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Bright mural on a Kaimukī cell tower reminds parkgoers of their role as stewards of history

Kaimuki Park mural 091621
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
Community members paint the cell tower at Kaimukī Park on Sept. 16, 2021.

What began three years ago as an effort to remove invasive species from a small hilltop park in Kaimukī has evolved into a forum for community engagement on the area’s rich history.

Puʻu O Kaimukī Park just behind the Kaimukī Fire Station was once home to a heiau, or temple, dedicated to navigation. This history has been captured in a mural now on display at the park.

Dozens of volunteers gathered at Puʻu o Kaimukī on a recent Thursday afternoon to bring color to a new mural painted onto the park’s cell phone tower.

kaimuki park mural 091621 painting
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi

"This is not my first time in this park, I usually come here after school," said volunteer Diego Echeverria as he dipped his brush into a cup of bright yellow paint.

"Today is really special because this building is really colorful and really transmits happiness," he said.

Thelma Joiner regularly volunteers with the local nonprofit 808 Cleanups, which has taken up the role of steward of the park and helped spearhead the mural project.

"I think for the most part a lot of people here feel like it’s therapeutic, just a quiet sense of community coming together," Joiner said.

Michael Loftin, the founder and executive director of 808 Cleanups, said, "We started work up here in December 2019, and that was to remove invasive plants that were crowding this entire location up here, creating an unsafe atmosphere. The invasive haole koa covered everything from the top all the way down."

kaimuki park mural 091621
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
Volunteers work on a new mural on the park’s cell phone tower.

Through community work days hosted by the group, hundreds of volunteers helped restore native plants, uncover hidden trails and even revive some of Puʻu O Kaimukī’s little-known history.

"It served as a military installment up here. There was a water tower up here. It’s a park now that houses an AT&T building. But it has so much rich history," said Kimeona Kane, who heads up community outreach for 808 Cleanups.

"We have kind of unearthed the surface layer of how it may have been a cultural space known as Kukuionapeha Heiau. That’s still up for debate depending on where you ask," Kane told Hawaiʻi Public Radio.

What the group does know about Kukuionapeha is that it was a heiau dedicated to navigation and wayfinding, which makes sense because of its hilltop location.

solomon enos kaimuki park mural
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
Artist Solomon Enos painting a new mural on the park’s cell phone tower.

808 Cleanups enlisted the help of Native Hawaiian artist Solomon Enos to help design a mural that honors this history.

"What we had a chance to do was to base some of the design on kapa prints that speak to star and starlight. Even as I’m saying this I’m thinking of Van Gogh and his 'Starry Night' so that’s pretty much the palette that we went for," Enos said.

Deep blues, beautiful oranges and bright yellows color the once graffiti-covered cell tower, reminding parkgoers of their role as stewards not only of the land but of its story.

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