A Sacred Space

Lono’s Garden was designed to preserve Hawaiian traditions

By: Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Looking at Lono’s Garden at Kauai’s Aloha Beach Hotel, it was hard for me to imagine that a few years ago, it was a patch of overgrown grass and weeds. According to my guide, cultural activities director Sylvia Akana, the hotel’s general manager, Ron Kikumoto, envisioned something beautiful there.

He pictured a vibrant garden, including the 24 “canoe plants” that Polynesian voyagers brought to Hawaii to provide food, shelter, tools, clothing and medicine. He saw the living heart of a learning center that would preserve and perpetuate Hawaiian traditions.

That’s exactly what Lono’s Garden has become. As we walked around the quarter-acre oasis, which is named for the Hawaiian god of agriculture, Akana pointed out thriving specimens of awa (kava) and awapuhi (ginger), ko (sugarcane) and kukui (candlenut), ulu (breadfruit) and uala (sweet potato), and some six dozen other species of plants, trees and shrubs. The garden is a metaphor for the flowering of Hawaiian culture that has taken place at the hotel.

“We come to the stone ahu [altar] with hookupu [gifts] to give thanks for the blessings that we have received,” said Akana. “Lono’s Garden came to life through the help of many employees, visitors and community members. They donated plants; they contributed money; they cleared the land, weeded and planted.”

Plans call for the construction of thatched hale (huts), an imu (underground oven) and a stream that would irrigate several taro patches.

“We would like to create an authentic sense of place for our learning center,” Akana said.

Lono’s Garden is a key component of the Aloha Beach Hotel’s Sacred Wailua Cultural Program. In addition to being the steward of the garden, Akana teaches over a dozen classes that provide insights into the ancient Hawaiians’ way of life. Topics include medicinal plants, language and values, musical instruments and canoe making.

Tuesday mornings, visitors are invited to join her at a pre-dawn ceremony that greets the rising sun with a stirring Hawaiian chant. Kikumoto has participated in many of these ceremonies.

“It’s very moving and spiritual,” he said. “Afterward, the group gathers to discuss it.”

Invariably, talk turns to the hotel’s location on the shores of Wailua Bay, near the mouth of Wailua River. This verdant region was reserved as a retreat for the alii (royalty) in olden times.

Nearby are Kauai’s only known petroglyphs and remnants of a heiau (place of worship) and a puuhonua (place of refuge), where those who had broken kapu (laws) could be absolved by a priest and allowed to return to society. Within a mile of the hotel are four other heiau, a royal birthing stone and a bell stone that, when struck, emitted a ringing sound that announced the birth of alii.

“We are blessed to be in sacred Wailua and feel a responsibility to share that with our visitors,” Kikumoto said. “By embracing the land and culture, we are embracing aloha. When we are able to touch our visitors with aloha, we enhance their visit tremendously.”

Three mornings a week, he uses artifacts, maps, photos and other visual aids for his 90-minute lecture, Myths and Legends of Sacred Wailua. Kikumoto, an animated speaker, shed light on subjects such as the migratory routes of the early Polynesians; the kapu system; and the Menehune, an industrious race of little people who constructed fishponds, ditches and other projects in a single night.

Kikumoto concluded his talk with a show-and-tell of tapa beaters, weapons, fishhooks, poi pounders, stone adzes, shell scrapers and other original and authentically reproduced artifacts that he has been collecting for 20 years. When he moved to Kauai in 1998, he brought his precious collection of 100 artifacts with him. They were stored in boxes in his garage until 2002 when the Sacred Wailua Cultural Program was launched. Many of the objects are now displayed in glass cases in the living room-like area of the lobby where his lecture is held.
Said Kikumoto: “The artifacts fascinated me, but I didn’t know much about them or Hawaiian culture and history until I decided to do the presentation and started doing research. Learning has been a wonderful journey; so have the opportunities I have every week to share.”


Aloha Beach Hotel
3-5920 Kuhio Highway
Kapaa, Hawaii 96746

Sacred Wailua Cultural Program: 808-823-1632
Commission: 10 percent

Some weekday classes are free; others range from $5-$10 per person. Commission is paid for room bookings, but not for the classes or two-hour Sacred Wailua Tour, which is offered weekdays for groups of at least 12 people. It includes the sunrise chant, a walk to Lono’s Garden and the adjacent historical sites, tapa making and lauhala weaving demonstrations, and a color booklet. Cost is $25 for guests and $35 for non-guests.