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Puna Described by Visitors, Explorers, and Residents -

1823 to 1930


The following narratives are excerpted from journals, diaries, and articles written by individuals who traveled the coast Puna Trail from 1823 to 1930. The authors included clergy, scientists (naturalists and archaeologists), tourists, government agents (surveyors), and native Hawaiians. Their narratives document travel along the old Puna Trail, later the government road, the nature and make up of the scattered villages, and some of the customs of the native residents of Puna.


The Journal of William Ellis

Following the death of Kamehameha I in 1819, the Hawaiian religious and political systems began undergoing radical changes. Just moments after his death, Ka'ahumanu proclaimed herself "Kuhina nui" (Prime Minister), and within six months the ancient kapu system was overthrown in chiefly centers. Less than a year after Kamehameha's death, Protestant missionaries arrived from America (cf. I'i 1959, Kamakau 1961, and Fornander 1973). In 1823, British missionary William Ellis and members of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) toured the island of Hawai'i seeking out communities in which to establish church centers for the growing Calvinist mission. Ellis' writings (1963), generally the earliest detailed accounts of settlements around the island of Hawai'i, offer readers important glimpses into the nature of native residency and history at the time. Ellis and his party provide us with a few specific references to Kea'au (written Kaau in text) and neighboring lands, both in Puna and Hilo (Waiäkea).

Having entered Puna from the south, at Kïlauea, Ellis and party walked the ancient trail (ala loa) near the shore of Puna. In southern Puna, Ellis reported on the practice of people living near the shore, even along the "desolate coasts," more so than in the more "fertile tracts" to the inland (Ellis 1963:190). Commenting on this, he observed that it was a:

&circumstance we can only account for, by supposing that the facilities which the former afford for fishing, induce the natives to prefer them as places of abode; for they find that where the coast is low, the adjacent water is usually shallow. [Ellis 1963:190]

Historical and oral historical documentation record that it was generally the custom, throughout the islands, for the people to live near the coast, where rich marine resources could be procured. In more arid areas, or places where the soil was sparse, as in sections of Puna, the residents also maintained inland residences-and at times more formalized communities depending on the sustainability of the resources-where diverse agricultural endeavors could be undertaken.

Once past Kumukahi, the party traveled the ala loa which was near the shore through the various native settlements between Kula and Kea'au, and into Waiäkea. The following excerpts from Ellis' journal describe his journey along the old Puna Trail at that time:

At half-past four we reached Kahuwai, where we sat down and took some refreshment, while Makoa was engaged in bringing the people of the place together. About one hundred and fifty assembled& After conversing some time, we travelled in an inland direction to Honoruru, a small village situated in the midst of a wood, where we arrived just at the setting of the sun&

We arose early on the 8th, and&we left Honoruru soon after six a.m. and travelling slowly towards the sea-shore, reached Waiakaheula [Waiakahi'ulä] about eight, where I was obliged to stop, and lie down under the shade of a canoe-house near the shore. Messrs. Thurston and Bishop walked up to the settlement about half a mile inland, where the former preached to the people&

Mr. Bishop hoping to reach Waiakea in a few hours, left Mr. Thurston and the natives with me, and proceeded thither. He was much deceived as to the distance; for it was three o' clock in the afternoon when he arrived at Kaau [Kea'au], where the natives tried to persuade him to stay till morning, as they did not think he could reach Waiakea before night. However, he kept on with increased speed, in hopes of getting at least a sight of Waiakea before dark. But in this he was disappointed, for the sun sunk behind Mouna-Kea, and darkness overshadowed the landscape before he passed the wilderness of pandanus, that stretched along the eastern shore, between Kaau and Hiro. He began to think of resting for the night beneath the shelter of the surrounding bushes; but the path becoming more beaten, indicated his approach to a village... [Ellis 1963:211-212]

[The Trail from Waiakahi'ulä to Kea'au]

Being somewhat recovered by noon, I was able to proceed with Mr. Thurston. The country was populous, but the houses stood singly , or in small clusters, generally on plantations, which were scattered over the whole country. Grass and herbage were abundant, vegetation in many places luxuriant, and the soil, though shallow, was light and fertile.

Keaau Described

Soon after five p.m. we reached Kaau, the last village in the division of Puna. It was extensive and populous, abounding with well cultivated plantations of taro, sweet potatoes, and sugar-cane; and probably owes its fertility to a fine rapid stream of water, which, descending from the mountains, runs through it into the sea. It was the second stream we had seen on the island. [presumably, the first was Waipähoehoe and the second, was the outflow from the ponds at Kea'au]

Having quenched our thirst, we passed over it by stepping on some large stones, and directed our way to the house of the head man, where we put up for the night. He was absent in the mountains, with most of his people, and Makoa could procure us no provisions. We, however, succeeded in purchasing a fowl and some potatoes, and made a comfortable supper&

Early on the 9th the house was crowded with natives, and a little before sun-rise morning worship was performed as usual.

