Kauai family maintains cultural village
Benjamin Ohai had a dream. In the 1960s, when he discovered the pristine four-acre parcel in Wailua River Valley that had been home to Hawaiians centuries ago, he envisioned recreating an authentic village there.
If you go ...
What: Kamokila Hawaiian Village
Location: Wailua River Valley on Kauai's east shore. Take Kaumualii Highway 56 north of Lihue to Route 580, Kuamoo Road. Two miles inland are the Opaekaa Falls and Wailua River Valley overlooks. A sign across the falls' parking lot marks the paved road leading to the village.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
Call: (808) 823-0559
Admission: $5 per person, $3 for ages 5 through 12, free for kids under 5. The cost of canoe rides, including village admission, is $30 per person, $20 for children. The canoe ride is not recommended for kids under 5.
Web site: www.kamokila.com
The verdant area was reportedly a favorite escape of King Kaumualii, Kauai's last reigning monarch. Similarly, Ohai thought, it could be a modern retreat for anyone interested in learning about Hawaiian history and culture.
He hoped to plant taro; build thatched hale (huts); and showcase the petroglyphs, house foundations and other archaeological finds he had discovered on the site.
It would be a place where artisans would gather and demonstrate traditional crafts such as weaving, woodcarving and lei making. Visitors also could enjoy Hawaiian music and hula there.
When Ohai described his plans to others, most of them thought he was crazy. All they saw was dense jungle. Completing the construction, they said, would require too much time and money.
Still, Ohai persisted. He obtained a long-term lease for the land from the state, but died before he could start the restoration. His son-in-law Billy Fernandes and Billy's son Kimo picked up the torch and rounded up friends and family. Using strawberry guava wood, rocks, river pebbles, cane leaves and sisal rope, they brought Ohai's dream to life. With the exception of the sisal and cane leaves, all the materials came from the surrounding area.
COURTESY OF KAMOKILA HAWAIIAN VILLAGE
The Fernandes family preserved a 4-acre parcel in Wailua River Valley as Kamokila Hawaiian Village, a place where Hawaii's ancient history and culture are kept alive. Keiki are shown feeding boars on the property.
KAMOKILA HAWAIIAN Village opened in 1979, the year Benjamin Braga Fernandes, Kimo's son, was born. For him, the village was a second home.
"I grew up with it," he recalls. "I remember going there with my brothers and cousins to dance the hula as my grandma played the ukulele. As we got older, we became cashiers and tour guides."
Fernandes now runs Kamokila with the help of his three younger brothers, William Kihei, Nainoa and Kepa. He is proud of the fact that three generations of his family have maintained the village, which he views as a valuable, if little-known, cultural resource.
Because of budget constraints, Fernandes is not able to advertise the village, but when visitors stumble upon it -- usually when they notice it from the lookout at nearby Opaekaa Falls -- Fernandes says, "They're blown away! They had no idea something like this was here!"
encompasses 14 thatched hale, each representing a different aspect of ancient Hawaiian life. There's a canoe house, where warriors made and stored their vessels; the chief's assembly house, a meeting place for the alii (royalty) and kahuna (priests); and the doctor's house, where kahuna lapaau (healing experts) prepared medicines from flora that grew nearby.
Artifacts and storyboards in each hale explain its purpose; for example, the birthing house was constructed around birthing stones found on the grounds; the hula house displays pahu (drums) and other musical instruments; and the eating house exhibits implements such as lauhala baskets, coconut bowls and ipu gourds once used to store water.
Other attractions include an imu (underground oven); heiau (place of worship); and four thatched structures with rounded roofs that were built as an African set for the 1995 movie "Outbreak," starring Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo.
Demonstrations of woodcarving and coconut frond weaving are offered most days, and you can try your hand at spear throwing, tug-of-war and ulu maika (bowling) in the village's courtyard.
COURTESY OF KAMOKILA HAWAIIAN VILLAGE
Visitors take time for a three-hour outrigger canoe tour to Uluwehi Falls.
EVEN WITH THE informational exhibits, Fernandes says nature is one of Kamokila's biggest draws. Flourishing in its lush gardens are aloe; kava; banana; breadfruit; kukui; coconut; taro; guava; hibiscus; mango; plumeria; olena (turmeric, which yielded a beautiful yellow tapa dye); hala (pandanus, with its leaves used for weaving); wauke (paper mulberry, from which bark tapa was made); noni (Indian mulberry, an important medicinal plant); and more.
"Our visitors can help themselves to whatever fruits and flowers they want," Fernandes said. "We'll show them how to crack open a coconut and explain how breadfruit is cooked."
If time permits, take the three-hour outrigger canoe tour to 120-foot Uluwehi Falls, where the alii were said to have bathed in ancient times. It's a 15-minute cruise on the Wailua River between Kamokila and the trailhead where drop-offs and pick-ups are made.
"Most people can walk the mile and a quarter to the waterfall in about half an hour," says Fernandes. "They have about an hour to relax there; we recommend that they bring a lunch, swimsuits and water shoes. At the designated time, we pick them up from the trailhead and paddle back to the village."
Upon request, canoe tours can venture to other scenic spots along the Wailua River, including Fern Grotto, where the Hawaiians honored Lono, god of the harvest, during the Makahiki season.
The Makahiki began in mid-October and lasted four months. It was a time of peace and thanksgiving; a moratorium was declared on work and warfare and the people engaged instead in competitive games. During this period, the land also was given a chance to rest and replenish itself.
Romanticized in numerous stories and songs, Fern Grotto features an 80-foot opening to a shallow cave over which a waterfall once cascaded down to the Wailua River. Today, an emerald veil of sword ferns measuring up to 5-feet long hangs over the cave's entrance.
COURTESY OF KAMOKILA HAWAIIAN VILLAGE
Throughout Kamokila's grounds are flowering plants and fruit trees including banana, guava, mango and breadfruit.
THE KAMOKILA experience is casual and laid-back; you can do as much or as little as you wish during your visit there.
"It's tranquil place," says Fernandes. "You won't be in the midst of huge crowds and you can explore the village at your own pace. There are picnic tables where you can sit and enjoy your lunch. A lot of visitors say it's great that my family has chosen to preserve the Hawaiian culture and the natural beauty of the land."
That commitment hasn't come without challenges; Kamokila was destroyed by Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Both times, the Fernandes family rebuilt it.
"After Iwa, it took us three years to reopen the village," Fernandes recalls. "After Iniki, it took us five years to rebuild it."
Amazingly, Kamokila's admission price for teens and adults has never been raised, and the price for children has gone up just once.
"We want to keep the admission low so more visitors will be able to come, including local people," says Fernandes. "There are many people on Kauai who don't even know we're here."
He feels his roots are strengthened every time he goes to Kamokila, and that's a connection he hopes other people will make whether or not they are of Hawaiian descent.
"This is old Hawaii," Fernandes says. "When you come, I'll tell you it's my family's playground, our beautiful retreat, and we want to share it with you. Walk through the hale. Pick flowers and eat fruit from the trees. Go on a canoe ride and swim by a waterfall. Whatever you choose to do, it'll be a day that you'll never forget."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.