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Native Hawaiians, lawmakers and residents call for protection of Kāneʻohe sandbar, Ahu a Laka

AhuALakaCoalition_63022.jpg kaneohe sandbar
Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi
/
HPR
Kumu Hula Kawaikapuokalani Hewett speaks at Heʻeia Kea Pier on June 30, 2022.

State law enforcement officers are ramping up enforcement of the no-alcohol rule at the Kāneʻohe sandbar this weekend in anticipation of large crowds for the Fourth of July weekend.

The Windward Oʻahu hotspot, originally known as Ahu a Laka, has a long and storied history in Native Hawaiian culture, and local residents are calling for the protection of this sacred site.

Kumu Hula Kawaikapuokalani Hewett was one of about two dozen community members who gathered Thursday at the Heʻeia Kea Pier to voice their concerns over the ongoing desecration and commercialization of Ahu a Laka.

“We have been fighting this battle to have regulation, to have rules, not only to have the rules but to follow the rules. To stop all the unlicensed businesses, all the illegal businesses, alcohol, and the exploitation of these natural resources,” Hewett said. “We’re not fighting just for me or for us, we’re fighting for the future.”

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DLNR
Crowds gather at Ahu a Laka, also known as the Kāneʻohe Sandbar, for Memorial Day Weekend in 2021.

This gathering of concerned Koʻolaupoko residents, including Native Hawaiians, cultural leaders, and lawmakers, was meant to raise awareness about the cultural and historical significance of Ahu a Laka.

“Our kupuna from Heʻeia said the bones of our ancestors were all taken to Ahu a Laka and buried there,” Hewett said. “There is an ancient story of Luanuʻu bringing Laka to the island and burying his bones on the island. The kupuna of Heʻeia would come and practice their hula in the name of Laka, the hula goddess, here at Ahu a Laka.”

Over the years, Ahu a Laka has become a popular party destination on holidays and weekends.

State Sen. Jarret Keohokālole, who represents Kāneʻohe and Kailua, had a special message for businesses and tour groups who continue to operate unlicensed in Kāneʻohe Bay.

“We don't want you out here. And we don’t need this anymore. There have been multiple years where we've had these massive flotilla type events in Kāneʻohe Bay and Waikīkī, where they come to turn a profit and they trash this place,” Keohokālole said. “If you’re planning to come this weekend, donʻt come. Expect enforcement. Expect to see your faces all over the news because we're not going to tolerate it anymore.”

The coalition is hoping to raise awareness of the cultural and historical significance of Ahu a Laka by having residents, government leaders, visitors, and military personnel sign a pledge to protect this sacred site.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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