KAILUA-KONA — As light started to flood the grounds of Ahuena Heiau on Wednesday morning at Kamakahonu Bay, the only sounds heard were the songs of birds in the trees and the crash of waves against volcanic rock.
When the clock struck 6:30 a.m., right as the sun broke over the top of Hualalai, the silence in the crowd at the sacred sight was broken, too.
Kumu Keala Ching started the chant “E Ala E,” and he led a crowd of Hawaiian cultural groups and bystanders to greet the sunrise and begin the giving of hookupu, or gifts, to remember one of the great Hawaiian leaders.
The ceremony commemorated the 200th anniversary of the death of King Kamehameha I. It was marked by a crowd of more than 100, who started a procession while the stars still shined and most of Kailua-Kona slept, from Hale Halawai on Alii Drive to the grounds of Ahuena Heiau.
“Because of the significance of the event and then the fact of the number of people that actually turned out to commemorate this event, it was just very humbling for me,” said Ahuena Heiau Inc. board chairman Tom Hickcox. “And I appreciate that there are people in our community that remember and recognize Kamehameha.”
Hickcox and Ahuena Heiau Inc. were the ones behind the commemoration. Ahuena Heiau Inc. is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Ahuena Heiau, a religious temple that served Kamehameha I and was the site of his death May 8, 1819.
The heiau is located on the grounds of what is now King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.
The Royal Order of King Kamehameha I, Ahahui Kaahumanu, Daughters of Hawaii, Hawaiian Civic Club, Kai Opua Canoe Club, and Ahuena Heiau Inc. particpated in the ceremony.
Some of those in attendance were not a part of any cultural group, but there to pay their respects to a great king and Hawaiian legacy.
“They will take away the feeling of being a part of something very, very special,” Hickcox said. “There is only one Kamehameha I, and there will only be one 200th year commemoration of his passing.”
“It has cultural significance,” said kumu Kauhane Heloca, a member of Ahuena Heiau Inc. who helped lead the procession. “As much as all cultures are being bombarded and slowly stripped away, we’re unique in that we still have places like this.”
Heloca said ceremonies such as Wednesday’s usually take place at sunrise or noon, times when spiritual powers are stronger.
“We’re the culture that has so much grace and aloha, but yet, we’re very strong to our values and who we are as a people,” said kumu Leina‘ala Fruean. “So this morning is significant, and doing it at this time at this location is significant, because this was the last seat of power during the reign of Kamehameha. And when he passed, the words he left to his people were: ‘Continue to pursue my unfinished good deeds.’”
Kamehameha I, also called Kamehameha the Great, was born in the Kohala region and was the first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii after he successfully united the islands.
The unification of the islands is one of the main reasons why his life is still celebrated in Hawaii 200 years later.
“He was prophesied significantly before he was born — that there would be a king that would rise to be the one to unite the Hawaiian island chain,” Fruean said. “So if you look at the story of King Kamehameha … , his life really commemorates all the islands coming into unity.”
Fruean pointed out that the 200th anniversary of the monarch’s death is followed next year by the 200th anniversary of the arrival of missionaries to the Hawaiian Islands, which occurred in 1820. Fruean said both dates are significant in Hawaiian history, and the stories should be remembered by future generations.
“We have kuleana to teach the next generation all of what they need to learn,” Fruean said. “And they need to embrace their education and the stories of our kupuna, or the legacy of our kupuna, the heritage that we have, and to be a proud nation and a proud people.”
Heloca said he hopes events such as the one Wednesday morning continue to keep the legacy of Hawaiian history and Hawaiian culture alive.
“Whatever we have, we really have to embrace it and learn the culture and connect,” Heloca said. “It’s been a hard road to keep the young ones interested in the culture. So hopefully little things like this can hopefully spark their interest and a few will continue.”
Email Elizabeth Pitts at firstname.lastname@example.org.