Protecting Our Cultural Places

Photo: Axis deer
Axis deer pose challenges to OHA’s efforts to mālama the Palauea Cultural Preserve on Maui so plans are underway to build fencing that will close off the top portion of the property. - Photo: Shane Tegarden

Palauea Cultural Preserve in Honuaʻula Maui

By Lori Kanoelani Walker, OHA Integrated Assets Manager

The Palauea Cultural Preserve is a cultural and historical site in the ahupuaʻa of Palauea, moku of Honuaʻula, on Maui. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) acquired the property in 2013 to protect and preserve the cultural sites situated among a development of million-dollar homes and resorts.

Palauea Cultural Preserve is one of the few remaining, intact, sites in the area. Historically, this property was the site of a Hawaiian fishing village and remnants of such activity can be found throughout the property.

During a reconnaissance survey taken of the entire 20.735-acre preserve, the archaeological fieldwork crew found partial remains of a traditional (pre-contact) Hawaiian village, which was once home to several related families.

Photo: Heiau complex at the Palauea Cultural Preserve
Heiau complex at the Palauea Cultural Preserve. In the background, through the trees, luxury homes are visible, indicative of how close developers came to the heiau. – Photo: Shane Tegarden

The upper portion of this site, about one-third of its original extent, was destroyed by the construction of a golf course and roadway corridor. Despite this, the remains of a few habitation structures are still present. A confirmed burial was also found onsite. Other features on the site include small, rectangular walled enclosures surrounding a freshwater spring, a long rock wall, an extensive heiau-shrine complex, and evidence of a fishing shrine. In total, 12 structures were found.

The property also contains an old grove of 26 wiliwili trees and a number of native and Polynesian-introduced plant species, 200+ of which were planted by the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College (UHMC). UHMC has maintained a leadership role in the stewardship of Palauea since 2007 when they started to restore the land with native plant species.

Restoring native plant habitats is vital to preserving the biodiversity of our places.

Urbanization and development have impacted intact, ecologically productive land, fragmenting and transforming it into, in this case, luxury homes and hotel resorts. Although development contributes to Maui’s economy, it does so at the cost of environmental degradation and digging away at significant cultural sites.

Palauea has the opportunity to become a hub for conservation efforts and cultural engagement. For years, UHMC has utilized this property to bring students from their Hawaiian studies and archaeology programs to Palauea for place-based education experiences. Palauea serves as an outdoor classroom where students can nurture a personal connection with the land.

These efforts to mālama the preserve come with major challenges posed by large herds of axis deer.

These deer roam the slopes of Haleakalā and frequently make their way onto the preserve; so much so that distinct deer trails can be seen across the property. These trails cross through the property with evidence of deer trampling over archaeological sites and endangering their structural integrity. Furthermore, deer have been observed eating the native plants that have been propagated on-site by the UHMC. The deer have also been observed grazing on the naturally sprouting seedlings of one of the last existing wiliwili groves in the area. As a mitigative effort, OHA is planning to construct a fence to prevent deer from accessing the property.

The Maui Office of Economic Development (OED) awarded OHA funds to mitigate these challenges by building a fence to keep deer out of the property, which will enhance the continued protection of native plant species and archaeological sites. The fence will close off the top portion of the property, preventing the deer from entering. This measure will enable more efficient stewardship of the site and protection of the outdoor classroom offering greater experiential learning opportunities in culture, habitat restoration, and archaeology.

OHA wishes to acknowledge and extend its gratitude to the UHMC and its Hawaiian studies program, for their dedication to the stewardship of this ʻāina, and to the Maui OED for supporting the continued protection and preservation of this place.