Some of the natives observed, in conversation, "We shall never obtain the things of which you have told us, for we are a wicked and unbelieving people."

Ieie Root Baskets-Making Fire by Friction

Before we left the place, the people offered for sale some curious deep oval baskets, with covers, made of the fibrous roots of ie We purchased two, intending to preserve them as specimens of native ingenuity.

Leaving the village of Kaau, we resumed our journey, and after walking between two and three hours, stopped in the midst of a thicket to rest, and prepare some breakfast.

The natives produced fire by rubbing two dry sticks, of the hibiscus tiliaceus [hau], together; and having suspended over it a small iron pot, in gypsy style, upon three sticks, soon prepared our food. At half-past ten we resumed our walk, and passing about two miles through a wood of pretty large timber, came to open country in the vicinity of Waiakea... [ibid.:212-213].

From Waiäkea, Ellis and some of the party traveled to 'Öla'a (Ora) , and on to the volcano at Kïlauea. Describing 'Öla'a, the community situated inland of the beach community at Kea'au, Ellis' narratives provide us with descriptions of the landscape, and the method of construction of shelters at "Ka-pu-o-ka-ahi":

...The soil is generally rich and fertile, and the face of the country, though more uniform than some parts which we passed over...is varied by occasional undulations. We travelled through two or three extensive woods, in which were many large trees, and saw also several pools and small currents of excellent fresh water.

The construction of the swineherds' houses at the village of Ka-pu-o-ka-ahi, (the hill of the fire), was singular. There were no walls, nor upright posts along the sides, but the rafters were fixed in the ground, united at the top, and thatched about half way down (Ellis 1963:213-214).

As a result of the missionary tour, Hilo was selected as the main church center in the region, with smaller outlying churches in the district of Puna. The outlying churches included a site at Kea'au, in the vicinity of Päkï (see further documentation in Section IV - Government Records).


J.J. Jarves, Editor of the Polynesian (1840)

J.J. Jarves, editor of the Polynesian wrote a series of articles documenting a journey around the island of Hawai'i. In his narratives are found several references to the land of Kea'au and the neighboring region. While walking to Hilo (Waiäkea) from Kïlauea Volcano, Jarves and party observed the flumes rising from the source of the Nänäwale-Kaniahiku lava flows (which he described in subsequent issues of the paper), and described the inland community of 'Öla'a. Departing from Kïlauea, Jarves wrote:

&The descent was so gradual as to be hardly perceptible, and after a brisk walk of eleven miles, we came in sight of the smoke and flames arising from the new streams of lava. They were about twelve miles east of us. At noon we arrived at Olaa, a neat little hamlet upon the border of the wood, with considerable cultivation about it. The population ran out to greet us&urging us to pass the night& Being anxious to arrive at Hilo, we declined& [Polynesian - Aug. 22, 1840:42]

The above excerpt is important as it describes an inland agriculture based community at 'Öla'a, which is not far from the present-day town of Kea'au. It is very likely that individuals living at 'Öla'a made regular use of the mauka-makai trails to coastal Kea'au for fishing purposes and other excursions.

In the next issue of the Polynesian, Jarves described the journey to see the eruption at Nänäwale, Puna, situated about 25 miles from Hilo. Departing Hilo, Jarves informs us that at that time, there was a "middle Puna road." This road was an inland trail, by description, perhaps not far from the alignment later surveyed by A.B. Loebenstein (see account below). After viewing the eruption, Jarves and party then traveled along the coastal Puna Trail to return to Hilo.

[June 8th -Wednesday] &After retracing our steps on the road to the volcano for ten miles, we diverged to the south east, upon what is called the middle Puna road. The night was passed in a small hut, a short distance father on. Early next morning we continued our route over a country much broken up by lava streams, covered with a light soil, and a scanty forest of stunted ohias, which species bore no fruit. At twelve o'clock, when about twenty-five miles from Hilo, we came upon the first traces of the devastations of the burning lava& [Polynesian - Aug. 29, 1840:]

Jarves provides readers with detailed descriptions (his own and those of Titus Coan) of the eruption, various lava flows and entry into the sea. The explosions from the flow were heard 25 miles away. Jarves learned that on June 5th, following the lava flow's entering the sea:

&With such rapidity and to such a degree was the water heated that the following day (June 5th), the fish floated when dead, as far as Keaau, fifteen miles distant, where the water was hot to the touch& [Polynesian - Aug. 29, 1840:46]

