Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Walking in the Land of the Ki'i Pohaku

Between this property and the next property lies a small stretch of land bearing the gentle scar of a lava flow that has survived, intact and untouched, for more than 900 years. This ancient swath of volcanic basalt remains miraculously unspoiled by the many eruptions that have since followed over the next few hundred centuries.

The responsibility for the caring for this sacred space has been passed down from generation to generation to the very indigenous ancestors born of it. It is they who call this land "Ki'i Pohaku" or the "land of Stone Carvings" -- referring of course to the abundance of images which we call petroglyphs that have been carved, stone upon stone, into the land.

Without any formal written language or organized alphabet the Hawaiians passed down their history either orally or through the interpretation of these anthropomorphic symbols engraved neatly on a canvas of flat stone. The pliable, smooth surface of the pahoehoe lava flow makes this area of the Big Island the ideal repository for the images of these ancient artist-storytellers.

I discovered one such image on my morning walk today. The headdress on this figure is uncommon and usually indicates it was incised to represent a god or a chief. The elders trusted with the stewardship of this land are quick to point out that these petroglyphs are not random drawings but carefully placed images that tell a story from beginning to end.

I have to admit, as a lover of languages and the written word -- it's a pretty awesome moment to discover a 900 year old book on your morning walk.
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