Location: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
Official Listing: National Register of Historic Places, 1997; Hawaii State Register of Historic Places, 1994
Who Considers it Sacred? Native Hawaiians
Significance: The site is sacred to Native Hawaiians as a burial site, ceremonial site, and religious site. The site is considered a piko or omphalos of the Hawaiian Kingdom. Moku’ula was the powerful center from which the Hawaiian Kingdom maintained its legitimacy, its cultural and its spiritual traditions. King Kamehameha III built his royal resident and a mausoleum on Moku’ula for his sister Princess Nahienaena. Over time, the iwi or bones of many royal Hawaiians were interred on the sacred site, adding to its mana. The site was selected for its proximity to the life-giving waters of Mokuhinia Ponds and its surrounding 17-acre wetlands filled with taro fields and fishponds. It was also chosen for its association with the sacred lizard goddess, Kihawahine, who resided in the waters.
In the 14th century, Maui’s Pi’ilani lines of chiefs were recognized for their inherited mana or power and they carried the kapu, a system of prohibitive and sacred laws. The chiefess, Kala’aiheana, was born at Moku’ula to the High Chief Pi’ilani. The familial lines of Pi’ilani had for centuries been tied to the powerful Mo’o Akua, large lizard-like gods. As a result, at the death of Kala’aiheana, the sacred rite of deification was performed and she became a Mo’o Akua, known as the sacred goddess Kihawahine. She became the guardian for the sacred Moku’ula Island and Mokuhinia ponds, where she lived. She was revered by many, but most notably by King Kamehameha I and his successors.
The Threat: Neglect and weathering
Pre-Restoration Condition: The seat of the Hawaiian government had moved to Honolulu in 1845, so Kamehameha III spent less time at Moku’ula. When he died, the island and its structures fell into disrepair and by the 1880s, the royal remains were moved to the Christian cemetery at Wainee Church. At that time, the rise of sugar plantations began to divert the water from the Mokuhinia wetlands, rendering the site a stagnant swamp. In 1914, the site was packed full of coral, sand and dirt and Mokuhinia Ponds and Moku’ula disappeared from sight. Atop the sacred grounds sat Malu-ulu-o-lele Park and a sports playing field, a parking lot and buildings.
The Restoration Project: In 1986, the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel started its outstanding Po’okela program to teach employees about Hawaiian culture and history so they could share this information with their guests. Akoni Akana, then an employee of the hotel and now Executive Director of Friends of Moku’ula, took a special interest in Moku’ula and Mokuhinia Ponds. He and his colleagues were instrumental in urging the Bishop Museum to survey the site in 1992 where they found remains of the Royal Mausoleum, retaining walls, stone foundations, a wooden dock, tools, broken china and other artifacts dating to the period of Kamehameha III. Three years later, the non-profit Friends of Moku’ula was formed to undertake the restoration of this sacred site. They have been successful in not only having recreational activities halted at Malu-ulu-o-lele Park, but in having the land deeded to them. They have done several archeological surveys of the site, demolished all structures that were on the site, graded the land and reconsecrated it. They have also succeeded in having the site listed on the Register of Historic Places at both the State and National levels. It is expected that the restoration will continue for another 10 to 15 years and cost more than $24 million.
Nominated By: Sacred Sites International Foundation
How You Can Help: Please visit The Friends of Moku’ula website (www.mokuula.com) and become a member, helping to support their outstanding work.
For More Information: Site Saver Newsletter Volume IX, Number 2, Winter 1999; Site Saver Newsletter Volume X, Number 3, Spring/Summer 2000; Site Saver Newsletter Volume XI, Number 2, Winter 2001; Sacred Sites Newsletter Volume XII, Number 3, Spring/Summer 2002; Sacred Sites Newsletter Volume XV, Number 2, Winter 2005; Sacred Sites Newsletter Volume XX, Numbers 1 & 2, Fall 2008/Winter 2009
Tours: Take The Friends of Moku’ula’s cultural tour of Moku’ula and other Native Hawaiian sites in Lahaina: firstname.lastname@example.org; phone: 808-661-3659