In ancient times, Hawaiians lived under strict laws. Commoners could not get too close to the chief, nor were they allowed to touch any of his possessions, walk in his footsteps or even let their shadows touch the royal grounds. The penalty for violating a sacred kapu (taboo) was death.
Breaking a kapu was believed to incur the wrath of the gods. Hawaiians often chased down an offender and swiftly put him to death unless he could reach a puuhonua, or place of refuge. There he could be absolved by a kahuna (priest) in a purification ceremony, then return home with his transgression forgiven. Defeated warriors and non-combatants could also find refuge here during times of battle.
Puuhonua O Honaunau on the Big Island of Hawaii is the most famous and best preserved of Hawaii’s ancient places of refuge. Designated a national historical park in 1961, this 182-acre site includes the puuhonua and a complex of archeological sites, including temple platforms, royal fishponds, sledding tracks and some coastal village sites. Join more than 375,000 visitors each year and immerse yourself in the rich history of the area and discover intriguing facts about the early Hawaiians’ way of life.
At the park, you’ll encounter canoe builders constructing an outrigger canoe the way it was built in ancient times. There are demonstrations of traditional Hawaiian games, including spear throwing competitions. Examine a massive L-shaped wall, built around 1550 from thousands of lava rocks, which separated the chief’s home from the puuhonua. Inside this 1,000-foot-long wall are fine examples of temples and homes of old Hawaii.
Hikers can follow a trail that winds along the coast for about a mile to the park boundary. The trail includes several archeological sites, including heiau (temples) and sledding tracks.
Orientation talks are provided several times a day at the park’s amphitheater. On the last weekend of June, the park holds its annual cultural festival with hula performances, Hawaiian games, and arts and crafts demonstrations. Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is open daily.