Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is an important Hawaiian ceremonial site bounded on its southern and eastern sides by a massive L-shaped wall, known as the Pā Puʻuhonua (Great Wall), and on its northern and western sides by the ocean. In addition to the Great Wall, within the Puʻuhonua are several other important ceremonial structures including the Hale o Keawe, ʻĀleʻaleʻa Heiau, and the Ancient Heiau.
In ancient Hawai'i a system of laws known as kānāwai enforced the social order. Certain people, places, things, and times were sacred -- they were kapu, or forbidden. Kapu (sacred law) regulated fishing, planting, and the harvesting of other resources. Any breaking of kapu disturbed the stability of society, and the punishment was often death. Any fugitive who had broken kapu could seek refuge and forgiveness within the walls of the Puʻuhonua. In addition, in the event that war was declared, families of combatants could seek refuge and safety within the Puʻuhonua and be assured to return home unmolested on cessation of battle regardless of the outcome. Although many pu'uhonua existed in ancient Hawaiʻi, Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau is the best preserved and most dramatic given the extent of its monumental architecture.
The concept of refuge in Hawaiʻi is an ancient one, with roots found in the larger Polynesian culture. Traditional accounts indicate that a ruling chief of a kingdom could declare certain lands or heiau (sacred structures) as puʻuhonua, and as long as they retained undisputed power these designations would remain in force. Unfortunately, no absolute chronology exists for dating the original establishment of Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau. However, rough estimates can be made based on genealogies and traditional accounts. Some have indicated that the Puʻuhonua may have originally been established by ʻEhu kai malino, ruling chief of Kona, around 450 years ago.
Last updated: May 26, 2020