A group of Maui residents has long contended that the proposed Honua'ula development project in South Maui holds hundreds of undocumented cultural sites. They are now optimistic because the project's investors have agreed to undertake a new, thorough Archaeological Inventory Survey (AIS). The results of the new survey, so far, are stunning.
Honua'ula representative Charles Jencks has confirmed at several gatherings with interested community members that the Honua'ula partnership has taken a new look at the project and is supporting a larger preserve area of approximately 130 acres. This will be based upon maps of native flora and fauna populations and the new archaeological survey. The previous proposed preserve was 40 acres.
A new archaeological team has spent the last several weeks methodically walking the southern 170 acres of the 670-acre site. They have also welcomed participation by knowledgeable residents during the archaeological investigations.
This large platform site that could have been used for a dwelling or work area is one of hundreds of cultural features only recently documented on the Honua‘ula site in South Maui.
Previous surveys had documented no more than 40 cultural sites on the 170 acres, but the new effort has revealed an intricate Hawaiian agricultural system with scores of interconnected features.
The survey results confirm what cultural practitioners have been saying for several years, according to Maui resident Daniel Kanahele, who has advocated for a larger cultural preserve.
"We could see that this was a remarkable cultural landscape with far more than 40 cultural sites on the property," he said. "The current count is more like 400 sites, with more emerging as areas are explored more thoroughly."
The 670-acre site (formerly called "Wailea 670") lies immediately south of the Maui Meadows subdivision and mauka of the Wailea Resort Complex.
Jencks explained that former archaeological surveys were focused on "finding the big stuff," but times have changed--now there is a need to document everything to understand the sites in relationship to each other.
"This is a really welcomed approach," said local historical researcher Lucienne de Naie. "It should help set a better standard for protection of natural and cultural resources in many new projects under review."
It's been a long road for the Honua'ula project. The land, once part of 'Ulupalakua Ranch, has changed hands and names five times since it was first proposed for development in 1971.
Its first two archaeological surveys concluded (erroneously) that the area was virtually devoid of remaining cultural sites. A new archaeological survey was mandated by the state Land Use Commission during their 1994 review.
When the current investors took over the property in 1998, an updated archaeological survey was completed to fulfill that condition. Twenty-four cultural sites were documented, but none were recommended for preservation.
In 2001, the Maui Cultural Resources Commission strongly recommended that several cultural site complexes and two segments of very rare stepping stone trails be preserved. The landowners agreed. The State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) asked for more investigation on the site, and by 2012, an additional 16 cultural properties were documented.
Meanwhile, cultural practitioners spent five years observing the land during cultural access events. They saw and recorded scores of undocumented cultural sites in plain sight. Working through Maui Cultural Lands, these native Hawaiians asked for much more to be documented and be preserved on the Honua'ula property.
SHPD made a December 2012 site visit and agreed that these claims were accurate. SHPD sent the Honua'ula Partners a letter in January 2013 asking for a much more thorough archaeological survey and consultation with "knowledgeable individuals."
The new survey is the first step to fulfill this request. When the survey is complete and has been reviewed and approved by SHPD, then the boundaries of the preserve will be established during the Honua'ula project review and approval process. The proposed preserve could allow everyone to walk back in time and experience an authentic piece of Maui's history.
"It may have taken us a while, but we're all here now to do the right thing," said Jencks.