Kaho’olawe was inhabited as early as 400-1000 A.D. initially in small fishing villages along the island’s coast.

 Archeological evidence paints a picture of Kaho‘olawe as a navigational center for voyaging, the site of an adze quarry, an agricultural center, and a site for religious and cultural ceremonies. By the mid-1600’s, the largest population was at Hakioawa on the island’s eastern coast.

Smallest of the 8 main volcanic islands in the Hawaiian chain (28,800 acres)

29 miles of shore

Highest point Pu ‘ u ‘O Moa ‘Ula Nui (1,483 feet)

No permanent residents

By 1805 the inhabitants had declined to a reported 160, attributed to inter-island warfare, disease from western contact, and general emigration from the island.

Through the Missionary Period (1825-1853), Early Ranch Period (1853-1910), Forest Reserve Period (1910-1918), and Later Ranch Period (1918-1941), the island continued an environmental decline.  For a brief time it was used as a penal colony but mostly for sheep and cattle ranching. By 1941 it had become almost worthless, primarily at the hand of longterm over-grazing, erosion and loss of soil. It was eventually transferred to the U.S. Navy for use as a bombing range.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of martial law the history of Kaho’olawe became one of military use. During WWII, the island played a major role as a Navy training site. In 1946 it was reported that 800 ships ranging from destroyer escorts to battle wagons rehearsed for the day they would fire in support of marine landings. The rehearsals prepared Marines for the landings at Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other sites throughout the southwest Pacific.

Community efforts from the Military Period (1941-1978) through the active years of the Protect Kaho’olawe ‘Ohana lawsuit, brought cleanup and formal conveyance back to local control.

The thread of Native Hawaiian culture binds the contemporary with the ancient, defining Kaho’olawe’s importance as a special place, a wahi pana, and as a sanctuary, a pu’uhonua. It remains a place where traditional ceremonies and practices are perpetuated in a continuum of culture.

The history of the Hawaiian people is preserved in these wahi pana, legendary sites. They provide a sense of place, a feeling of well-being, of stability and belonging — to the past, the present, and the future. 

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