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Iolani Palace Rockpile -- Religious Shrine Or Political Symbol?

(c) 2006, Kenneth R. Conklin, Ph.D.

During the weekend of February 19, 2006 a carefully constructed cubical pile of rocks on the grounds of 'Iolani Palace was torn apart. The demolition happened at night, when the grounds are closed and gates locked (except for Hawaiian "traditional practitioners" who have special permission to be there). According to news reports about 50 rocks, some weighing as much as 30 pounds, were scattered as far as 75 feet away. Within two days afterward, Hawaiian activists had taken numerous photos documenting the event, and reporters were summoned. The rockpile was reconstructed in about an hour by unskilled teenagers under the direction of the head of a sovereignty group. The rockpile is about four feet in length, width, and height, located on the Palace grounds in the corner closest to King and Punchbowl streets. A week later the identities and motives of the perpetrators are still unknown.

Was the destruction of the rockpile a simple act of vandalism by people who did not know its significance? Was the demolition of the rockpile a desecration of a religious shrine? Was it an act of racism against ethnic Hawaiians? Was the destruction intended as a political statement in opposition to Hawaiian sovereignty (and therefore perhaps legally protected free speech on the same basis as the free speech of assembling it in the first place)? Was the destruction perhaps done by Hawaiian sovereignty activists themselves, wanting public sympathy for their cause and trying to gain media attention currently focused on a large number of recent burnings of black churches in the Southern U.S.? (Activist Ikaika Hussey was quoted making exactly that allusion). There's no way to know unless the perpetrators are caught and interrogated.

Hawaiian activists, and newspaper articles, portrayed the event using strong religious language. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin report was entitled: "Vandals desecrate Iolani Palace shrine" while the Honolulu Advertiser title was: "Hawaiians rebuild an altar." The news reports mentioned there were prayers to bless the rebuilding. One activist was quoted as saying that in the past some families had placed the ashes of loved ones in the "shrine."

But if this rockpile is indeed a shrine, what god(s) does it honor? Is it an ancient shrine built primarily for worship? Or was it built recently, and for primarily political purposes?

The 'Iolani Palace rockpile was built in January 1993 as part of the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Its rocks were brought from homes and special places throughout the Hawaiian islands, and also from the mainland. Chants and prayers accompanied its construction. The concept was clear -- rocks from many places are assembled to build a shrine on the hallowed grounds of the Kingdom's Palace, just as Hawaiians from many places will assemble to rebuild a nation. Rocks were historically used for building small fishing shrines and large ceremonial heiau. The best known Hawaiian political song protesting the overthrow is "Kaulana Na Pua" (Famous are the flowers). But the song is also known as "Mele 'Ai Pohaku" (rock-eating song) because of the famous lines "Ua lawa makou i ka pohaku, ka 'ai kamaha'o o ka 'aina" (sufficient for us are the stones, the woundrous food of the land).

A monument built to commemorate a historic event deserves respect. A monument built by hand, using materials with special symbolic and emotional sgnificance to people from many places, certainly deserves respect. Vandalism to such a monument understandably causes pain and anger to those who built it, to those whose mementos are incorporated in it, and to others who sympathize with the monument's symbolism.

But when a monument is built primarily for a political purpose, or as an expression of a political goal, it is certainly a legitimate target for attack (verbal or physical) by political opponents. Those who use religious ceremony or symbolism in erecting a political monument deserve no sympathy when the religion suffers collateral damage in a political attack against the monument.

Hawaiian sovereignty activists are becoming increasingly bold about using the ancient religion as embellishment for political purposes. They use prayers, chants, and religious symbols as propaganda tools to exalt or "bless" their political message and to immunize it from criticism. They even use Hawaiian language to offer religious chants and prayers in the state Legislature during formal hearings, hoping that the combination of Hawaiian language and religion will make their political arguments seem sacred. They use religion as a hostage to protect them when they launch political attacks, much as a bank robber grabs a baby so the cops won't shoot at him.

How much respect is owed to a structure built for a political or military purpose and then overlaid with a veneer of religious ceremony? When a mosque is used as a munitions storehouse, and the minaret is a sniper's nest, should opposing forces refrain from attacking because it is a religious shrine? Should a war plane turn away from bombing an enemy tank factory because enemy generals ordered a red cross to be painted on its roof? When the statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Baghdad, could it have been saved by painting a red crescent on it or placing a Koran in the statue's outstretched hand?