On July 10th, Jarves and party traveled along the Puna coastal trail from the Honolulu vicinity to Kea'au and on to Hilo. In his narrative, he compared the setting to that at the time of James Cook's arrival-with native hamlets scattered along the coast and the inhabitants employed in fishing-though he observed that the party saw no heiau while on the journey:

July 10. - Our course led us along the shore, formed by a wall of twenty feet in height, on which the surf rolled heavily, and loudly. The country bordering it was very picturesque with native hamlets amid shady groves. They were in primitive style, and the inhabitants appeared poor and destitute. Civilization had evidently made but little progress in this direction, and the whole scene, probably differed but little from what it appeared in the days of Cook, excepting that we saw no heiau, or signs of idolatrous worship, or any rudeness or incivility among the people. It has the air of repose and happiness which was very gratifying, particularly in contrast with the dreary spectacle we had recently left. The men were mostly employed in fishing, but assembled readily at the sound of a conch, to attend meetings which Mr. L. [Lyman] discoursed at every village we passed through. From the traces of cultivation, the numerous stone pavements and terraces, and the care bestowed in the erection of their houses, now old and out of repair, this was once no doubt a populous district. It is so now in comparison with others, but the inhabitants appear to be borne down by oppression and slavery. This cannot be attributed to missionary enterprise, for they seldom see a preacher, or attend meetings. Their labors being limited to an occasional tour through the district, and the attempt to form schools among the children, which are, however dependent upon native teachers& [Polynesian - Aug. 29, 1840:46]


Commander Charles Wilkes:

The United States Exploring Expedition of 1841

In 1841, Commander Charles Wilkes of the United States Exploring Expedition, toured the Hawaiian Islands (Wilkes 1845, Vol. IV). Wilkes' narratives provide readers with documentation of the landscape and practices of the natives living in the region between Kapoho to Kea'au-marked by the name "Kai Hopai" (i.e. Kai Hopoe) on his map. Of interest Wilkes' map of the region, includes the general alignment of the Puna Trail and others of the district as well.

In speaking of Puna and the success of the missionary efforts at converting the native inhabitants from past beliefs and repetition of their history, Wilkes wrote:

&Almost all of the hills or craters of any note have some tradition connected with them; but I found that the natives were now generally unwilling to narrate these tales, calling them "foolishness&" [Wilkes 1970, Vol. IV:186]

Approaching Kapoho from the south, Wilkes reported:

As we approached the sea-shore, the soil improved very much, and was under good cultivation, in taro, sweet-potatoes, sugar cane, and a great variety of fruit and vegetables& [Wilkes 1970, Vol. IV:186]


[The Puna Trail Describe-Kapoho to Kea'au and Hilo]

&Previous to our departure [from Kapoho], all the tenantry, if so I may call them, came to pay their respects, or rather to take a look at us. We had many kind wishes, and a long line of attendants, as we wended our way among the numerous taro patches of the low grounds, towards Puna; and thence along the sea-coast where the lava entered the sea, at Nanavalie [Nänäwale]. The whole population of this section of the country was by the wayside, which gave me an opportunity of judging of their number; this is much larger than might be expected from the condition of the country, for with the exception of the point at Kapoho, very little ground that can be cultivated is to be seen. The country, however, is considered fruitful by those who are acquainted with it, notwithstanding its barren appearance on the roadsides. The inhabitants seemed to have an abundance of bread-fruit, bananas, sugar-cane, taro, and sweet-potatoes. The latter, however, are seen to be growing literally among heaps of stones and pieces of lava, with scarcely soil enough to cover them; yet they are, I am informed, the finest on the island.

At Puna, there is a large church [Koa'e-Pü'ula]; but no appearance of a village, the houses being much scattered. The church, it is said, will contain two or three thousand persons& [At the sand hills of Nänäwale] &The natives had been planting sweet-potatoes near the foot of the sand-hills, but there was little prospect of their succeeding in raising a crop. We passed several hours here, and then proceeded on our way through Makuu Wekahika [Waikahekahe] to Keaau, where we arrived at sunset. The school-house of Keaau was appropriated to the men and natives; but I preferred to occupy the tent, as I was well aware of the peculiar trials to be undergone in the native houses, although it was newly built. Here we found a delightful spring of fresh water upon the shore, and within the flow of the tide at high water. It enabled us to enjoy a bath, which we had not had the means of doing for forty days&

