A Royal Retreat
by Betty Fullard-Leo
Artistic rendering of
Kailua-Kona in the days of King Kamehameha I
Under the shopping-bazaar facade of sun-dappled Kailua-Kona
lies a legacy of events and historic locales that played
a pivotal role in changing forever the lifestyle of
the Hawaiian people. The languorous town, spread along
one main street paralleling Kailua Bay, was a favored
retreat of royalty long before the missionaries showed
up in 1820 and was the refuge the great King Kamehameha
I sought in 1812, following eight years of waging war
to bring the Islands under his command.
Today, it's easy to overlook the significance of a
pile of stones topped with a thatched hale, or the graceful
building beyond a wrought iron fence during a stroll
along Ali'i Drive as balmy trade winds blow, but these
are the places where King Kamehameha I died and the
old kapu system was discarded, ushering in the Christian
The king sailed to Kamakahonu, in a sandy cove near
the present site of King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel
and built his residence, a hale called "Papa"
nearby. John Papa I'i, an attendant of the succeeding
King Liholiho, described the area, "Outside the
(royal) enclosure, by the edge of the sea, was a spring
called Ki'ope...It was a gathering place for those who
went swimming and a place where the surf rolled in and
dashed on land when it was rough. It was deep enough
there for boats to land when the tide was high..."
When Kamehameha's wives and relatives were settled
into their own compound, he chose to reconstruct Ahu'ena
Temple, a former luahini, or sacrificial heiau, in honor
of the god Lono at a site that had been sacred since
the high chief Liloa ruled the Big Island in the 15th
century. At the heiau, Kamehameha I met with his trusted
advisers. I'i offers a vivid description of the site,
"...within this fence...there was an 'anu'u tower.
A row of images stood along its front as befitted a
Hale o Lono....On the west side of the outer entrance
was a large image named Koleamoku on whose helmet perched
the figure of a plover (kolea in Hawaiian). Koleamoku
was a god of healing who was called upon to cure the
most serious illnesses."
Traders and explorers visited Kamehameha in his nearby
palace, a thatched hale described at the time by Lieutenant
Otto von Kotzebue, captain of a Russian trader, as "a
spacious apartment...(that) afforded a free draught
both to the land and sea breezes."
On May 8, 1819, King Kamehameha died at Ahu'ena heiau;
he was nearing 70 years old. Historians wrote that a
second 'anu'u tower was built enclosing a small "house
of the dead" where his body was prepared for burial.
Kamehameha I had named 22-year old Liholiho to succeed
him. Ka'ahumanu, favorite of all Kamehameha's 21 wives,
announced the will of the dead king, cleverly setting
the stage for herself to assume a powerful role in governing
the Hawaiian Islands by saying "O heavenly one!
Here are the chiefs, here are the people of your ancestors,
here are your guns; here are your lands. But we two
shall share the rule over the land."
She invited Liholiho to dine with her, and a few months
after his father's death he did so in a large hale at
Kamakahonu. Besides the royal entourage, guests included
foreigners from ships and other individuals living in
Kailua-Kona. While the roasted chickens and pig were
being carved, Liholiho rose from the men's table, seated
himself beside his queens and began to eat with gusto,
thus breaking one of the most stringent of ancient kapu
(taboos). The assemblage stared in astonishment, and
then cried out, "The kapu is broken!" Then
everyone began to feast. Word traveled quickly, and
soon heiau were destroyed and idols overturned throughout
the islands. Women could come and go freely, join in
political decision making and eat whatever and with
whomever they pleased.
Into this chaos sailed the first zealous missionaries,
landing aboard the Thaddeus at Kailua-Kona in 1820.
Liholiho allowed them to stay on a year's probation,
though half the company traveled on to Honolulu. A thatched
church predated the historic Mokuaikaua Church, built
in 1837 of lava rock and crushed coral. Today's visitors
are welcome to explore the beautiful ohia and koa wood
interior, to examine a model of the brig Thaddeus, and
to peruse pages of Lucy Thurston's diary, which are
kept on display in the church.
The church is across the street from Hulihe'e Place,
which Governor John Adams Kuakini (a Christian chief)
had foreign seamen build of lava, coral, koa and ohia
a year after he built Moku'aikaua Church. The governor
died six years later, but every Hawaiian monarch from
Kamehameha III on spent a good part of each year in
When David Kalakaua was elected king in 1874, he purchased
the palace and remodeled it, enlarging the lanais and
adding exterior stucco and interior plaster. After King
Kalakaua and Queen Kapi'olani died, Hulihe'e was inherited
by the queen's nephews, David Kawananakoa and Jonah
Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, who sold it in 1914 to Bathsheba
Allan. Her death a month later left Hulihe'e uninhabited
for many years.
