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[Vol. 21, no. 1]
February/March 2018


Lana‘i's Own 

story by Paul Wood
photos by Monte Costa


On the island of Lana‘i, on a stretch of southern shoreline, there was once a fishing village called Kapiha‘a. Today the ruins of the village are obscured by knee-high grass and an extensive grove of kiawe (mesquite) trees; only by getting down into that grove can you really start to see what once was. Then the imagination begins to reassemble the tumbled, umber stones into house foundations and other structures—a three-tiered heiau (temple), cleared patches for gardening, an immense fishing shrine heaped with white coral chunks and crowned with an iconic spire of smooth basalt.

It is here, above the shrine in the simmering heat of midmorning, that I sit with the new director of the Lana‘i Culture and Heritage Center, Kepa Maly. We gaze out at the squared-off seastack called Pu‘u Pehe (“Sweetheart Rock”) and across the porcelain sea to Haleakala, Mauna Kea, Kaho‘olawe. In the middle distance, whales spout.

Kepa tells me that the coral-capped shrine, properly called a ku‘ula ‘ia, corresponds to a matching structure atop Pu‘u Pehe that is believed to be a ku‘ula manu, a bird-catcher’s shrine. He names each of the valleys that cut into the seacliffs beyond Pu‘u Pehe—Kapo‘ili‘ili, Kapokoholua and others—and interprets the name of each valley as a specific projection of the Hawaiian mythic imagination. He calls them “storied places.” For Kepa, the entire island of Lana‘i is a network of storied places, a constellation of legends and former lives. It is also the place that forged him, that took him out of one world and deep into another.