Es­cape to an An­cient Refuge

101 Things to Do (Big Island) - - TOURING -

Pu‘uhonua o Honau­nau 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 kahuna, or priests, were ob­li­gated to of­fer ab­so­lu­tion to all fugi­tives no mat­ter how great or small the in­frac­tion.

Refuges like Pu‘uhonua o Honau­nau 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 of 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 oft­pho­tographed tem­ple to­day.

Pu‘uhonua o Honau­nau is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; the vis­i­tor cen­ter is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. There is an en­trance fee of $5 per car.

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

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