In the mid 1990s I first got permission to enter Kalaeloa, which at that time was still Barberʻs Point Naval Air Station — totally off-limits to the public. Joe Singer and I were working on a book, Pana Oʻahu, which was published by UH Press in 1999. In the mid 1990s, we had visited and photographed heiau all over Oʻahu, but not many inʻEwa. It was a huge blank space for us, yet to be filled in.
We gave the Navy a letter from UH Press, went in for a briefing and learned that we should not smoke in the pathway of planes taking off from the runways. After that, we visited Kalaeloa many, many times over a period of three years. These were the days before affordable GPS systems, and in any case, we were offered no coordinates. We were also handicapped by a lack of accurate maps, but with a few vague maps we were able to locate complexes of sites, such as those at 1752 (a major heiau complex yet to be cleared at the Heritage Park) and 1753 (the complex that has been cleared for Heritage Park tours).
It would be a huge mistake to assume that these are the only significant sites at Kalaeloa. Complexes lie scattered all throughout the former base. Some are adjacent to developed areas and others lie far away, inaccessible except by foot. I hope that the 1736 complex across Coral Sea road from the Heritage Park can be added to the Heritage Park lease at some point — its platforms and walls are every bit as extensive and magical as those in 1753, and the complex includes a beautiful ahu (one of the images included in Pana Oʻahu). Many others lie outside of 1753, in smaller kīpuka all throughout the base. Some of those, unfortunately, have been recently destroyed because they were not adequately protected by the organizations that received the land from the Navy when the base closed.
Kalaeloa as we understand it now is an artificial construct, based on modern land ownership boundaries. In reality, the band of shoreline sites at Kalaeloa extended south to include those at Oneʻula (Hau Bush), and probably extended much further south, in what are now residential areas. (A large heiau and other sites still remain on the fenced-in property of the Tsunami Early Warning Center.) The shoreline sites at Oneʻala were as well preserved as those at the Heritage Park, but because they were adjacent to the ocean, they included many, many fishing shrines — all constructed of limestone, just like those at Kalaeloa. The shrines were made of of small platforms with single prominent upright stones, although there was also one large structure that I believe was a heiau. To minimize its importance and facilitate the ʻEwa Marina development, the archaeologist who did the work at Oneʻula described it and almost all of the other structures as “temporary habitations.” All of the fishing shrines at Oneʻula are gone now, with one or two exceptions on the periphery of the lagoon footprint. Fortunately, I was able to access the property and photograph many of them before were bulldozed in the late 1990s.
What I remember most vividly of all of the hundreds of vanished sites at Oneʻula, besides the fishing shrines, were the dozens of filled-in sinkholes. Those of us protesting the destruction of the sites asked the State Historic Preservation Office to suspend the bulldozing until we could all be sure they were not burials, but the request was denied with the comment that burials are never found in sinkholes. I do not believe they were even included in the archaeological report. Ironically, in an area just across the fence from Oneʻula, at Kalaeloa, the same archaeologist, working a few years later under a separate contract for the Navy, opened up a half-dozen filled-in sinkholes and found burials in every one of them.
Joe Singer and I did not locate most of these places on our own. We initially stumbled across a few of them, but it was an ʻEwa Beach bottle collector, Jeff Alexander, who brought us to most of these places — the site complexes at Oneʻula and those at Kalaeloa. Jeff is most interested in 20th century soda bottles with imprinted labels. Those were to be found all over Kalaeloa, especially at the borders of old roads. Jeff often brought me in with him to accompany him on bottle hunts, which for me were site complex hunts. It was a symbiotic relationship that worked very well for a few years. Jeff has a great talent for orienting himself in the dense kiawe forests, and could easily walk back to a place we had visited months earlier. (I often get hopelessly lost.) Jeff and his wife Karen now live in North Kohala.
Servicemen in WWII — of course — did not drink just soda. Jeff showed me a couple of places in the kiawe forest that must have been the locations for major beer parties. At those spots lie hundreds of brown beer bottles, all with the dates of “42” or “43” or “44” on the bottom. Now I wish I had photographed them. I hope that the bottles remain untouched at those places, which offer unique glimpses into WWII life at Kalaeloa. At a couple of those spots are also deteriorated tin garbage containers with superstructures of coiled copper pipes: stills used for producing more potent drinks than beer.
Jan Becket is a retired photography teacher from Kamehameha Schools, Kapālama and a member of the ʻAhahui Siwila Hawaiʻi O Kapolei. He continues to visit and document Hawaiian cultural sites in ʻEwa and elsewhere on ʻOahu and Hawaiʻi Island. His website: www.janbecket.net.
1752: Located at the large heiau complex of 1752, adjacent to a low enclosure. Note the flat slab with a hole in the center at the base of the upright stone – the pairing of Wakea / Papa (male / female) stones is a common feature of some religious sites.
1736: An upright pōhaku stands outside the large enclosure at 1736. The enclosure encompasses at least an acre.
3215-T3: One of the numerous fishing shrines destroyed at Oneʻula.