The King’s Golden Plover

This week’s Photo Challenge is Object. Here’s mine — an object I almost overlooked: the Golden Plover of the Ahu’ena Heiau, the temple that Kamehameha the Great chose as his own when he returned to the Big Island a king of the Hawaiian archipelago in 1812. It perches atop Koleamoku, the god of healing, the tallest of the heiau’s carvings. This place of honor is well deserved: The bird is thought to have led the first humans, ancient Polynesian mariners, to Hawaii. Every year, Pacific Golden Plovers embark on an epic migration from Siberian tundra and western Alaska; some stop to winter in Hawaii, the rest continue further south to Australia and New Zealand, only to repeat the trek in spring.

Golden Plover on a statue at the 'Ahu'ena Heiau in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii's Big Island

Artwork depicting Ahu'ena Heiau on the island of Hawaii

As  it once was. Photo by H.L.Chase. Image Courtesy: Bishop Museum

Dedicated to Lono, the god of peace, agriculture, and prosperity (Captain Cook was mistook for Lono when his ship first arrived in Hawaii not far from this spot), the heiau has been meticulously reconstructed. Its name means “the temple of the burning altar,” and its place in the history of the islands is significant: Kamehameha died here in 1819; shortly after, the feast marking the end of the kapu system, a complex set of taboos that directed Hawaiian society for centuries, took place here under Queen Ka’ahumanu, Kamehameha’s favorite wife, and his son Liholiho; and it was here that the first Christian ministers were granted permission to come ashore in 1820. Today, the temple and its plover remain at the water’s edge in Kailua-Kona, a picturesque spot they share with hotels and parking lots.

Kamehameha the Great's temple, Ahu'ena Heiau, Big Island, Hawaii

sign near Ahu'ena Heiau, Kona, HawaiiTo approach the heiau, you have to cut through the grounds of the King Kamehemeha Kona Beach Hotel, which apparently offers tours of the temple. I wonder what they are like. A crowded pool is mere steps away, as several signs plead for discretion. Against all this bustle, the little bird atop a god is easy to miss.

Sign by the Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

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