The Valley Where Secrets Sleep


"E, Makua awake, It is day"

Hawaiian Chant


The cool breeze blew calmly through the open doors of the old church. We sat on the porch, the four of us, and the air was filled with comfortable banter and friendly laughter. The atmosphere belied the seriousness of our meeting, and very little time was wasted getting to the point. The three kupu ka 'aina were determining what, if anything they could share with me, the stranger. Clarence Delude, one of the three and descendant of Hewahewa Nui, the kahuna who presided over the realm during the time of Kamehameha I, had explained to me who they were. Kupu ka'aina were those that were chosen, by their ancestors, to be keepers of the Hawaiian traditions. These men held the secrets of the Waianae coast. With this knowledge came tremendous responsibility: how much and to whom they could share this information with so that it benefited their people, and their land. I had been invited to meet with them, not with the promise that they would tell me anything, but so that they could see what they felt from me. Clarence had told me to just be myself. Their soothing voices and the tremendous amount of warmth I felt from them made it very easy. Then, twenty minutes into what would be a three hour meeting, without changing the tone of the conversation, Alika, one of the Kupu ka 'aina, asked me "Why are you here?"

The answers to this simple questions was not easy. There were so many things that had brought me to that place, at this time, to meet these three kahuna. However, I was specifically there to find out about Makua. Makua, which means parent (Pukui 230), is one of the valleys that lies along the Waianae coast. A few months prior to this meeting I had gone hiking on one of the mountain ridges which overlooks Makua. The landscape, so different from my home on the windward side of the island, was dry, and the vegetation mostly low to the ground. But there was something in that sweeping grassland that held such mana that I lost my breath. I stared from the ridge, past the long sandy beach, out toward the horizon. The untamed ocean stretched until it touched the sky and was colored in more varieties of blue than I had names for. I was overcome with an incredible desire to submerge myself in that calm, cool water, as if it could cleanse my soul. I felt the wind on the mountain blow through me. Oblivious to all the modernization in the world around me, the world of the 21st century, I was only aware of the land, the sea and the sky. My revelrie was cut short when I heard a far off rumbling. Soon the earth beneath my feet shook ever so slightly. Not so different from the kind of tremor caused by a bulldozer. I was to learn from my companions that it was no bulldozer that I felt, but the detonation of bombs.

The military took their first parcels of land in Makua for training practice in 1929 (Kelly, "Makua's Storied History"). Over the next two decades "the military increased the intensity of their occupation and use of Makua and Kahanahaiki valleys as training areas (Kelly, "Cultural History" 116). During this time the local residents were forced to leave the valley. Although the landowners received token payment for their parcels of land, I was to learn from the kupu ka'aina that the Hawaiians were not asked to leave, they were evicted. They recalled stories of people being loaded on to trucks and relocated. They were never given the choice of being able to stay. One of the people evicted was the minister of the Makua Protestant Church. After the people had been removed, the army painted a white cross on the roof of the church, and other buildings, and bombed them. Kelly writes "The destruction of Makua Protestant Church and its community hall, as well as the defacement or destruction of many of the tombstones in its cemetery, has all but sealed off one of the last viable connections residents and their descendants have with the past" ("Cultural History" 116).

Military operations in Makua valley have had a serious adverse effect on the land. The bombing and ammunition training has "littered it (the land) with dangerous unexploded debris, and has left the land, for all practical purposes, a desert, robbed of its productivity" (Kelly "Cultural History" 117). Although the Waianae region of the island has probably always experienced one of the hotter climates on the island (due to the ecological formation and age of the volcanic cones), it was not always desert-like. The absence of agricultural cultivation by the Hawaiians, as well as the introduction of foreign species, have taken their toll on the region.

According to Sparky Rodrigues, Waianae Community Resource Assistant for the Olelo Channel, native species of plants, animals and insects make up only 1% of the ecology of the area--and there are no native birds left. The rooting activity of feral pigs, the behavior of digging the ground to either search for food or create cool resting spots (Tippy) causes erosion. In Makua the activities of the pigs has resulted in the depletion of ground cover and native flora (Kelly, "Cultural History" 54). Goats, too, have had their effect on the ecology of Makua. According to botanist, Obata, "Goats, being selective browsers, prefer native Hawaiian plants" (ibid.). The ecological evolution of the Makua valley mirrors that of the Hawaiian people. "It's ironic really," said Sparky Rodrigues when discussing how the native species of plants, animals and insects have been pushed to the point of extinction by the introduction foreign species.

