Makena Rediscovered

By Darla Palmer

Standing on a rise of Makena Alanui Road, just before the turn to Wailea Golf Course, it is possible to imagine the Makena that Polynesian voyagers first saw so many hundreds of years ago. Pu’u Ola’i, a large cinder cone resembling a scrub covered fedora, frames the view to the left.  A protective cove curves inward to the right with a crescent of sand just visible in the distance.  Swaying palms dot the thick and fragrant foliage in the foreground.  This beautiful spot called Makena plays a significant role in Maui’s history, and with new development  plans in the works, will be a changing landscape in Maui’s future.

Makena is part of a larger ancient land division named Honua’ula.  Honua’ula encompassed land from the rough lava flow terrain of Keone’o’io (later to be called LaPerouse Bay) on the southeast shore, to the sprawling lush pastures of Ulupalakua upcountry, to pristine Keawakapu Beach, just north of Wailea.  The first settlers were thought to be followers of Moikeha, a Polynesian voyager believed to have arrived from Tahiti around 1300 A.D.  Many places along the Honua’ula coastline are said to be named for those voyagers Moikeha permitted to land and become established.

The shores of Honua’ula are where Kalani’opu’u, chief ruler of the Big Islnad of Hawaii, returned in 1776 to seek vengeance from an earilier defeat from Kahekili, ruler of Maui.  Kalani’opu’u and his warriors’ double-hulled canoes spanned miles of coastline from Keone’o’io to Makena.  While they ravaged the countryside, the people known as the “Makenans” fled into the brush.  This was at the same time as Captain Cook’s first landing on the Big Island.  Cook was met by Kalani’opu’u’s cousin, Kamehameha, who would later become King and unite all of Hawaii.  A decade later,
La Perouse – the first European explorer to land on Maui, came ashore at Makena bay, documenting the spot in his journals.

The Makena name is derived from the word mak’ke, meaning, “many gathered”.  One story of the origin of the name involves the building of Po’okela church in Makawao.  Many people traveled to Makena to gather coral for building the church.  Passing the stones hand to hand.  The area is also steeped in legends of Pele, Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes.  It is said that Pele was jealous of the beautiful lizard maiden sunning herself on the south shore so she split the maiden in two in a fiery wrath, the head becoming Pu’u Ola’i, and the tail, Molokini islet.

The reefs around Makena were abundant with many species of sea life.  Makenans exchanged fish for most of their other food needs grown on the Wao-Kanaka, or uplands.  Fishing shrines are still visible in the area.  A fishing shrine, or Ko’a, was located on top of Pu’u Ola’i, and there is also one on Nahuna point across Keawala’i bay.  These two landmarks were vectors to point to where the best deep-sea fishing place lies.  Most of the small heiaus that can still be seen today are Ko’as, also known as Ku’ula heiaus.  They are dedicated solely to the service of Ku’ula, god of fishing.  Ko’as have a walled area to protect the Loko-i’a, or watcher-for-fish.  It is said that one will not find long bones in the skeletal remains of Loko-i’a.  These bones were taken to make fishhooks by others desiring good fishing and to earn the honored role of watcher-for-fish.

- Reprinted with the permission of Real Estate Maui Style magazine and the author.