Preserving the Historic
Keakealaniwahine Complex in Kona
by Lance Tominaga
Left to right: Judy Grayham,
Nancy Pisicchio and Joe Castelli stand on the platform
of the Queen’s hale aina (eating house) of Keakealaniwahine
Fifteen years ago, in 1985, Kona resident and Hawaiian
history lover Joseph Castelli traveled to Honolulu for
a leisurely research session at the Bishop Museum. Although
he didnt know it at the time, that visit led him
to one of the greatest challengesand victoriesof
I was doing research on the Lonoikamakahiki residence
(a private home on the Big Island), recalls Castelli,
73. Then I found a detailed map by Henry Kekahuna
of the Keakealaniwahine Complex. Thats how it
all started. I just happened to come across the map,
and I said, Wow, where is this?
The Keakealaniwahine Complex, a 16.4-acre parcel located
about 2.75 miles south of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island,
is considered one of Hawaiis most significant
ancient sites. It was built in 1650 by Chiefess Keakealaniwahine,
the great-great-grandmother of Kamehameha I and the
highest ranking alii of her time. She and her
mother, Keakamahana, are thought to be the only two
women to rule the Big Island.
Roughly the size of a football field, the complex contains
a series of heiau, stone walls, platforms and archaeological
deposits. Included is a walled enclosure which is believed
to have been the residence of
The fight to save the Keakealaniwahine Complex began
in earnest in 1994,
when Castelli discovered that the route for Hawaii
Countys proposed Alii Highway would run
straight through the parcel. It was nobodys
fault, because (the route) was the shortest distance
between two points, he says. But it would
be our fault if we allowed that to happen.
Castelli, a Boston native whose first exposure to the
Islands came during World War II as a 17-year-old sailor,
became a fixture in West Hawaii Todays Letters
to the Editor section, pleading for the preservation
of the complex and arguing for a re-routing of the highway.
He visited the complex, noted its features (They
were all exactly as shown on the map, he marvels)
and took more than a hundred photos of them. Through
Pulama Ia Kona, an organization dedicated to the preservation
of archaeological and historic sites in Kona, Castelli
led a series of slide show presentations in the community,
and urged residents to take up the cause and write to
Castellis efforts paid off handsomely last year.
In May, First Hawaiian Creditcorp, which had acquired
the land parcel containing the complex through foreclosure
in late 1997, donated the land to the state of Hawaii.
Then, in the summer, the county of Hawaii announced
a new routing plan for the Alii Highway, moving
the route 500 feet eastward, completely circumventing
the Keakealaniwahine Complex.
Corbett Kalama, Senior Vice President of First Hawaiian
Bank (and manager of the banks Branch Banking,
Oahu Region), is a direct descendant of Keakealaniwahine.
I think First Hawaiian has always been committed
to supporting the Hawaiian culture, he says, and
this was an excellent opportunity for us to do what
was right with respect to the land and the significance
it has to the Hawaiian community. It was simply the
right thing to do.
And personally, Im glad to see that recognition
has been given to our predecessors. There is a lot of
significance with respect to that area.
At present, the states Department of Land and
Natural Resources is hoping to develop the site and
the adjacent Keolohahihi State Historical Park into
a larger cultural center. Castelli himself envisions
a restored complex with restabilized heiau, hale, puuhonua,
drum houses, guard houses and eating houses. A medical
school that the complex once contained, he says, can
come alive once again with a medical doctor, dressed
in the ancient way, describing to visitors the Hawaiian
trees and plants and how they were used. (The
school was used to train kumu laau lapaau,
priests who cured medical problems through the use of
trees and herbs.)
Adds Castelli, This place would be of tremendous
interest for both residents and visitors. It will enhance
our knowledge of and respect for the ancient Hawaiian
people and the Hawaiian culture.
Before that can happen, however, the complex needs
a thorough clean-up. The first step is to have
people go in there to clear the underbrush and overgrowth
while being sensitive enough to ensure that they preserve
the historic sites, says Kalama. There are
various stages that will have to take place, and it
will involve not only the state but other parts of the
community, with the Hawaiian community probably at the
forefront and some private entities providing some assistance
Kalama credits Castelli for all his efforts. The
community really appreciates what Mr. Castelli has done,
he says. Hes put in a lot of time, energy
and effort. We need to see more of that from all members
of the community.
Castelli, no doubt, appreciates such kudos, but his
greatest satisfaction comes from a mission accomplished.
We may never see it as a functional historic park
in our lifetime, he concedes, but the complex
is now preserved in its entirety for future generations.
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