Escape to an Ancient Refuge

Big IslandEssential Big Island

PU‘UHONUA O HŌNAUNAU was, in ancient times, the destination for people seeking asylum from severe penalties imposed on all who broke kapu (taboo) laws.

Once inside the compound’s 10-foot walls, sanctuary was guaranteed; the resident kāhuna , or priests, were obligated to offer absolution to all fugitives, no matter how great or small the infraction.

Refuges like Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau ceased functioning in the early 19th century, when the kapu system was abolished, but this site remains intact to provide a glimpse into a time when people could be sentenced to death merely for eating with their husband or walking in the shadow of a chief.

Now a NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, Pu‘uhonua was reconstructed by local artisans using traditional tools. One of the major features of the complex is a RECONSTRUCTED TEMPLE called HALE O KEAWE . The original temple, built around 1650, housed the BONES of at least 23 chiefs, and fierce, WOOD-CARVED STATUES, known as ki‘i , guard this oft-photographed temple today.

Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau is open from 7 a.m. to sunset daily; the visitor center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. There is an entrance fee of $20 per car. Call 808-328-2326 ext. 1702 for current park hours.

To get there, drive south from Kailua-Kona on Highway 11. Turn toward the ocean on Route 160 at the Hōnaunau Post Office, and watch for the historic park sign.

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