Monday, January 23, 2006

Things They Don't Tell You About Hawaii

Mo'okini Heiau, Big Island, Hawaii.

I've been to a few weird places in my time, as is obvious to regular readers. Just scroll down a few inches, and you'll see I'm practically a regular in the spooky London chambers of Victorian devil-worshipper Aleister Crowley, for instance.

Yet this place I checked out in Hawaii is up there with the most sinister locales I have ever visited. It's overlooking the wild Maui Straits, at the very northern end of Big Island - the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago.

This part of Hawaii is serously remote, and far from the urbanised, cocktail-drinking Pacific paradise of public imagination. Here the people speak Hawaiian, or pidgin, and the roads run over endless lavafields, black and baking in the heat - until you reach the very north, when green fields suddenly take over: fields full of hostile thorn-bushes, and strange piles of stones, and tiny cottages. It could be a Celtic landscape, if it weren't for the fierce hot wind that never stops.

Beyond the little town of Hawi, the only town in the area, a lane snakes down to the stormy coastline, where whales disport in winter. From the cliffs around here you can see the island of Maui on a clear day; otherwise all is deserted. A few birds struggle against the wind. Cows wander the sun-crushed fields, panting in the heat.

And right at the end of the lane is this place. Mo'okini Heiau - a massive square of piled-up lava rocks, with some standing stones, and strange paddocks, and ritual roadways. Before I went, I was told Mo'okini was the most atmospheric of the Hawaiian sacred places (Heiaus). It is certainly the oldest - this temple/fortress is administered by an hereditary priest who claims direct descent from the 4th century founder.

The few people that make it this far know that Mo'okini Heiau isn't just atmospheric, it is intense, and sinister, and somehow disturbing. At least - it was for me. It could have been the merciless sun. The hot unceasing wind, like from an open oven. Or maybe it was the eerie stone I discovered at the back of the site. Having been to Mexico and visited Aztec ruins I felt I knew exactly what it was when I saw it - a sacrificial stone. For human sacrifice.

But could I be right? When I got back to town I Googled away, and yes. It turns out Hawaii has a long history of human sacrifice, which ended only in the nineteenth centry - and these sacrifices occurred mostly at places like Mo'okini Heaiu. Many thousands died on these stones over the years, perhaps strangled to death, or maybe sliced open to have their living organs ripped out, before their lifeless corpses were thrown over the cliffs in obeisance to the Shark God. And some Hawaiians still honour these dark Gods, as votive offerings left at sacred sites will attest.

They don't tell you THAT in the Hawaii holiday brochures, do they?

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