Land Area: 44.6 square miles (115.5 sq. km)
Island Emblem: Hinahina (Heliotropium anomalum var. argenteum)
Highest Elevation: 1,483 feet (452 m), at the summit of Pu‘u Moa‘ulanui.
Size Comparison: Kaho‘olawe is the eighth largest Hawaiian Island.
Cultural / Historical Sites and Attractions
Island Used for Bombing Practice
Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana
Kaho‘olawe is a relatively dry island, located less than 7 miles (11.3 km) southwest of Maui, and largely blocked from heavy rains by Maui’s Haleakalā Volcano. Kaho‘olawe is about 11 miles (18 km) long and 6 miles (9.7 km) wide.
According to Hawaiian tradition, Kaho‘olawe is the sacred home of the god Kanaloa. The island is also the site of many heiau (sacred places of worship) built by ancient Hawaiians.
Hakioawa (“Breaking of [the] harbor”[i]) in north Kaho‘olawe is said to be where ‘Ai‘ai, the fish demigod, erected a kū‘ula (altar) on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The temple at Hakioawa is thought to have been built before A.D. 1600.
In 1829, Kuhina Nui (Premier) Ka‘ahumanu, then a Protestant convert, ordered that practicing Catholics be punished. For a short time after this proclamation, the island of Kaho‘olawe served as a penal colony for the offenders.
A Hawaiian proverbs states: “He uku maoli ia, he i‘a no Kaho‘olawe,” (“He is an uku, a fish of Kaho‘olawe,” meaning, “He is a rebel. Said by Keopuolani of Kekuaokalani when she suspected him of rebellion at the time of ‘ai-noa (the abolishing of the kapu).”[ii]
Island Used for Bombing Practice
Kaho‘olawe’s land and native ecosystems have suffered a long history of abuse, beginning with the habitat degradation caused by introduced goats as well as cattle ranching. In 1920, the United States military began using the island of Kaho‘olawe as a bombing range for ships and aircraft.
In 1939, the Territory of Hawai‘i leased the southern tip of Kaho‘olawe to the United States Army for use as an artillery range. After the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor (and despite many objections) the United States Navy gained exclusive use of Kaho‘olawe for bombing practice and gunnery training.
On February 20, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed an executive order placing Kaho‘olawe under the Secretary of the Navy’s jurisdiction, for use by the U.S. Navy.
Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana
On January 4, 1976, nine people led the first protest occupation of Kaho‘olawe in an effort to stop the United States Navy’s use of the island as a military bombing target.
Seven of the protesters—Kimo Aluli, Ian Lind, Ellen Miles, Stephen Morse, Gail Kawaipuna Prejean, Walter Ritte and Karla Villalba—were arrested within hours.
Two of the protesters, Walter Ritte Jr. and Emmett Aluli, were able to get inland from the shore without being caught. Ritte and Aluli remained on the island for nearly three days before surrendering.
Following the occupation, the stories told by Ritte and Aluli of what they saw—widespread destruction, and desecration that included bombed heiau (ancient sacred sites)—inspired activists and fueled a passionate protest movement that sought to stop the bombing of Kaho‘olawe.
After the initial occupation, Ritte and Aluli returned to Kaho‘olawe with Ritte’s sister and wife, and again they evaded the military for days. In all, there were at least twelve occupations of Kaho‘olawe after the initial landing by the “Kaho‘olawe Nine”.
In the weeks after the initial protest, the county councils of Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island urged an end to the use of Kaho‘olawe as bombing target. Native Hawaiians organized a grass-roots protest movement known as Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana and filed a lawsuit in federal court attempting to halt the bombing.
In March of 1977 James “Kimo” Mitchell and his cousin George Jarrett Helm Jr., the leader of Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana while paddling their surfboards to Kaho‘olawe during another attempt to reclaim the island for native Hawaiians.
In 1980, Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana entered into an agreement with the United States Navy. The consent decree authorized an archeological survey as well as goat eradication, and began clearance of weapons materials from the island’s surface, although military training on Kaho‘olawe continued. On March 18, 1981, Kaho‘olawe was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On October 22, 1990, United States President George Bush ended the use of Kaho‘olawe for bombing practice, and created a congressional commission to work out a return of the island to Hawaiians.
