2011. "Chain of Craters Road." Guide of Hawaii. Retrieved November 9, 2011 http://www.hawaiiguide.com/big_island_of_hawaii/spot/chain_of_craters_road).Banner photo by Ellen Sorenson
Banner photo by Ellen Sorenson
Stop 5 Pu`u Loa Petroglyph Field
Figure 16. Rudimentary human figure with piko holes. (Photo by Ellen Sorenson)
Around 70 petroglyph fields exist in Hawai`i but the largest and most extensive can be found at Panau-nui Pu`u Loa, located at mile marker 16 on the Chain of Craters Road. Cairns (small piles of rocks) lead you on a short 0.7 mile hike over old pahoehoe flows to a circular boardwalk where one can view expansive fields of lava with chiseled carvings created by ancient Hawaiians between 1200 and 1450 A.D.
As we headed down the basalt lava trail to the boardwalk, the Hōlei Pali towered over us on our left, jetting straight up from the horizon (refer to Figure 17). Further behind the Pali, sulfur dioxide clouds could be seen rising from Pu`u ō`ō. Pu’u Loa is Hawaiian for “Hill of Long Life” and has historically been a place of incredible “mana” or power within the landscape of Hawai`i. It is the site of the largest collection of individual petroglyphs in all of Polynesia as estimates place the number of petroglyphs at this particular field over 20,000 (Derrick, 2011). Pahoehoe lava here is smooth due to years of foot travel and erosion. Some common petroglyph images we observed included circles, concentric rings, ships, fish, horses and both male and female human figures (refer to Figure 16).
One of the most culturally significant petroglyphs we saw were piko holes. Family elders or kāpuna would bring their o‘hana (family) to Pu’u Loa to bury the piko (umbilical cord) of new infants (refer to Figure 18). Doing so would ensure long life for the newborn. Remarkably, there are between 16,000 and 23,000 estimated piko related petroglyph carvings at Pu’u Loa, and each families' piko carving was unique. Family or clan petroglyph images could contain up to 40 piko holes or more!
The significance of each petroglyph is disputed amongst scholars but general agreement does exist. Aside from the cultural significance of piko related carvings, petroglyph images acted as a travel log by helping those in passing learn about events of the past present and future. Petroglyphs were further used to mark the boundaries of land, resources and trails. Carvings were frequently used to express emotions, moods and the overall well-being of a person, family or clan. The Pu`u Loa petroglyphs could be considered the “Facebook” for native Hawaiians as it was a communal site where personal and social events were shared.