We were in Hawai'i for volcanoes, sun and sand. An historic site we'd never heard of was a bit of an afterthought. Wasn't the indigenous stone-age culture, after all, largely pre-historic, even if recent by global standards? What records of the old ways could be left but for a few petroglyphs and the oral tradition? Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park wiped away my preconceptions and was one of the most educational and enjoyable excursions of our Hawai'i vacation.
Located on the southern shore of Honaunau Bay and sprawled over 420 acres, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau is a journey back into Hawaiian antiquity. The site was at once a royal grounds and a place of refuge for losers in war, civilians during wartime and breakers of kapu, or sacred laws (think "taboo"). Breaking kapu was an almost certain death sentence. The perpetrator's only chance was to evade pursuers hot on his heels and make it to the safety of a pu'uhonua (sacred place of refuge) by sea or land. Once there the penitent law-breaker was free to rejoin civil society after a ceremony of absolution performed by the kahuna pule (priest). The visiting Catholic will have a good appreciation of the place.