Most people don’t notice Pu‘uokapolei, the small cinder cone at the top of Kapolei Regional Park, but in ancient times it was the most sacred and important place in the ahupuaa (land division) of Honouliuli on Oahu’s west side.
The largest heiau in the area once stood on Pu‘uokapolei. In the 13th century, Kamaunuaniho, grandmother of Kamapua‘a, a part human/part pig demigod, helped govern Honouliuli from Pu‘uokapolei under the direction of its chief (remnants of her home can still be seen). Long ago, the hill was also a site for solar observation and a landmark for travelers heading to Waianae.
But as newcomers from afar started settling in Hawaii in the 1800s, life changed drastically and such things were forgotten. In 1920, rocks from the heiau were crushed and used to build the foundation for Farrington Highway and irrigation ditches for sugar cane plantations. Subsequently, Pu‘uokapolei was neglected for decades.
IF YOU GOKapu‘uola Hula Festival
>>Where: Pu‘uokapolei hula mound, Kapolei Regional Park, 1077 Manawai St., Kapolei, Oahu
>>When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 22. A free one-hour summer solstice observance will be held the evening prior from 6 to 6:50 p.m. Awa (kava) will be served for all in attendance who wish to partake. Na Palapalai, the winner of multiple Na Hoku Hanohano awards, will perform June 22 at sunset.
>> Info: 722-3036 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
>> Website: puuokapolei.com
>> Notes: Wear cool clothing, a hat and sunscreen (reef-safe sunscreen dispensers will be set up throughout the grounds). Ample parking is in the park’s lower lots. The uphill walk from there to the event takes about three minutes. Look for the signs marking the way. The busiest time will be from 3 p.m. until the end. Bring cash; although most vendors will accept credit cards, some may not. Also bring a reusable water bottle; you can refill it free at coolers throughout the venue.
“It became a homeless encampment,” said Miki‘ala Lidstone, who was an English teacher at Kapolei High School when she first saw the site in 2006. “Sprinklers were damaged, there was graffiti on trees and sidewalks, parts from abandoned cars were strewn on the ground, and drug paraphernalia could be found in the bushes. When I started learning how special Pu‘uokapolei was, I wondered why it hadn’t been protected. I felt hurt, angry and disappointed.”
In 1994, kumu hula John Ka‘imikaua and Olga Kalama, a cultural practitioner and Hawaiian language teacher at University Laboratory School, envisioned a pa hula (hula mound) at Pu‘uokapolei to revive traditions that had been practiced there in the past. Funded by the City & County of Honolulu, work on the pa hula began in 2002 and was completed three years later.
Sadly, however, criminal activities and the influx of vagrants continued at Pu‘uokapolei despite the Kapolei Hawaiian Civic Club’s efforts to care for it and plant a garden of ti, hala, noni, naupaka, pohinahina and more. Lidstone and her students from Kapolei High School and her hula school, Halau ‘o Kaululaua‘e, volunteered regularly to help remove trash, graffiti and dead trees and shrubs.
In 2016, the civic club transferred stewardship of Pu‘uokapolei and the pa hula to the nonprofit Ulu A‘e Learning Center, which Lidstone founded and leads as executive director. The following year, the organization installed signage that explains the hill’s significance; interestingly, vandalism and the number of homeless people decreased substantially after the signs went up.
2017 was also the year Ulu A‘e launched the Kapu‘uola Hula Festival to educate the public about Pu‘uokapolei and to raise funds to support its programs.
“Kapu‘uola literally means ‘the living hill,’” Lidstone said. “The festival emphasizes Pu‘uokapolei’s importance as a cultural and historical site and the relevance of Hawaiian practices today. With the massive development that’s now going on in the Ewa area, much more attention is being paid to new subdivisions and big-box businesses rather than treasures like Pu‘uokapolei.”
Twelve halau hula (hula schools) will perform on June 22 in the intimate setting, each displaying their own unique style.
“The Kapu‘uola Hula Festival is not a competition, so the dancers are not dancing for judges, they are dancing for the audience,” Lidstone said. “That is the true spirit of hula. Another notable thing is the festival encourages kumu hula to present new mele (songs). Doing that shows how they are perpetuating the Hawaiian language and Hawaii’s traditional form of storytelling. Before the missionaries created a written Hawaiian language in the 1800s, all information was shared orally. This year’s new mele include songs written about Queen Lili‘uokalani and Princess Ka‘iulani.”
Also planned are craft booths, children’s games, a silent auction and ono (delicious) food. Among the hands-on activities will be lei making, lauhala weaving, konane (Hawaiian checkers), kapala (printing) with bamboo stamps and making huoeoe, kukui nut tops.
“The festival aims to restore the dignity of Pu‘uokapolei and to shed light on all things Hawaiian — our people, our language, our arts, our customs, our beliefs,” Lidstone said. “It’s where steps are not just made in dance but also toward maintaining the Hawaiian culture as a living culture.”