From Tree to Kiʻi, The Transformation: Part 2 of 2

From Tree to Kiʻi, The Transformation: Part 2 of 2

The Next Generation

All of the carvings we see at Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau today are a modern recreation and restoration of what was once there. In 1823 the original kiʻi were removed by William Ellis, who then auctioned them off in Prussia to collectors. He fortunately made a lithograph first, which is now the park's best reference material. The site fell into disrepair in the 1800s, and restoration efforts started back up with the National Park Service in the 1960s. Chief among carvers for the restoration was Anton Akoni Grace, who came from a line of South Kona carvers nine generations long. Because Ellis’s journals describe the original carvings and scene in detail, the many-year restoration project felt accurate, and by 1971, Hale o Keawe and the heiau on which it stands were complete. Several carvers worked under Grace, including the venerable Sam Kaʻai from Maui. As has always been tradition, all of the trees were large ʻōhiʻa found and collected on nearby slopes.

Of the roughly two dozen carvings on the park grounds, the majority are the 16ft.-tall kiʻi ākua (carvings of gods) arranged in a semicircle near Hale o Keawe. These are ritually dressed during the opening of specific ceremonies and are considered the central meaningful images for the heiau. Each represents a key function. “When heiau are built or restored,” says Ranger Kahakaʻioikamālie, “part of the process is defining the function of the heiau: success in fishing, primacy in war, a sacred royal mausoleum, and so forth. The specific deities chosen support its function.”

For example: “The god Lonokīnaʻu is associated with the arts of healing and identifying defects so you can repair the defect,” he explains. “Lonomakahialele is about having a discerning eye and being careful and deliberate in your decision-making. For the puʻuhonua, or refuge, that this park once was, people seeking shelter there were running to it for a lot of reasons, and must be analyzed in order to see how the puʻuhonua will support their recovery.”

The park follows a loosely cyclical restoration plan as these elaborate standing carvings age, dry and crack. Roughly 25-30 years pass before the weathered and degraded kiʻi are replaced. After the initial reconstruction of the 1960s, the second generation of restoration efforts happened in the 1980s. The third generation of restoration spanned 2001-2004. There is now a carving hui (group) outside of but related to the park, and it includes Kahakaʻioikamālie, Sam Kaʻai (now in his 80s), and prominent Maori carver Lyonel Grant. They are preparing for the next, fourth generation restoration. As is the cultural tradition, the stately, dense, native ʻōhiʻa would be the tree of choice, but the new ecological threat of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, a deadly introduced fungus impacting native Hawaiian forests, may require a different tree.

Take a virtual tour of the park here:

Shop the park here:

More on the ʻōhiʻa tree is here:



Hawaii Pacific Parks Association Location Map
Hawaiʻi Pacific Parks Association. P.O. Box 74 Hawaii National Park, 96718 HI