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Weaver Analyzes Cultural Proficiency of Kauai Path and the Ke Ala Hele Makalae Project

A Look Through the History and Modern Era on the Island of Kaua‘i.

By Ashlyn Ku‘uleialoha Weaver, August 2014

The sea breeze touches the shoreline kissing my face—the face of a Hawaiian whose genealogy extends deep into the Hawaiian heritage. Throughout the Hawaiian Islands new development, new businesses, and more buildings alter my ancestral lands every year, every day, every second. Land is stripped of natural resources as it is built upon. Business endeavors take from the land, but never give back. Attendant to this ever increasing land development are vast quantities of toxic fossil fuel emissions.

With new development, a majority of businesses blind humanity with money, promoting the belief that the only way to survive is to work one’s way up the corporate ladder. In the Hawaiian way of thinking and living, wealth is being one with the community. When you take, you only take what you need, and give back in kind. Days are spent outside, respecting the land that is walked and lived upon.

This traditional method of thinking still lives and is practiced despite the prevalence of multi-million dollar businesses. This ethic is sustained through organizations and associations located around the islands of Hawai‘i. The development envisioned by Kauai Path meets the criteria of positive development, consistent with Hawaiian thinking and quality of life as their number one priority.

The community-based organization, Kauai Path, is doing just that—advocating for opening up coastline walkways and bike paths that encourage human powered transportation to once again be part of our daily routine. The community located on the East Side of the island of Kaua‘i is benefitting from a new way of enjoying and respecting their lands. Safe, secure combined walkways and bike paths now in Lydgate Park and Kapa‘a’s coast area will soon connect as a continuous multi-use path system.


Kauai Path’s Efforts to Preserve and Protect

The island of Kaua‘i has an impressive history that enlightens, motivates the people to stay humble, and perpetuates the traditions that have been handed down from kūpuna (ancestors) to their descendants.

Since the late 1820s Kaua‘i has experienced western style development as evidenced by the establishment of businesses around the island. Today, these flourishing businesses founded during the whaling era have proliferated and now create noxious emissions, traffic from East to West, and new land intensive development that desecrates Native Hawaiian historical sites.

Kauai Path, a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit, envisions Kauai residents working together to preserve, protect, and extend access island-wide through the design, implementation, and stewardship of non-motorized multi-use paths. A board of directors leads Kauai Path, and several interest groups participate in various committees that report to the board. These committees manage such aspects as the Path Ambassadors and Friends of the Path programs, fund raising, volunteer activities, outreach, and planning. Kauai Path is an equal opportunity employer and provider.

Ke Ala Hele Makalae (“The Path That Goes Along the Coast”) is a walking and bicycling path system being built by the County of Kauai using federal funds. The ultimate goal for this six-phase project is to connect neighborhoods from Niumalu to Anahola on the East Side of Kaua‘i.

The primary benefit to residents is the reintroduction of attractive infrastructure that integrates safe and physically stimulating routes to typical daily routines. This return to more traditional transportation modes promises to reduce automobile traffic congestion, decrease the island’s dependency on automobiles and fossil fuels, and improve the physical stamina of the general population. Ke Ala Hele Makalae’s creative design incorporates interpretive and educational signage to enhance path users’ enjoyment.

As a young Hawaiian college student, the land, inhabitants, and historical sites are top priorities for me. Additionally, a significant segment of the Native Hawaiian population lives, breathes, and works on Kaua‘i. I inquired about Kauai Path, Inc. to discern if that organization followed western exploitative methods resulting in depriving the people of Kaua‘i of their land, life, and love. I concluded that Kauai Path exerts its influence as an advocacy organization not as a business endeavor, but as a pathway to respect the land, to respect the people, and to respect Kaua‘i’s cultural sites.

With Kauai Path’s support as a stakeholder, the County of Kaua‘i is taking the initiative to build Ke Ala Hele Makalae in multiple segments instead of as one monolithic project. This segmented approach encourages community members, associations, and builders to contribute to and compile a comprehensive overview of the specific alignment each segment of the path will follow. Kauai Path activists facilitate a “linear park” approach to ensure that movement along the finished path will flow thoughtfully along one continuous whole, instead of disconnected fragments. This encourages walking and biking between neighboring towns and trip generators such as parks, schools, shopping, and government services to flow within one cohesive system.

Planning for each phase of the path project, Kauai Path collaborates with many local organizations to identify and remove invasive plant species, and reestablish native Hawaiian plant species to grow and flourish in their original habitat.

