When I was there in 2000 I discovered several rock cairns that I later learned were K'oa. One of them is a small platform with a semicircular rock wall about 3 feet high at the top.
I found smooth stones, shell offerings and coins that had been placed there carefully as offerings. I returned to the site a year later, near the beginning of Makahiki in 2001. I stood at the shrine as the sun went down. I was amazed to see that it set very near to the tip of Kaho'olawe. "Holy Cow,!" I thought. "This may be a solstice observatory." It wasn't until the next month, at winter solstice, that I was able to check it out.
On December 20, 2001 my step-grandson, Westley Wall, and I returned to the shrine.
I took my digital video camera to document the event. As we approached the site, we
could see our lengthening shadows forming parallel lines that seemed nearly to line up with
a line from the Ko'a to Kaho'olawe. Bracing myself against a righteous warm trade wind sweeping around from Ala nui haha channel between Maui and the island of Hawai'i, I held the video camera and began filming. As we stood there, the sun appeared to roll down the sky at an angle toward the tip of Kaho'o'lawe. It seemed, in fact, to be approaching from distant Tathiti, closing the gap between that island and Kahiki nui.
The sun finally touched down to kiss Kaho'olawe. As its disk settled onto the land, it became clear to us that this place was indeed a precise astronomical observatory. Halfway through the sun's descent , the tip of the island cut its disk exactly in half. Then, as it slid farther along, only a tiny limb of brilliant light, the last remnant of the sun's disk edged into the very southernmost speck of land. Then it was gone behind Kaho'olawe, and down into the sea. The calibration between sun and land is precise to within a fraction of a degree. The K'oa marks the only place on the Kahiki nui coast from which an observer would see what we saw.
In anticipation of this moment, we had brought Alluvion offerings. As Westley placed them on a rock by the other offerings, I said the following prayer of thanks:
Oh Kapuna No Maui (Oh elders of Maui)
Aina of this country (Homeland of this country)
Spirits of this Sacred Place
We thank you for allowing us to be here
We hope that you will accept these gifts
In the spirit of Aloha
Westley and I placed the Alluvion shells at this sacred place as a sign of respect, both for Hawai'ian sacred tradition, and more generally for the cosmic cycles that all people experience. Although we do not worship Lono (nor do most living Hawai'ians), we share with both ancient and contemporary people a respect for the earth's remarkable powers of renewal. "The worship of Lono was mild," I read, and "any man might set up a temple to Lono" (Lono of the Makahiki website). We added Alluvion shells to the offerings already at the solstice K'oa "in the spirit of Aloha," the healing and all-encompassing love that all beings realize in every act of renewal. For Hawai'ians, the moment of winter solstice marks the transition between "the dying time of the year" to the time when "bearing things become fruitful," and from the season of long nights (po) to the season of long days (ao)." According to Marshall Sahlins;
Initiated each year by the winter solstice, the turn from night to day, po to ao, replicates the succession in the famous cosmogonic chant, Kumulipo. (Sahlins 1995:22).
By bearing witness to the working of this solstice observatory, we experienced a point of contact with the ancient Hawai'ian and Tahitian navigators who constructed and maintained it. We felt the spirit of Lono as a manifestation of renewal and growth. At the end of Makahiki, Lono returns to Kahiki, but it is certain that he will return. The Alluvion shells we placed at the solstice shrine mark our confidence in the cycles of nature. They mark our respect for the spirit of Lono, "the god of agriculture and fertility" who was honored "to ensure peace and productivity" Contemporary Hawai'ians view the events of Makahiki and the winter solstice as an appearance of "souls who return from the past to remind us of those earlier times" (Wayne Smith website). Some of the Kapuna, it is said, "can describe hearing the ancient drum beats echoing on particular nights in the vicinities of the temples and sites of the Makahiki celebrations." We hope that the Alluvion shells we left in this special place of transformation have become part of those ancient drum beats.
Lono of the Makahiki nd. (website)
1995 How Natives Think: About Captain Cook, For Example.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
n.d. Ancient Hawaiian Celebration of Makahiki Tied to the Stars. Maui Time Magazine v2 Issue 8. (website source)