On the beautiful coast of South Kona, Hawaiʻi Island, is a special and unique place called Hōnaunau Bay, known worldwide for its pristine waters and snorkeling. To many who live in this area, however, this place is much more than just a spot to snorkel and view our underwater wildlife.


Hōnaunau is home to one of the most ancient, sacred and largest archeological sites in the Hawaiian Islands: The Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau, known to many as the place of refuge. To the Hawaiian people, a puʻuhonua was a sacred place where people would go if they violated a kapu (law) or angered a chief. Many who broke kapu fled to the puʻuhonua.

If you were able to get to the puʻuhonua before you were caught by pursuing warriors and killed, a kahuna (priest) would be able to help spare your life, you would be safe. Upon the arrival of the fugitive, the kahuna (priest) would ask which kapu you broke. The person in trouble would need to explain his or her actions, ad the reasons for them. At that time. the kahuna would advise you what needed to be done in order for you to be forgiven.

After a period of time of following these instructions and offering prayers for forgiveness, the violator would be allowed to leave the puʻuhonua freely, with the protection of the gods and without fear of being killed. If the perpetrator didn’t want to go back into society, he had a choice to remain in the puʻuhonua for the rest of his life. The puʻuhonua also served a second important purpose –women, children and the elders would go here to seek safety in times of war.

In the early 15th century Hōnaunau was a thriving ahupua’a. The Chief of Kona at that time was Ehukaimalino. It was at that time that he declared this area as a pu’uhonua, a sanctuary for the Hawaiian people.

In the 15th century, the island of Hawaiʻi was ruled by High Chief Liloa. Under his rule there were six districts, each of them having a chief that would take care of the people in this district. Ehukaimalino was chief of the Moku (district) of Kona, which had several ahupuaʻa. The Kona Moku flourished with agriculture and fishing. The ahupuaʻa of Honaunau was vibrant. The Hawaiian people would trade with one another food, dry goods like kapa (clothing) or lauhala (mats and baskets), and other necessities. The ʻohana (families) up mauka (up the mountain slope) would provide puaʻa (pig), kalo and mala (wet and dry land taro), sweet potato, bananas and vegetables, while people who lived closer to the shore would provide fish, limu (seaweed) paʻakai (dried salt), and things of the sea. This way of living nourished the Hawaiian people for many centuries.

In the 17th Century the Hale O Keawe was built by the chief Keawe-i-kekahialiʻiokamoku who was a descendant of Liloa. Chief Keawe in order to house his iwi (bones) upon his death. It was later the resting place for the high ranking chiefs, up until 1829. During the reign of Keaweikekahialiʻiokamoku, he was favored among all the Hawaiian people. They declared him the favorite chief of the island of Hawaiʻi; and from then on in history, this island is known as Moku o Keawe.

In 1829 the bones of the chiefs were removed and relocated to Pali Kapu o Keoua at Kaʻawaloa. The iwi (bones) of the warriors however were burned. The Hale o Keawe was then abandoned.

Not too long after the removal of the iwi (bones), the ways of worship for ancient Hawaiians were abolished, and the new religion prevailed.