By 1927, when the Daughters of Hawai'i, a group of
women descended from the first American missionaries,
were successful in convincing the Territorial Legislature
that the building should be saved to preserve Hawai'i's
history, it was established as a museum. The Daughters
of Hawai'i continue to care for the palace and to conduct
tours of its interior.
Much of the original furniture has been restored to
Hulihe'e and many of the personal effects of past royal
inhabitants-a massive bed with carved posts that came
from Kamehameha I's original grass palace, portraits,
china, and a table inlaid with twenty species of Hawaiian
hardwoods-are on display. The furnishings and the soaring
height and width of the doors indicates the immense
size of many of the royal chiefs and chiefesses.
For those interested in walking in the footsteps of
royalty, docents from the Kona Historical Society lead
1 1/2-hour walking tours of Kailua-Kona starting at
King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel, covering history
about Ahu'ena Heiau, Hulihe'e Palace, Moku'aikaua Church
and Kona Inn, the town's first hotel. Tours, which are
$10, are offered Tuesday-Saturday at 9:30, also Friday
at 1:30. Phone 808/323-3222.
Hulihee Palace Courtesy
of the Kona Historical Society
During the walk visitors enjoy personal insights into
Hawaiian history and learn about some lesser known sites
as well. According to docent and sales director Ku'ulani
Auld, "We point out where the Pa o 'Umi Temple
once stood in the vicinity of Ocean View Inn. On the
seaward side is where King 'Umi a Liloa first landed
in Kailua in the 15th century. And if there's time,
we walk through Kona Shopping Village, which was once
Kona Inn, built in 1929." Wander through the lobby
of the Kona Inn restaurant and you'll see world record
catches of Pacific blue marlin, mako shark, spearfish,
yellow fin ahi and mahimahi adorning the walls, testimony
to the fishing for which Kailua-Kona is known. In this
same area, Liholiho, King Kamehameha II, once had his
own living quarters. Some people speculate that several
large rocks on the ocean-front lawn are all that remain
of his personal heiau. Across the street in front of
the Hawai'i Visitors Bureau, a large lava stone marks
the site of the first Catholic service celebrated on
the Big Island in 1840.
The tour sometimes goes as far as Hale Halawai Pavilion,
a lovely oceanfront recreational pavilion on a grassy
lawn set with benches and shade trees, but significant
sites in Hawai'i's history continue much further along
the shoreline to Keauhou. Up the street, next to the
pink Saint Michael's Catholic Church, is a surfing temple
platform, marking Waiku'i Pond, a freshwater spring
reserved for the high chiefs in which to bathe after
surfing. Chiefs are thought once to have rested under
a grass hale built on the platform to watch the surfing,
safe from contact with commoners, which might reduce
their mana (power).
The grounds of the Keauhou Beach Hotel also remain
rich in historic sites-remnants of a heiau built to
insure abundant fish catches, Po'o Hawai'i Pond, where
fish were stored and fattened for the chiefs, and King
Kalakaua's Beach House, which was reconstructed years
ago by the hotel.
Rebuilt 'Ahu'ena Heiau
which stands adjacent to the Kailua bay pier
Other heiau-one where human sacrifices were thought
to be offered, another reserved for women, plus a fisherman's
shrine-lie south of Keauhou Hotel, near the closed Kona
Lagoons Resort. Seaward of Kona Lagoons a few petroglyphs
are barely visible during very low tides, while further
south on Ali'i Drive, mountainside of Keauhou Golf Course
Clubhouse, is the royal holua slide, stretching almost
a mile in length down the slope of Mount Hualalai to
the sea. Only the upper portion of this long stone ramp
remains, but once the slide was 50 feet wide and when
covered with grass, ti and banana leaves, provided a
slick surface that holua sleds flew down, in much the
same manner of today's Olympic luge sleds. Though generally
used for sport, the holua slide also transported canoe
hulls, hewn into rough shapes in the mountains, to the
bay for final finishing.
A site at the head of Keauhou Bay marks the birthplace
of King Kamehameha III, while just beyond the southern
end of Ali'i Drive are the burial grounds of warriors
slain in the battle of Kuamo'o, an ill-fated attempt
in 1819 by traditionalists to reinstate the kapu system
against Christian converts. The forces of King Kamehameha
II (Liholiho) and his premier led the defense. More
than 300 burials are recorded here.
Today, Kailua-Kona and its southern shores attract
sun seekers and fishermen, triathletes and honeymooners.
On the surface, Kona may seem to fit the description
adventurer Isabella Bird penned in 1873: "a land
where all things always seem the same...truly a region
of endless afternoons," but this is where old Hawai'i
once thrived-a Hawai'i whose historic remnants are discovered
only by a curious few who take the time to search them
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appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and
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