Makauahi Cave - Cave of the Smoke Eye

April 21st, 2009

There is a spot in Hawai`i, on our island of Kaua`i, where the past has been preserved for 10,000 years. The record of life goes back not only to the time before Europeans arrived but also to a time before any human walked the island’s seashores.

Drs. David and Lida Burney have been working in Makauwahi Cave for 16 years and have collected a wealth of archaeological, fossil, and cultural artifacts. They perform environmental and anthropological research while honoring our host culture as they apply the knowledge they gain to help restore the Hawai`i of long ago to its pre-contact natural state.

During their investigations at Makauwahi, the Burneys discovered a deep layer of ash that baffled them. This layer of ash was described by a descendant of Keahikuni Kekauonohi, original title holder to the cave under the Mahele (King Kamehameha III’s land distribution act which included the right of commoners to own land). The story, as it was passed down from one generation to the next through oral history telling, is that of the Makauwahi Cave and its importance as a site of ancient divinations. The Burneys were told that the family’s great ancestor was a kahuna – a Hawaiian priest and spiritual counselor -- who read the patterns of the smoke stained walls caused by the great fires that had been set. Makauwahi or “smoke eye”, like all Hawaiian place names, is a name that holds deeper meaning. Makauwahi refers to the visions sought in the smoke from the “spiritual fires” and the patterns that would have swirled about the ceiling of the cave.  It was these sacred fires that left the mysterious layer of ash throughout the interior of the cave.

Today the cave is a reserve, off the beaten path of even the most seasoned traveler to Hawai`i, associated with the National Tropical Botanical Garden.   In this brief clip taken from the program on our host, Jan Tenbruggencate, talks with David and Lida who states, “We had the idea to re-construct the environment to what it was like before the early Polynesians arrived.”

While extinct species will certainly never be seen again The Garden has restored many species to their former habitats to thrive once again in as unspoiled an environment as can be provided many centuries later.   To view more on this subject and other fascinating "green science" that is on-going in Hawai`i visit our Science & Environment Channel on Pacific Network – the Native Hawaiian Portal to the world at

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4 Responses to “Makauahi Cave - Cave of the Smoke Eye”

  1. oldshoes:

    Is this cave open to the general public? And just how hard of a hike is it? This is really very fascinating. Thanks for shining light on this mysterious cave.-so to speak.

  2. Center Of Thought:

    Aloha Edgy! I grew up in Honolulu, and am now in New York City working in film and music. There is not one day in which I do not dream of Hawai'i, of being back with ohana and enjoying and taking care of the aina, and I bring my fond memories of home to my mind's surface on a constant basis...

    I recently vacationed back home after a prolonged absence, and felt a profound feeling of peace and happiness in being home once more. I cried in awe as I stood in my doorway on a rainy morning, gazing out over the Waianae Mountains and around at my immdiate surroundings of lush green life and vibrant color, the surfboard standing on the porch...

    Flying out of HNL was VERY difficult, as it always is...O'ahu shrunk in size and quickly disappeared from my left field of vision, the sky over the Pacific turned dark, and I was back, enroute to that other place, the "not-Hawai'i", of my own choosing, no less, maybe to learn and bring those experiences back with me some day.

    So I've recently discovered, and I am amazed by the work you have done, not only for the blood-legacy descendants of the true Hawai'ians, but for all people who are connected to the islands through life and experience, and the 'aina...and done with a complete, genuine reverence and respect that is lacking in most places, with the biggest exception of Hawai'i...

    As I watched the films, I again cried for what I am missing right now, as well as tears of joy that I had been blessed and given the Gathering Place as a true home, a home that speaks to my soul when I need it, and never fails to call me back with open arms...

    I want to offer you and PNTV a sincere and profound Mahalo for bringing all that into my life and closing the 6,000 mile gap between my work and life here in New York, my true home back in the islands, and my family who I miss so much...

    Congratulations and continued success as a creator of work that shines light on our home, and for being an advocate of Hawai'ian causes...good luck in all your future endeavors; I look forward to more from you!

    Peace & Light

  3. elee:

    Aloha Russell,

    Yes, this area is indeed open to the public but we felt that if someone was interested enough they would seek out details from the Garden in Kauai. We express support for the Burney's work and they encourage people learning about preservation of these ancient speciess. Public interest and support helps scientists in Hawaii continue their good work but there is probably a delicate balance that should be maintained. But again yes they do conduct a tour and am sure they would be happy to host interested visitors.

  4. elee:

    Aloha Center of Thought,

    Thank you for your kind letter. It means so much to me and to scientists like the Burneys and all the people who never get the credit they deserve or don't stick around to receive kudos.

    Hawaii is experiencing some very tough times and projects all around are being cut back. When the Hawaii Reporter publishes its list of annual "pork" projects and includes studies for the eradication of the coqui frog and infestation of the verona mite killing our Hawaii honey bees it may sound frivolous to people who do not know better. To consider preservation of certain species and sites is to short change the truth of the matter. I am guessing these folks are not from here and maybe have come to conclusions without fully understanding. If you've ever been awakened at 4am by a band of coquis interrupting the silence of a beautiful Hawaiian evening you'd know that this is not a light matter. Particularly when tourism is our major industry. When you understand that Hawaii had, up until just recently, the highest grade organic tropical fruit honey, and because of the mite infestation we no longer have organic bee farms it is no light matter. Thank you for supporting PNTV and we hope to keep sending you more and more to lessen that 6,000 mile gap between you and the people and place you love.

    very best,