WAILUKU >> The University of Hawaii’s Maui College is proposing to transform a 20-acre site near some of the state’s most expensive hotels into a "living classroom" on Hawaiian culture, archaeology, and agriculture.
The Maui News reported archaeologists believe the parcel between Kihei and Makena was once part of a major Hawaiian settlement that contained an important water source, a heiau — or shrine — complex, and other ancient sites.
Archaeologist Janet Six said the land was once part of a fishing village researchers believe was inhabited for more than 1,300 years by as many as 10,000 people at a time.
Maui College officials are gathering public comments on a plan to take over the site. The university’s Board of Regents would have to approve any formal proposal presented by the college.
"It’s ancient," said Kiope Raymond, associate professor of Hawaiian Studies at the college. "It was a very thriving community of Hawaiians, and much of that has been obliterated, unfortunately, over time, with the build-outs of the resort developments."
It’s located below Wailea Alanui Drive, just past the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort and next to the One Palauea Bay subdivision. It’s also down the road from the Four Seasons Resort at Wailea.
The land was designated a cultural preserve a decade ago as a condition of regulatory approval for a residential subdivision called One Palauea Bay. The developers have long proposed transferring the parcel, now called the Palauea Cultural Preserve, to the university.
Archaeologists have identified more than 300 sites on the land, including burials which would be stabilized and not disturbed, Raymond said.
Six said the parcel is important because it includes ancient water sources — wells where Hawaiians knew they could find fresh water floating above brackish during times of drought.
That’s likely why the spot became the location of a heiau and "priests’ compound," she said. The site also includes fishing shrines and some ancient agricultural sites, she said.
Six said she hoped the ultimate plan for the site would include clearing the area of invasive species and replanting it with native vegetation that could re-create the ancient dryland forest from the area.
There are indications that ancient Hawaiians grew dryland taro and sweet potato on the site, so the parcel could also be used for teaching traditional agriculture. It could serve as a counterpart other places on the island used to demonstrate wetland taro and agriculture techniques, she said.
Brian Moto, special assistant to the chancellor at the college, said officials held a meeting last week to hear from community members, and they plan to hold another meeting in the future.
"We met with members of families with historic ties with the area and are heartened by their support for the college’s approach to stewardship," Moto said. "We’re looking forward to their continued participation."