The 'Iolani rockpile was built for political purposes on the grounds of a public park surrounding a museum owned by the State of Hawai'i. The activists demanded that Governor Waihe'e order the Department of Land and Natural Resources Parks Department to allow the rockpile to remain permanently. Waihe'e happily complied, and also ordered U.S. flags removed from State government buildings so the Hawaiian flag could fly alone for three days as a sign of respect (or was it disrespect?) during the overthrow centennial.

A monument built for primarily political purposes, and continuing to be used primarily for political purposes, cannot claim a right to be protected as exercise of freedom of religion; even when religious elements are incorporated into it or religious ceremonies are used to dedicate it. But even purely political graffiti deserve some respect. For example, campaign signs erected by a political opponent should not be defaced or torn down. The proper response to an opponent's political campaign signs is to put up our own signs right next to them or nearby. The problem is that 'Iolani Palace does not allow any pro-America or pro-unity/equality displays, including the U.S. flag! (see footnote regarding the battle of the flags at the Palace.)

Hawaiian religion is animist/pantheistic, so daily life (including cultural and political activities) was suffused with religious elements. In American and other modern cultures we sometimes hear sports teams praying for success, or army generals praying for the safety of their troops and the destruction of the enemy. That sort of injection of religion into political or cultural events is questionable. It would seem disrespectful to God to ask him to intervene in a trivial sports contest; while asking God to intervene in important political battles is comparable to what the islamists do with their fatwas and jihads. The islamist fanatic shouting "Allah akbar" as he saws off the head of a screaming, innocent hostage illustrates an extreme of inappripriateness in using religion to bolster political demands.

Ancient Hawaiian culture routinely mixed religious and political elements with each other and with activities of daily work and play. But most Americans today (including most ethnic Hawaiians) elevate religious expression far above mundane activities, recognizing a single all-powerful God rather than 400,000 gods of trees, rains, and rocks. Thus, when a minority group or even an individual invokes religion in an event, or performs a religious ceremony, the general public gives great deference to it. That's why most observers ascribe far greater spirituality to religious-infused political events than the participants themselves do.

Thus, calling the 'Iolani rockpile a "shrine" or "altar" might be unsurprising to a Hawaiian traditional practitioner, whereas a newcomer to Hawai'i seeing the words "shrine" or "altar" being used would feel a strong need to step back and give great deference to things that are not entitled to such deference. The sovereignty activists know that we give great deference to other people's expressions of spirituality and to their claims of victimhood; and so the activists take advantage of that by infusing religious content into things they know very well are primarily political. They try to jerk those tears right out of our eye sockets!

Let's understand that the 'Iolani rockpile is a living political commemoration of a historic event. The rockpile has been added to as time goes by, and also subtracted from (perhaps people occasionally place rocks or personal mementos in the pile to be incubated or suffused with mana until they are removed and taken back home). Families from other islands and from the mainland have had their own rocks placed in this pile (somewhat like Jews asking for a tree to be planted in Israel in their name). At times there have also been cowrie or conch shells, or coral, visible among the lava rocks.

Following the tradition of twelve years, it would be quite appropriate for anyone to add a personal memento to the rockpile, including those whose hearts rejoice that the monarchy was overthrown. In keeping with the theme of the rockpile, personal mementos added to it should be focused on the Hawaiian revolution of 1893. Those who appreciate the landing of U.S. peacekeepers to prevent rioting and arson during the revolution should feel welcome to place small U.S. flags deep in the holes among the rocks, or perhaps to add new rocks with "Hawai'i USA" chiseled into them. Small stones with appropriate messages would make a merry sound as they clink-clank down through the rockpile like marbles in a pachinko or pinball game. Alternatively, a new monument could be built nearby as a shrine to honor the spiritual values of Aloha For All and of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the free expression of religious and political views in public places and prohibits the establishment of any government-sponsored religion.



** Honolulu Advertiser and Honolulu Star-Bulletin articles of February 20 regarding the destruction of the 'Iolani Palace rockpile are copied in full following other footnotes.




Hawaiian Independence Blog (Scott Crawford) posted Friday February 24, 2006

'Iolani 'ahu history

Davianna McGregor has compiled several items relating to the building of the 'ahu at the Palace...

