Big Island's petroglyphs provide link to past

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KAUPULEHU, Hawaii -- The Big Island's west coast is known for its petroglyph fields, the mysterious lava rock carvings made by ancient Hawaiians.

Kona Village Resort has more than 400 petroglyphs covering 15 acres, some of them are unusual in that they depict the arrival of westerners, including one tragic episode.

The killing of British Capt. James Cook in 1779 at Kealakekua Bay, further south, is a story related in guidebooks, but less well known is the murder of crew members from the schooner Fair American almost a dozen years later here. Kona Village is located at the site of their death.

The resort recently completed a 700-foot boardwalk through its petroglyph field, enabling visitors to take a walking tour.

Five-feet wide and made of native ohia and Douglas fir, the walkway includes a handful of viewing platforms that enable viewers to get closer to the ki, or carvings.

Earlier, visitors would walk amid dense kiawe, or mesquite, trampling some carvings and seeing few.

With the kiawe gone, most carvings can be seen.

Armed with a map, visitors can look at carvings that could be 900 years old.

There are more than 70 sails and plenty of papamu, or game boards, similar to checkerboards.

There is the date, 1820, the year missionaries arrived, and the name "Liwai."

Stick-figure representations of humans defy interpretation: One could be of a family group, another of a burial party and others of people fishing.

One figure, wearing what appears to be a three-cornered hat, is being beaten by another with a paddle.

It is believed to depict a crew member of the Fair American.

Here is the story:

It is 1790 and Simon Metcalf, a Pacific Northwest fur trader, and his ship Eleanor are at Olowalu in West Maui.

A boat is stolen.

Metcalf fired the ship's guns and killed hundreds of Hawaiians in what became known as the Olowalu Massacre (Cook's problems began the same way, but after a boat was stolen he tried to take a chief hostage and was killed).

Meanwhile, word spread to the Big Island, and Kameeiamoku, the chief, planned to kill in retaliation the crew of the first ship that arrives.

Along came the smaller Fair American, captained by Metcalf's son Tom, with a four-man crew. Tom and three of the crew are killed. By this time, the Eleanor is further south.

One man from the Eleanor, John Young, went ashore and was captured. The life of the fifth crewman of the Fair American, Isaac Davies, was spared, apparently because he fought well.

Metcalf sailed away, never knowing his son's fate.

The captured sailors, Young and Davies, became advisers to Kamehameha, the island's most powerful chief.

Aided by their expertise and guns, Kamehameha completed his conquest of the Big Island the following year, then went on to conquer other islands. By 1810, he ruled all Hawaii and his descendants were monarchs through the early 1870s.

The two sailors, both British, became powerful chiefs and spent the rest of their lives in the islands.

Young became Big Island governor (the foundations of his home can be seen at Puukohola Heiau National Historical Site, 20 miles to the north); Davies, Oahu governor.

Kona Village has in its collection a painting, by Big Island artist Herb Kane, of the Fair American being captured.

Fred Duerr, Kona Village's general manager, recalled being present during archaeological excavations in the early 1970s.

In a lava tube adjoining the resort's old airstrip are the skeletons of four men, westerners, according to their bone structure. They have gags in the mouths and their backs are broken.

The Kaupulehu area, once home to 10,000 people, was uninhabited when the resort opened in 1965.

Like the Kohala District to the north, where petroglyph fields can be seen at Mauna Lani Resort and Waikoloa Beach Resort, land was left barren by volcanic flows.

As part of the petroglyph boardwalk project, the resort also created an adjoining garden of native Hawaiian plants.

A map of the garden also is available.

Here, for example, you see the endemic wiliwili tree, which dominated Hawaii's lowlands before the Hawaiians arrived; native hibiscus, the loulu, Hawaii's only endemic palm; and the prized hardwood koa.

Free guided tours of the petroglyph field are held at 11 a.m. Mondays through Fridays for Kona Village guests. The public are invited but must make advance reservations.

Tours for individuals and groups at weekends and other times can also be arranged.

Kona Village Resort

Phone: (808) 325-5555

Fax: (808) 325-5124

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