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Notes on Wailuku Archaeology

by Demaris L. Fredericksen, Trustee

Some of the earliest archaeological work on Maui was part of an island-wide survey of religious structures, or heiau, which was conducted by Winslow Walker in 1928 and 1929. The notes of this survey are in the Maui Historical Society archives, having been donated by Mr. Walker in the 1970s. His research, contained in an unpublished manuscript entitled "Archaeology of Maui" dated 1931, remains an important reference document today. The archaeological sites on which he based his initial survey had been described by Thomas G. Thrum during a visit to Maui in 1909. Thrum listed some of the prominent heiau, and made brief notations about them. In 1916, John F. G. Stokes, of the Bishop Museum staff, visited Maui and added more sites to the inventory. During his field work, Walker covered the entire perimeter of the island, and made trips inland when appropriate. He states: "Regions beyond the reach of the auto roads were covered on horseback or afoot, and in this manner all of the open country was seen in detail. All of the earlier mentioned sites were visited and many new ones found, so it is felt that the survey is now as complete as is possible. Very likely some small sites have been destroyed and their existence forgotten with the modern occupation of so much land by the sugar-cane and pineapple plantations".i

Much modem archaeological work begins with a perusal of Walker's manuscript, and oftentimes by trying to relocate heiau noted by him. He mentions a number of heiau in the general area of Wailuku, which were said to have been consecrated by Liholiho during his visit to Maui for that purpose in 1801.ii At the time of his survey, none of these reported heiau, named Keahuku, Olokua, Olopio, Malena, Pohakuokahi, Lelemako, Kawelowelo, Kaulupala, Palamaihiki, and Oloolokalani, could be found. '

There are two which still exist atop the dune formation on the northern side of Iao Stream-Pihana and Halekii. Both have been restored and are designated as the Halekii-Pihana Heiau State Monument (Division of State Parks, Department of Land and Natural Resources). Commanding a magnificent view of Haleakala, Iao River Valley and Kahului Bay, it is not difficult to see why this location was chosen for these important religious structures.

A personal communication with Mr. Charles Kean, a well-respected authority on history and prehistory of Maui, provided more information about several of those heiau which Walker mentioned but could not locate. By Mr. Kean's account, there were 3 heiau located in the Lower Main Street corridor from Kahului Harbor to the intersection of Mill Street. One was situated across Lower Main Street to the south of the Mani Soda Company. Another was located between the Maui Electric Power Station and the County Cemetery near the intersection of Mill Street. A third may have been located near the parking lot of Home Maid Bakery.

The presence of heiau indicates that in precontact times a great deal of human activity was taking place in a given area. Traditional oral histories indicated that Wailuku was a political and religious center for Maui in late precontact times, and that a large population was supported by the extensive and productive system of taro lo'i in Iao Valley.

Today, as vacant properties are being developed, this rich prehistory is being documented by archaeological studies. Between Kahului Harbor and Mill Street every such parcel which is under consideration for development has produced archaeological sites containing human burials and/or habitation sites. In general, these sites indicate that occupation was earliest nearest the coast, and tended to be later as one moves inland. The site of the future Nisei Veterans Memorial Center, located at the intersection of Kahului Beach Road and Waiehu Road, is underlain by a large habitation site that dates from the early 1200s to about AD 1740. Farther inland, a site located at the corner of Lower Main and Mill Streets was occupied from about AD 1450 to 1675, and not before.

In general, the recent archaeological findings corroborate the oral histories which identify the Lower Main Street corridor in pre-contact Wailuku as being a densely habitated area, associated with the rich taro producing lands in the lower Iao River Valley, and the extensive cultivation systems present in Iao Valley. Politically, Wailuku was a central location for high ranking chiefs and their followers, and it was also a religious center in which a number of heiau were located.

i. Winslow Metcalf Walker, Archaeology of Maui, Maui Historical Society manuscript, 1931, p. 2.
ii. Ibid., pp. 146-147.
iii. Ibid., p. 148.

Demaris L. Fredericksen has worked as an archaeologist and anthropologist on Maui since 1964. She taught anthropology, sociology and archeology at Maui Community College from 1967 to 1995. She served on the Maui County Cultural Resources Commission and was a Trustee of the Maui Historical Society.  Their family business, Xamanek Researchers, is well known for archeological and ocean science researching.

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