By Akoni Akana
Keka’a, now on the property of the Sheraton Maui, has recently constructed hotel buildings on top of the sacred rock.
In the legends and folklore of Hawaii, stories concerning Keka’a are abundant. Keka’a is also known as Black Rock and is located in Ka’anapali, fronting the Sheraton Maui. Keka’a is said to have been the first place on Maui where Pele began her fires to build the island. She was once challenged by her sister Namakaokaha’i, goddess of the sea, who quickly extinguished her fire. Thus, Keka’a is only a small hill extending into the sea. Most of its original crater is in the ocean and forms the little bay popular with snorkelers today.
Hawaiians regard this place as one of the most sacred places on Maui. It is a known place where the souls of the departed enter into the spiritual world. Leina are located on the western side of every Hawaiian island, facing the setting sun. Hawaiians believe the setting sun represents the end of one’s life cycle here on earth.
Stories concerning death at Keka’a abound. Abraham Fornander in his book, Hawaiian Antiquities and Folk-lore, wrote this regarding Keka’a: “On account of the great number of people at this place there are numerous skeletons, as if thousands of people died there; it is there that Lahainaluna students go to get skeletons for them when they are studying anatomy. The bones are plentiful there; they completely cover the sand.” He goes on to say, “From the time I commenced living down at Lahaina A.D. 1859-1872, it seemed there were nine persons who died there without any apparent cause.” Although many people went to Keka’a to die, so many would come to life again as their wandering spirits would re-enter their bodies, driven back by the spirits of friends or relatives.
“Lapu o Keka’a e!” – Keka’a is a ghostly place – was the phrase used by the people of Ka’anapali to describe Keka’a. It seems that while traveling at night through Keka’a, stones rolled down from the top of the hill without any cause. The people, startled by this phenomena, exclaimed, “Keka’a is a ghostly place!”
During the plantation days, Keka’a was a thriving plantation camp. Those who lived there also buried their dead there. In fact, a cemetery for plantation workers, mostly of Japanese ancestry, was located there. Even as recent as the construction of the Sheraton Maui in the early 60’s, those involved in grading reported seeing hundreds of bones scattered throughout Keka’a. Today, most of the bones have been removed or re-interred but the spirits of our ancestors still walk the land. “Lapu o Keka’a e.”
Akoni Akana is the Native Hawaiian advisor of Sacred Sites International. He is Executive Director of the Friends of Moku’ula, a non-profit organization restoring the Native Hawaiian sacred site of Moku’ula located in Lahaina, Maui.
Reprinted from Site Saver Newsletter, Winter 1997
© Akoni Akana