Kalahuipua`a - Fabled Fish-Pond

by Betty Fullard-Leo

Aerial View of Kalahuipua'a

All along the Kona-Kohala Coast, ancient anchialine ponds reflect those long-ago days when thatched hales (houses) and shady shelter caves furnished homes for fishermen and their families. Some of these ponds have been preserved at resorts such as Four Seasons Hualalai and the Outrigger Waikoloa, but none have been so well restored and documented as Kalahuipua'a, a series of four main ponds and three smaller ones on the grounds of Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows.

Hawaiian historian, Kaniela (Danny) Akaka

Here, Kaniela (Danny) Akaka, the hotel's Hawaiian historian, oversees the fishponds and guides visitors, bringing alive Hawaiian history by sharing his vast store of knowledge with anyone who expresses an interest.

In 1973, the resort's important sites were identified by Bishop Museum's Doctor Patrick Vinton Kirch during a study on marine exploitation in prehistoric Hawai'i. The resort subsequently provided public access, so anyone who wants to enjoy the incredible peace and beauty of Kalahuipua'a can stroll beside the ocean under the palm trees through the fishpond complex, or wander inland to the King's, or Ala Loa, Trail.

The trail was constructed of curbstones by 19th century convicts and connected areas of trade and ranching from Kailua-Kona to Hu'ehu'e and Honoipu in North Kohala. An even older trail, the Ala Kahakai, or trail by the sea, is part of an extensive shoreline trail that once connected villages along the coast.

Bottom samples from the ponds have been dated back to 250 B.C. but no one truly knows when the ancient aqua culture system was constructed. In this area of the Big Island, aqua culture ponds were of two types. Some were built of stones walling out the ocean from a naturally occurring protected bay. Others, like those along the Kona-Kohala Coast were inland ponds where water collected in pools at the shoreline, and because of the porous rock, rose and fell with the tide. Named after the Greek word anchialos, which means "near the sea," such ponds are thought to be unique to Hawai'i. At Kalahuipua'a, as in many other locales, fish such as mullet and awa that were bred and fattened in the ponds, were reserved for the ali'i, the royal classes. Commoners who stole fish for their own consumption could be punished by death.

The loko, ponds, at Mauna Lani Resort spread across 15 acres. The largest, Kalahuipua'a, covers five acres to a depth of about 18 feet, and is one of the best examples of a functioning fishpond in modern Hawai'i. Of six other ponds, Kahinawao, Waipuhi, Waipuhi Iki, Hope'ala, Milokukahi, and Manoku, only one other is connected to the ocean with a sluice gate, or makaha, as is Kalahuipua'a. Akaka explains, "The makaha is a wooden grate in either side of the fishpond wall that allows for water circulation and lets small fish swim in from the ocean. Once in the ponds they grow too large to swim back out. The flow of water through the makaha also controlled the algae growth and oxygenation."

Fingerlings were kept in the smaller ponds until they were big enough to survive in the large loko. In the ponds they returned to the same area at the same time daily to be fed taro, breadfruit and sweet potato. When a chief wanted fish, the caretaker simply netted the fattest and best as they gathered for feeding.

Akaka explains how fish were transported by trained runners to chiefly tables, sometimes many miles distant. "Fish were wrapped-probably in wet limu seaweed-as they were taken from the ponds and arrived wherever King Kamehameha or the ali'i were encamped. It is said they often arrived still wiggling, they were so fresh," says Akaka, "but I think the runners must have stopped along the shoreline trail to dip them in the ocean."

Walking through the Kalahuipua'a complex is like strolling into a living museum. Certain sites, such as shelter caves and an area where tools were fashioned from bone, wood and shell using pahoehoe lava into useful implements, have been marked with minimal explanatory signage. At one place along the trail, an unusual helmeted warrior petroglyph can be seen. At another place called Kulia, petroglyphs were carved on the roof of a shelter cave, but few people find this cave unless they are on one of Akaka's guided walks, which he usually conducts free of charge on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 9 a.m. and Thursdays at 3:30 p.m. Viewers are asked to be reverent and careful because of the need to preserve the historical significance of these special sites.
In the late 1700s, Kamehameha I maintained a canoe landing at Keawanui Bay, adjacent to the ponds. A replica of the canoe hale (house) holds an outrigger canoe, and in this area, periodically submerged at the ocean's edge, an ancient konane board used for a game similar to checkers, is still visible carved into the lava. In addition, bowl-shaped depressions in the lava are thought to have been used for the collecting of salt.

Kamehameha's heirs owned the area around the ponds, up through Samuel Parker, grandson of John Palmer Parker (the founder of the Parker Ranch empire), purchased 1,359 acres for $1,550 in the late 1800s. In 1936 Francis Hyde I'i Brown, descendant of Papa I'i, oneof Kamehameha's generals, acquired the land from the family of Eva Parker Woods for $6,000.

Brown was a bon vivant, beloved by the Hawaiian people, and known as a great golfer and all around good fellow. He traveled extensively, owned 14 cars, and served as a Territorial Representative and then as a senator, but his true passion was Kalahuipua'a, where he came to relax with his sweetheart, Winona Love, a beautiful hula dancer.

Brown's nephew Kenneth Brown wrote, "He bought Kalahuipua'a around 1930 and began, I am convinced, to unconsciously build himself a traditional ali'i's compound composed of special buildings for special purposes.

"There was a tiny bedroom set out in the middle of one of the fishponds where he slept with his lady friend Auntie Winona Love...(There was) a small house for cooking and eating. Near that, he built a large screened, tin roof structure where 15 to 20 guests could sleep in one room."

Easily missed at the back of the property is an enchanting spring-fed swimming pool that Francis Brown had built, and where he and Miss Love went for cool dips in the crystal waters on hot sultry afternoons. If you're lucky enough to find it, you can still trace with your finger the shells that spell out Francis Brown's name, or slip into the cold water where tiny o'pae 'ula (red shrimp) cling to the rocks at the pool's edges.

Eva Parker Woods Cottage.

One of the buildings constructed in the 1920s, a former caretaker's house surrounded by a lanai, has been refurbished and is now the Eva Parker Woods Cottage Museum, a one-room structure that holds reminders of the past. Samples of tapa (bark cloth), a ti leaf cape and sandals, fishing gear, including bone hooks, spears and ie'ie vine fish traps, and an akua, an ancient stone fish god, are a few of the treasures that Kaniela Akaka obligingly explains to interested viewers. It's a treat to visit the cottage on Saturday evenings during the full moon, when Akaka hosts a "talk story" session for hotel guests and others who are interested.

Francis Brown became friends with Noboru Gotoh, the wealthy chairman of the Tokyu Corporation, at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. Kenneth Brown wrote, "Soon afterward, Mr. Gotoh visited Kalahuipua'a and together they began to dream about an international resort where affluent people could come together to relax and play golf in an atmosphere of total harmony. And that was the origin of Mauna Lani Resort."

Francis Brown died when he was 83 in Pebble Beach in 1976, before construction began on Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows. The hotel was dedicated in 1983. It's a toss-up whether Francis Brown would have been most proud that the resort received the Historic Preservation Award from the prestigious Historic Hawai'i Foundation in 1984, or if he might have been more pleased about playing in the Senior Skins Tournament, which has been held on one of the resort's two golf courses for the last eleven years. In any case, the area around Kalahuipua'a is still a peaceful preserve fit for the pleasurable relaxation of royalty.

photo credit: Betty Fullard-Leo

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