How Not To Visit a Heiau
Noted conservationist Sam Ohu Gon III shared a photo on Facebook this morning of a blogger’s photo of himself lying on a stone at Moʻokini heiau, saying, “This is what lack of respect looks like.” He posted the following comment:
“You probably did not intend it, but your picture lying on the stone at Moʻokini heiau is highly offensive. It demonstrates a complete disregard and lack of respect of Hawaiian history, traditions, and values. It would be rather like posing as a Jew in the gas chambers in Germany, or laying yourself down on the sacrificial altar at the top of the Aztec Temple of the Sun. What were you thinking?”
On one hand, Gon is gracious enough to note that the intent was probably not to offend. Lots of people do dumb things when they don’t know any better. (Justin Bieber’s comments on Anne Frank, anyone?) And many of Hawaii’s remote, sacred sites aren’t exactly annotated with signs and plaques describing why they are significant.
On the other, the blogger Chef Ted is more than a tourist just passing through on a island-hopping day trip. His extensive writings are presented this way:
“Chef Ted prepares for his final act on this spinning earth rock. Currently he is on extended retreat in Hawaii, recovering from existential despair. Hopefully, this treatment will involve solutions, meaningful experience, bearing witness and adventure. I will be reporting back the stories that are everywhere.”
Indeed, the entry in question reflects a fair amount of research into the history of the heiau.
“Even before we knew the gory details about Mo’okini Heiau’s history, the place gave us the heebie-jeebies,” he notes. “Used for human sacrifices, the area feels devoid of a soul.”
Surely, the description of the stone should have been enough:
“Here in front of the heiau is the large lava slab with a slight dip in it. In front is this raised stone. It takes little imagination to see that the slab was the holehole stone, where the unfortunate victims were laid while the flesh was stripped from their bones. These bones were then used to make fishhooks and other objects. The number of Hawaiians sacrificed here ran into the tens of thousands.”
Instead, he lay on the stone and played dead in a most cartoonish fashion. Gon’s comparison of this act to “posing as a Jew in the gas chambers in Germany” is apt.
One commenter on Gon’s post said it well:
“People don’t just ‘happen’ upon places such as this. They purposely seek out heiau and Hawaiian sacred sites already knowing that it is just that – a sacred site. Whether there are signs, guides or docents are irrelevant. One should not have to know any details of how or why it is considered a sacred site in order to prompt appropriate behavior.”
I suspect Chef Ted will get a few more comments on this post and photo from January of this year. But if he truly is looking for “meaningful experience,” he’ll hopefully chalk it up to a lapse in judgement and an important lesson.