The first time I visited a heiau in Hawaii was my last time. Though I wouldn’t call myself ‘intuitive’ by any stretch of imagination, I felt something strong there. Strangely, I felt uncomfortable and as if I was in the wrong place, just being there. It probably didn’t help that I was alone that day and the skies were overcast and dark. It probably didn’t help that I had read all I could about heiaus and their role in Hawaiian culture in the past.A heiau for those that don’t yet know, is a ceremonial area in Hawaii, it is a Hawaiian temple.

Types of Heiau

  • to treat those that are ill
  • to offer the first-picked fruits of the season
  • for offerings of first catch from the sea
  • to encourage rainfall
  • to stop rain from falling
  • to increase fertility
  • for prolonged health of the Hawaiian nation
  • for success in travel
  • for encouraging peace
  • for success in war – luakini

Though heiau are known for being places where human sacrifice was practiced, with thousands of people losing their lives this way, the luakini is the only heiau where human sacrifice took place.

Which brings me to the point of this article – tourists behaving badly at heiau in Hawaii. I wrote a couple years back about a tourist that was climbing a tree and picking fruit and coconuts from trees in Kahana where he was supposed to be riding ATVs on private property. It was a stupid thing to do, and yet tourists are frequently ignorant about, or don’t care about proper behavior when they are traveling. In Thailand I’ve seen many tourists at a local Buddhist temple with their shirts off or women wearing bikini tops. It’s scandalous, and yet it reveals the ignorance of visitors that think the world is their oyster. The temple monks don’t like it at all, in fact in all of Thailand the norm in the cities is for males to keep a top on and for females to not walk around in anything looking like a bra. Thailand is very traditional. Many tourists either know and don’t care, or haven’t bothered to do any research before arriving. So, this is just to show that tourist ignorance happens across the globe. I’m not all that surprised by the recent even at the heiau on Big Island.

Just recently Oahu local Ryan Ozawa brought it to locals attention in his article, “How Not to Visit a Heiau” that another blogger, “Chef Ted,” posted photos of himself laying down on what was probably the sacrificial rock of a major heiau “Mo’okini” on the northernmost tip of the Big Island near Hawi and built in the year 1370. There has been a strong reaction from the people of Hawaii over this. Ted’s article is here.

I am not condoning this guy’s behavior, it was asinine at best, but I do want to say a few things about the situation. It would be nice to have less occurrences of anything similar.

Some thoughts…

1. Make tourists and locals alike, very aware of what is acceptable behavior at the heiau. Signage is great. Brochures in a waterproof container would also be great. A list of no-no’s handed out on the plane by stewardesses about what is OK and what isn’t OK on the islands would be perfect. All these are good ideas, but won’t solve the problem.

2. Ted didn’t do an Andres Serrano “Piss Christ” of the heiau. He layed down on it. Just speculating, but he may have wanted to know what the feeling was as his imagination ran wild with what happened in that very spot. It’s sort of like we visit battlefields between the North and South in Virginia and play frisbee on them. We have picnics. Some people play cowboys and indians on it. Some people relieve themselves in the bushes there. Many of us would see this as acceptable behavior on the mainland. Not many would care if someone replayed a battle scene or laid down and pretended they were dead in the middle of a battle field. We’d think it was odd, but we wouldn’t crucify the person for it.

Hawaii is not the mainland. Hawaiian culture and history is extremely important to Hawaii’s locals. Especially as it seems to be gradually disappearing before their eyes. It is especially offensive to locals when someone from the outside shows blatant disrespect. People from the mainland don’t ‘get that’ and they need to be either taught or supervised. There must be more members of Hawaiian society can do to lessen the chances of this, or worse, happening in the future.

One man posting on Facebook said…

“There are not enough signs put up by civic clubs or HVB or State Parks at heiaus! Up until the 70s, people and contractors and wall builders regularly took stones from various heiau all over Oahu… I’ve seen this done at Pohaku Heiau in Kawainui Marsh in 1959 (the place had no signage altogether, was overgrown and not cared for by anyone. I saw, because kids would go there to play.”

To Stop People Disrespecting Heiaus, Either:

1. Close all sacred heiau locations to the public. Make them available only with permission to groups that have a legitimate reason to be there. The group must pay for a chaperone to accompany them there to teach them the proper way to behave in these sacred places.

2. Post someone at every heiau of importance during daylight hours.

Posting signs and handing out leaflets is not really a viable solution. People don’t see some signs, people don’t care about signs, and people steal signs and litter with leaflets. If Hawaiian people really care about protecting their heritage, protecting these sacred spots by doing one of the two options above is really the best solution to the problem.

Who will get this done?

Is there anyone in Hawaii that cares that much to make an effort to get it done?

Article originally written by Vern Lovic and opinions are his own