Ahu Flyer

Saturday, January 16, 1993
All Day

'Iolani Palace Grounds near the corner of King St. and Likelike


to build a traditional stone ahu as a lasting reminder of the 100 year observance and as a symbol of hope for the revitalization of the Kanaka Maoli nation

Those wishing to participate may bring a pohaku to be used in building the ahu

The ahu will be dedicated Sunday January 17 upon completion

PDF [Pele Defense Fund] Notes about the Ahu

Background Information: The idea to build the ahu was a result of discussions (present: members of Hawai'i Island groups from Ka'u, Kona, and Hilo) held at KaLae, Ka'u, on December 31, 1992 and Jan. 1 1993. The need was felt for 'ohana to participate in a basic Hawaiian spiritual way with this 100 year observance.

The location was chosen (present: Palikapu Dedman, Emmett Aluli, Davianna McGregor, Margaret McGuire) on the night of Jan. 5, 1993, at 'Iolani Palace after the Hui Na'auao meeting where legislative demands for sovereignty and direct relief were presented.

Negotiations with the Friends of 'Iolani Palace to "allow" this kuahu to be built on the palace grounds took place on Jan. 16, 1993 at the "stockade" building on the palace grounds. Explanation by Palikapu Dedman of the purpose of the ahu and why it should remain for all Hawaiians was instrumental in accomplishing endorsement of the action by all present. Present at 2:00 meeting: Palikapu, Frenchie DeSoto, Elizabeth Pa Martin, Eloise Tungpalan, William Paty.

Present at 7:00pm meeting: Eloise Tungpalan, Palikapu Dedman, Emmett Aluli, Davianna McGregor, Yuklin Aluli

Pohaku began to arrive on site early on Sat. Jan. 16, 1993. The ahu was built from about 10:00pm to midnite by kanaka maoli from the island of Hawai'i: James Akiona, Jr., Raymond Genedabuos, John Bull, Adatchie, Eaton, Fred Puou, Tommy Kanakaole, Alan Kanakaole, Bo Kahui, Emmett LeeLoy. Witnesses were present during the building, including Palikapu Dedman, Williama Viernes, Michelle Kalei Minchew, Simbralynn Kanakaole, Ross Esperon, Ipo Ke, Margaret M. Kamakahukilani Von Olhoffen.

The dedication of the ahu took place at about 6:30pm(?) on Sunday, January 17, 1993. Participating in the dedication were Parley Kanakaole, Kaleo Patterson, Rev. Paul Sherry, Palikapu Dedman, Emmett Aluli.

Others present included: Davianna McGregor, Margaret McGuire, Ha'aheo Guanson, Becky Gallatin (World Council of Churches), Lei ___, Lehua Lopez, Michelle Minchew, Adatchie Eaton.

The Honolulu Advertiser, Monday, January 18, 1993, p. A-5

Some carried family stones to lay in the traditional Hawaiian altar, or ahu, that was being constructed at the far makai/diamondhead corner of the palace grounds.

Wendell De Freitas carried a stone from his Kaunakakai home in hi lap on the plane from Moloka'i. Twelve-year-old Kaiwi Orr carried his, a small twisted rope of lava he had found diving, in his carry-on bag from Hana, Maui. Mary "Tutti" Baker brought hers from the lo'i at the University of Hawai'i.

"This ahu is us," said Ralph Palikapu Dedman, spokesman for the Pele Defense Fund, who had organized the gathering of stones from all islands as a show of Hawaiian unity and strength."

"All sizes and shapes, and when we're all together, it's a good foundation.

"Some of us can't relate to the velvet curtains and the marble steps, but we can really relate to our stones. This was our gift to the palace and the future and our kids."

After three hours of meetings Saturday, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Friends of 'Iolani Palace agreed to let the ahu stand. To Dedman it was the first small victory in the struggle for sovereignty.

"If they could not hurdle these small little stones, they're not ready for us with sovereignty," he said. "It's a small little test."

And for the people who gave special family stones to the ahu, said Dedman, it was the beginning of once again feeling close to their palace.

"We lost a relationship with this palace," he said. "Maybe this will make us close."

"They can now bring their children and family here because their stones are here. This may be a reminder the separation no longer exists."

"It's alive in us. It's really the beginning."

The "Ahu" After Kaumakapili
by Rev. Kaleo Patterson.

