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Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park to create its own friends group

Hale O Keawe Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau
Carol Highsmith
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Call Number: LC-DIG-highsm- 04039
Hale o Keawe was an ancient Hawaiian heiau originally built in approximately 1650 AD as the burial site for the ruling monarch (aliʻi nui) of the Island of Hawaii named Keaweʻīkekahialiʻiokamoku.

The Friends of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park has received a $70,000 private grant to help another park on Hawaiʻi Island. The funds will help its sister park - Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park – to create its own friends group.

Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau in South Kona was brought into the national park system in 1955. But its history as a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers goes back centuries. Elizabeth Fien, president and CEO of the Friends of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, explains.

“So certain people and places and things and times were sacred. They were kapu or forbidden, and any breaking of a kapu would disturb the stability of the society and the punishment was often death,” says Fiend. “Any fugitive who broke the kapu could seek refuge within the walls of puʻuhonua. So in some senses, this is probably one of the very first sanctuary cities.”

Fien’s nonprofit has been the official philanthropic partner to the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park for the past 25 years. They’ve funded everything from youth programs to cultural festivals, trail restoration to invasive species removal.

Puuhonua O Honaunau.jpeg
National Park Service

“About four years ago I was visiting Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau and I was struck — there was a real spiritual connection — I was struck by the park, but I was also struck by the fact that so many things needed help there,” says Fien. “Repairs need to be done and more cultural programs need to happen. So when this grant came along, I thought it would be perfect.”

Fien’s group received $70,000 through the National Park Foundation’s Strong Parks, Strong Communities program to work with a group of community stakeholders, including descendants of the area, to form the Friends of Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

“This grant enables us to do things like the marketing materials, website, membership,” says Fien. “And our first major project that we want to tackle is we want to create an environmental cultural learning center. That’s a big project, but it’s what the descendants and stakeholders would love to see happen.”

Fien plans to get a website for the new group up and running in the next three weeks. In the meantime, more information is available on the Friends of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park website at

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
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