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Island History for Friday, October 16, 2009

The Wailua River petroglyphs

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Posted: Friday, October 16, 2009 12:00 am

Along the shore where the Wailua River joins the sea, about 45 yards mauka of Hauola, the Place of Refuge, is located a cluster of 61 stones, sacred to the ancient Hawaiians, of which eight are marked with petroglyphs.

Usually submerged under sand that ocean and river currents deposit over them, it is believed these petroglyphs were cut into the stones not long after Tahitians first settled on Kaua‘i during the 12th Century A.D.  

The eight petroglyph stones took the name Ka Pae Ki‘i Mahu o Wailua (the row of homosexual images at Wailua), when Kapoulakinau, the goddess of mental health, became angered at eight chiefs who preferred themselves to her young female companions and turned them into stone.    

While the petroglyph’s full significance remains uncertain, Ruth Knudsen Tanner, who had studied Hawai‘i’s petroglyphs for many years, provided a partial explanation in June 1968, when she noted that the Wailua River petroglyphs had definite phallic symbolism and were “typical of the emerging awareness of the male and female share in creation of life, in contrast to the older concept of a maternal goddess as the mother of men.”  

That same month, when the stones emerged from the sand, as they occasionally do, Tanner and Thelma Hadley, president of the Kauai Historical Society, accused the County of Kaua‘i of defacing and chipping them when it periodically bulldozes sand deposits to keep the river channel open.  

Although Tad Miura, executive assistant to the county chairman, found no basis for the women’s claims, after checking with the supervisor in charge of work on the river mouth, and denied bulldozers had harmed the stones, Tanner and Hadley persisted.

Hadley proposed the erection of an historical marker and Tanner demanded a concrete barrier be constructed to protect the sacred stones.

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