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Kanehili: The Kalaeloa Heritage Park

December 11, 2009 

Barbers Point Naval Air Station was the only military base to close in Hawai’i under the 1993 Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC).   Most of the land was returned to the State, but much was retained by the Navy including some recreational facilities.  Meanwhile the returned land was carved up between different agencies.  While some BRAC sites in the U.S. were converted into thriving economic development engines for their communities, such as the Presidio in San Francisco, the Barbers Point conversion was a dismal failure. Why?

Part of the problem was the fact that the body created to develop the conversion plan had no power to actually implement its plans. As a result, the planning was piecemeal and half-baked, while competing, parochial interests prevented a real conversion from taking place.  Some argue that this was ‘proof’ that the military was a better steward of the land, but such a conclusion would be too convenient.  The failure of the Barbers Point conversion was so perfect in fact, that one might conclude that the project was set up to fail by design.   A successful conversion where former military facilities could have been converted into engines for innovation and economic development, say in renewable energy, would have stimulated public demand for converting other bases, a dangerous prospect for those entrenched interests that thrive on the military pork economy. So the kiawe grows, the buildings decay and garbage piles up on the beaches.

One bright side of the neglect is the fact that the ancient Kanaka Maoli cultural sites in Kalaeloa (the original name of the Barbers Point site) have enjoyed peace and quiet.  Shad Kane, a community leader in the Kapolei area wrote this post on the cultural sites within Kalaeloa.  Portions with the greatest concentration of sites is still under Navy control until a suitable transfer plan and entity to receive the land can be agreed upon.

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Kanehili: The Kalaeloa Heritage Park

December 10th, 2009 by Shad

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission, BRAC, was established on a federal level to consider and re-evaluate the usefulness and planned reuse of military properties. The BRAC Commission recommended the closure of the Barbers Point Naval Air Station in June of 1993. It was reviewed and accepted by then President Clinton and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in September of 1993. The Barbers Point NAS was subsequently closed in 1999.

It was partly an effort to generate more federal dollars to improve the quality of life of the military and their families. It was an attempt to attract and provide quality enlistment opportunities in the transition from the draft to a volunteer enlistment structure of our military. It was also done to provide more monies for military construction projects that would provide for better housing of our military families and also to help make critical military infrastructure more secure. This new direction was also motivated by the increased acts of terrorism around the world and especially since the bombing of the USS Cole in the Persian Gulf. As part of base closure an Environmental Impact Statement to include an inventory of all previous archaeological surveys was conducted. On a federal level BRAC, Base Realignment and Closure, was put in place with dollars to cleanup and facilitate this transition. Simultaneously the State of Hawaii established the BPRC, Barbers Point Redevelopment Commission, to also facilitate this transition on a state level. It is here that we will begin this story.

The International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc., IARII, was requested by Belt Collins Hawaii to provide a synthesis of the cultural resource studies of the ‘Ewa Plain through the 1990s to include the cultural resource inventory of the Naval Air Station at Barbers Point. This synthesis was intended to serve as a review and documentation of all previous historical and archaeological studies that would provide the foundation for a cultural resource management plan of the cultural landscape of the former Barbers Point NAS as a critical part of base closure.

As part of this effort Dave and Myra Tomonari-Tuggle of IARII was privileged to get the assistance of a number of very respected cultural experts to include Rubellite Johnson, Ross Cordy and Earl Neller. This short article in no way can do justice to the intense work and contributions of all involved in the synthesis. All this article can hope to do is draw some attention to the work of these people and the need to care for and preserve the cultural landscape of the former Barbers Point NAS.

To this day much of this cultural landscape belongs to, and is the responsibility of the Navy. Ultimately it will be conveyed to perhaps another agency. It is critical that it be conveyed to an agency that that has the cultural sensitivity, vision and resources to care for and preserve these valued cultural resources. The Ahahui Siwila Hawaii ‘O Kapolei, the Kapolei Hawaiian Civic Club, has been working in partnership with the Kalaeloa Development Authority, the Navy Region Hawaii and Navy Base Police as interim caretakers toward the security, care and preservation of the Kalaeloa Heritage Park.

Historically, much of the ancient Hawaiian geographical boundaries have been altered. The very nature of agriculture and development is to clear and grub the land. Our ancient Hawaiian ancestors delineated boundaries along natural features such as mountain ridges, rivers and shorelines. In areas where there was no natural feature they built ahu or altars. To most of us today they would appear or seem to resemble a stone mound. Upright stones would also serve the same purpose. Today however most of these man-made boundary structures are gone.

Based on the traditions it appears that the cultural landscape of the former naval base is a large geographical area perhaps even an Ili or smaller subdivision of an ahupua’a. This becomes an interesting thought. If that is correct then it would substantiate and support a konahiki living at the Heiau ‘O Pu’uokapolei which is supported by the traditions of the area. By definition an Iliaina is property allotted by a Konahiki to individuals. In return these individuals would provide tribute to the Konahiki at Pu’uokapolei, and he or she would provide similar tribute to the chief of the ahupua’a and he who would provide that same tribute to the chief of the island. All of this supports the large numbers of agricultural mounds and agricultural sinkholes in Kanehili or the former Barbers Point NAS. It also supports the many stories associated with bird catchers smoking and snaring birds for feathers that would serve as tribute to the Konahiki.

