What is the Story and History Behind Puuhonua O Honaunau?

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kapu laws

What is the Story and History Behind Puuhonua O Honaunau?

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau is a historical site located on the Big Island of Hawaii. It was once an important sanctuary and refuge for those who broke the traditional Hawaiian laws called “Kapu.” The term “city of refuge” comes from its role as a safe haven for individuals who committed a crime or broke a Kapu law, as they could seek asylum at the Pu’uhonua and be forgiven by the priests, thereby avoiding the punishment of death.

What are Kapu Laws?

Kapu laws were a set of strict rules and regulations that governed the behavior and actions of the Hawaiian people. These laws were put in place to maintain order, protect the social hierarchy, and ensure harmony between the people, the land, and the gods. Examples of Kapu laws include:

  • Men and women could not eat together or share food.
  • Commoners were forbidden from entering royal grounds or stepping on the shadow of a chief.
  • Certain types of fish, like sharks and sea turtles, were reserved for chiefs and priests.
  • Women were forbidden from eating certain foods like pork, bananas, and coconuts.

Breaking a Kapu law could result in severe punishment, often death. The Pu’uhonua O Honaunau provided a place where those who broke the law could seek refuge and forgiveness, which helped maintain the balance and order within Hawaiian society. The sacred grounds of Pu’uhonua O Honaunau included a temple, wooden idols, and a wall separating the sanctuary from the nearby royal residence.

History of Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

The history of Pu’uhonua O Honaunau dates back hundreds of years, and it played a crucial role in ancient Hawaiian culture. It was a place where warriors could seek refuge after a battle, and it offered protection during times of war. In addition to providing a sanctuary for those who broke Kapu laws, it also served as a refuge during natural disasters and other calamities.

When King Kamehameha II abolished the Kapu system in 1819, the significance of the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau as a city of refuge diminished. Today, the site is a part of the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, which preserves and shares the rich history and culture of ancient Hawaii.

Visitors can explore the park and gain a deeper understanding of Hawaiian history, culture, and the traditional Kapu system. The park offers various educational programs, guided tours, and cultural demonstrations to help guests appreciate the importance of this unique historical site.

A grass hut in Hawaii.

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