History of the Na Pali Coast:
One of the most spectacular areas of Kauai, and indeed the world, is the 16 miles stretch of inaccessible coastline known as the Na Pali Coast. The remoteness of this dramatic beachfront contributes to its stunning beauty, as there is no sign of human contact. There are only a handful of ways to visit this dramatic coastline; by air, by boat or by hiking a rugged 11 mile (one way) footpath that takes you to the last beach on the trail, Kala’lau Beach and valley. As you witness this landscape of lush “hanging valleys” capped by lava rock bluffs that drop 2,000 feet to the sea, it is hard to imagine the violent origins of this island’s creation.
Fire that erupted deep in the heart of the Pacific Ocean ravaged high above to create many atolls (fringing corral reef) and islands, among them was Kauai. It is astounding that from this violent and fiery beginning, the island of Kauai is known the world over as the “Garden Isle”, a paradise of rushing waterfalls, fragrant blossoms and white sand beaches.
The first human contact with the island is believed to have happened in the fourth or fifth century A.D. These trans-Pacific settlers are believed to have traveled from as far away as Micronesia in their traditional canoes, navigating by their knowledge of astronomy, and landing their canoes on the virgin beaches of Hawaii. These adventurous settles brought with them many basic food items, that included the staple of the Hawaiian diet, Taro. Taro root is used to make “poi”, which is served with the modern “plate lunch”. This purple starch is popular at luau’s today, and is still a major part of the Hawaiian diet.
These seafaring pioneers established a uniquely Hawaiian culture in the next 1200 years, and ultimately the islands were populated by small villages that utilized the local natural resources, and thrived in this fertile environment. The villages were located within traditional land units known as “Ahupua’a”, which were pie shaped land regions that stretched from the very center of the island to the sea, including within each a number of different resource zones which were cultivated for various living needs. These early Hawaiian’s established a strict and hierarchal tribal code of conduct, and there was a complex system of spirituality and rule. Huge rock structures were constructed in geographically significant sites, and these places of worship were called “He’aus”.
The native Hawaiian’s relied well built canoes to travel from village to village, trading their wares. Indeed, these seafaring pioneers were capable of trans-pacific voyages. The knowledge of the sea, the wind and the stars was a birthright of the Hawaiian villagers. They easily navigated the shores of their own islands, and in some cases crossed ocean to either trade or war with neighboring islands.
On Kauai, there was a string of small Hawaiian fishing villages on the Na Pali Coast. These remote communities relied on harvesting the fish from the sea, and cultivating nutritious taro in the fertile soil of the valley floors. After Western contact, these villages slowly died out, due to the introduction of foreign disease, the seizure of their land and the new monetary system imposed upon them in which they had no ability to participate in. The Kauai villages were based on an economy of barter and trade, and all land was communally owned and cultivated. The Western concepts of private land ownership and an economy driven by a paper money system was not only foreign, but in opposition to these villagers basic paradigm.
The American Board of Western Foreign Missionaries sent their most zealous young leaders to bring the word of the Lord to the “savage” islanders of the Sandwich Islands. These missionaries began infiltrating Kauai in the 1820’s, and swiftly banned many native Hawaiian traditions, such as hula, nudity and the speaking of the native Hawaiian language. This was combined with the new systems of land ownership and economics being imposed on the island people. The result of this economic and religious colonialism was a slow and tragic desimation of the Hawaiian people and their beloved culture, history, traditions and religion. Currently, there is a strong movement among the Hawaiian people to reclaim this birthright, and celebrate a rich and significant heritage.