In 1993, the United States Navy received a $400 million authorization from the United States Congress to clean ordnance from Kaho‘olawe (through November, 2003, and then later extended four months), and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission was put in charge of restoring the island once the ordnance was removed.
In 1994, under a congressional appropriations act and presidential order, the island of Kaho‘olawe was returned to the State of Hawai‘i. In July of 1997, Parsons-UXB Joint Venture was given a contract to clear ordnance, and employed archaeologists, surveyors, environmental specialists, heavy equipment operators, and other workers. The Navy transferred control of access to Kaho‘olawe to the State of Hawai‘i on November 11, 2003.
By the end of 2003, the cleanup efforts had succeeded in clearing more than 20,000 acres (8,100 ha) of the island’s surface to 4 feet (1.2 m) deep. More than 90,000 pieces of ordnance were disposed of, including 2000-pound (907 kg) bombs. More than 8.5 million pounds (3.9 million kg) of weapon fragments were gathered.
In addition, more than 12,000 tires (commonly used to mark targets) were removed from Kaho‘olawe. The Navy also identified 2,550 historic sites on Kaho‘olawe, including 630 discovered during the cleanup effort. Seventeen of the 27 cultural sites that had been identified in a 1995 Land Use Plan were cleared.
A $3 million rain catchment tank was installed at the island’s summit to provide water for the native plants and trees, including more than 20,000 plants in Lua Makika crater. A small desalination plant was constructed on the west side of the island to provide drinking water.
Kaho‘olawe remains off limits to the general public, and there is a 2-mile (3.2-km) offshore no fishing zone. The United States Navy transferred control of access to Kaho‘olawe to the State of Hawai‘i on November 11, 2003, and the whole island is now designated as a State of Hawai‘i cultural reserve.
The island is visited by Native Hawaiians as well as by military personnel carrying out the federally funded clean-up of bombed and unexploded ordnance.
The Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe arrived on the island of Kaho‘olawe on October 20, 2004 along with the voyaging canoes Makali‘i and Hōkūalaka‘i. The visit celebrated the end of military bombing on that island and the return of Kaho‘olawe to Hawaiians as a place to relearn old traditions.
Ancient chants have revealed that a spot at the 1,444-foot (440-m) elevation on a Kaho‘olawe mountain called Moa‘ulaiki was a place where the Polynesian ocean navigators were trained in the arts of celestial navigation, using stars to guide them over the vast Pacific Ocean.
Moa‘ulaiki provides a panoramic view of the sky and as well as views of Maui, Lāna‘i, Moloka‘i, and Hawai‘i Island. Also visible from Moa‘ulaiki and particularly important to ocean navigators are the currents in the channels between the islands.[iii]
Currents on the ocean’s surface are created by winds as well as variations in the water’s pressure and temperature. Around the Hawaiian Islands, the general flow of surface currents moves westward at a speed of about .4 knots.
A stone shrine at the summit of Moa‘ulaiki is called Pohaku ahu ‘aikupele kapili o Keaweiki or “Stone of deep magic of Keaweiki.”[iv]
More than 500 archaeological sites, including at least 3,000 archaeological features, have been identified on Kaho‘olawe, although many of the island’s native sites were destroyed by years of bombings. On the Kaho‘olawe volcano called Lua Makika there is a large stone quarry once used by ancient Hawaiians.
A rock outcropping known as Kealaikahiki, the westernmost point of the island and a location known from ancient times as a training ground for ocean navigators.
According to tradition, it was at Kealaikahiki that “voyages to foreign lands (Kahiki) were begun,”[v] and also the spot to which they returned. Kealaikahiki means “the way to foreign lands,” [vi] and “the pathway to Tahiti.”[vii]
From Lae o Kealaikahiki (“Point of Kealikahiki”[viii]) the northern and southern horizons are visible, allowing navigators to see both Hōkūpa‘a (the North Star) and Hānaiakamalama, the Southern Cross.
The Polynesian Voyaging Society has rededicated Kealaikahiki as a training ground for ocean navigators and a place to restore and perpetuate the cultural traditions of deep-sea voyaging.