The "ahu" or altar was built from "pohaku" or stones that came from all of the islands. It was an altar built by Hawaiians who have been arrested and evicted, people who have been systematically oppressed and persecuted because they have resisted the system. Hawaiians from the houseless communities of Hilo and Kings landing brought pohaku; families occupying land in Ka'u and Anahola came with their pohaku; families with loved ones in prison, or loved ones that have died, brought pohaku; those who resisted the bombing of Kaho'olawe and the destruction of the rainforest of Wao Kele O Puna, those who oppose the desecration of burial and sacred sites on every island, all brought pohaku; many brought pohaku; and then "mana," the strong intentions and commitment, of those who brought pohaku were genuine and real.

It was upon this "ahu" that Dr. Sherry was asked to place the written text of the Apology, with the understanding that the Apology would be the sacrifice in which the "ahu" would be dedicated.

The dedication of the "ahu" took place while the night marchers concluded their march and the thousands of evening commemorationers witnessed the last act of the Queen's dethronement.

There was nothing fancy or ceremonious to speak about. If anything it was a simple act of commitment and resolve. The participants were "maka'ainana" common folk. There was only a small group of twenty to thirty persons in attendance. Parley Kanakaole performed a traditional Hawaiian cleansing and dedication ceremony. A prayer was offered. Parley's comparisons to Abraham and the Old Testament significance of altar and wells was helpful to the traditionalist and Christian concerns. Following the sacrifice of the Apology was the gift of white coral that Dr. Sherry had brought from the island of Maui the day before. The white coral symbolized the life that comes from the sea in creation, in the beginning.

When it was all over, Dr. Sherry embraced each person in attendance.

Note: Soon after, the Dalai Lama chose the ahu at 'Iolani Palace to have a public ceremony.

'Onipa'a: Five Days in the History of the Hawaiian Nation p. 74 'Onipa'a Chair Tungpalan and Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, Hawaiian sovereignty advocate of the organization Ka Pakaukau, share their mana'o as work on the ahu begins.

p. 75 The ahu slowly grows as Palikapu o Kamohoali'i Dedman waits for more pohaku. This sacred altar was constructed as a symbol of the intent to heal the wounds between the maka'ainana and the ali'i and upon completion became a comfortable meeting palce for many Hawaiian groups.

Standing in black and white kihei is Hawaiian spiritual leader, the late Parley Kanaka'ole, who watches as spiritual offerings are presented at the ahu or altar that was erected on 'Iolani Palace grounds.

p. 177 Ho'okupu adorn the ahu upon its completion.

Kuahu Kihe Ka Mauli Ola


Honolulu Advertiser, February 23, 2006


Our organization is deeply concerned at the apparent lack of interest or reaction from state and federal officials over the two acts of religious desecration against Hawaiian religious structures over the past two weeks.

When churches were burned in the Southern United States, the federal Department of the Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms activated a National Response Team. Hawaiian religious structures deserve the same level of protection and attention.

Hawaiians who are culturally aware have reconciled their formal religion with Hawaiian culture, such as in the practice of hula, canoe paddling and other arts. Unlike European and American religions, Hawaiian religion is integrated into and inseparable from the culture. There is no such thing as Sunday church, then six days of ignoring religion. Hawaiian gatherings of any kind usually start with a pule, be it addressing the Christian God or some other. Most non-church American gatherings do not do that.

The persons who destroyed the ahu at Mauna Ke'a and 'Iolani Palace are guilty of anti-religious terrorism. Those acts are in defiance of the American Constitution's First Amendment.

We call on the federal, county and state governments to treat these incidents with the same seriousness with which they viewed the church burnings in Alabama. Religious terrorism must not be tolerated simply because Hawaiian religious structures don't have steeples and "accepted" appearance. Nor is religious tolerance a one-way street for the majority.

Keawe Vredenburg
President, Hui Kako'o


Sometimes gang members mark their turf with graffiti, just as dogs or cats urinate to scent-mark their territory. The 'Iolani Palace rockpile might be regarded as a three-dimensional graffito. For 70 years the U.S. flag flew proudly atop 'Iolani Palace, when it was the capitol of the Territory of Hawai'i and then the State of Hawai'i, until the new capitol building was completed next door.

