Account of the Puhonua, or City of Refuge, at Honaunau…

Adjoining the Hare o Keave to the southward, we found a Pahu tabu (sacred enclosure) of considerable extent, and were informed by our guide that it was one of the pohonuas of Hawaii. There are only two on the island; the one which we were then examining, and another at Waipio, on the north-east part of the island, in the district of Kohala. These Puhonuas were the Hawaiian cities of refuge, and afforded an inviolable sanctuary to the guilty fugitive, who, when flying from the avenging spear, was so favored as to enter their precincts. This had several wide entrances, some on the side next the sea, the others facing the mountains. Hither the manslayer, the man who had broken a tabu, or failed in the observance of its rigid requirements, the thief, and even the murderer, fled from his incensed pursuers, and was secure. To whomsoever he belonged, and from whatever part he came, he was equally certain of admittance, though liable to be pursued even to the gates of the enclosure. Happily for him, those gates were perpetually open; and as soon as the fugitive had entered, he repaired to the presence of the idol, and made a short ejaculatory address, expressive of his obligations to him in reaching the place with security. In one part of the enclosure, houses were formerly erected for the priests, and others for the refugees, who, after a certain period, or at the cessation of war, were dismissed by the priests, and returned unmolested to their dwellings and families; no one venturing to injure those, who, when they fled to the gods, had been by them protected. We could not learn the length of time it was necessary for them to remain in the puahonua; but it did not appear to be more than two or three days. After that, they either attached themselves to the service of the priests, or returned to their homes.

 

The erection of such a place as the puhonua. at Honaunau, under the circumstances and with the means by which alone it was reared, (as they had no machinery,) must have been an herculean task, and could not have been completed but by the labour of many hands. We could not learn how long it had been standing, but were informed it was built for Keave, who reigned in Hawaii about 250 years ago. The walls and heiaus, indeed, looked as if it might claim such antiquity; but the house of Keave and the images must have been renewed since that time. (Ellis)

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 (These are excerpts from a book by William Ellis that has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired.)

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