In some places they have taken great pains to secure a good road or walking path; thus, there is a part of the road from Nanavalie to Hilo which is built of pieces of lava, about four feet high and three feet wide on the top. The largest and best pieces are places on the top; but not withstanding this, the road is exceedingly fatiguing to the stranger, as the lumps [i.e., cobblestone pavement] are so arranged that he is obliged to take a long and short step alternately; but this the natives do not seem to mind, and they pass over the road with great facility, even when heavy laden&

On the 23d of January we were up betimes, being desirous of reaching Hilo before noon, and started leaving the baggage to follow. Or route diverged somewhat from the sea-shore, and lay most of the way through a thick wood of pandanus&When the pandanus forests are in full bloom, the whole air for miles around is scented with fragrance [Wilkes 1970, Vol. IV:188-193]


The Journal Chester Lyman (1846)

In 1846, Chester S. Lyman, "a sometime professor" at Yale University visited Hilo, Hawai'i, and stayed with Titus Coan (Lyman ms., in the collection of the Hawaiian Historical Society). Lyman provides readers with observations of Coan's work. His narratives provide readers with a brief description of a meeting at Kea'au village, in which 90 to 100 people participated. The narratives also describe several other native communities, farther east, which he visited while traveling along the coastal alignment of the Puna Trail:


Tuesday July 7th [1846]:

At 10 A.M. started with Mr. Coan on a tour through Puna, the southern district of his Diocese. These tours he makes through his whole field, which is nearly 100 miles in length, about once a quarter - holding meetings, baptizing, marrying, attending to Church discipline, &c., &c. He calls the roll of the Church members, and inquires the whereabouts and character of each individual. Puna contains between 3000 and 4000 inhabitants.

Our course the first part of the way lay about S.E. through a level lava country, with very light soil. The groves of Pandanus were very beautiful, and are the principal tree of the region. There is some grass and ferns, and many shrubs; but the soil is very scanty. Potatoes are almost the only vegetable that can be raised, and these seem to flourish well amid heaps of stone where scarcely a particle of soil could be discovered. The natives pick out the stones to the depth often of from 2 to 4 feet, and in the bottom plant the potato - how it can expand in such a place is a wonder.

Nearly all Puna is like this. The people are necessarily poor - a bare subsistence is all they can obtain, and scarcely that. Probably there are not $10 in money in all Puna, and it is thought that not over one in five hundred has a single cent. The sight of some of these potatoe patches would make a discontented N.E. farmer satisfied with his lot. Yet, I have no where seen the people apparently more contented & happy&

The walking over these lava fields is very rough and unpleasant, and makes sad havoc of shoes - a pair will often last but a few days.

7 or 8 miles from Hilo we passed a cave just by the path. It is formed in lava, and but a few yards in extent; the top is drusy and wet. At half past 2 P.M. we reached Keaau, 12 miles from Hilo, on a plain at the head of an indentation of the sea. The surf breaks beautifully on the broken lava shore. The plain contains several ponds of brackish water which rise and fall with the times. In one of these we bathed, and found it very cold.

Having dispatched our dinner, Mr. Coan commenced his meeting at 4 ½. Seven were admitted to the Church, some of them baptized, and one child. The Lord's supper was administered - the bread being distributed in a tin plate and the cover of a tin pail from our stores, and the water in two small earthen mugs which we have with us. There were from 80 to 100 present, besides several dogs - all but the latter were orderly and attentive; but besides disturbing the meeting, one of the canines during the meeting found his way into our calabash at the house and devoured all our fresh beef, which we had allotted for several fine meals - leaving, however, for manner's sake, a piece of broiled salmon which lay on the bottom of the pan.

After meeting, we passed along a spot of smooth white sand on the beach, and were struck with the facility and readiness with which a lad drew with a bit of stick an off-hand sketch of a full-rigged cutter. It would have done credit to an accomplished draughts man&

Wed. July 8th, 1846:

Rose at 5 - Thermometer 68º. Started a little before 6 and walked 2 miles to a few houses on the shore, where we breakfasted in the school house [probably Päkï - School Grant 3 Lot 8]. The path most of the way was on a lava bed immediately on the margin of the sea - the surf dashing beautifully at our feet. Five miles further on we came to Makuu, a small scattered village at 9 o'clock A.M& [Lyman ms. Book III:2-4]


Not to be Mistaken Again! (J.W.H. Kamohai, 1864)

One of the earliest accounts written by a Hawaiian visitor to the District of Puna, and published in the Hawaiian newspaper, Ku 'Oko'a, was published in 1864. Kamohai described some of the famous places of Puna-including Höpoe and Hä'ena-that he had only previously heard of, and apparently not believed to be true:

