The Real Power of Pu’uohonua O Puna

This is a mo’olelo about pu’uhonua. In other words, this is a short kine true story about a “place of being, refuge, peace and safety.”


Before sharing my story, there are a few words that a worth hearing; words recorded in The Pu’uhonua Peace Pact as submitted at The Hague, Netherlands in 1999.

“According to Kanaka Maoli traditions of Ka Pae 'Aina Hawai'i, human beings are not the law-makers. The spiritual life givers of land and water that sustain all life are the law givers, and human beings have the responsibility to harmonize their life through a sacred response to the laws of the natural world, thus honoring the sustaining of life energy and life renewal systems throughout time. Laws of renewal that follow from these cultural practices include: asking permission before taking anything needed from the natural world, taking only what is immediately necessary, sharing with others what is taken, not wasting or contaminating, respecting the needs of all living generations and respecting the needs of all generations to come.”

In the days of old, the Kanaka Maoli were not governed by authoritarian power built upon money, politics, industry, technology and aggression. Instead, the Kanaka Maoli understood that “Real power is our relationship with the earth.” In this spirit, the authors of The Pu’uhonua Peace Pact envisioned the return of real power to the Kanaka Maoli and all other indigenous peoples of the earth.

In May 2018, real power returned to the Kanaka Maoli of Puna, Hawaii. From the start – from the eruption of the first fissure to the next, and the next and then even more –  the Kanaka Maoli of Puna respected the return of the law-maker and law-giver known as lava.

While the law-making law-giving lava formed fountains and ran rivers across the homes of humans, the Kanaka Maoli remained pono, shared aloha and gave mana. They – the Kanaka Maoli – formed a community called Pu’uhonua O Puna to encourage and empower and supply and sustain and inform and inspire the people who needed the most help – houseless humans raising babies under tents pelted by a deafening daily deluge of rain.

Like many other humans, I followed Pu’uhonoa O Puna from a great distance. In my case, some 3,663 miles away. Inspired by the generosity of many others, I messaged Pu'uohonua O Puna, offering make a donation. Not once did I receive a return email that outlined ways to give. Not once was I solicited for funding.

From a distance, I realized that the founders and followers of Pu’uohonua O Puna didn’t care about money. Pu'uohonoua O Puna had real power. The kind of real power that our ancestors had, and the kind of real power our ancestors passed down to us.

Eventually, I had to return to Puna. My bones demanded it, even if only for a short time. A trip home wouldn't be complete without enjoying lunch at Kaleo’s Bar & Grill but just as we were seated, a notification popped up on my phone. Ikaika Marzo was live at Pu’uohonua O Puna!

Lunch could wait. My girlfriends said, “Let’s go!” We loaded up in the Jeep and peeled down the road to the outskirts of old Pahoa town. Sweet Hawaiian music welcomed us, as if to say, this is home.


Pu'uhonua O Puna is a home for many people, especially for those who miss hanging out at Pohoiki. It was surreal to see Philip Ong behind the camera shooting the live feed. For the first time, I stood with him and many other volunteers, the ones that aren’t always on camera. Husbands and their wives. Tutus and their mo’opuna. Friends of Pohoiki. The community known as Pu’uohonua O Puna.

 Chad Aiona and Rene Ahu, friends of my dad and residents of Puna, Hawaii.

Chad Aiona and Rene Ahu, friends of my dad and residents of Puna, Hawaii.

During the spontaneous concert, a kind lady made room for me to sit next to her. We chatted and then she waved over her husband, the Kanaka Maoli who sang with Ikaika. We talked story for a few minutes, he was a tall Hawaiian man, leaning down to better hear us. I thought to myself, “This is a kind man.” So, I said, “And, who are you?” The entire crowd got a good belly laugh, including myself. As it turns out, I had been talking story with the mayor of Kaua’i!

 Me and he mayor of Kaua'i.

Me and he mayor of Kaua'i.

In that moment, I felt a kinship with everyone at Pu’uohonua O Puna, including the mayor. We shared aloha as ones who have been brought together by the law-making law-giving lava. On that day, we stood side by side: musician, filmmaker, volcanoligist, photographer, wine distributor, writer, construction workers, ministers, and yes, even politicians. Especially the kind of politicians that make music and serve soup. You know, the human kind. Even as the plume stretched out above us, we stood on the ‘aina a together, enjoying life. Enjoying the songs and the stories. Enjoying community.


The Kanaka Maoli of Pu’uohonua O Puna aren’t superhuman. They are simply humans with ku’o ko’a, an inherent self determination to “care for, protect, and enhance the natural world.” And, they are doing a damn good job at providing a “place of being, refuge, peace and safety.”

This is what it means to be a Kanaka Maoli, and Ikaika Marzo is one such Hawaiian, along with the entire ohana of Pu’uohonua O Puna – the people of real power.