A massive stone wall, built around 1550 separates the royal grounds (home of the ali’i of the Kona district on the island of Hawai’i), from the pu’uhonua; a place of refuge for defeated warriors, noncombatants in time of war, and those who violated kapu, the sacred laws.
Beyond the Great Wall, on the ocean side, was a place that, if one could reach it, was open to all… The pu’uhonua is an area of sanctity in which blood could not be shed. The sanctity was bestowed on the area because the bones of Keawe’ikekahiali’ iokamoku (great-grandfather of Kamehameha I), were placed in the temple there.
Kapu regulated everyday activities. Women could not eat food reserved as offerings to the gods. They could not prepare meals for men, or eat with them. Seasons for fishing, killing animals, and gathering timber were strictly controlled. If a kapu was broken, the penalty could mean death. Otherwise, the gods might react with violence: volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, famine or earthquakes… To protect themselves from catastrophes, the people chased kapu breakers until they were caught – or until they made it to a pu’uhonua. If they reached one of these sacred places, the kahuna pule (priest) performed a ceremony of absolution, and the offenders could return home safely.