On the 3rd of February, 1864, we went to Hilo and then to Kula, Puna on the 5th. We stayed at the house of one of the natives there and on the 7th, I went to see Waiakaea and Kamiloholu. Waiakaea is a fishpond and Kamiloholu is where the milo trees encircle the edge of the fishpond with the leaves (falling) within the pond. Thus, it is called "Kamiloholu at Waiakaea," and it is a famous place&

&Then on the 19th of that month I heard the call of the rain huki-he'e nehu of Hilo calling me to return, and on the way, I saw the lehua trees moving [spread out] upon the plain of Hopoe, and extending down to Haena. Thus bringing to mind thoughts of wonder upon seeing Wahine-ami. The length of this stone [Hopoe, ka wahine ami i ke kai] is about like the height of a person and it is there in the sea. So finished is this account of the new things I've seen. [Ku Okoa April 30, 1864:3/c3]


Titus Coan - Earthquakes of 1868

Titus Coan arrived at Hilo, Hawai'i in 1835. From Häili Church, he directed the Protestant congregations of Hilo and Puna. During his tenure, he traveled throughout Puna, and in his autobiographic journal (Coan 1882), he recorded various aspects of the work he undertook. Coan also commented on the native communities and districts through which he traveled. Intent upon the conversion of the Hawaiian populous, Coan wrote little of native customs or practices, but from his narratives we find a few references that are perhaps relevant to the present study. In particular, writing of the great earthquakes in March and April 1868, and their impacts on the native communities of Puna and Ka'ü, Coan recorded that on:

April 2d, a terrific shock rent the ground, sending consternation through all Hilo, Puna, and Kau. In some places fissures of great length, breadth, and depth were opened& Stone houses were rent and ruined, and stone walls sent flying in every direction& &the sea rose twenty feet along the southern shore of the island, and in Kau 108 houses were destroyed and forty-six people drowned& Many houses were also destroyed in Puna, but no lives were lost. During this awful hour the coast of Puna and Kau, for the distance of seventy-five miles subsided seven feet on average, submerging a line of small villages all along the shore. One of my rough stone meeting houses in Puna [Kapoho-Koa'e], where we once had a congregation of 500 to 1,000 was swept away with the influx of the sea, and its walls are now under water& [Coan 1882:314-316]


Whitney's Hawaiian Guide Books (1875 and 1890)

In 1875, Henry M. Whitney, editor of the Hawaiian Gazette, published a "Hawaiian Guide Book." The publication was produced as one of the early promotional guides to encourage visitation to the Hawaiian Islands, and included descriptions of the islands, harbors, agriculture, plantations, scenery, volcanoes, climate, population, commerce, and places to stay while visiting. His publications of 1875 and 1890 provide readers with interesting commentary on travel via the old roadways, from Hilo through the district of Puna. As seen in the excerpted texts below, Whitney describes two routes to Kïlauea. The first one is the old coastal trail (road) between Hilo and Puna, taken primarily along the coast, once at Kea'au (written as "Kaea"). The second route is inland, via 'Öla'a village and the half- way house (presumably Hawelu's half-way house).


To The Volcano Kilauea [1875]

Two routes may be taken to the crater Kilauea, on the slope of Mauna Loa, one by Puna, the other by Olaa. It will be advisable to combine both, by going one way and returning the other. Time being an object, the trip to and from the crater via Olaa can be accomplished in three days, which will give one day and two nights at the volcano house.

The Puna route leaves Hilo by way of the bay beach, through cocoanut groves, bamboo thickets and fish ponds across the Waiahuma [Waiolama] and the Waiakea bridge, through the bread-fruit orchard, out of Hilo village into the uneven pasture land of Waiakea, whose broad acres soon become thickly set with the pandanus (screw palm), and after four or five miles enters the forest that stretches from the ocean to the limit of vegetation on Mauna Loa. The vegetation throughout this tract is fully luxuriant as that near Panama&it is perhaps the most accessible to strangers of any tropical jungle on the islands and forms one of the wonders of the volcanic trip. In its flowering season the forest is gay with red and yellow, and the parasitic creepers, the ieie, seem aflame with color. Birds, native and imported, keep this flower garden alive with motion and with song: noteworthy the black oo whose wings hide the rare, yellow feathers used for the royal mantles of the ancient chiefs. Some of the ohia trees are 60 or 80 feet high, and are often seen in full bloom to the very tops, while the undergrowth of strawberries and ferns is next to impenetrable. This continues for three or four miles, and then follow groves of the pandanus, and at Kaea [Kea'au] the ocean appears and the houses in Puna. Cocoanut trees here begin to form a prominent part of the landscape, clustered in groups of hundreds and thousands.

