Sitting in the shade, 91-year-old Taro Fujimori used a small knife to strip off the inner fibrous core from the base of a coconut frond, making it thin and flexible. Sitting around him were family members, friends and eager students of all ages weaving and twisting leaves. In minutes, they tug, pull and whip up straw hats. In seconds, a long frond could be transformed into a fish, bird or flower.
It’s a scene that made Fujimori beam with pride. Like many of volunteers at this weekend’s festival at Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae, Fujimori has a passionate dedication for preserving and perpetuating Hawaiian cultural traditions for present and future generations.
The South Kona resident has volunteered with the National Park Service since 1963, when his wife, Rose Akana Fujimori, began her NPS career and needed him to make things for West Hawaii’s national parks. His most clever invention as a spear-sanding machine, used for more than 20 spears constructed for Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. He helped make some of the shorter spears, too. His wife, who was the first local Hawaiian woman to became a permanent park ranger, also got him to get out of his stay-at-home rut, caused by a painful injury, and go to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, where he started coconut leaf weaving. He continues to do so every Wednesday, said Rae Godden, his daughter and a park ranger.
Always willing to contribute his time, talents and knowledge, Fujimori carries the concepts of selflessness and aloha. At the festival Saturday, he was honored for his generous service. Though appreciative of the recognition and lei received, he was quick to point the numerous NPS employees, organizations, practitioners and their families who make this free festival happen year after year. Everywhere one looked Saturday, people were learning, sharing and connecting.
Hawaii Pacific Parks Association, Na Papa Kanaka o Puukohola Heiau and Na Aikane o Puukohola Heiau sponsored the event, which celebrates the anniversary of the 1972 establishment of this national historic site and commemorates the founding of the Hawaiian Kingdom more than 200 years ago. Between 2,500 and 5,000 people were anticipated to attend this weekend, said Park Ranger Greg Cunningham.
Puukohola Heiau, a massive stone temple sitting above the festivities, is said to have been constructed between 1790 and 1791 by King Kamehameha I. A kahuna from Kauai prophesied that war between Kamehameha I and several relatives over the control of Hawaii would end if Kamehameha I constructed a heiau dedicated to his family war god, Kukailimoku, atop the whale-shaped hill at Kawaihae. The 224-foot-by-100-foot heiau with 16- to 20-foot-high walls was constructed with rounded, water-worn lava rocks, some weighing more than 100 pounds and coming from Pololu Valley. Thousands of men formed a human chain at least 20 miles long and transported the boulder to the hill to be stacked. In 1791, Kamehameha’s cousin, Keoua Kuahuula, who was in contention with Kamehameha I for control of the islands, was killed at the heiau — an event that, according to prophecy, led to Kamehameha I’s conquest and consolidation of the Hawaiian islands. By 1810, Kamehameha ruled over all of the major Hawaiian Islands.
The festival opened around sunrise Saturday with various hula halau, cultural practitioners, schools, and Native Hawaiian organizations from around the state performing the hookupu ceremony at Puukohola Heiau. A unique and deeply moving genealogical, historical, spiritual and cultural connection is shared as they served various roles, including royalty, statesmen, high priest, stone workers, warriors, ladies in waiting, said Maulili Dickson of Royal Order of Kamehameha I — Moku O Kohala. Participants take part in the drinking of awa the night before, when newcomers are introduced. With the taking of a cup, participants promise to teach what they have learned to the next generations, to never stop learning and to maintain a relationship with the heiau. Leaders also share the meaning of the hookupu ceremony, he added.
Prayers, chants, hula and lua (Hawaiian martial arts) are an integral part of the ceremony, as well as the offerings placed on the three tiered altar. The top tier was for akua and the heavens while the middle tier was for the high chief and the heiau. The gifts were mostly food specially selected, prepared and gathered from certain places, with each item having purpose and meanings, Dickson said.
Afterward, cultural demonstrations, workshops, games and canoe rides took place at Pelekane Bay. There was a stipulation for all attendees: “Learn at least one craft before leaving the park to help preserve part of the Hawaiian culture.” New Jersey couple Ed and Darlene Scott happily obliged by making a lei and a lauhala bracelet. These first-time visitors to Hawaii came to the festival because they enjoy learning about the culture and history. They also think it’s important to support America’s national parks, which are being affected by federal budget cuts.
The festival continues today from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be numerous hands-on learning opportunities that engage people, as well as teach traditional practices and values. This includes hula, lei making, quilting, lauhala weaving, nose flute, rain cape, net making, poi pounding, drums, gourd making, woodwork and poi pounding. Information booths featuring the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, NPS Pacific Island Network and Native Hawaiian Roll Call were also present.
For more information, call 882-7218, ext. 1011, or visit nps.gov/puhe.