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Lava destroys one of oldest Hawaiian temples

August 12, 1997

HONOLULU (AP) _ Lava flowing from the Kilauea Volcano toward the ocean Tuesday destroyed a 700-year-old temple that had been used as a place of human sacrifice.

Lava began inching toward the Wahaula Heiau, one of the state’s oldest temples, over the weekend.

By early Monday, the red-orange lava had covered a 5-foot outer wall and eventually engulfed the temple, leaving only the top of its walls visible.

``There are a lot of emotions involved in this,″ said Jim Martin, superintendent of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. ``We’ve lost archaeological sites over the years and thought Wahaula would be there. So watching that go down _ it was hard.″

Lava has been flowing from Kilauea since January 1983, cascading down the slope to the ocean.

The temple, on the island of Hawaii, had escaped the flow four times since 1989, when it destroyed the temple’s visitor center. During the flows, lava got as close as the walls and then stopped, Martin said.

Hawaiians for years held firm to the ancient belief that Madame Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, had permanently spared the sacred site.

But Monday, a park ranger standing guard in the early morning hours

caught the flow on video covering the temple.

According to Hawaiian legend, a priest named Pa`ao went to the Big Island of Hawaii from Tahiti or Samoa in the 13th century and established a heiau near where Wahaula, or Red Mouth, eventually stood.

The Wahaula heiau is believed by some to be the first Hawaiian temple where human sacrifices were performed. It is also thought to be the place where the Hawaiian class structure was developed. Royalty, including Kamehameha I, worshipped there until 1819.

Nalani Kanakaole, hula teacher and Hawaiian cultural authority, said she does not regard the destruction as Madame Pele’s wrath.

``I don’t see this as a loss to our culture,″ Kanakaole said. ``Whenever heiau were built, they were built on existing structures _ built on top of each other for whatever purpose. Sometime in the far future, we as Hawaiian people will restore it again.″

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