Twenty-five miles of fair riding will carry the traveler to the comfortable ranch of Capt. Eldarts, who entertains guests for a reasonable compensation& [Whitney 1875:78-80]

&The short route to Kilauea Crater, leads out of Hilo village by Volcano street, adorned with white cottages& The road soon becomes densely fenced with the ohia bushes, then crosses the end of the famous Waiakea fish ponds and only fairly starts in the wilderness after passing Gov. Lyman's cattle ranch in Waiakea. It is no macadamized thoroughfare and will try the patience of most travelers. Ten miles bring the traveler into the magnificent woods&

Fifteen miles from Hilo Olaa is reached, the half-way stopping place. The intermediate territory is covered with ti plants and ferns, while the road consists mostly of pahoehoe lava, covered with bunch grass and occasional bushes and trees.

"The Half-way House" at Olaa is merely a cluster of grass houses, a passable rest for visitors& Although this point is 1138 feet above the sea level, and ten miles from Keaau, (the nearest point on the sea shore) the roar of the sea may be distinctly heard during a heavy surf& [ibid.:80-81]


In 1890, Whitney published once again, an account of the journey between Hilo and Puna along the coastal road. He observed:


This district presents some features which are well worth the exertion which the traveler will have to make in order to see them. The general appearance from the road is sterile, especially in the southern part& The northern part of the district is covered with a dense lauhala forest and is thinly inhabited. The road is thus very monotonous. Some 18 miles from Hilo the country begins to improve, and away from the main road, upon the slopes of the mountain there are many acres of excellent land, suitable for coffee and fruit growing& The south eastern part of Puna has some celebrity for its groves of cocoanuts, the trees being more abundant here than in any other part of the islands&

The tourists selecting to go through Puna should obtain letters for either Kapoho or Pohoiki, where the first night would be spent& The road from Hilo skirts along the Bay, passes over the Waiakea river and very shortly plunges into a thick belt of forest which extends as far as Keaau, nine and a quarter miles from Hilo. From thence the road goes in almost a straight line through long tracts of lauhala groves, with occasional glades affording glimpses of the seas. A few scattered houses are passed and at Makuu, 15 miles from Hilo, there is quite a little settlement. Some four miles further on the flow of 1840 is crossed& [Whitney 1890:64]


"A Sabbath in Puna" (O.P. Emerson, 1890)

In the following article Rev. O.P. Emerson, editor of "The Friend," informed readers of his recent visit to Puna, Hawai'i. In describing the journey along the coast of Puna, the only active church he referenced between Hilo and Kapoho, was the Pü'ula Church at Koa'e:

From the town of Hilo to Captain Eldart's in Puula, Puna is 21 ½ miles by Mr. J.M. Lydgates survey. But one-half and more of the way is easily three time the length of the rest by the watch, and that make it about 40 miles does it not? Puna needs roads as badly as Kona. It would be a country to live in, if it were not hard to get in and out of. There are rich coffee lands there, I am told, but at present there are no roads to them. But at the Captain's, one finds an oasis and too, fat turkey well served, and kind friends and balmy air. The Pastor at Puula is fortunate in having the hearty support of this entire household, and they too are fortunate in him. As one of the sons of the house said: "We knew him well as one of our skillful and trusted Paniolos (cow boys). By and by he took it into his head to go to the Theological Institute at Honolulu&"

By and by when the church at Puula wanted a pastor, they called their quick witted countryman. And since he has settled with them& On going to church we found a congregation largely composed of young men whom the Pastor had fathered. He has been greatly helped in winning his way with them by his musical talent& (The Friend - December 1890:95)


Government Surveys in Puna (A.B. Loebenstein, 1892)

By 1892, the population of Puna had undergone dramatic changes. Vast tracts of land-both government and privately owned-was relatively uninhabited. There were no more than a hand full of native tenants at Kea'au, and they were employed by W.H. Shipman, living primarily at Kea'au Beach and Päkï. The Hawaiian Government sought out ways to improve access to the land resources of Puna, and instructed A.B. Loebenstein to survey a new inland route through the district. In 1892, following completion of the initial road survey and survey of selected homestead lots, Loebenstein was apparently interviewed by the Advertiser regarding Puna. The Hawaiian Gazette also published the article, and the following excerpts provide readers further documentation on his work and the development interests of the Hawaiian Government at the time:



Mr. Loebenstein Gives a Few Pointers on the District It Will Fetch Tourists

Thousands of Acres of Coffee and Tobacco Land-Ancient Burial Caves of Hawaii-

Pit Craters and Tree Ferns-A Monster Petition for a New Road.

Mr. A.B. Loebenstein, who has been in town for the past few days, has for a long time been engaged in making surveys in Puna, and has acquired in consequence a more thorough knowledge of that district than perhaps anyone else in the group& Asked his opinion on the agricultural resources of Puna.

