Ancient Hawaiians dedicated time, thought and concentration etching intriguing petroglyphs in the lava fields of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. The images have remained in the open, where anyone can ponder their meanings. Many of them have withstood time and nature for hundreds of years, but unfortunately, not vandalism.
Vandals have damaged 26 of 167 petroglyphs in a lava field located off trail in the park’s Kaloko area. They used a white material to highlight the images and the destruction may be permanent, said Cultural Resource Program Manager Tyler Paikuli-Campbell.
National Park Service staff discovered and documented the vandalism at the beginning of this year and sent the material to be analyzed and identified. The material was likely a powder, used with water, which seeped into the porous rocks and dried. After consulting with petroglyph experts Ed and Diane Stasack, park employees are attempting to remove the material. They have spent the past three to four week painstakingly picking the material out with paper clips, toothpicks and toothbrushes, while trying not to cause further damage, Paikuli-Campbell said.
The park holds some of the largest petroglyph concentrations on the Kona Coast and some images are not found anywhere else in Hawaii. The interpretation of the petroglyphs is speculative — the exact meanings may never be known. However, the petroglyphs can be symbols, metaphors and depictions of life or historic events. Others are thought to have medicinal or ritualistic meaning.
The petroglyphs capture a moment in time, convey priceless information from the artist, provide valuable insight about the past and serve as a permanent record, said Chief of Interpretation Eric Andersen. “When damaged, the story is lost,” he added.
When people inquire about seeing petroglyphs, park employees direct them to the easily accessible Kii Pohaku boardwalk, which travels over petroglyphs in a lava field in the Honokohau ahupuaa and offers several post-Western contact images like a musket, Paikuli-Campbell said.
The fact that someone or a group of people went out of their way to vandalize petroglyphs off the beaten path shows not only planning and forethought, but blatant disrespect, park officials said.
The vandalism has not been isolated to petroglyphs at the park: Along the Ala Hele Kahakai trail, two words — “Poio” and “Miaki” — were recently carved in pahoehoe and discovered April 15. Someone also moved a rock on top of Puuoina Heiau, considered one of the finest examples of the platform type. In the last month, park staff also discovered the remnants of two illegal campfires on the south side of the park. Roughly eight rocks from historic walls were removed to build the fire rings, Paikuli-Campbell said.
The National Park Service has very detailed records of the heiau and affected rock walls and returned the rocks back were they belong. Park officials are still trying to decide what to do with the scarred pahoehoe as they do not want any copycats or to cause more damage.
Areas are monitored daily and there is a 24-hour park dispatch number, 985-6170, to report suspicious activities or problems. With the discovery of the damages, the staff has increased its presence and is doing more one-on-one educational outreach efforts to spread more awareness and understanding about the park’s significance, Andersen said.
Park officials are hoping residents and visitors will help preserve and protect the park. Those with information about the vandals should email email@example.com.