HONOLULU (KHON2) — Since Cook and his crew first landed in 1778, Native Hawaiians and their allies have worked tirelessly to preserve and protect the diverse culture, traditions, heritage and societal influences of the Hawai’i islands. Some of these allies are State agencies that work alongside Native Hawaiians.

One such agency that is working diligently to preserve and protect Hawai’i’s indigenous flora, fauna and marine life is the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

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Recently, DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation has had to deal with a new situation involving a vessel that has strayed too close to an important culturally significant site.

The Kuuipo, a 56-foot motorboat owned by Vernon Ray Lindsey of Wailuku, Maui, ran aground on the north side of Lāhainā Boat Harbor channel on March 8. When the boat ran aground, Lindsey told DOBOR that he would be hiring a salvage company to retrieve the vessel and move it to a safe location.

As the situation unfolded, DOBOR told Lindsey that the boat was not allowed to go near the Hauola Stone (birthing stone) due to its cultural significance.

The Hauola Stone is located in Lāhainā. According to legend, the rock is a young girl who was turned into stone by the gods in order to save her from her enemies. The Kahuna La’au Lapa’au, Hawaiian herbal medical healers used this sacred stone for many reasons.

“The rock that looks like a modern chair with a spacious seat and a small angular back is the healing rock, the front of which is worn hollow,” said Elspeth Sterling, a leading Hawai’i anthropologist.

Healers would send their patients to wash in the sacred sea water so that they could be healed.

“Hawaiians believe that ailing people had only to sit in the seat, dangle their legs in the water, and let the waves wash over them to regain their health,” explained Sterling.

Healing was not exclusive to disease. This sacred spot was part of Native Hawaiian birthing care. In particular, Chiefesses used this site to birth their heirs and buried the umbilical cords below to nourish the land and further support the healing nature of the site.

According to the Maui Historical Society, during the time when Hawai’i had chiefs, it was believed that hiding umbilical cords in the rocks crevices would spur their offspring to become chiefs.

“The Hauola stone is where the Pi‘ilani ali‘i line of Maui birthed their children. It is a sacred site,” said DLNR Deputy Director Laura Kaakua.

  • A photo shows the Hauola Stone, a sacred Native Hawaiian site, in 2010 in Lāhainā, Hawai'i. (Photo/Pacific Legacy, Inc. via Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources – Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation)
  • A photo shows a plaque that explains what the Hauola Stone in Lāhainā, Hawai'i. (Photo/Nathaniel Hawthorne)
  • A historical photo shows the Lāhainā Boat Harbor in Lāhainā, Hawai'i. (Photo Department of Land and Natural Resources)
  • A modern photo shows the Lāhainā Boat Harbor in Lāhainā, Hawai'i. (Photo Department of Land and Natural Resources)

Unfortunately, the Kuuipo floated closer to the shore and made its way to nearly eight feet away from the sacred stone.

This prompted DOBOR to send Lindsey a notification on Saturday, March 18, to inform him that they will be taking control of the salvage operation.

“You are hereby notified that in order to protect this culturally significant site as well as to protect the natural resources … the State of Hawai‘i, through DOBOR, is immediately taking control of Kuuipo,” Meghan Statts, DOBOR Assistant Administrator, wrote in the letter.

DOBOR has hired a contractor to immediately move the boat to a safe location along with a salvage contractor to remove the vessel “by any means necessary”. It is the responsibility of Lindsey to remit payment for the removal and salvage operations as well as his liability for all damages done to coral and/or live rock throughout the situation.

To take further, Statts informed Lindsey that anyone found on the vessel that is not aurhorized to be there will be charged with trespassing.

“Officers from the DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement are on scene,” declared Statts.  

DLNR has made it clear that they did not permit the owner to bring the boat anywhere near the stone. They have specifically directed Lindsey to stay far away from the stone.

“The majority of boat owners are responsible, but recent actions by a few have harmed Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources,” said Kaakua.

Marine life is as important to Native Hawiian culture as landmarks for it their relationship with the ocean that led them to these islands.

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“Damage to our reefs and cultures sites is unacceptable. DLNR is exploring ways to enforce responsible ownership to protect our ocean environment,” concluded Kaakua.