In October of 1998 The Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, a non-profit organization, filed suit against the military, asking them to "publicly disclose the direct and indirect environmental, economic and social impacts of their actions" (Kubota). Earthjustice contended in the lawsuit that the military operations "have had significant adverse effects on the people, the land and

the resources at Makua" (ibid.). The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a community organization, Malama Makua. At that time, Roger Furrer, a member of Malama Makua said, "We are not out to chase the military to some other community, either here in Hawaii or on the mainland...This action is about taking care of the 'aina. It is about respect for the environment and our place in it" (ibid.).

More recently, protecting Makua has moved to another level. There are voices, which often remain obscure, that are claiming that the land is sacred; that the military should cease all actions and the land should be returned to the Hawaiians because it is wahi pana. Wahi pana is defined by Pukui as "a legendary place" (377). Wahi pana surpasses the meaning of sacred, which is translated by Pukui as meaning "kapu, taboo, special privilege or exemption from ordinary taboo; sacredness" (132). Wahi pana, according to Glenn Kila, kupu ka 'aina, is a place that has certain phenomenon which supports Hawaiian traditions and lore. Thurston Twigg-Smith, Chairman of the Honolulu Advertiser and descendant of missionaries, questioned the meaning of sacred in an editorial. He said that calling Hawaiian lands, such as Hale'akala, Kaho'olawe, and now Makua, sacred was merely a "convenient label(s)." Twigg-Smith continued by claiming that Makua was "an empty valley: no big trees, no stream, no waterfall, no taro, not much at all." Did the military really devastate the land, or was it always barren? Could the hot, dry climate of the Waianae coast ever yield a productive population? And, if cultivating the land was so difficult, how could it have possibly ever been sacred? Twigg-Smith's dry barren desert is described by Kamakau as:

Wai'anae of the gentle Kaiaulu wind, the sweet waters of 'Eku, the thick poi of Pahoa, the stringy poi of Lehano and Kuaiwa, the rich poi of Kamaile, and the aku fish tidbits of Wai' Wai'anae, land beloved of the sun (106).

The ancient mountains along the Waianae coast supported what may have been the one of the earliest settlements on the island of O'ahu. Makua was one of the ten ahapua'a of the Waianae region (Sterling 80). According to Malo, a chief named Hua nui i ka lailai ruled over the Waianae region in ancient times (247). Hua nui i ka lailai is believed to have lived 35 generations before Kamehameha I, or about the mid-11th century (Kelly, "Cultural History" 21). A recent archaeological find of an imu has been dated at about 1200 ad (Rodrigues). Historians usually estimate the first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii about 1500 - 2000 years ago. This would mean that Makua is one of the oldest villages in the islands.

The dry barren land we see now was once a productive ahapua'a. It has been estimated that Makua supported about 400 people. This estimate is extremely conservative, as it is derived using 300,000 as the total population of Hawai'i during pre-European times. Fishing was an important source of food for the Hawaiians of Makua, and the ocean provided an abundance of ulua, kahala, mahimahi and opelu (Kelly, "Cultural History" 31-33). A large fishing shrine, or ko'a, having "more the appearance of a small heiau or house site" (Sterling 83), was located almost in the exact center of the sandy beach (Kelly, "Cultural History" 31). McAllister wrote in 1930 that there were indications that offerings were still being made at this ko'a (Sterling 83).

Fishing was not the only resource of Makua Valley Under the loving care of the land (malama 'aina) by the ancient Hawaiians, the valley also supported vegetation. Kelly quotes a resident of Makua in her 1977 report as saying "As far as Makua (is concerned), it's the only (valley) where Hawaiians can plant taro, because there is plenty of water" (Kelly, "Cultural History" 54). Pukui and Thrum tell of another important product of the area: "'Maile laulii o Koiahi'--the small leaf maile of Koiahi was famous, having the finest leaf of any maile on O'ahu" (Sterling 84). There was water in the Makua valley, and it supported an abundance of life.