During construction of the Lydgate Park and Kapaa/Kealia phases of the path system many invasive Australian ironwood trees were removed from the alignment. Although sugar plantations introduced the ironwood as a type of salt tolerant erosion control, especially near the costal regions, the needles that fall onto the soil and/or sand create an acidic layer, displacing native species. The path’s landscaping plans called for the removal of selected ironwoods and their replacement by other attractive, native trees to control erosion.

Each path phase thus far has recruited the help and dedication of diverse local organizations. During the first phase of the path project (in Lydgate Park) Kauai Path teamed-up with the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park; Ka‘ulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program; Kauai Nursery & Landscaping; the County of Kaua‘i; and National Tropical Botanical Garden. These stakeholders contributed to planting native Hawaiian and Pacific basin selections along the path within Lydgate Park.

Advocating for an intelligently designed multi-use path system, Kauai Path has increased the general public’s awareness of health issues, both environmentally and physically. Lydgate Park’s path system and sports fields provide safe and attractive walkways for families and individuals to actively enjoy Kaua‘i’s beauty. By using Ke Ala Hele Makalae bicyclists avoid the intimidating close proximity with fast moving motor traffic when they commute to work, visit parks, or simply get exercise on the path. These factors all combine to foster a healthier environment for individuals using the path and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.


Cultural Issues

I ka wā mamua ka wā mahope (The future is in the past)

The Sacred Sites of Heiaus

The first Polynesians encountered Kaua‘i roughly 1500 years ago. These sea fairing people traveled nearly two thousand miles across the vast South Pacific on outrigger canoes from the Marquesas Islands. Arriving on their double hauled canoes, Polynesians brought with them the current Hawaiian gods, beliefs, and a rich heritage.

The new residents erected places of worship throughout the islands. These sacred heiau on Kaua‘i form one of the most important complexes in Hawai‘i. Each heiau site hails back to periods of pre-Western contact Hawai‘i, and together these complexes are crucial to perpetuating Hawaiian culture.

Located on the East Side on Kaua‘i, Wailua was known as the land to the kings (ali‘i). Wailua, the largest ahupua‘a on Kaua‘i Island due to its resource rich location, is said to have been the favorite residence of Chief Kaumuali‘i. The three present heiau closest to the mouth of Wailua River are just a few of many heiau that surround the river’s path to the summit of Mt. Waialeale.

On Kaua‘i’s East Side there are three major heiau that form part of the Wailuanuiaho‘ano (“Great Sacred Wailua”) complex: the Lae Ala Kukui Heiau (healing heiau); Hikinaakalā Heiau; and Hauloa Heiau. These heiau are located near Kuamo‘o Road and Kuhio Highway. Currently in progress, the construction of Ke Ala Hele Makalae that will connect Lydgate Park to Kapaa passes over the Wailua River and follows Kuhio Highway along Wailua Beach precipitated passionate questions about potential impacts on the sacred sites and these neighboring heiau.

The Kukui Heiau was recognized by Hawaii and National Registers of Historic Places as a healing heiau located at Alakukui Point. Through oral traditions, it is mentioned that Polynesian navigators would use this heiau as a reference point going to and from Kaua‘i. The Kukui Heiau stands very prominent on the point of Lae Ala Kukui on Lae Nani grounds. During the navigational use of the heiau, canoes were guided to the safety of Wailua by burning kukui nut oil candles to guide navigators ashore from voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

As the sun rises upon the East Side of Kaua‘i, Hikinaakalā Heiau welcomes the new dawn. Here as each day creates new opportunities and fresh beginnings, Hikinaakalā Heiau is celebrated as a chant and prayer heiau. Being small in stature, Hikinaakalā Heiau is located at the North end of Lydgate Beach Park at the mouth of Wailua River. There has not been an exact date established for the erection of the Hikinaakalā Heiau, but it has been postulated that it was built in the early 1300s.

Known as the City of Refuge, Hauloa Heiau stands adjacent to the Hikinaakalā Heiau at the mouth of the Wailua River. Hauloa Heiau was a place of refuge to kapu breakers. Here the individual could be spiritually cleansed and forgiven for their unjustly manner. Breaking kapu could result in immediate punishment by the means of death. If the offending individual could make it to the pu‘uhonua in a timely manner, before that individual was recognized, the accused could be absolved of their offense. Hauloa Heiau was also used a refuge during times of war.

Each heiau located at the edge of Wailua River holds a significant meaning, spirit, and comfort to Hawaiians young and old. These heiau located in the area of Wailua are near the alignment of Ke Ala Hele Makalae. The project designers have taken the precautionary steps to align the path a respectful distance away from each recorded heiau site. Kauai Path has gone on the public record supporting a path alignment that follows the established transit corridor and avoids culturally sensitive areas to assure that the heiau are preserved untouched and unaltered in any way.


