Tuesday, June 26, 2001

UH makes plans
around Kona heiau

By Leila Fujimori

Archaeologist Paul Cleghorn did not call for University of Hawaii officials to move a future campus in Kona that had an ancient Hawaiian agricultural heiau in the middle.

Instead, he suggested classroom buildings be built and the heiau be preserved to make this archeological site a unique campus. Students would be able to walk along an interpretive study trail leading to the site.

Cleghorn uncovered what he believes to be a small agricultural heiau, a game board for konane, or Hawaiian checkers, and small lava tube shelter sites when he surveyed 500 acres of state land in Kalaoa on the Big Island above the Kona Airport.

But just 33 acres of the 500-acre parcel amid lava fields have been designated as the future site of the West Hawaii campus of the University of Hawaii on the Big Island, temporarily housed at a shopping center in Kealakekua.

The state Legislature did not approve funding for construction of the school this legislative session, so start of construction has not been scheduled. The project is in the design phase.

The UH West Hawaii Center, targeted for 1,500-student enrollment, will include classrooms, laboratories, Hawaii Interactive Television Systems, a library and offices at Kalaoa.

The heiau "would be incorporated into the campus but not exploited," said West Hawaii Provost Sandra Sakaguchi.

She formed the Kalaoa Advisory Council, which has been advising the state on the appropriate preservation or interpretive development of the sites. "It's a sensitive issue because of other developments in Kona," she said.

The council is made up of community members such as Herman Kunewa, a native Hawaiian with family ties to the land.

He also favors having the heiau becoming part of an interpretive program so that both students and campus visitors can benefit from a tangible learning tool.

Kunewa and his wife, Iris, are lecturers and historians at West Hawaii, teaching courses on ancient Hawaiian practices and beliefs. The heiau would serve as an actual example of what he has been describing to his students in his classes, he said.

"It would have a tie-in to the younger generation and malihini newcomers and can be interpreted for their values and their understanding," Kunewa said.

"For the area" the agricultural heiau is important, Cleghorn said.

Branch coral, often used as a sanctifying agent to show the sacredness of an area, was found within its thick walls and indicates it is a religious structure, he said. The area was an ancient Hawaiian dry-land agricultural site, probably dominated by sweet potato cultivation.

The game board is an unusual find, Cleghorn said. He noted the shelters were minimally modified, but he found evidence of use such as charcoal, a bit of marine shell used to hold food, and rocks lined up for demarcation.


"It's been good that the college and the state have taken the lead to see the community involved with the cultural aspects of the area," Kunewa said. Cultural understanding is vital, he believes. He bemoans the lack of understanding by developers who have not shown respect for the community's sentiments on such archaeological finds.

Another council member, OHA trustee Hannah Springer, said she is pleased not just with the care shown archaeological sites, but consideration given native plant species and view planes in the planning of the campus.

"We can have modern contemporary uses without obliterating those things that are familiar to kamaaina and dear to us because they come to us from the time of our ancestors," Springer said.

Archaeologists uncovered human bones in ancient Hawaiian burial caves on the northern fringe of the property, but well beyond the perimeter of the campus site. The Department of Land and Natural Resources will handle their disposition. Also found was a cave containing petroglyphs just outside the university site.

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