Guests at the Kepookalani Interpretive Center Blessing view a multimedia presentation Tuesday. (Laura SHimabuku/Special to West Hawaii Today)
With hula, chanting and invocations of the ancestors of Keahuolu, Queen Liliuokalani Trust officials, along with county and federal government officials, dedicated and blessed Tuesday afternoon a new interpretive center on a 25-acre historical preserve.
But the site, which houses numerous artifacts, a portion of the Kuakini Wall and habitation sites that may once have housed alii, won’t be open to the public for several more years, trust officials said. Instead, the federally funded Kepookalani Interpretive Center will first be used by trust beneficiaries, while the trust continues to develop the trail system and other features.
“We will get there,” trust Chairman Thomas K. Kaulukukui Jr. said, referring to opening the center to the broader public. “We’ve got to take care of our own first.”
The trust has a five-year plan, which it is rolling out slowly, officials said, to complete the full historic preserve. Officials considered Tuesday’s blessing a soft opening, Vice President for Development Leeann Crabbe said.
The trust paired with the Federal Highways Administration to build the hale and interpretive center, a relatively unusual move, Division Administrator Abraham Wong said. Funding for the center was a part of the funding for Ane Keohokalole Highway, paid for through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, better known as federal stimulus funding.
“This was a project born of opportunity,” Wong said to a crowd gathered outside the center, which sits off Kamakaeha Avenue.
Kaulukukui said the site is a special, sacred place.
“It’s a great day and the spirits are with us,” he said. “Can you feel them? I can.”
The interpretive center is more than a building, he said, but is also a testimony to the cooperation between state, county, federal and private entities, and Hawaiian organizations, working together to build the road and the historic preserve.
Particularly special to the project, he added after the ceremony, was the work done with descendants of the land.
“How important is it to involve the people of this community in a project like this?” Kaulukukui asked. “They can tell us things about this area. We have taken great pains to involve lineal descendants to help us with our education and building a structure that is harmonious with the land.”
Crabbe said pohaku, or stones, from various archaeological sites were moved out of the road’s path and incorporated into a memorial wall behind the interpretive center.
The stones were kept together in family groups, so there is a logical progression in the wall.
Trust officials, working with lineal descendants, reinterred several sets of iwi, or bones, last month, Crabbe said.
Kaulukukui noted a juxtaposition of traditional Hawaiian culture with how the bones were wrapped and prepared for burial, and new technology, because the preparation was completed inside the center, beneath a number of flat screen televisions.