Waimea Valley, Oahu - An ancient plot of land on Oahu's North Shore gets a special blessing today. In Waimea Valley,  3.75 acres are now protected through a public-private partnership that lets a nonprofit group called Hi'ipaka to manage it. 

It's culturally significant in the land abuts Hale o Lono Heiau, and includes burials and other cultural sites. The land is affiliated with Hawaii's last high priest -- Kahuna Nui Hewahewa, who died 182 years ago on Saturday. Hewahewa presided over the valley following Kamehameha I’s unification of the islands.

The Trust for Public Land, the State of Hawai‘i, City and County of Honolulu, Hi'ipaka LLC, North Shore Community Land Trust, and the Hewahewa 'ohana (family) gathered to offer thanks that the last privately-owned piece of land within Waimea Valley is now protected, safeguarding the cultural sites located there.

Referred to as Pu‘ukua in honor of the original kuleana owner that farmed and lived there in 1852, this property is closely associated with Kahuna Nui Today’s celebration included multiple generations of the Hewahewa family, who participated in Hawaiian ceremony and protocol to bless the protected land and honor their ancestor Hewahewa and their family’s long standing connection to and love for Waimea.

Hewahewa’s thousands of descendants were alarmed in 2014 when the former landowner listed the property for sale. The Hewahewa 'ohana and Hiipaka LLC, which owns and stewards the protected 1,800 acres of Waimea Valley surrounding Pu'ukua, partnered with The Trust for Public Land and North Shore Community Land Trust to raise state, county and private funds to safeguard the site.

To fund the land purchase, The Trust for Public Land and Hi'ipaka applied for funding from the State Legacy Land Conservation Program, and the City Clean Water and Natural Lands Program. Hi'ipaka and its partners also launched a successful capital campaign. Due to the threat of a private purchase of the land for development, The Trust for Public Land took out a loan to purchase the property and served as the land’s interim owner until the public funds for the purchase by Hi'ipaka could be secured and released.

“In 2006, the State, City, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, The Trust for Public Land, and many North Shore community partners came together to purchase and protect the 1,800 acres surrounding Pu'ukua.  Thanks to the State Legislature and the Legacy Land Conservation Program, thirteen years later, the missing piece of the puzzle, at the heart of Waimea Valley, is being protected,” said State Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairperson Suzanne Case.

Hi'ipaka LLC’s Executive Director Richard Pezzulo added, “This land is the gateway to Waimea Valley. If it had been developed for residential use, not only would the natural feel of Waimea be harmed, but our ability to control access to protect Waimea’s numerous and significant cultural resources would be jeopardized.”

"Waimea Valley is an extremely important place to our first people, the Native Hawaiians, and also a place of incredible beauty for our visitors. That is why it’s such a positive step that the Pu'ukua parcel will be permanently protected through a conservation easement. Good things come when communities and government work together in partnership, said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“With native reforestation and care of the cultural sites by Hi'ipaka and Waimea Valley’s descendants, Pu'ukua will become a place where keiki from all O'ahu schools can come to learn about ahupua'a management and a living Hawaiian culture, and where kupuna can easily gather from the forest to continue Hawaiian cultural practices,” said Trust for Public Land Hawai'i Board Member Greg Pietsch.   

“Hi'ipaka has been an excellent steward of its lands in Waimea Valley and North Shore Community Land Trust is honored to play a small role in helping Hi'ipaka expand its kuleana to include this critical property and the important cultural resources upon it, said North Shore Community Land Trust Board Member and former General Manager of Waimea Valley Bob Leinau.

“Protection of this land is of utmost importance to our 'ohana, and to the safety and sanctity of Waimea Valley’s cultural resources,” shared Aunty Na'mi Kama, a descendant of Kahuna Nui Hewahewa. “Every year our family comes here to honor and steward this place. This year is especially meaningful, as it is the first time we have gathered knowing that the land is protected and will be forever cared for, respecting the cultural sites, history, and mana of this place. Forty years ago, noted historian and archaeologist of Waimea, Rudy Mitchell, encouraged our 'ohana to protect this land and Hewahewa’s legacy. We took on that kuleana (responsibility) and rejoice together today.”

Now under Hi'ipaka’s ownership and care, the nonprofit will work with Native Hawaiian lineal descendants to care for the cultural sites. Over the next few years while Hi'ipaka conducts native reforestation work on the Pu'ukua property, the organization will hold volunteer days for schools and the community which provide a unique educational and service learning experience, while restoring a healthy native ecosystem, and perpetuating Hawaiian culture. 

More info, or to get involved visit https://www.tpl.org/our-work/puukuawaimea-valley.