For my family and friends ™ (haolegirl) wrote,
For my family and friends ™

Restoring heiau

Another cool story about people actually giving a damn about some people's culture heehee:

Restoring heiau lets many tap its power

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

KAILUA — The ancient Hawaiians built Ulupo Heiau one rock at a time — pouring their sweat and mana into the effort. Today, hundreds of volunteers are doing the same thing as they restore the ancient cultural site.

Molly Hahn, 15, is a visitor from New Jersey who spent time Wednesday at the Ulupo Heiau in Kailua. As the site is restored, more people are gathering to work there and to experience its power.
Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Caretakers of Ulupo are sponsoring a ho'ike today to share their accomplishments with the public. The event will offer entertainment, demonstrations, tours and stories.

Thousands of tons of rocks form Ulupo Heiau, which is said to be the biggest on O'ahu and one of the oldest in the Islands. But heiau fell into disrepair after the undermining of the Hawaiian religious system, the overthrow of the monarchy and a provisional government that banned spoken Hawaiian. Artifact raiders looted the ancient temples for profit.

Ulupo, on the edge of Kawai Nui Marsh, is one of many heiau that have been restored by people who want to preserve Hawaiian culture. Today, the efforts at Ulupo focus on restoration of the plants that early Hawaiians brought with them when they sailed across the Pacific to settle here, said Chuck "Doc" Burrows, one of the coordinators for restoring the heiau and other sites in the marsh.

The use of the heiau has changed over its history, said Muriel Seto, who has done extensive research about the area, fought with others to preserve it for decades and was instrumental in gaining international recognition this year for the Kawai Nui Marsh.

Seto believes the oldest Hawaiian settlement on O'ahu was at the marsh, and that the heiau was built around 900 A.D. as a mapele heiau where commoners worshipped. Surrounding the heiau were acres of taro patches from Kailua to Maunawili Valley and at the temple's feet was the 450-acre Kawai Nui fishpond.

Others claim it was a luakini, a place of war gods and human sacrifices. Seto disputes that, saying the heiau lacked features common to luakini heiau.

Warrior chiefs such as Kamehameha and Kahekili may have worshipped there, Seto said, but "This was a heiau for the people and was used by the chiefly retainers to assure the increase of the people. And how do you do that? By increasing the amount of food available to them. By the time the haole got here, the taro loi reached all the way to the back of Maunawili Valley."

Burrows said as many as 17,000 people lived on the food grown in the ahupua'a of Kailua, including people from Kane'ohe.

As the restoration progresses, Burrows said, the heiau has once again become a sacred place for people to gather and express their beliefs.

"We feel Ulupo is becoming a healing and a spiritual place to come to," Burrows said, adding that students, inmates from the Women's Correctional Center and seniors come to replant the area in taro and other native plants. "It's more than just working. They come for their own spiritual uplifting."

This week, dozens of people were at the heiau, clearing land, caring for the taro patches, building paths and planting more taro. A taro grower and students from Putney Student Travel were clearing land under the supervision of Burrows.

Bill Fien, who was weeding the taro, said he was drawn to the site in 1991 after spending four days on a "vision quest" above the Pali Lookout with only water to sustain himself. Hungry and inspired after his quest, Fien said, he went to the heiau knowing there were wild bananas there. He has been tending to the plants there ever since.

"I believe this is like my religion and my politics," said Fien, 44. He said he also sees a strong relationship between taro growing and the 12-step program he helps people with at the Hawai'i State Hospital, where he works. "Part of the 12-step program is connecting with a high power. One of the most basic higher powers is nature."

As a sociology major in college, he said, he learned that in order to take back the land, you have to take back the means of production. He and about a dozen of others cultivating the land at Ulupo are developing a connection to the land, Fien said.

"I believe that in itself is fairly political," he said, adding that growing taro is a way to take the land back. "Here is the solution. A full belly complains less."

Bear Peterson, 23, with the Putney group, said the students spend their vacations doing service projects while spending time with local residents who they wouldn't meet in Waikiki.

At the base of the heiau that towers 40 feet above, the students can't help but admire the impressive structure, Peterson said.

"Looking up at it, it's a form of inspiration," he said.

Today people use the heiau for ho'oponopono, to settle differences, for meditation and even as an inspiration for songs, Burrows said.

With the help of volunteers, Burrows said, he hopes to open more taro patches, add native plants and expand the use of the grounds, making it a better educational complex for hands-on learning for all people, students, adults and tourists.

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