Mr. Loebenstein said: "There is an extensive acreage in Puna suitable for cultivation of different products, particularly of coffee and tobacco."

"How much is there of it?" asked the reporter. "Well, it is scattered& Sometimes there are large tracts and sometimes pieces of a few hundred acres only. Twenty-two miles from Hilo, by the new road survey above Kapohu [Kapoho], on the lands of Rycroft and others, there must be 10,000 acres of the finest coffee land. This land can't be plowed-it is rocky, but very rich. Most of the good lands are covered with a dense forest, but there are open spots called kipuka, covered with a growth of the ki plant, tree-ferns, sugar cane etc., which are patches cultivated by the natives in ancient times, and were called by them "kihapai" and "mahinaai."

"What do you think of Puna as a coffee district?"

"It is the coffee district& The climate is dry and the drainage perfect. It is good for tobacco too& There is plenty of tobacco growing wild, which has received no cultivation for years. It grows where the soil is very thin, in crevices of stone walls and rocky localities&" [Hawaiian Gazette , March 22, 1892]

When asked about arable government lands in Puna, Loebenstein described the land and spoke of the work being done to survey the new Puna Road:

"The arable belt of Puna is from three to six miles from the sea coast, and is consequently unexplored. It is a wonderful country and I could talk of it by the hour. It only lies in the hands of the Government to develop it. Everything depends on an appropriation being made for the road, of which the preliminary survey has been made."

"Is the line of the survey the best?"

"Since I have begun on the detail survey of the district of Puna I find it can be changed in some particulars to advantage. I certainly believe that road is of the utmost importance. Nawahi is in favor of it, and a monster petition for it is being got up in the district. The road begins at the edge of the Ramie camp, one mile from the edge of the woods-nine miles from Hilo. It follows the old road for a mile and a half more, and is to extend to Kaimu on a new survey& I met with ancient trails showing traces of a dense population and cultivation in early times. The road, if opened, will afford beautiful scenery to tourists, as there are natural wonders all along, lava trees, pit craters and lava tunnels extending for miles which formed ancient burial places. There are natural benches formed by the lava, where the dead were placed, and on these are bones, skulls and sometimes complete skeletons. These tunnels are from 25 to 30 feet wide and about the same in height, and of course pitch dark&

From the ninth to the nineteenth mile the road is over pahoehoe, the arable land lying about a mile and a half above& There is considerable sandal wood growing on the pahoehoe, but the ranchers are too indolent to drive cattle, so they make a fire and burn off the brush, which kills the sandal wood. It is a shame. There are no wild cattle in Puna, except lizards&" [Hawaiian Gazette, March 22, 1892]


C.W. Baldwin in Hawaii's Young People (1902)

In a series of articles published in Hawaii's Young People, Baldwin described roadways of the Hawaiian Islands. Among his articles was the following description of the new Puna Road and access to remote areas of Puna.


In travelling around other islands of the group, we usually follow the seashore, but with Hawaii the case is different, for, to avoid the waste regions and to accommodate the inhabitants, the road goes far inland in places. As the Government could not afford to build more than one road around the "big" island, that one was put where it would be of the most use to the greatest number of people& Of course everyone who goes around Hawaii leaves out nearly the whole of Puna, going by the Volcano House to Hilo. There is a good road from nine miles as far as Kapoho and a branch road extending from Pahoa to a point three miles above Kalapana-beyond this there are only trails& (1902:46-47)


Keaau Ranch (L.A. Henke, 1929)

In August 1929, the University of Hawaii printed Research Publication No. 5, "A Survey of Livestock in Hawaii," written by L.A. Henke. By the time W.H. Shipman began acquiring title to the lands of Kea'au and Waikahekahe in 1882, ranching operations were becoming established in the area. In the coastal zone, on lands through which the Puna Trail (Lower Puna Road) passed, cattle were grazed from as early as the 1850s to the 1960s. Henke (1929) published the following history of Keaau Ranch and description of operations at the time of writing.

Keaau Ranch, with an area of about 50,000 acres, 40,000 held in fee simple and 10,000 leased from the Government and private parties, extends from the sea to an elevation of 1,800 feet. The ranch formerly included lands in the Waiakea and Keaau sections now planted in sugar cane.

Much of this land is pahoehoe and aa lava (undated flows) sufficiently decomposed and covered with thin soil in many places to afford mediocre pasturage. Fruit trees do particularly well in these partially decomposed aa flows.

The ranch carries about 4,000 grade Herefords with about 100 bulls, 25 purebred and the other high grade. All cows except those kept for breeding cows are spayed. The rough character of many parts of the ranch necessitates more bulls than would otherwise be needed.

