Flashback Friday - City of Refuge, Hawaii


Margaret and I visited the Hawaiian Islands in 1993. We went to the Big Island, Maui, and Oahu. So relaxing and beautiful! One of the highlights of the Big Island was the City of Refuge.


In Hawaiian culture, the City of Refuge or Pu'uhonau was a place where no blood could be shed. If someone had broken a law and they reached this refuge, they were protected and avoided certain death. Then they were absolved by a priest and freed to leave. Defeated warriors and non-combatants could also find refuge here during times of battle.


Some of the laws, or kapu, in old Hawaii, that resulted in a death sentence included:

  • a common person couldn't get close to the chief
  • couldn't walk in the chief's footsteps
  • couldn't touch the chief's possessions
  • couldn't let his shadow fall on the chief's palace grounds
  • women couldn't eat foods reserved for offerings to the gods
  • they couldn't prepare meals for men (I don’t know why any woman would want to break that law, rotfl!)
  • couldn't eat with the men

Also, seasons for fishing, taking animals, and gathering timber were all strictly controlled to promote life for all.

The people believed gods created laval flows, tidal waves, famine, or earthquakes when a law was broken, so kapu breakers were pursued until they were caught and put to death or reached the City of Refuge.

Fast Facts:

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park is 180 acre historic park.

It was established July 26, 1955 and designated national historic park in 1961.

It is on the southern Kona coast on the west of the Big Island, 40 minutes south of Kailua-Kona.

1871 Trail
Captain Cook, Hawaii 96704


It is divided into two areas - the royal ground and the place of refuge. A wall separates the 2 sections. It is 10 feet high by 17 feet thick and was built in 1550 from thousands of lava rocks to separate the chief's home from the refuge. Inside the 1000-foot-long wall are temples and homes of old Hawaii. Carved wooden images surround the area where the bones of the chiefs impart their special power, or mana, to the area.


Points of Interest:

Archaeological sites include the royal grounds, the royal fishponds, sacred temple platforms, sledding tacks, royal canoe landing, and thatched workhouse.

There is a short guided tour which is free.

There are demonstrations by canoe builders making outrigger canoes, traditional Hawaiian games, spear throwing competitions, and more.

It is also a great area to do some snorkeling and see turtles and fish.


Links of Interest:

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Park Service - Pu'uhonua o Honaunau - https://www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm

City of Refuge Aloha Hawaii - http://www.aloha-hawaii.com/big-island/city-of-refuge/

GoVisit Hawaii Place of Refuge - http://www.govisithawaii.com/2007/08/09/hawaiis-place-of-refuge-puuhonua-o-honaunau/

******This is a highly recommended video, very good commentary and information - Hawaii Big Island Pu'uhonua o Honaunau - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTdj5UjSslI

City of Refuge Snorkeling - http://www.hawaiisnorkelingguide.com/city_of_refuge_snorkeling.html

Hawaii's Ancient City of Refuge - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTQnb8fj6Qg

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