Hawaii March 13, 2017
The Fascinating Place In Hawaii That Criminals Loved
Located in the small seaside town of Captain Cook, just miles away from the luxury resorts that populate Hawaii Island’s famous Kona Coast is an incredible national historical park full of fascinating stories, and plenty of intrigue. Often referred to as a “place of refuge,” this historic site preserves the location where, up until the early 19th century, Hawaiians who broke a law would flee to in order to avoid certain death.
Also known as Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, the site is home to archaeological sites and reconstructions of an ancient Hawaiian "place of refuge."
From the Polynesian settlement of Hawaii in 600 AD until Kamehameha’s Monarch in 1810, the Hawaiian Islands were governed by an extensive kapu system. Roughly translated to "forbidden," the kapu system was a series of laws which dictated how one was supposed to behave in everyday life: for example, common men couldn’t step foot on sacred ground, and no one was ever allowed to step in the shadow of a chief.
Ancient Hawaiians believed that if your crimes went unpunished, the gods would cause a volcano to erupt or send a tsunami your way, wiping out your entire village in the process. The punishment for breaking these mandates was harsh: death by human sacrifice. The only glimmer of hope for these ancient criminals was to set foot on the grounds of Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, and their crimes would be wiped clean.
Getting here, however, required a great deal of strength, endurance, and unshakeable faith. The journey to reach this sacred ground was arduous at best, and even if a criminal was able to make it, the holy grounds were adjacent to a royal complex, separated by a massive wall measuring in at 10 feet high and 17 feet thick and protected by royal guards. Oh, and the refugee also had to make it across the shark-infested bay in order to reach the temple.
At the temple, a kahuna (priest) would absolve the refugee’s sins in a purification ceremony. The refugees could then return home with their transgressions forgiven.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau wasn’t the only place of refuge in Hawaii, but is easily the most famous and best preserved site found today. The 182-acre historic site was designated as a National Historical Park in 1961, and is home to a complex of archaeological sites, including temple platforms, royal fishponds and residences, coastal village sites, and even sledding tracks.
The site once provided a home free from persecution for those who broke a law, defeated warriors, and civilians during times of battle, and now features a self-guided tour, allowing guests to experience traditional village life. More than 375,000 guests visit the complex annually to immerse themselves in this fascinating piece of Hawaiian history.
Today, shark sightings in Honaunau Bay are rare, though you might see green sea turtles or spinner dolphins hanging out in the crystalline waters. The bay is an excellent snorkeling site.
The Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park opens at 7 a.m. daily and closes 15 minutes after sunset. Free ranger-led tours are usually offered daily, and the tour schedule can be obtained by calling 808.328.2288 or 808.328.2326. Visitors will need to pay $5 per car to park at the historical park.
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