Today the Kingdom flag flies over 'Iolani Palace, where the U.S. flag is never allowed to fly because the State of Hawai'i allows the sovereignty independence activists to imagine that the Palace is their Capitol of the still-living Kingdom of Hawai'i. For details of the on-going battle of the flags in Hawai'i, see:


Another example of a mixed religious/political monument is a lele built at the summit of Mauna Kea. A lele is a high raised platform supported by four poles, where offerings can be placed. Certainly Mauna Kea is a sacred place, and a lele is a traditional religious structure. However, this lele was raised in recent times for political purposes, and has also been the site where Hawaiian activists have hoisted Hawaiian flags (on the highest point of all the Hawaiian islands) to assert continuing political sovereignty. The Mauna Kea lele was vandalized in February 2006, as reported in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin: "Mauna Kea climbers fight cold to fix altar -- The group labored in the oxygen-thin air to replace the rock base and the wooden pole frame over the ahu lele built in 1997" See:

On Sovereignty Restoration Day, July 31 2003, a small group of independence zealots displayed several Hawaiian Kingdom flags at the summit of Mauna Kea, and also made offerings at the lele originally built there in 1997. Following are four photos from July 31, 2003. The top two photos show the tiny lele dwarfed by any one of five Hawaiian flags, clearly documenting the relative importance of politics and religion.


Religious shrines are sometimes destroyed for political purposes. The most notable such desecration in recent times occurred in March of 2001, when a radical islamist regime in control of Afghanistan, known as the Taliban, carried out its announced intention to blow up a 2000-year-old statue of Buddha carved into the side of a mountain, despite strong pleas from political and religious leaders throughout the world. See:

Similarly, in February 2006 Sunni Islamist terrorists blew up a thousand-year-old Shiite Islamic shrine during sectarian violence in Iraq, even though both groups worship Allah and honor his prophet Mohammad.




Transcript of Hawaii Legislature Informational Briefing Regarding the Akaka Bill by U.S. Senators Inouye and Akaka, and U.S. Representatives Abercrombie and Case, on March 31, 2005. The hearing was opened with the singing of the Christian Doxology, and a Christian prayer, both done in Hawaiian language by the chairman of the state House committee on Hawaiian affairs.


** Widely circulated report from activist Lynette Cruz describing how the destruction of the 'Iolani Palace rockpile was discovered and then repaired. **

Around 1 pm I got a call from Baron Ching, who regularly waters the burial mound on Sundays, about the ahu being desecrated, with rocks strewn everywhere. Baron called Mel Kalahiki, I called James. Then I drove to the palace and met them all there. James came down with the Olelo video camera and videotaped everything. Mel had called State Law Enforcement and had asked his granddaughter, Kapukini, to notify the media. All the media showed up (two newspapers, four tv stations), and an officer from State Law Enforcement came down to take photos and write up a report. There was a rock found up in a tree, one inside the burial mound (also broken ti plants), and many others spread throughout the palace grounds. It was surprising that those rocks, some of which are really heavy, could have been taken so far from the site!

So I called Evern Williams, from Palolo Access Studio, and she showed up with her grandchildren. Then she called Henry Noa, Peter Jensen, Bumpy, Kealoha Kaliko, Hina Wong and countless others. Most folks showed up after the media left. Those few of us at the palace, James, Mel, Nalani and George Gersaba, and a woman named Midge, who was passing by, then proceeded to gather all the rocks and bring them back to the ahu, but we didn't attempt to rebuild, as this is a particular art, and we didn't know how to do it.

As soon as we gathered the wayward stones, along came Henry Noa and proceeded to rebuild the ahu, with Peter Jensen helping him. Henry was there at the first building of the ahu. Then Hina Wong and about two dozen or so Halau Lokahi students, and some parents and their principal, Laara Albrecht, showed up. They gathered everyone around the ahu and offered oli and pule (which was so beautiful and made me cry!) to our ancestors, acknowledging them and asking permission and their kokua to rebuild the ahu. Then Henry gave the haumana a quick lesson in ahu-building and they proceeded to help. Mahealani Pai's brother was on the bus and saw us at the ahu, so jumped off the bus and joined us. Within an hour, the whole thing was rebuilt, and looking fantastic! Hina, of course, just happened to have in the school bus, inside a cooler, what appeared to be some 50 or so ti leaf lei, so these were brought out and all of us present gathered in a circle and connected all of the ti lei end-to-end. Then the long lei was placed on the ahu, on the outside top edge, wound round and round until all of it was in place. The single lei that were left were placed on the top. Other lei, that had been on the ahu before, but which had been thrown on the ground, were then re-placed on the ahu. Halau Lokahi students offered a haka, surrounding the ahu but facing out. Then everyone joined hands (including the State Law Enforcement officer) and did closing pule.

