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Born on January 25, 1822, Charles Reed Bishop was married to Ke Ali‘i Bernice Pauahi Paki Bishop until her passing in 1884. In this Kūkahekahe, we share one of the ways he sought to strengthen Pauahi’s legacy by protecting wahi pana – legendary places – important to Pauahi and her people. Above, Charles Reed Bishop and Ke Ali‘i Pauahi in San Francisco, 1875. Courtesy of the Kamehameha Schools Archives. Right: Hale Keawe, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau in 2009. Carol Highsmith, Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Kūkahekahe: Charles Reed Bishop’s preservation of wahi pana

Jan. 25, 2023

Charles Reed Bishop was born on January 25, 1822. He and Ke Ali‘i Bernice Pauahi Pākī Bishop were married for more than 34 years. In this Kūkahekahe, we share one of the ways he sought to strengthen Pauahi’s legacy by protecting wahi pana – legendary places.

It is not an exaggeration to say that without the guidance and acumen of Charles Reed Bishop, the Kamehameha Schools might not exist. However, the schools were not the only way Charles was able to contribute to the legacy of Pauahi and the Hawaiian people.

One of the most notable ways Charles supplemented the princess’ already vast landholdings was through the purchase of lands that were of cultural and historical significance to his beloved wife, to the Kamehameha family, and to the Hawaiian people. These lands were to be retained in Pauahi’s holdings so that they could be cared for in perpetuity. In doing so, Charles sought to preserve those places that were important to the national identity and heritage of the Hawaiian people.

Most of Pauahi’s vast landholdings were given to her by beloved members of her royal family. Pauahi’s land estate began with 5,780 acres, inherited from her father, Abner Pākī. He passed away in 1855, and his gift to his daughter included lands that were mostly in Heʻeia and Waiʻalae Iki on Oʻahu, plus a few small parcels in downtown Honolulu. Pauahi would inherit 9,557 acres more in 1877 from her Aunt ʻAkahi. These lands encompassed large tracts in Keālia in South Kona. From ʻAkahi she also inherited smaller parcels that were nonetheless substantial in Makalawena, in North Kona and Puʻuepa and Ulupaʻalua in Kohala. Pauahi also received a 10-acre parcel in Mānoa, Oʻahu, from this bequest. The princess had previously received inheritances from her mother Konia and uncle Māhune.

The mid to late 1800s was a time of growing nationalism for governments around the world. National identities and symbols of nationhood were being articulated in new ways, such as national monuments, museums, and parks. Civic pride and engagement among the citizenry became the lifeblood of these nations. The Kingdom of Hawaiʻi was no different, and our government sought to articulate what it meant to be a Hawaiian nation.

While Pauahi was still living, she and Charles purchased wahi pana across the islands with the intention of conserving them. These places were significant for Hawaiians and for the emerging Hawaiian national heritage. For example, in 1867 Charles acquired the ahupuaʻa of Hōnaunau in South Kona, Hawaiʻi as a gift for Pauahi. These lands held the iwi or remains of her kūpuna, an important personal reason for the purchase. Historical records describe a great lūʻau celebration followed its purchase and an ulu niu (coconut grove) was ceremonially planted in the area east of Keoneʻele Cove. Pauahi herself participated in the planting.

The preservation of these important lands was parallel to Charles’ efforts to establish a museum to safeguard the heirlooms of the Kamehameha family, an endeavor supported by Pauahi’s closest relatives. He shared his concerns about the necessity to be proactive in acquiring cultural and historical lands of importance when he wrote to fellow Kamehameha Schools and Bishop Museum trustee, Henry Holmes, on February 22, 1897:

“There is a matter that should not be lost sight of. I mean the acquisition and control of the Heiaus and Puuhonuas, say those of Mookini in Kohala, of Puukohola at Kawaihae, of Pakaalana in Waipio, of Honaunau in Kona, and perhaps the Islet of Mokuola in Hilo Bay, and any others of interest and worthy of preserving…once in control of the [Bishop] Museum they should be protected perpetually.”

Purchases of ancestral lands in Waipiʻo, Hawaiʻi, were also made because of the historical and sacred nature of the valley and the desire to protect these lands into perpetuity. Known as the “Valley of Kings,” the valley was home to the residence and final resting places of some of our greatest aliʻi nui.

Charles wrote to Bishop museum treasurer, Charles M. Cooke, on June 17, 1892, regarding the conveyance of his Kona lands; he had intended to make a provision for the endowment of the Bernice P. Bishop Museum at the Kamehameha Schools for Boys. The deed, however, contained no such clause and was instead a simple conveyance of those lands upon the trusts for the Kamehameha Schools as those contained in the will of Pauahi. To repair this omission – to provide for the endowment of the Museum – Charles executed the deed to gift Waipiʻo to the museum.

At Helumoa, a property inherited from her father Pākī, Pauahi reposed shortly before her death in 1884. Charles was instrumental in convincing Pauahi to strengthen her estate by adding in one more safeguard; the last codicil of her will forbade trustees of her estate to sell her lands, except in very limited capacities and adhering to set restrictions. This codicil has protected Pauahi’s legacy and lands of Hawaiian national importance for more than a century.

Today, many of the significant sites acquired by Pauahi and Charles remain under formal guardianship, and their integrity as wahi pana is largely retained. Some lands have been given or transferred to other entities with public interests. Today, at Puʻuhonua Hōnaunau City of Refuge National Historical Park, a plaque notes: 

“This ancient Hawaii Sanctuary (Puuhonua) was preserved through the foresight of Charles R. Bishop who added it to the Bishop Estate. With the cooperation of the State of Hawaii, the trustees of the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate have dedicated it to the people of the United States as a monument to the achievements of the Polynesians who first discovered and settled these islands.”

Forethought, intention, and purpose were united in the acquisition of these sacred wahi pana during Pauahi’s lifetime and following her passing. When possible, Kamehameha Schools continues to use its endowment to acquire lands to preserve wahi pana; the 2005 purchase of lands in ʻUpolu, Kōhala surrounding Moʻokini Heiau is one such example.  

Charles had hoped that these wahi pana could be protected from sale, irresponsible use, or development by being a part of Pauahi’s holdings. In honoring the legacy of Pauahi, Charles helped to preserve a national legacy for her people.

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