In the song Kaulana Kawaihae, lyrics by Kailihune Alama Na’ai, made famous by Iz Kamalawiwo’Ole, there is a verse “E’oleo Mai Kahiko Mai O Puakailima” translated as telling from old times of Pua ka Ilima. I learn that this was an island where the ilima flower grew in the kawaihae reef area before it was covered up or destroyed.
Kawaihae Reef was the largest reef on the Big Island as you can see from the composite map showing the area as surveyed in 1932 with the current harbor infrastructures super imposed on it. I believed the reef remained in place up to late 1950s ( Hawaii became a state in 1959) when US Corps of Engineers dredged it.
In the late 1950s, the US Army Corps of Engineers dredged Kawaihae Harbor and built a breakwater to protect it. In 1970, construction began on the small boat harbor. Following the improvement of the deep-draft harbor, vacation resorts began to appear near the beaches around Kawaihae Harbor. In 1962, the Corps of Engineers started widening the Kawaihae Harbor entrance channel and basin. They also extended the breakwater. (source: http://www.worldportsource.com/ports/review/USA_HI_Kawaihae_Harbor_Hawaii_828.php)
Why was the largest reef on an un populated island selected as a harbor when there are other naturally deeper areas nearby? The existing harbor is not well protected from howling wind and NW winter swells. Ships linger far offshore on heavy wind and surf days.
The more important story here is what was the reef like, was it abundance, rich and what is its current status? Lesser stories but just as interesting to readers are what happened to the people and families that lived here? Few families are still in the area, what are their stories of the place? What inspire such a beautiful song?
There are new expansion plans in the work for the Kawaihae harbor area. Some are under construction. There are many big players with stakes in this area: DOT, DLNR, US military, Young Brothers, and Boaters. The group that has the smallest voice and stand to lose even more access is you and I, the locals. Kawaihae harbor and the break-wall is a unique place where the public is allowed to enter and recreate during the day time. The Surf Park folks, Pua Ka’ Ilima ‘O Kawaihae, who maintains the area along the break-wall is a non profit that planted trees, built shower and provide access to one of the best surf spot on the island. Their existence is very fragile. Users who came to recreate use resources like water and porta potties are unaware that the facilities in the park are maintained by donations,volunteers and not by the State.
I understand that progress is inevitable, however we need our voices heard about this amazing and important place that Kamehameha has selected to build his Heiau to unite the islands and ask the right questions, tell us about not just places and people but what is happening under the surface. What is given in return for the things that were taken?