Old School Film Hack

Moʻokini Heiau


Moʻokini Heiau — The Big Island, Hawaii (April 2009)
Leica D-LUX 4 + 24-60mm

This is Moʻokini Heiau, part of the Kohala Historical Sites State Monument on the Big Island of Hawaii.  I visited here back in 2009, when Cindy attended a one-week business conference being held elsewhere on the island.

For those unfamiliar with Moʻokini Heiau, it’s considered one of the oldest (if not the oldest) and most sacred of the Hawaiian sacrificial temples.  It’s also quite remote and difficult to get to, being located on the far northern end of the Big Island, with a treacherous mud road leading to it that is impassible without a four-wheel drive vehicle if it has rained recently.  However, it’s a beautiful place, with the steady trade winds constantly blowing through and carrying the sounds of the distant surf.

Moʻokini Heiau has a very dark and bloody past; it was built in 480 AD, dedicated to the war-god Ku, and many thousands of people were sacrificed here over the centuries.  The central structure (not in this image) was reportedly built in one night, using tens of thousands of men to form a 9+ mile-long line to pass the volcanic stones from where they were sourced.  The thatched structure in this image is constantly being blown down by storms and is rebuilt as needed, as there are many images online that show it in various stages of completion.  Few people come to visit here; indeed, I had the entire place to myself the whole time I visited the site.

While some people find this place to be eerie and foreboding, I found it to be peaceful, quiet, and a wonderful alternative to the hustle and bustle of other parts of the island.  More about it can be read here, here, here, and here.

8 thoughts on “Moʻokini Heiau

  1. sylvia

    Great photo of a beautiful place with a horrid history. Such evil. It seems like it should not be peaceful at all. I’m not surprised few people visit it. I don’t know how someone could truly enjoy the view, knowing that so much atrocity happened there.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Many places around the world that are parks or historical sites have similar ugly histories in their past. It’s up to the visitor on how to process and interpret that in their own mind. I simply chose to see the beauty when I visited here.

      Had I not added the details about the site, how would you have perceived the image?


    2. sylvia

      Hmm…well, if you wanted me to perceive it without the history, I suppose you should have not included that. Then I could honestly answer. But you chose to include the info. When I experience a place, I usually try to understand it’s history or something about it, and that simply does influence our feeling toward it. I think they are inseparable. And if you don’t interact with both elements, it shows in the final work of the photo. The best photos have emotion.


    3. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Ummmm — I suspect you mean that the best photos elicit an emotional response from viewers, as the photographs themselves are completely devoid of emotions.

      Now we’re touching upon film and communication theory, along the vein of the works by Sergei Eisenstein (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Eisenstein) and Marshall McLuhan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan).

      Truth be told, all photographers (you and I included) manipulate the viewer, whether we are conscious of doing so or not. We select the media we wish to use, the focal length of the lens, the width of the aperture, the angle and lighting of the subject, the post-processing and cropping of the resulting photograph, etc. And that’s just for the image by itself. We can also supplement that with a specific method of presentation, choose to title the work, add any informational details for context (or not), and polish the delivery method as we see fit. If we were creating a video or film, we would also have the benefit of motion, time, and audio (dialog and/or music soundtrack) to completely immerse the viewer within the manipulation process.

      In the case of this image, it’s just a pretty picture without the title or body copy to provide context. And even with the details known, I’ve sandwiched the offensive section with other statements to help soften the impact. Was it successful? I think it depends on the specific individual, their sense of self, and their place within their society.

      Either way — the environment itself is beautiful and peaceful… even if the human history behind it is not.


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