Tour reveals story of Waimea's walls


POSTED: Saturday, July 04, 2009

When Lopaka Kapanui stands in Waimea Valley, he feels the breath of the ancients in the wind. By sharing their stories, he hopes to help others make that connection with Hawaii's past, too.

Beginning Saturday, Kapanui, a noted Hawaiian historian and storyteller, will be leading a new monthly evening tour called “;Whispering Walls of Waimea.”; He spent several months researching the verdant 1,875-acre valley, which is one of Oahu's last nearly intact ahupuaa (land divisions extending from the mountains to the sea) and repositories for Hawaiian history and traditions.

“;As I learned more about Waimea Valley, it struck me that its story needs to be told,”; Kapanui said. “;It's a living example of a self-sustaining ahupuaa. Everything you need to survive is contained within it.”;

The two-hour walk will focus on the spiritual aspects of Waimea, including legends, the healing powers of its abundant plant life and the meaning of certain pohaku (stones).

In 1090 Kamapuaa the pig god, the first ruler of Oahu, awarded stewardship of Waimea to the kahuna nui (high priests). It became a religious center and a training ground for those who had been chosen to become kahuna.

Hawaiians (many of whom were descendants of the priests) lived in the valley until 1898, when torrential floods destroyed their villages and crops. They salvaged what they could and moved to other areas of the island.

Seventy-eight archaeological sites have been documented in Waimea, including religious shrines, agricultural terraces, fishponds and hale (houses). Also of note are dozens of native plant species, which provided food, medicine, clothing, tools, utensils and shelter for ka poe kahiko (the people of old).

Waimea Valley opened as a visitor attraction in 1974. Over the ensuing years, paintball, camping, ATV tours and other activities disrupted the tranquil setting; operated as a theme park, it was not given the respect it deserved as a cultural, historical and botanical treasure.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs acquired Waimea in 2006. A year later it established Hiipaka, a nonprofit limited-liability company, to hold the deed to the property, manage it and protect it from commercial development. Hiipaka's mission is to “;preserve and perpetuate the human, cultural and natural resources of Waimea for generations through education and stewardship.”;

“;'Whispering Walls of Waimea' supports Hiipaka's mission,”; Kapanui said. “;Yes, the valley is beautiful, but people also should know that it is a sacred place with great historical significance.”;

To prepare his narrative, Kapanui consulted with John Charlot, professor of Hawaiian and Polynesian religion at the University of Hawaii at Manoa; read every book about Waimea he could find, including historian Rudy Mitchell's comprehensive study of its archaeological sites; and spent many days walking through the valley, examining firsthand its many wonders.

Stops include the Kau Hale, a living site containing stones that may have been used as altars to worship family gods; Hale o Lono, a reconstructed heiau (temple) dedicated to Lono (god of agriculture) that dates back at least 300 years; and Hale Iwi (House of Bones), a 40-by-30-foot platform of stacked boulders rising 7 feet high which is believed to be the burial place of a high-ranking priest or chief.

Great ideas often spring from casual conversations. So it was with this tour, according to Gail Ann Chew, interim executive director of Waimea Valley. “;When I was asked last year to assist Hiipaka, many people began to share their special stories and experiences about Waimea with me,”; she said. “;It was easy to envision a master storyteller doing the same thing with visitors in the valley.”;

Assuming that role is an honor and a privilege, said Kapanui. “;I'm one more voice that is speaking on behalf of the valley,”; he said. “;I'm part of a chorus, long silent, that is now being heard.”;

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.






        » Place: Waimea Valley, 59-864 Kamehameha Highway, Oahu (across from Waimea Bay). Meet at the Visitor Center.

» Date: Saturday (also Aug. 29, Sept. 26, Oct. 24 and Nov. 14)


» Time: 6:30 p.m.


» Cost: $50 per person, $35 for children age 12 through 16 (minimum age is 12). Reservations are required; payment is due 48 hours in advance.


» Phone: 638-7766


» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


» Web site: www.waimeavalley.net


» Notes: Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes. Flashlights are provided. Come at 5:30 p.m. and enjoy dinner before the tour. Options include pork laulau, coconut shrimp, shoyu chicken, Okinawan sweet potato pie and Waialua coffee brownie. All items must be pre-ordered.


Lopaka Kapanui also offers “;Ghosts of Old Honolulu”; and “;Waikiki Yesterday”; tours through his company, Mysteries of Honolulu. See www.mysteriesofhonolulu.com.








        » Ka Papa Oihana (Traditional Knowledge Project). Complimentary workshops on topics such as house construction, fishing tools and war weapons take place Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. See http://www.huinaauao.com.

» Cultural activities and walking tours. Hawaiian games and crafts; hula and language lessons; lei-making demonstrations; storytelling; and 30- to 45-minute walking tours on native plants, wildlife and Waimea's history are offered at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m. daily. They're included in the price of admission.


» What's Blooming/What's Bearing Fruit. Botanical Collections Specialist David Orr is the guide for an hourlong walk on the first and third Sundays of each month. It begins at 2 p.m. and also is included in the admission price.


» Hikes. Participants on Saturday hikes traverse switchback trails through lush forests, identify native and introduced birds and plants, and enjoy breathtaking ridge-top views. The cost is $5 for the easier family hikes and $10 for the strenuous hikes plus admission.


» Backyard Poi Supper. The inaugural poi supper featuring traditional Hawaiian food, music and hula will be Aug. 15. Plans call for it to be offered quarterly, but it could be held more frequently if response is enthusiastic.


» Coming up: Pulama o Waimea. Celebrating the Rededication of Waimea Valley (Aug. 15), Arbor Day Tree Giveaway and Plant Sale (Nov. 7) and Makahiki (Nov. 22).


Waimea Valley is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children age 4 through 12 and seniors age 60 and older ($6 and $3, respectively, for kamaaina).