Micronesian master navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug sailed to Kaho‘olawe in 1980 on the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe. When he visited the island again in 2004, Mau stated that Kaho‘olawe was “for navigation. It has some spirit about sailing. When I come here, I feel something. We talk story to the spirits, they look at us when we talk, but we never see them.”[ix]
Mau began sailing with his grandfather at age four, and by age five he had committed to memory a “star compass” consisting of 32 stars corresponding to points around the horizon. “Mau learned to turn the clues from the heavens and the ocean into knowledge,” said Nainoa Thompson.[x]
The wayfinding knowledge that Mau received from his grandfather was passed down through a long line of Micronesian navigators in an unbroken tradition spanning more than 3,000 years.
Mau taught his skills to Hawaiians—Nainoa Thompson and others—who were interested in reviving the ancient Polynesian traditions of navigating voyaging canoes using only the stars and other directional clues provided by the natural world to sail across the Pacific Ocean.
Mau recalled that Kaho‘olawe has traditionally been a “guidepost for Pacific travelers,”[xi] and noted that his own ancestors “would come here [Kaho‘olawe] first, and they talk to the spirit of this place.”[xii] “They come here with blessings,” said Mau, “and when they leave, the sprit of this place goes with them.”[xiii]
“The spirits are waiting,” Mau says of Kaho‘olawe, “waiting for the canoes to come; to go.”[xiv]
Dr. Noa Emmett Aluli, the chairman of the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission and one of the first protesters to occupy the island on January 7, 1976, stated that Kaho‘olawe will become the piko (center) of Hawaiian sovereignty, and “a place where the culture will continue to be seeded and grow.”[xv]
“Young kids can come to this island and learn how to feel more Hawaiian and fish and share and bring their experiences to their communities,”[xvi] said Aluli, “This will be a piko of the culture”[xvii]
(See Rediscovering the Past: the Revival of Polynesian Voyaging Traditions, Chapter 3.)
[i] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.
[ii] p. 102, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 952.
[iii] Lum, Burt. Kaho‘olawe and the Makahiki Ceremony: The Healing of an Island. Californian Journal of Health Promotion 2003, Volume 1, Special Issue: Hawaii, 25-33.
[iv] Lum, Burt. Kaho‘olawe and the Makahiki Ceremony: The Healing of an Island. Californian Journal of Health Promotion 2003, Volume 1, Special Issue: Hawaii, 25-33.
[v] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.
[vi] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.
[vii] Wilder, Kathryn. The Fall and Rise of Kaho‘olawe. The Spirit of Aloha, March/April, 2006.
[viii] Pukui, Mary Kawena, Elbert, Samuel H., and Mookini, Esther T. Mookini. Place Names of Hawaii: Revised & Expanded Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1974.
[x] p. 2, Ku Holo Mau / Sail On, Sail Always, Sail Forever: 2007 Voyage to Micronesia for Mau Piailug. Pius Mau Piailug; and Reflections on Mau Piailug, by Nainoa Thompson (1996). http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/2007voyage/2007micronesiamau.html, 9/07/2006.
[xi] Viotti, Vicki. Kaho‘olawe embraces voyagers. The Honolulu Advertiser, 10/23/2003. Internet site: http://thehonoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Oct/23/ln/ln25p.html, 9/21/2006.
[xii] Viotti, Vicki. Kaho‘olawe embraces voyagers. The Honolulu Advertiser, 10/23/2003. Internet site: http://thehonoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Oct/23/ln/ln25p.html, 9/21/2004.
[xiii] Kubota, Gary T. Kahoolawe: a solemn return, an ambitious future: Hawaiians celebrate the importance of Kahoolawe in native navigation. The Star Bulletin, 10/23/2004. Internet site: http:starbulletin.com/2004/10/23/news/story1.html, 9/21/2006.
[xiv] p. 4, Mau’s Canoe. Internet site: http://www.hanahou.com/pages/magazine.asp?Action=DrawARticle, 9/18/2006.
[xv] Viotti, Vicki. Kaho‘olawe embraces voyagers. The Honolulu Advertiser, 10/23/2003. Internet site: http://thehonoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Oct/23/ln/ln25p.html, 9/21/2004.
[xvi] Viotti, Vicki. Kaho‘olawe embraces voyagers. The Honolulu Advertiser, 10/23/2003. Internet site: http://thehonoluluadvertiser.com/article/2004/Oct/23/ln/ln25p.html, 9/21/2004.