The ranch has about 70 miles of fences, both stone and wire. Holes for posts have to be blasted in the lava. The region has rather heavy rainfall, 106 inches in 1925, 85 inches in 1926 and 196 in 1927 at the ranch headquarters on the sea at Haena and this provides sufficient streams and pools of water for the cattle.

Cattle from Keaau Ranch are often sent to a higher ranch, Puu Oo, belonging to the same owner, when about one year old and only about 150 are marketed annually direct from Keaau. The combined ranches with about 8,000 head market about 1,200 a year when 2 to 2 ½ years old, when they dress out to be about 550 pounds. About 300 head a year are shipped to Honolulu, often driving them over the slopes of Mauna Kea to Kawaihae, where they are loaded on the steamers. The balance are slaughtered at the slaughter house of the Hilo Meat Company in Keaau&

The ranch is owned by W.H. Shipman, Ltd., and managed by W.H. Shipman and his son, H.C. Shipman. W.H. Shipman purchased the ranch in 1877. It was started about 1875 by Rufus Lyman, C.R. Bishop, P.C. Jones, and John Paty and others& [Henke 1929:32-33]

Additional historical accounts regarding ranching operations are cited in Section IV.


Archaeology Field Studies (A. Hudson, 1930)

Early archaeological studies of sites in Hawai'i (i.e., Thrum 1908 and Stokes and Dye 1991 [a survey conducted 1906-1907]) fail to mention any sites for Kea'au. In 1930-1932, Alfred Hudson conducted a survey of sites of East Hawai'i for the Bishop Museum (Husdon Ms. 1932). Hudson offers some discussion on sites of the Kea'au area. He notes that the Puna-Ka'ü trail between:

&Keaau and Kapoho, though overgrown in some places,...is generally in an excellent state of preservation... (Hudson Ms. 1932:218).

Walking along the coast line through Keaukaha past Leleiwi, Hudson entered Puna in the land of Kea'au. Hudsons' Site 74., a "Walled, paved and terraced platform; about an eighth of a mile on the Hilo side of Papai" (ibid.:295), is identified as a possible heiau. It is possible that this site is the heiau called "Kawiakawa," referenced in the Boundary Commission testimonies and survey records cited in this study. Hudson also reviews the account of Kamehameha's experience at Mäwae, which eventually led to the chief's proclamation of the "Law of the Splintered Paddle" (ibid.: 297-298). Hudson describes several sites in the vicinity of Päpa'i, near the shore (cf. Hudson Ms. 1932: 299-303).

Hudson noted that it was difficult to obtain information about the sites in Puna, and that:

Most of them are located along the coast between Keaau and Kapoho where no one now lives, and it is difficult to locate descendants of the former Hawaiian population of the area who might be able to shed light on the nature and function of certain sites (ibid.:304).

He also noted:

Back from the sea the land is under cultivation in cane, used for pasturage, or covered with dense vegetation which can be penetrated only with difficulty (ibid.).

Hudson did learn of one stone near the shore of Kea'au beach which was sacred:

...fishpond fed by fresh water springs. An upright stone, a little over 2 feet high, is sacred to the fish god Keakuaualo& (ibid.:306-307)

Though the name of the stone, a kü'ula, is not remembered, Roy Shipman Blackshear and descendants of the Shipman family, as well as members of the Ka'iewe and Ha'a families-who have lived on the land for generations-and other unidentified fishermen still care for-some leaving ho'okupu or offerings-the kü'ula.

Hudson's last reference to features of the land of Kea'au is a citation of an account of the stone form of the lehua grove goddess Höpoe, who was a companion of Hi'iaka-i-ka-poli-o-Pele. The fishpond mentioned above, and the stone form of Höpoe are in the vicinity of the shore line fronting the Shipman beach house. Hudson reported that the:

"...dancing woman, Wahine Ami o Hopoe, [which] lies in the breaking surf. This is a large triangular rock with a round head-like projection, which is said to dance up and down in the surf... Nearby stands her servant, a cubicle block of basalt. These are the petrified remains of characters in the famous legend of Pele and Hiiaka." (ibid.:307).

Another interesting account recorded by Hudson, pertains to Waikahekahe. While speaking with a Mr. Kaomea of Pohoiki about the heiau, Mahinaakaaka Heiau in Keahialaka, Mr. Kaomea informed Hudson that there was another heiau of the name Mahinaakaaka, on Mauna Kea. Mr. Kaomea told Hudson that "The stones for this heiau were carried to Mauna Kea from Waikahekahe." (Hudson ms. 1932:370). No further documentation was recorded.

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