(BIVN) – Mahukona on the Kohala coast of Hawai‘i will be permanently protected, following the nonprofit purchase of 642 acres of land rich in cultural and environmental value.
The Hawai‘i Land Trust – a 501(c)3 statewide nonprofit that “protects, stewards, and connects people to the lands that sustain Hawaiʻi” – announced the closing of the deal on Wednesday, in partnership with the nonprofit Nā Kālai Waʻa, as well as federal, state and county agencies, and the Kohala community. It is reported to be the largest HILT purchase to date.
From the Hawai‘i Land Trust news release:
A place referenced in ancient ʻoli (chants) as ʻāina kupaianaha (extraordinary lands) — the property includes the coastal regions of six ahupua‘a (historic land divisions), including a portion of the famed Kohala Field System. This expansive landscape provides habitat for threatened and endangered native plants and animals. It is also a rare space for Hawaiian cultural practice and subsistence gathering to thrive.
Mahukona holds layered histories of a bustling harbor town and has served as a training ground for non-instrumental navigation for the last 1,000 years — a practice that was once lost yet continues today. To date, 175 ancient cultural sites have been identified in the area, including four heiau (built feature to interact with surrounding environment), agricultural and housing villages and complexes, shrines, burials, and ancient trails. Among these sites is Ko‘a Heiau Holomoana, a navigational heiau known and highly regarded throughout Moananuiākea (the Pacific Ocean).
Since the 1980s, the lands have been slated for various development proposals, with a portion of the property previously zoned for resort development. HILT’s ownership of its 8th preserve, with a conservation easement held by the County of Hawai‘i ensures permanent cultural site protection, environmental resilience, and indigenous-led, community-based stewardship and education for all.
It was around this time that Nā Kālai Waʻa’s founders studied non-instrumental navigation under Papa Mau Piailug, who observed and studied at Mahukona. Nā Kālai Waʻa was eventually entrusted and introduced to the function of Koʻa Heiau Holomoana for navigation, inhereting kuleana (privilege and responsibility) to mālama (care for) the place. HILT and Nā Kālai Waʻa will co-steward Ko‘a Heiau Holomoana and associated cultural sites with the generational ʻohana (families), providing ‘āina- and culture-based educational opportunities. Nā Kālai Waʻa will continue using a warehouse it renovated on site where it drydocks its voyaging canoe Makali‘i and other sailing vessels.
Hawaiʻi County’s Public Access, Open Space, & Natural Resources Preservation Commission ranked Mahukona its No. 1 priority for protection in 2020, understanding the significance of the place and as members of the Kohala community have been nominating Mahukona for protection year after year since 2012. With the support of the County, State Dept. of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and private contributors, HILT has raised $18.86 million toward the total project goal of $20 million. With the purchase now complete, HILT is seeking support to raise the remaining $1.14 million needed for community co-stewardship of Mahukona.
“If you read everything in books it becomes a legend. If we have a place for our own that they can come, feel, and touch—it’s real, our people are real,” Patti Ann Solomon shared in a video produced by Hawaiʻi Land Trust and whose ancestor was brought here to train as a navigator. “It is a way of life.”
“We are deeply grateful to Hawai‘i Land Trust, Nā Kālai Waʻa, lineal descendants, and our collaborative partners for working together to secure the perpetual protection of 642 acres at Mahukona,” said Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth. “This huge undertaking ensures the safeguarding of cultural sites, fosters environmental resilience, and highlights community-based stewardship on a truly massive scale. Mahalo to all who have dedicated, and continue to dedicate, their efforts to preserving our island’s rich ‘āina and vibrant cultural history. Your contributions are instrumental in shaping a Hawaiʻi Island where our keiki can thrive and succeed for generations to come.”
“We feel so privileged to have been welcomed by Nā Kālai Waʻa and lineal descendants of Mahukona to a place of such cultural significance and community importance,” said ‘Olu Campbell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hawaiʻi Land Trust. “I am grateful for the community’s trust in our organization to close this acquisition and take on perpetual stewardship of these lands and for all the partners and donors whose efforts and contributions have brought us to this point. This is an immense kuleana and we are committed to caring for this ʻāina to the best of our ability to ensure it continues to support the wellbeing of Kohala’s people.”
“Twenty years from now, I can see that Koʻa Heiau Holomoana will continue to be that school — it will continue to write the stories from this generation now, to allow them to see the importance of caring for place,” said Chadd Paison, Senior Captain, PWO Navigator and Executive Director of Nā Kālai Waʻa.
“The significance of the navigational heiau, Koʻa Holomoana, cannot be overstated,” said Sen. H.M. Tim Richards, III, District 4. “As County Councilmember, I played a crucial role in facilitating the successful enactment of the PONC purchase, underscoring our commitment to preserving and honoring this cultural and historical treasure. Patti Ann Solomon, a cherished longtime friend and esteemed lineal descendant of the region, served as my steadfast guide and barometer on matters related to Mahukona. When approached about HILT, Patti Ann told me ‘Tim, this is the right one for Mahukona.’ Her support was unwavering; and so is mine.”
“The protection of Mahukona in perpetuity means that Hawaiʻi’s people will always have a foundational site of navigation that connects us to all of the Pacific,” said Department of Land and Natural Resources Deputy Director Laura Kaakua. “The Legacy Land Conservation Program under the State Department of Land and Natural Resources provided critical matching funds for the purchase. Mahalo piha to the Kohala community; nonprofit, County, and Federal partners; the State legislature that supports the Legacy Land Conservation Program; and the many private donors. May traditional Hawaiian navigation and ʻāina stewardship practices thrive forever more at Mahukona and across Hawaiʻi.”
“We are excited to be a part of Native Hawaiian and community led stewardship efforts that restore and protect native habitats,” said Earl Campbell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Islands Office. “The Endangered Species Act Recovery Land Acquisition grant program protects listed species and their habitats through voluntary partnerships with states, outstanding groups such as Hawai‘i Land Trust, and the community. This grant project exemplifies that when we work together to safeguard species, we preserve unique ecosystems and ensure Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural heritage endures.”