Community Continues to Preserve Hau‘ula's Last Remaining Heiau

May 20, 2015

HILT's Oahu Island Director Tina Aiu guides a Talk Story on the Land at Maunawila Heiau in Hauula.
Credit Molly Solomon

Oahu Island Director Tina Aiu explains the significance of the piko stone, which lies in the middle of Maunawila Heiau.
Credit Molly Solomon

A series of educational talks are taking people beyond the walls of the classroom and out onto the ‘āina. Hawaiian Islands Land Trust is hosting several talk story sessions across the state. HPR’s Molly Solomon takes us to one in Hau‘ula, where she visited one of the last remaining heiaus in the Ko'olauloa region.

Tina Aiu leads a small group down a narrow path tucked behind a property off Hau’ula Homestead road. The ground is littered with fallen mangos and piles of chopped hau tree banches, remnants from previous community hikes to help maintain and preserve Maunawila Heiau. As she steps onto the lower terrace, the group gathers in a circle around a large stone. “See this stone right in the middle,” said Aiu. “This we believe is a piko stone. Is anybody familiar with the piko?”

Aiu and others point to their bellybutton. She explains how in Hawaiian culture…parents would bury the umbilical cord after a child was born. Often under a tree or a large rock, to connect that child to where they are from. “So we believe that this was a place where the piko of somebody of high rank was placed.”

Aiu shows the group a large slab of coralline beach rock. Maunawila Heiau was believed to be cared for by Makuakaumana, who worshiped Kanaloa, the Hawaiian god associated with the ocean.
Credit Molly Solomon

Aiu is the O‘ahu Island Director for Hawaiian Islands Land Trust, a local nonprofit that owns the 9 acres containing the heiau. Last July, they acquired it from the McGregor ‘ohana who bought the property as a homestead in 1906. “The family lived there for several years. At some point a fire burned down their home and they moved off the property. After 1920, the property was left abandoned,” said Aiu. “But the family knew there was a heiau there.”

Over the years, invasive weeds and vegetation grew over the ancient heiau, which dates back to the 1500s. Back on the trail, Tina passes around a bucket of gardening tools. The group is mostly local residents along with Oregonian Pearl Redmond. “Every time I go anywhere I google walking tours,” says Redmond as she hunkers down on a patch of crabgrass and starts weeding the area below the rock wall of the heiau.

“In order to give back to the land, we each pick up a little sickle and cut down these invasive weeds. You don’t pull them out because you might disturb the rocks of the heiau, so be very careful,” said Redmond. “We’re just giving back.”

Aiu leads the group in an oli, or chant, before heading down the trail that leads to the heiau.
Credit Molly Solomon

For Tina Aiu, going to Maunawila Heiau has become very personal. Over the years, she’s seen the condition continue to improve, as more people from the community learn about the historic site. “When I’m there I can sense that the land feels that it’s loved because all these people have come to take care of it. And you feel it when you’re there,” said Aiu. “And for myself, as kānaka maoli, it’s a place that I can go to and feel that connection to my culture.”

Volunteers spent the rest of the morning weeding invasive plants in the heiau. Part of the Talk Story on the Land session involves giving back to the aina, usually in the form of community service.
Credit Molly Solomon

Aiu, who lives in Makiki and works in Kakaako, says she often feels relieved just to get out of town and spend some time out in the country. “Sometimes we just get so busy doing our work, being with family, and all these other things,” said Aiu. “We forget that there are these special places that really make Hawai‘i what it is.”

Hawaiian Islands Land Trust’s free Talk Story on the Land series has become so popular, they’ve nearly doubled the number of events this year.

The next free Talk Story on the Land sessions at Maunawila Heiau is June 20 and August 15. RSVP  by calling Tina Aiu at 808-498-8385 or send her an email at christina@hilt.org. Find a list of HILT's Talk Story on the Land events on all islands at HILT's website.