In this valley of Makua, there have been documented three heiau (Kelly, "Cultural History" 25). One, Ukanipo, is said to have been the principal heiau for the area. McAllister, an archaeologist of the 1930's, wrote of the site that, although this heiau was not very large, the four step terraces climbing ten feet in height surrounded by smaller terraces, must have been quite impressive (ibid.). McAllister found, on the ocean side of this heiau a swimming pool that was "only for the use of the ali'i" (Kelly, "Cultural History" 85). Another heiau, Kaahihi, is believed to have towered 25 (or more) feet, and was approximately 100 feet square (ibid.). Little is left of the other heiau in the area, but recent excavation indicates there were many more than just three (Rodrigues).

Probably the most significant recorded sacred site in Makua is Kaneana cave. Its name means Cave of God. The ancient lore about this cave is abundant and it is kapu ((Sterling 81). It is said to be the arrival and departure point for Pele on her visits to and from Kauai. It is also said to be the dwelling place of the son of Kamohoali'i, Nanaue. Kamohoali'i is the shark god, and brother to Pele. A resident of Makua is quoted as saying that the cave was a "'a chamber where Kahuna conducted...pagan rituals in the light of flaming torches'" (Kelly, "Cultural History" 22).

Makua, with its breathtaking landscape is where the power of the sea meets the majesty of the Waianae mountain range. Yes, it has been almost totally destroyed. Yes, the keys to the past are becoming harder and harder to find amidst the bombing by the military and foraging by wild animals. Yet, there is proof that this ahapua'a was once a productive village that supported a fairly large community. There are a number of sacred sites in the valley, several with tremendous cultural significance. There is little question that the fruits of this land are best harvested by the Hawaiians, who take care of the land so that it may take care of them. I felt confident that the land was once important and productive. But except for Kaneana cave, there was no indication to me that Makua Valley was a wahi pana.

"Why are you here?" The Kupu ka'aina's voice echoed.

Knowing that the best answer was the most direct, I replied "I know all land is sacred to Hawaiians, but what makes this valley a wahi pana?" We were twenty minutes into our meeting , and I was asked to give my word that I would write nothing of what I was told from that point on. What I learned that day--what I was given, far outweighed what I was told. While I cannot tell you what I was given in the next couple of hours, I can tell you that as sure as I will take my next breath, I know that Makua is a wahi pana. It was not merely in the stories I was told, and the facts that I was given, but in the aloha I felt from these three men. Their voices, their knowledge, their aloha of the 'aina convinced me that they were the keepers of great secrets, of which I had only gleamed the surface. To Thurston Twigg-Smith, who played on the beaches of Makua, and whose uncle is buried there (Twigg-Smith), I have pity for you. For I spent but three hours in the folds of that rich valley, and I felt the power. Yet, you, who spent endless days playing as a child, still do not see.



Works Cited

Delude, Clarence, Alika DeSilva and Glenn Kila. Kupu ka'aina. Group interview. 24 Apr. 1999.

Kamakau, Samuel M. Tales and Traditions of the People of Old/Na Mo'olelo a ka Po'e Kahiko.

Trans. by Mary Kawena Pukui. Honolulu: Bishop Museum, 1991.

Kelly, Marion. "Cultural History Report of Makua Military Reservation and Vicinity. Makua Valley, Oahu, Hawaii." Unpublished. Honolulu: Prep. for Dept. of Army and Dept. of
Anthropology Bishop Museum, 1997.

---. "Makua's Storied History." Star Bulletin 7 June 1996. 24 Apr. 1999 <>

Kubota, Gary T. "Environmental Group Sues for Makua Impact Statement." Star Bulletin 12 Oct 1998. 19 Apr 1999 < /98/10/12/news/story 5.html>.

Malo, David. Hawaiian Antiquities. Trans. by Nathaniel Emerson. Honolulu: Bishop

Museum, 1951.

Pukui, Mary Kawena and Samuel Elbert, Hawaiian Dictionary. Honolulu, U of Hawaii Press: 1986.

Rodrigues, Sparky. Waianae Community Resource Assistant, Olelo Station. Telephone

interview, 15 Apr.1999.

Sterling, Elspesth P., and Catherine C. Summers. Sites of Oahu. Honolulu: Bishop

Museum, 1978.

Tippy, Derek. Personal interview. 25 Apr. 1999.

Twigg-Smith, Thurston. "What Does 'Sacred' Mean?" Kauluwehi. 19 Apr. 1999 <>.