Thursday, March 18, 2010

KA'ANA MANA'O: UH-Maui College archaeological field school found at Moku'ula

The Maui News

The University of Hawaii Maui College is committed to preserving our history and culture.

On Saturday, the Friends of Moku'ula held an opening ceremony for its Ka I'imi 'ike Program at the site of Moku'ula in Lahaina. With the help of the group's cultural adviser and kumu hula, Hokulani Holt-Padilla, UH-Maui College students have been learning the appropriate chants in preparation for the opening. The ceremony will mark the opening of both the Friends' Ka I'imi 'ike Program and the UH-Maui College Archaeological Field School at Moku'ula - a for-credit opportunity designed to continue the excavation and recovery efforts started at Moku'ula by the Bishop Museum in 1993.

Lahaina averages 13 inches of rain per year. Yet, in spite of the meager rainfall, this area was once known as the "Venice of the Pacific." The spring-fed, freshwater canals that once flowed though the village of Lahaina have long since dried up and its fabulous wetland buried under layers of cultural fill. Lying under a county park - virtually undisturbed for nearly a century - is the site of Moku'ula,the man-made island home of the ali'i (ruling class). For centuries, Moku'ula was a political and sacred center, constructed in the pond known as Loko o Mokuhinia. Home of the Pi'ilani and later Kamehameha chiefly lines, Mo-ku'ula is also the home of the Mo'o Akua Kihawahine - a powerful deity associated with freshwater springs.

Half wo-man and half dragon, she was and is worshiped by many, perhaps most notably by Kamehameha I, who carried her image throughout the islands in his quest to unite the Hawaiian Islands.

Shortly after the first European contact, whaling ships and other interested parties began arriving from as far away as Nantucket and the "Venice of the Pacific" soon became known as "Rotten Row" due to its numerous bars and raucous patrons. Over time the whaling industry subsided and a new industry took hold - industrial plantations. Waters were diverted in the service of sugar production, and the Mokuhinia ponds and wetlands became a stagnant breeding ground for newly introduced mosquitoes. In 1914, plantation managers had the site drained and filled and this once most sacred site became a park for plantation workers.

Archaeological investigations conducted by Bishop Museum confirmed the existence of Moku'ula, the royal residences and mausoleum, and Mokuhinia, a large spring-fed natural wetland containing kalo lo'i (taro patches) and loko 'ia (fishponds). Carbon dating of organic materials recovered has revealed some of the earliest evidence of human habitation in Hawaii in 700 AD. Arguably the most important site on Maui - and perhaps the state - both the Mahele and the Hawaiian Constitution were drafted at Moku'ula.

The overarching goal of the college is to increase our student participation and success in living-wage careers by creating a blend of traditional, indigenous knowledge and nontraditional disciplines - in this case archaeology.

In addition to bolstering student recruitment, retention and engagement here on Maui - and across the state - we also recognize the field school's potential for broader impact. Beginning May, UH-Maui College is partnering with New York University to form the UH-Maui College/NYU Archaeological Field School at Moku'ula. In addition to NYU, Brown University is also providing resources for our efforts at Moku'ula in the form of students and faculty. By leveraging the resources of large research institutions, such as NYU and Brown, UH-Maui College can keep the costs low for our local students while providing them with a world-class educational opportunity.

Of significance to kanaka maoli, the archaeological investigation and subsequent planned restoration of Moku'ula will also be of interest to many non-Hawaiians. Several national publications have expressed interest in covering the excavation and restoration of Moku'ula, including Archaeology Magazine, National Geographic and the Smithsonian.

For more information regarding our efforts at Moku'ula, contact Janet Six at