One particular tradition is the story of Hi’iakapoliopele. When Hi’iaka left Pu’uokapolei she walked along a trail in the makai direction. As she walked along this trail she passed through Kaupe’a and Kanehili till she reached Kualaka’i where she admired her reflection in the Spring of Hoakalei. The story makes it seem that Hi’iaka walked a long way supporting a large geographical area comprising Kanehili. The synthesis identifies much of the former Barbers Point NAS as Kanehili.

Amongst the properties of the former Barbers Point NAS is one that had been identified by the Barbers Point Redevelopment Commission as the Kalaeloa Heritage Park. Its future reuse as identified by the BPRC was that it should serve as a heritage park and signature property in the future reuse of all cultural properties of the former base. It was meant to serve as a community benefit and a venue to educate both our residents of Kapolei and visitors.


The native plant the Maiapilo thriving in the Kalaeloa Heritage Park

Its reuse was also based on the numbers and excellent condition of valued cultural resources within the proposed Kalaeloa Heritage Park property. These structures are also representative of most of the structures found on other properties throughout the former naval station. Its selection that it serve a community benefit as a heritage park was also based on the lack of soil contamination usually associated with former military bases.

These cultural structures are unique and cannot be found anywhere else. They are entirely constructed of coral and hints of a Tahitian origin by the integration of many upright stones into their construction. The synthesis identify a habitation structure as permanent or temporary by its design construction. It suggests that the occupant may have been a permanent resident of the area or temporary based on its design construction.


Example of a rectangular permanent habitation structure. There would have been poles on each of the 4 corners with an A-frame roof thatched with grasses or native palms. Floor would have been paved with small stones made comfortable with mats. No biting insects made it possible living outdoors in ancient Hawaii

A rectangular habitation structure is identified as a permanent house site and C-shaped or L-shaped structures may have served as temporary house sites. There are many examples in the Kalaeloa Heritage Park.


Example of a C-shaped temporary habitation structure. Many exist at the Kalaeloa Heritage Park

The synthesis identify sinkholes as either burials, agricultural or as water resources. Some of these sinkholes that served as water resources have walls constructed around them in an effort to keep opala or trash out of them. The presence of water in sinkholes is unique to this region. Where in most other places water would travel along surface dissections or rivers, water travelled underground in the porous coral of Kanehili.


Walled sinkhole. Highly probable that it served as a water source.

Some of these sinkholes that served as a water resource also have paved stairs within them to reach the water as the water level varied with the rainy season. In the traditions associated with the place once known as Kanehili is the story of the travels of the gods Kane and Kanaloa. In their travels Kanehili is the place they visited where Kane brought forth water from the sinkholes with the strike of his ko’oko’o (staff).


Large walled sinkhole. Probable water source, however its size seems to indicate a possible religious purpose.

Sinkholes are also identified as agricultural sinkholes. Our ancestors planted their crops within the moist and damp recesses of sinkholes. Amongst those agricultural resources were maia (banana), kou (sugar cane), la’i (ti leaves) and others. There are examples of ti leaves growing out of sinkholes in the Kalaeloa Heritage Park. It is also important to understand these ti leaves may be as old as the culturally modified sinkhole. Amongst these burial sinkholes are chambers and walls within the sink designed and constructed to conceal the kupuna. There are also above ground burials as coral mounds or ahu.


Agricultural sinkhole with ti leaf growing in the Kalaeloa Heritage Park

Perhaps the one most interesting cultural feature is a paved trail of upright stones every 6 to 8 feet. This paved trail of coral slates is perfectly straight. Only approximately 200 yards of this trail exist today. It can be seen on Malden’s Map of 1825. It had to have taken hundreds of people to construct as the trail provided access to several places to include as far away as Honouliuli or where today is the West Loch Golf Course.


Paved trail with upright stones in Kanehili.

The Kalaeloa Heritage Park is perhaps the most important piece of real estate in the former naval air station. It culturally defines who we are as a new community of Kapolei and its namesake Kapo as the elder sister of Pele. It is also interesting as the Pele family is referred to as amongst our Tahitian ancestors. Perhaps the paved trail of upright stones was constructed in their honor. It is interesting as ‘Ewa is referred to by Hawaiian Historian Sam Kamakau as the celebrated lands of our ancestors. The ancestors he is referring is not our ancestors here…………but our ancestors from the southern latitudes.

In an attempt to summarize the Synthesis of Cultural Resource Studies of the ‘Ewa Plain by Dave and Myra Tuggle, this is what seems most obvious. In every area of the former base that was left undisturbed by construction and development, remnants of ancient past can be found. These valued cultural resources stand in support that the traditions such as Hi’iakapoliopele is a history and not a myth or legend as some of us have been made to believe. The synthesis also states that the work is not done. Much more work must be done in the identification of ancient bird bones in sinkholes. Much more data need to be gathered and cataloged. The vastness of the cultural landscape paints a picture of a community of people that lived in Kanehili. It is not a documentation of individual archaeological features but rather a landscape…………..an ancient community that once lived at a place once known as Kanehili.

Just another story of the new city of Kapolei………..

Shad Kane grew up in Wahiawa and later moved to Kalihi where he spent most of his teen years. He attended Kamehameha and graduated from the University of Hawaii. He retired from the Honolulu Police Department in 2000. He is a member of the Kapolei Hawaiian Civic Club and former chair of the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board, the Kapolei Outdoor Circle, the Friends of Honouliuli, Ka Papa O Kakuhihewa and the Makakilo-Kapolei Lions Club. He is also the Ewa Representative on the O’ahu Island Burial Council and a Native Hawaiian Representative on the Native American Advisory Group (NAAG) to the Advisory Council of Historic Preservation in Washington DC.