Aunty Pua as she was affectionately known, was born in 1914 in Honaunau on the Big Island. Her great-grandmother was a chanter at the famous City of Refuge where ancient Hawaiians took refuge after breaking a kapu (taboo). According to her son, Ed Lindsey, this is where she got her spiritual strength.
Aunty Pau was always with her husband, Uncle Ned, a Lahaina boy, who she met at the Maui County Fair. They had five children who they raised on Maui. Their children were instilled with the values of their parents: malame (to take care of) and kokua (to help).
Once their children had grown, Aunty Pau and Uncle Ned assumed the role of Hawaiian elders, or Kupuna. Aunty Pau was a contributing member of the Lahaina community, giving counsel on issues, until her death in December of 2003, at age 89.
Aunty Pua was a kupuna who held herself with dignity while standing up for what she believed in.Her words and actions reflected her strong belief in the rights of Native Hawaiians to a sovereign Hawaii. She was a leader in Na Kupuna O Maui, a group that encouraged Hawaaiian elders to get involved in issues effecting Native Hawaiians.
We fondly remember having lunch with Aunty Pua and Uncle Ned, both in their 80s, and hearing their tales about recently occupying a house on land that should have been returned to Native Hawaiian control.
Aunty Pua and Uncle Ned assumed the role of advisors and worked closely with Akoni Akana, who was the Native Hawaiian advisor to Sacred Sites International and to others who re-discovered the ancient sacred island of Moku’ula in Lahaina. Aunty Pua was one of the first Friends of Moku’ula who urged the restoration of the ancient grounds of Hawaiian royalty, when naysayers said it couldn’t be done.
These elders are also the guardians of sacred cultural knowledge, ceremonies and stories.
The Friends of Moku’ula were successful in getting the Native Hawaiian sacred land returned to native hands.
Upon the founding of Sacred Sites International in 1990, we met Keali’i Reichel – the well-known Hawaiian singer – when he was a curator at the Maui Historical Society’s Bailey House Museum, located on the island of Maui. He suggested we meet Akoni Akana when he learned of our interest in preserving sacred sites. Akoni was working as the Cultural Resource Director at Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach Hotel which was named as “Hawai’i’s Most Hawaiian Hotel.” This unique hotel required its employees to find a cultural project, research it and make it their own.
We arranged a meeting with Akoni and he immediately invited us into his circle of hoaloha (friends) and shared his “gut-level feeling” that there was something more to the baseball field at Lahaina Park, located in the town of Lahaina. He began researching archives for original Hawaiian language newspapers and talking with kapuna. Over time, the history of the place revealed itself. The park had originally been called Moku’ula and had been the site for the Pi’ilani court, the 16th Century ruler of Maui. In the 1830s it was the residence of King Kamehameha III. Akoni learned that the site still contained a buried mausoleum housing royal bones. Oral histories recounted that the sacred site was guarded by Kihawahine, the mo’o kia’i or lizard guardian who lived in Mokuhinia pond.
Sacred Moku’ula was the powerful piko or center from which the Hawaiian Kingdom maintained its legitimacy, its cultural and its spiritual traditions. Over time, the royal mausoleum contained the iwi or bones of many royal Hawaiians which added to its mana, or power.
Akoni eventually went on to be the Founding Director of the Friends of Moku’ula whose mission was the restoration of the site including the original wetlands where Mokuhinia pond was located. (These wetlands were later diverted for use by the sugar cane industry and the site was buried under landfill.) They hired an archaeologist who surveyed the site and uncovered planks belonging to a wooden dock where Hawaiian royalty would have launched their canoes. Remains of the royal mausoleum were also located beneath the baseball field.
Akoni and his organization had to fight for repatriation of the Native Hawaiian land that had become Lahaina Park. To garner support, Akoni went on a national speaking tour that included the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society.
Ultimately, Akoni went before the County of Maui’s Planning Parks and Land Use Commission where a letter from Sacred Sites International was read before the Commission. The letter testified to Moku’ula’s unique historic and sacred qualities and urged the legislative body to return the land so that it could be protected. In 2002, the Friends of Moku’ula were granted a lease to some of the land and revenues to an adjacent parking lot.
Plans were drawn up and fundraising began for a complete restoration of the site – its mausoleum, boat dock, former dwellings and surrounding wetlands that encompassed Mokuhinia pond. But, by 2011, Akoni, who had diabetes, was in failing health and by March he was gone. He had passed the torch to his assistant, Shirley Kaha’i who became the Project Director. We traveled to Maui to meet with Shirley who agreed to be our new Native Hawaiian Advisor. Shortly thereafter, the unthinkable happened, we lost her to a heart attack.
Blossom Feitiera, Director, is exploring the future of Moku’ula with the Native Hawaiian community. Regardless of what Moku’ula ends up looking like, the vision, wisdom and tenacity of Akoni Akana lives on.
By Nancy & Leonard Becker