapu are not widely used.
The name Keawakapu is almost unknown in this area. This is because the name “Keawala‘i” for the Hawaiian Church has been generally in use since sometime in the early-1900s. Keawakapu was the traditional name of the ‘ili on which the Church is situated. (Maly)
The traditional name of a neighboring bay, Makena actually in the ahupua‘a of Papa‘anui, is the locality name most familiar. The association of the larger area with the name Makena – formerly only a small locality name in a larger ahupua‘a of the Honua‘ula District – dates back to the late-1840s, when the bay of Makena was made the primary landing and coastal economic center of the region.
From 1800 to the 1840s (in the period prior to the Mähele ‘Äina), the land of Ka‘eo was managed for members of the Kamehameha household and supporting high chiefs by konohiki—lesser chiefs appointed by Kamehameha III and Ulumäheihei Hoapili. (Maly)
Up to the early 1840s, land use, access, and subsistence activities in Ka‘eo remained as it had from ancient times. But by the middle 1840s, land use in Ka‘eo and in neighboring lands, transitioned from traditional subsistence agriculture to business interests, focused on ranching and plantations (the latter occurring in the cooler uplands).
Honua‘ula District was one frequented by droughts and famines. Native residents supported themselves by cultivating in the uplands, and fishing, with some lowlands agriculture when rains fell. They also traded woven goods and other items for kalo from Na Wai ‘Ehä (Waikapü, Wailuku, Wai‘ehu and Waihe‘e.) (Maly)
Also, in the 1830s, just prior to the development of fee-simple property rights in the Hawaiian Kingdom, the land of Ka‘eo was selected as the center for educational and church work in the Honua‘ula District.
The first place of worship and instruction was established at Keawakapu, Ka‘eo, in 1825, as a thatched pili grass structure.
On August 1st and 8th, 1834, Ka Lama Hawai‘i published two letters from John S. Green (Garina), reporting on a visit to the various church stations of East Maui, including Honua‘ula. Green wrote to Lorin Andrews reporting that there were few children at the Honua‘ula Church (Keawakapu), but that he preached to a gathering of nearly 2,000 people, observing the people of the district were very poor. (Maly)
In 1856, the Sunday school raised $70 which was sent to the United States to buy a bell for the church. (The bell arrived in January 1860 and was lifted to the belfry in February 1862.)
The Stone Meeting House at Keawakapu (also called Honua‘ula or Makena Church) was completed in 1858.
The land where the church now stands was purchased in 1864. The minister asked that the property, church and deed be turned over to the mission in Boston, but the members voted to retain the property as their own and elected trustees who had charge of the worship services in the absence of ministers.
Life in Mākena was not easy a hundred years ago and it did not get easier as time went on. First, because the weather pattern for the area changed, the once fertile lands became parched and the small farmers who lived in Mākena were forced to pick up and begin their lives again elsewhere on Maui. Then came the Great Depression, then Second World War.
In 1944, the church known as the Stone House, Honuaʻula, Keawekapu, Makena and Kaʻeo was renamed Keawalaʻi – the name it retains today.
The plight of the church went virtually unnoticed until Kahu Abraham Akaka spearheaded a rededication of the church on May 25, 1952. The church structure was repaired and a new, revitalized spirit came over the small congregation. Membership rose.
When the belfry collapsed in January 1968, the church members decided to build a new one and to do repairs on the interior, including replacement of the windows and doors.
In 1975 the church building was in need of restoration and funds were raised by members and friends and the work undertaken; the old roof was removed and all damaged rafters and trusses were replaced. On May 16, 1976 a worship service was held with the rededication and a lū‘au.
The church has made a commitment to maintain Hawaiian tradition and culture, to incorporate the use of Hawaiian language, music and dance as well as to honor the various traditions and cultures represented in its membership within its ministry of worship and service. Lots of information here is from Kepa Maly and the Keawalaʻi Church website.
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