An interesting note, as you can see from the photos, is that a rock with white paint on it, and the words "aloha aina", was found in the pile of stones as the ahu was being reconstructed. This rock is now sitting on the top of the ahu, along with the big round stone and a couple of others. It looks beautiful. The ahu looks nice and sharp at the corners and on the sides. We all went to Zippy's afterward, for dinner, then drove back to the palace grounds to check on the ahu. It still looks fabulous. So something really good happened, after the damage. As Hina noted to her students (and I'm paraphrasing here), "this is major hoailona. There will always be people who want to tear down what we value and who we are, but we must always be prepared to rebuild. And the outcome, as well as the process, will be beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful than it was before."

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 20, 2006

Vandals desecrate Iolani Palace shrine
More than 20 stones are scattered up to 75 feet from where they were set in 1993

By Mary Vorsino

Vandals partly dismantled an ahu on the grounds of Iolani Palace this weekend, scattering more than 20 sacred stones around the grassy area and leaving one atop the site's gated burial mound.

The desecration comes less than a week after a native Hawaiian altar at the summit of Mauna Kea was knocked down.

"It's akin to burning down a black church," said Ikaika Hussey, a native Hawaiian activist. "I think it was a cowardly act of barbarism. The person who did this clearly knew that it was a significant site."

The Iolani Palace ahu was built in 1993 on the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. After the desecration was discovered at about noon yesterday, a group of native Hawaiians gathered at the site to see the damage. Halau Lokahi charter school high school students started the work of putting the ahu back together at around 4 p.m.

The desecration apparently happened sometime late Saturday or early yesterday. No witnesses have come forward.

But Hussey said an unknown man knocked on the door of Iolani Palace at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday and told security guards to "come outside to look at something." The guards told the man they could not leave the palace, according to a mention in the guards' log.

Hussey believes the man might have been a witness or noted something had happened to the ahu.

In addition to scattering stones up to 75 feet from the ahu, vandals also placed one in a tree and a second on the nearby burial mound. In the gated mound area, plants were disrupted and one ti plant was unearthed.

"It becomes a kind of hate speech," said Lynette Cruz, who has placed a stone on the ahu. "Definitely, there's a feeling that it's OK to do this. I think it's just a kind of general disrespect."

Melvin Kalahiki, who helped build the ahu, said there will be a gathering sometime this afternoon to pray at the site. "Perhaps whoever did this had no idea what they were doing," said Kalahiki as his eyes welled with tears.

The shrine has hundreds of stones, some of which were hand-carried from Hawaiians on the mainland or other islands. Over the years, the ahu has grown as more stones are added. This is the first time it has been desecrated.

"This ahu was put here. It belongs to the people," Kalahiki said, adding that many feel "a kinship" around the shrine, a regular gathering place for native Hawaiian ceremonies. Some families have even scattered the ashes of their loved ones on the altar, Cruz said.

James Nakapaahu, who has a family stone in the ahu, said the desecration could be some of sort of retaliation -- though he did not know for what. "This is sacred to all of us," Nakapaahu said. "It's unthinkable."

On Tuesday an alter built in 1997 atop Mauna Kea was vandalized with what appeared to be a machete. The altar was used for spiritual purposes and also housed the personal items of two soldiers from Hawaii who were killed in Iraq.

Vandals struck two sacred stones in Hilo within a nine-day period in 2003, spray-painting them with Hawaiian words and the dates "1893-2004."

** Photo and caption **
Students of Halau Lokahi Public Charter School and other members of the Hawaiian community helped rebuild a vandalized ahu yesterday at Iolani Palace. After completing the project, the students performed a spiritual offering, or hookupu, of hula, oli and pule. Varner Allbrett, center, was among those who took part in a hula to Pele.

** Photo and caption **
Halau Lokahi Public Charter School students and other volunteers helped reassemble an ahu yesterday on the grounds of Iolani Palace. Vandals partly dismantled the ahu, which was built in 1993 for the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, over the weekend.

Honolulu Advertiser, Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Hawaiians rebuild an altar

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Native Hawaiian teens and elders have spontaneously joined forces to rebuild an ahu, or stone altar, on the 'Iolani Palace grounds that had been destroyed by vandals the previous evening.

