Monday, March 23, 2009

Valley of the Kings

Waipio Valley is the end of the highway on the northeast tip of the Big Island, where a 4WD-only track (open to hikers) descends about 600 feet over a mile to a verdant floor that is not a whole lot different than when Hawaiians first called it home, about 1,200 years ago.

The place is layered in history, although the occasional tsunami and flash flood tends to obscure history. Early ali’i (kings) favored Waipio in the 14th and 15th centuries. Kamehameha the Great, was born in the area in the 18th century (in a hidden spot to protect him from rivals), surfed the waves as a boy, and as a young man was bequeathed the god of war, Kukailimoku.

On this day Kam and his crew would have found poor surf, blown out by trade winds. Up the valley, some 25 farms grow taro in the old way, on small stream-irrigated plots in the shadow of the Waipio’s waterfall-laced cliffs. Old Hawaii lives on.