Reintroducing Native Hawaiian Species

A number of the plants species were introduced to the Hawaiian Islands through the Polynesian navigation. These species were primarily used for medicinal and food purposes throughout each voyage. As each individual stepped foot onto new terrain, they brought with them a wealth of knowledge of the indigenous flora that is commonly found across the entire South Pacific region. As Polynesians traveled throughout the Pacific they adapted to their surroundings, learning and studying the use of the native endemic species found only on the Hawaiian Islands.

Hawai‘i’s native flora is the most endangered in the world, due to widespread travel, large business, and residential developments. Whether brought involuntarily or voluntarily to the Hawaiian Islands, the introduction of foreign plant species has resulted in numerous negative impacts. Native species are often displaced by more aggressive invasive species and lose their habitat.

Kauai Path took the initiative to reintroduce native species to an appreciative community. Teaming up with the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park; Ka‘ulunani Urban and Community Forestry Program, a State Urban Forestry Project; Kauai Nursery & Landscaping; the County of Kauai, and National Tropical Botanical Garden. These groups assessed the various invasive species that were in the path’s alignment and then selectively removed and planted native species along the path.

By removing the invasive species, Kauai Path has given the opportunity for interested individuals and organizations to monitor the regrowth of invasives where native plants have been replanted. Through these efforts, Kauai Path has created job and volunteer opportunities. Caring for the reintroduced native Hawaiian flora increases an important cultural awareness and understanding of Hawaiian history and culture.


Na Iwi kupūna (Ancestral Bones)

We live our lives to feed the past of our kapūna. If we truly live Hawaiian, the integrity of our cultural identity is highly important and extremely central. Taking the iwi from their resting place, we can’t be in that sense, Hawaiian without the understanding of the iwi.

Across the ocean through the expanse of time, vast and various cultures and societies in Polynesia honor the dead in their traditional ways. It is in the treatment of our departed ones that we combine the common threads of humanity, respect, and expressions of our deep sense of loss. These features hold a prominent truth for the Hawaiian people. Respecting our kupūna we are the living descendants of our iwi kupūna.

Native Hawaiians young and old, from past to present, enact the mana (spirituality/power) of a person’s bones. In the Hawaiian perspective it was highly important for bones of the deceased to be returned to the ground to impart their mana.

Burial sites are located all around the Hawaiian Islands. It is hard to trace where smaller/specific burial sites are located throughout the islands, because of their status being unmarked and overgrown with vegetation.

During various business developments, to conform to the influx of economical demand on the Hawaiian Islands, native bones have frequently been uncovered. During the path’s construction, ancestral bones have been uncovered. During this discovery of ancestral bones, all production was held off until the uncovered burials were treated with the respect, following the specific protocols and procedures set forth by the Burial Council. 



After analyzing the Ke Ala Hele Makalae project as a young Hawaiian college student I have reached the following opinions. The land, inhabitants, and historical sites are the top priority for not only for me, but also for many of the native people that live, breathe, and work upon Kaua‘i Island. The community on the East Side of the island of Kaua‘i now has options to exercise a new way of enjoying and respecting the land that they walk upon. Through the efforts of Kauai Path, we as a community and as Hawaiian people can breathe easily. In advocating for Ke Ala Hele Makalae, Kauai Path has respectfully taken into consideration the cultural significance, importance, and sacredness of Hawaiian lands.



Suggested References

“National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL).” National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL). National Historic Landmark, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

“Ola N? Iwi, The Bones Live – Kamakako'i.” Ola N? Iwi, The Bones Live – Kamakako'i. Office of Hawaiian Affairs, n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.

“Hawaiian Encyclopedia: Eastern Kauai.” Hawaiian Encyclopedia : Eastern Kauai. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Aug. 2014.


About the Author

Ashlyn Ku‘uleialoha Weaver graduated from the University of Hawai‘i’s Maui College on the island of Maui with Associate degrees in Hawaiian Studies and Liberal Arts, and an Academic Subject Certificate in Hawaiian Studies. She has volunteered for numerous projects around the island of Maui, recently completed a three-month internship with Hawaii Conservation Plan working in the West Maui Mountains, and is presently volunteering with Hawaiian and Polynesian organizations in California.

Ku‘ulei’s educational path has been guided by her passion for teaching young and old about Hawaiian history. Striving to nurture the appreciation of Hawaiian values, she continually challenges herself by asking, “What more can I bring to the table for the Hawaiian community?”

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