Armed with only steady hands and strong backs, they returned some 50 stones including rocks weighing up to 30 pounds to the ahu site on Sunday.

Junior Inoaokalani Leong, a senior at Halau Lokahi Public Charter School, said he was upset when he heard about the altar's desecration. "I was thinking 'Who would do this? Who would do such a thing?' "

Elders such as Henry Noa, head of the Reinstated Hawaiian Kingdom, explained to Leong and about a dozen of his Halau Lokahi classmates the intricacies of building an altar. Within an hour, the ahu was restored. Afterward, the students offered a blessing and a chant.

The lesson learned by Leong, 18, was simple: "No matter how much they knock this down, we can rebuild this."

Stones from the ahu were found strewn through the diamondhead-makai end of the palace grounds Sunday morning, suggesting the vandalism took place earlier that morning or late Saturday night, according to kupuna Mel Kalahiki. One of the stones was found on an old grave that had been erected for Neighbor Island ali'i. Another ended up some 20 feet above ground in the branches of a large banyan tree.

The original plan for rebuilding the altar, Kalahiki said, was to gather the stones on Sunday and to return with enough muscle yesterday to do the rebuilding. That plan changed when the Halau Lokahi students showed up with their kumu, Hina Wong.

He was pleased at the students' doggedness. "They're the next generation," Kalahiki said. "They're going to be around when we're gone. And they felt the significance, which is good."

Ikaika Hussey, another Hawaiian activist, also was moved by the cooperative effort. "It was a beautiful thing," he said. "People came together and the ahu is standing strong again. It really is a testament to the resiliency of the community."

Wong and her students had spent the morning offering chants, dancing and other cultural protocol at two different events, and were on a lunch break when she received a phone call about the ahu. While the group had made other plans, there was no hesitation about what had to be done.

"The students are taught to be vigilant and pro-active in what they do, and not be reticent of the needs of the Hawaiian community," Wong said, noting that her classes have appeared at federal court, Honolulu Hale and the state Capitol to express their views on different topics.

While there was a happy ending at the palace, those who gathered there Sunday are still scratching their heads over what happened. What makes the desecration especially suspicious to them is that an ahu and lele, or altar stand, built by Hawaiians atop Mauna Kea were destroyed by vandals last week.

Hussey said the destruction of the ahu on palace grounds appeared to be the work of at least five or six people. "They scattered the rocks pretty far," Hussey said. "It took a lot of effort to get this done."

Hussey said regardless of the intent, "it was kind of an attack" on a sacred site. "It's pretty obvious that it's an important site. It's next to a burial mound and the burial mound says "kapu - do not enter."

Kalahiki said he hopes it was just the act of some people under the influence of alcohol or drugs who had no idea of the harm they caused.

But Wong said she has no doubt those who desecrated the ahu knew what they were doing. "It was a hate crime," she said.

Kalahiki was among those in 1993 who helped build the ahu on the grounds of the only royal palace on U.S. soil to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

People from the Neighbor Islands and the Mainland brought stones from their homes, the graves of their ancestors or other places that represented their origins to be placed at the ahu.

Over the years, the ahu has grown as more people have placed their stones there. Hussey said an ahu built in such a manner is a symbol of strength and unity. "A rock by itself is just a piece of rubble, but when it comes together, it makes a wall," he said.

Early the morning of Feb. 14, representatives of the group Mauna Kea Anaina Hou learned that an altar at the summit of Mauna Kea, built in 1998, was destroyed.

Group member Kealoha Pisciotta said that in the Mauna Kea incident, the altar stand known as a lele was hacked by what appeared to be a machete, while the rocks of the ahu were flung about. Those responsible for that act of vandalism, and the motives behind it, also remain unknown, Pisciotta said.

That ahu also held the personal effects of two Hawai'i soldiers killed in Iraq. "It just causes hurt to the families who have suffered already," she said. "And it's an affront to the people who have come from all over to show reverence for Mauna Kea."

There's little to prove a connection between the two acts.

Pisciotta said the two ahu are similar in that both are in open areas that allow the public to place new offerings upon them. "Both serve for all to be able to come to offer reverence and prayer."

Additionally, she said, both have a tie to royalty. The ahu and lele at Mauna Kea were sanctioned by the Royal Order of Kamehameha I.


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