Kona is truly a hot place – that is, the Kona side of the island of Molokaʻi. Kawela is located in this hot and arid land. It is not like, of course, the verdant land of Hālawa on the Windward side. Although the mountain slopes appear barren, the lands towards the sea are enriched by the Kawela and ʻŌnini Streams.
At the mouth of the stream, the people of old built fishponds to raise fish. Milkfish and mullet were the usual fattened fish of the fishponds of Kakahaiʻa, Kanoa, Uluanui, and others. Due to this care for the environment, Kawela became a fertile land.
Archaeologists, those who excavate things of the past, believe that Kawela was populated in the 1200s and abandoned sometime during the wars of Kamehameha. In 1795, Kalola and her daughter, Kekuʻiapōiwa Liliha, and her daughter, Keōpūolani (granddaughter of Kalola), fled Pihanakalani in Wailuku via ʻIao and ʻOlowalu till they reached Molokaʻi. Kamehameha pursued them and it was on Molokaʻi that Keōpūolani was given as a wife to him.
It was at Kawela, perhaps, that they rested because of the refuge there (see Fig. 1, at gulch intersection). This refuge was used when Kapiʻiohookalani, the royal son of Kualiʻi of Oʻahu, attacked the family and forces of Alapaʻi in 1736.
The people there lived in different homes than what we imagine to be a Hawaiian house. Two archaeologists, Marshall Weisler and Patrick Kirch revealed the type of settlement before the inhabitants left Kawela. They believe that this happened sometime after the death of Kalola. They examined 72 structures (e.g. house foundations, walls, shrines, temples) in an area totaling 442.5 square acres within Kawela and neighboring Makakupaia Iki.
Of interest were the curved wall structures on the drier upland portions above the more fertile lowland. The archaeologists believe that these are collectors to facilitate the pile-up of rich soil brought down by the rains especially during the rainy season (see Fig. 2). Towards the coast, there were springs and the people dug irrigation ditches from the stream in the gulch to bring fresh water to the gardens below.
An interesting thing that Weisler and Kirch discovered was the types of dwellings at Kawela. Because of the heat, the people lived on the slopes to take advantage of the breezes. One side of the dwelling was open to the gentle winds and the other was a stone wall. Within the family enclosures, there were cookhouses, places to fashion kapa, hooks, etc. as demonstrated by excavated material. The common shapes of walls were Cs, Js, and Ls.
There were only two foundations of the usual rectangular type. These were places of worship. The largest was a Hale o Lono (House of Lono). This sacred place was at the eastern border of Kawela and was the place where tribute was collected for the Makahiki.
There are previously inhabited caves at Kawela with plant and man-made remains – like the paddle made of two parts. A picture of it is in Tommy Holmes’ The Hawaiian Canoe. Yet another interesting find was a piece of kapa made from ʻākōlea (Boehmeria grandis). This type of kapa was never documented before. These remnants show the cleverness of the people of old to use what was available and to adapt to the Kona environment.